40 US Historical Homes That Are Worth the Visit

Trista - July 14, 2019

Vizcaya Museum

The Vizcaya Museum and Gardens was originally the home of James Deering, of the Deering Harvester fortune, which later became the International Harvester agricultural fortune. When built between 1914 and 1922, the property was known as Villa Vizcaya. It stands on over 100 acres in the Biscayne Bay area of Miami, Florida. The villa is a blend of Italian Renaissance Revival, Baroque, and Mediterranean Revival Style, with extensive Italian and French-style gardens throughout the property. Its grounds also include historic Mangrove forests, which have been preserved as part of the museum and gardens. You can see Vizcaya Museum in numerous films throughout the decades.

James Deering was a conservationist, so he developed the property along the shoreline to preserve the forests. Construction began in 1912, and Deering officially moved in on December 25, 1916. After his death and over several decades, his heirs began selling the estate’s surrounding land parcels and outer gardens. They even sold significant portions of the property to the Diocese of St. Augustine to build Mercy Hospital. They did retain the main house, the formal gardens, and the village services compound. In 1953, the home began operating as the Dade County Art Museum, and in 1994 the estate was marked as a National Historic Landmark. Keep reading to learn about the Mary Todd Lincoln House – the second Lincoln house on the list!


Mary Todd Lincoln House

They initially built the Mary Todd Lincoln House as an inn and alehouse in Lexington, Kentucky, between 1803 and 1806. It was initially called The Sign of the Green Tree, a rather delightful Hobbit-like name. Mary Todd Lincoln’s family moved into the home in 1832, where she lived until moving to Springfield, Illinois. The large Georgian style home is now a public museum that houses numerous artifacts from both the Lincoln and Todd families. On an interesting note, people believe that a former bawdy house girl and Madam who worked in the building near the turn of the 20th century inspired a character, Belle Watling, in Gone with the Wind.

Around 1975, the wife of Governor Louie Nunn, Beula Nunn, along with the Kentucky Mansions Preservation Foundation and the Metropolitan Women’s Club of Lexington, were able to gain enough support to restore the house to its former glory. Almost a year later, the Beula C. Nunn Garden was dedicated and opened to the Public at the Mary Todd Lincoln House. The enclosed gardens now show what may have been planted and grown in the home in the early nineteenth century. The property is open to the public as a museum.

Greater Wilmington Convention & Visitors Bureau

Nemours Estate

The Nemours Mansion and Garden were built between 1909 and 1910 by Alfred I DuPont, of the industrial DuPont family, as a gift for his second wife, Alicia. They constructed the home and garden to resemble a classic French chateau and formal French garden or Jardin à la française. Even its name comes from the north-central French town of Nemours, which connects to DuPont’s great-great-grandfather. The mansion is full of historic French art and decor, and the grounds are the largest example of a French classical garden in the United States.

The estate has the most developed French formal garden-style landscape and collection of individual gardens in North America. Their features include the Boxwood Garden, the Colonnade, the Maze Garden, the Reflecting Pool, the Sunken Gardens, and the Temple of Love. The mansion grounds reopened in 2008 after a three-year, $39 million renovation, which involved refurbishing furniture, fabrics, and tapestries, replacing the electrical system, draining and repairing the 800,000-gallon reflecting pool, and restoring the landscaping of the extensive formal gardens. Some of the notable art pieces include several paintings by European masters, a Louis XVI cuckoo clock designed by David Roentgen, and a chair from King George VI’s coronation. Let’s read on for another French-inspired mansion, the Pittock.


Pittock Mansion

In Portland, this old U.S. home is a French Renaissance chateau-style home initially built in 1914. They made it as the primary residence for the publisher of the Oregonian, Henry Pittock. The 46 room home is Tenino Sandstone from Washington State. It includes panoramic views of downtown Portland thanks to its location in the West Hills neighborhood. In 1965, they extensively renovated the home. They also added it to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. Today, it serves as a community landmark with an estimated 80,000 visitors every year. Due to its location and elevation above sea level, the mansion’s grounds are a uniquely excellent place for bird watching, attracting tourists to the site.

When it was first built and completed in 1914, the home featured heretofore unheard of luxuries like a central vacuuming system, intercoms, hidden lighting, an elevator, and a walk-in refrigerator. Georgiana Pittock was a hugely avid gardener, so of course, gardens that reflected that surrounded her home. Portland is known for its roses, and in fact, Georgiana was a founding member of the Portland Rose Society and hosted the first Portland Rose Show in 1889. You will have heard of the next entry, so read on to find out more about the Shangri La. We’ll bet you didn’t know everything!


Shangri La

It was once the Honolulu, Hawaii, home of billionaire tobacco heiress Doris Duke; now the Shangri La estate is the Shangri La Museum of Islamic Art, Design, and Culture. The Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art administers the property. Duke commissioned the house’s creation after her honeymoon travels took her throughout much of the Muslim world. Architectural elements of Shangri La include influences from Turkey, Morocco, Iran, Syria, Egypt, and Moorish Spain. Over 60 years, she commissioned and collected art and eventually amassed a collection of over four thousand pieces. In 2002, the building opened to the public as a museum.

The Shangri La Museum for Islamic Art, Design, and Culture displays various art, furniture, and architecture from the Middle East, India, and Spain. Outdoor landscaping features several gardens inspired by the Shalimar Gardens, all while displayed in the magical view of the Pacific Ocean. The museum and estate host two Muslim visual artists each year for exhibitions and workshops to further its mission. Tours of the museum are only granted as part of tours through the Honolulu Museum of Art and should be reserved well in advance, but it is certainly something worth experiencing! Our next entry on the list is much less exotic than an Islamic Art Museum but probably much cozier. Read on to find out more about the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park.


Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park

Just a fifty-mile drive west of Austin, Texas, through the beautiful Texas hill country, is the LBJ Ranch. That was the home of Lyndon B. Johnson, the 36th president, from childhood to the time of his passing on January 22, 1973. Known as the Texas White House, it was the first working White House outside the Capitol. During his presidency, LBJ spent more than 20 percent of his time working from his famous residence, entertaining and receiving many foreign dignitaries. Presidential duties aside, the Texas White House was a working ranch, including cattle, stables, and the less obvious airplane hanger for house Air Force One. 

They built the original structure was in 1894 using local native limestone. Eventually, LBJ acquired the property by purchasing it from his Aunt in 1951. They reconstructed the original Dog Trot structure using historical documentation and family images as it stands on the location today. They initially designated a park on December 2, 1969. However, they redesignated it as a United States National Historic Park on December 28, 1980. LBJ Ranch District and Johnson City District. Presently, holdings are approximately 1,570 acres. The federal government owns 674 acres of it. The park’s features are LBJ’s one room schoolhouse, birthplace, and the Johnson family cemetery.


Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home

You may also know this property as Rocky Ridge Farm. It is in Mansfield, Missouri — where the famed author Laura Ingalls Wilder started her writing career. The wood-frame structure is a typically 1-1/2 stories, irregularly-framed farmhouse with an attic space that gives the appearance of two stories in places. The original kitchen and receiving rooms are one story. It has six rooms on its main level with several porches, dormers, and gabled windows that allowed for light and air circulation for the upper level. The structure sits on the 40 acres of farmland acquired by the writer and her husband, Almonzo Wilder. They used a $100 down payment.  

Laura Ingalls Wilder lived at Rocky Ridge Farm from 1896 until her death February 10, 1957. At 65, she started writing the famous series Little House on the Prairie. The series would live on as a much-beloved television series of the same name that ran from 1974 to 1983. Following her passing, knowing it was one of the few remaining homes of the writer, residents created a non-profit organization, The Laura Ingalls Wilder Home Association, to preserve Wilder’s literary legacy. Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1991the home is open for tours. There is an annual Laura Ingalls Wilder day each fall to celebrate her academic achievements.  


Georgia O’Keeffe Historic House 

People know Georgia O’Keefe as one of the most impactful 20th Century American artists. Have you ever witnessed an one of her infamous paintings of enlarged flowers, New York skyscrapers, and New Mexico landscapes? Critics recognized her as the “Mother of American Modernism” and ranked her at the top of her class at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. There, she studied with John Vanderpoel. They dedicated the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum to her legacy. It opened just eleven years after her passing. The museum is unique in that it operates in two locations: Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Abiquiu, New Mexico. 

Though art critics often interpret O’Keeffe’s work as a metaphor for female genitalia, the artist rejects that claim and always insists that the paintings were just flowers. Do with that what you will! The museum contains the largest collections of her work and personal items, including possessions from her historic homes. The initial group included about 400 items. However, it has now grown to about 1200 objects, including paintings and sculptures. The items rotate between the Museum Galleries, though her residence at the Ghost Ranch is not public. Her Abiquiu Home, which was her primary residence from the late 1940s until her passing, is open to the public, however, and includes her garden! The next house on the list is where the “Unsinkable Molly Brown” lived, so keep reading!


Molly Brown House Museum

The Molly Brown House, or the House of Lions, is located at 1340 Pennsylvania Street in Denver, CO. It was the home of the “Unsinkable Molly Brown,” the philanthropist and socialite Margaret Brown survived the sinking of the RMS Titanic in 1912. The museum now presents exhibits and items from her life. Also, they placed it on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972. Margaret’s survival of the Titanic tragedy helped her gain a platform to promote issues she felt strongly about. These included women’s rights, workers’ rights, education, stronger literacy, and historic preservation. If Ms. Brown knew about this preservation, she would be happy. 

They built the home in the 1880s and incorporated various styles, especially the Queen Anne style of architecture, which was largely popular. At the time, the owners, Isaac and Mary Large, experienced a financial downturn from the Sherman Silver Purchase Act in 1893 and were forced to sell the house, which is when Molly’s husband, James, purchased it. Unfortunately, the home’s condition deteriorated after Molly’s death and was set for demolition in 1970 until a group of citizens formed Historic Denver, Inc and raised funds to restore it. Next up on the list is another presidential home: Montpelier. Read on to find out about it!


James Madison Montpelier

Montpelier is located in Orange County, Virginia, and was the fourth President of the United States, James Madison. The property spans 2650 acres and is now open to the public seven days a week. They declared it a National Historic Landmark. Also, they listed it on the National Register of Historic Places in 1966. They used the property as a plantation. Archeological investigations in the 21st century revealed new information about how slaves lived there. Montpelier’s staff continues to research the enslaved community by studying historical documents, conducting excavations, and contacting descendants. Furthermore, by documenting the countless contributions and sacrifices the enslaved community made to the plantation.

This name may seem familiar. In 1901, members of the DuPont family acquired the home and built various buildings for equestrian use. One of their sons even converted their mansion in Delaware into Montpelier’s replica, and that home is now a state park! As the DuPont’s passed and their heirs took ownership of the home. However, they eventually transferred ownership of the house to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. They have restored the home to the Madison era. A $25 million, five-year restoration project took place from 2003 – 2008 to return Montpelier to its original 1820 appearance. During the process, they used materials authentic to that timeframe, such as horsehair plaster. The last entry on the list is the spookiest, so stay tuned to find out about the Winchester Mystery Mansion!


 Winchester Mystery Mansion

Whether you like ghost stories or just crazy architecture, this mansion will tick all the boxes for you. The Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, CA, is where Sarah Winchester resided after the passing of her husband, William Wirt Winchester. Yes — those Winchesters, the firearm family. The mansion is at 525 South Winchester Blvd. They designed it in a Queen Anne Style on the exterior, though its interior is entirely non-traditional. People claim they began round-the-clock construction in 1886 on what initially was an eight-room farmhouse and did not stop until Sarah’s passing in 1922. 

By the end of her life, the mansion ended with 24,000 square feet, 10,000 windows, 2,000 doors, 160 rooms, 52 skylights, 47 stairways and fireplaces, 17 chimneys, 13 bathrooms, six kitchens, and doors that led nowhere – all for the equivalent price tag of $71 million today! The claim for this is that the souls of everyone killed by a Winchester firearm haunted Sarah. They would not harm her as long as construction continued on her home. Over 12 million guests have visited Sarah’s house since it opened to the public in 1923, and none have been able to determine the real reason for Sarah’s ongoing construction. Will you?