Famous Historic Homes in Connecticut Showcase the State’s Starring Role in Shaping America


HARTFORD – September 29, 2006 – Even among the original 13 colonies, Connecticut’s remarkable role in shaping the political, intellectual and cultural life of America stands out. This is where the first democratically elected representative government was formed, where the first public art museum and public library opened, even where the first American factory town came into being. One fascinating way to explore this incomparable history and discover the unique stories of so many of the state’s native sons and daughters is by visiting some of Connecticut’s historic homes.

Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, once called his home in Connecticut the most productive years of his life. The 1874 Mark Twain House in Hartford was his residence for 17 years and within these walls, he penned some of his most famous works including “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,” “The Prince and the Pauper” and “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” Twain’s Gilded Age mansion is a must see for its exotic Louis Comfort Tiffany designed interiors and some even suggest his home was built to resemble a river steamboat as if to mimic the stories he created on the Mississippi River.

The Henry Whitfield State Museum, in Guilford, built as a minister’s home features 17th century furnishings. It also holds the title for being the oldest stone house in New England and the oldest house in Connecticut. The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, in Hartford, is the country’s first public art museum founded in 1842 and the Butler-McCook House & Garden is the capitol city’s oldest house, containing Hartford’s most venerable collection of arts and antiques.

The Lockwood-Mathews Mansion Museum, in Norwalk, with its impressive rotunda and skylight and its grand scale and ornate design, is one of the earliest Second Empire Style country houses in the United States. This National Historic Landmark, completed in 1868, contains 62 rooms and was designed by architect Detlef Lienau, making this his most significant surviving work.

Old Lyme was the home of American Impressionism at the turn of the 20th century, largely thanks to Florence Griswold, “keeper of the artist colony.” Florence opened her home to a group of artists in the early 1900s and the grounds and gardens served as a major inspiration for her guests. The Florence Griswold Museum, in Old Lyme, just completed a major renovation to recreate its role as a boarding house for the Lyme Art Colony. Visitors can tour the home where the artists, including Childe Hassam and Willard Metcalf, created some of the most memorable paintings in American art. President Woodrow Wilson was also a frequent guest at the home.

Famous playwright and Nobel Prize winner, Eugene O’Neill, called Monte Cristo Cottage, in New London, his only permanent home which served as the setting for two of his most notable works, “Ah, Wilderness!” and “Long Day’s Journey Into Night.” Monte Cristo Cottage was named in honor of his father, actor James O’Neill, for his most popular role as Edmund Dantes in “The Count Of Monte Cristo.” Today, O’Neill’s home is a National Landmark as well as a museum full of memorabilia and a permanent exhibition on the life and works of the playwright.

At a time when architecture was dominated by men, Theodate Pope, one of Connecticut’s first women architects, designed a home for her family in Farmington in 1901, called Hill-Stead. Her inspiration for the home was George Washington’s Mount Vernon and Hill-Stead is today considered to be one of America’s most important examples of Colonial Revival domestic architecture. The home was filled with French Impressionist artists whose work is still on display including Claude Monet, Edgar Degas and Edouard Manet. As a survivor of the sinking of the R.M.S. Lusitania, Theodate lived a fascinating life under Hill-Stead’s roof and entertained guests such as Henry James, Edith Wharton, President Theodore Roosevelt and other authors, artists, poets and academics.

Gillette Castle, in East Haddam, was built by actor, director and playwright William Hooker Gillette, who was most famous for his distinctive portrayal of Sherlock Holmes. Gillette also owned a private railroad and loved to take his guests (including Albert Einstein) for a 20 mph ride during their visits. His 24-room mansion perches 200 feet above the Connecticut River, offering a spectacular view of Connecticut’s country side, and is reminiscent of a medieval castle.

New England is full of one-room schoolhouses, but not many can claim such a famous teacher as Nathan Hale. The soon-to-be Revolutionary War hero was teaching at the Nathan Hale School House, in East Haddam, on the eve of the Declaration of Independence. The building also features a church bell that pre-dates the United States by some 900 years, as it was forged in 815 AD.

The Webb-Deane-Stevens Museum, in Wethersfield, features three 18th century homes. In 1781, General George Washington planned the war strategy here that led to the American victory at Yorktown. The Museum also operates the colonial Buttolph-Williams House which was built in 1710 and has been given the title of “best restored house of its period” in the region. Its rough-hewn exterior and medieval windows reflect the influence of medieval English building styles. Considered to be one of the best examples of 17th century houses in America is the Hempsted House in New London, the only Underground Railway stop open to the public on the Connecticut Freedom Trail.

It may be difficult to prove that Henry Bowen, the 19th century merchant and publisher, was the first to invent political picnics, but he was renowned for his summer guest lists at Roseland Cottage, a National Historic Landmark in Woodstock. The Gothic Revival summer home, with its extensive gardens, hosted several U.S. presidents including Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes and William McKinley, as well as local and state leaders. Another of its unique attributes is the barn which houses the oldest surviving indoor bowling alley in the country. The home maintains the 1850 boxwood parterre garden.

For more details about Connecticut’s historic sites as well as the 52 Getaways to Connecticut, restaurants, resorts, country inns, B&Bs and other places to stay, please call 888-CTvisit (888-288-4748) or log on at www.CTvisit.com to receive a copy of the 2006 Vacation Guide and the Connecticut Fall/Winter Culture Guide. Connecticut offers visitors a multi-faceted wealth of attractions, historical, cultural and recreational activities, diverse and beautiful natural landscapes, parks, beaches and wilderness sure to fulfill any getaway need.

*Please call in advance before visiting these historic homes to verify hours of operation.

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