Lynnewood Hall is one of the most famous mansions in Pennsylvania, standing in Elkins Park in Montgomery County. Horace Trumbauer designed this Neoclassical Revival 110 room Georgian-style residence for the massively wealthy industrialist Peter A. B. Widener (Co-found of Philadelphia Traction Company, U.S. Steel, and American Tobacco). At one time, Widener was ranked as #29 of the wealthiest 40 Americans by American Heritage. Built between 1897 and 1900, it is the largest Gilded Age mansion in its area and once housed a renowned art collection with notable works by artists such as Auguste Renoir, Edouard Manet, and the 17th-century Dutch painter Rembrandt.
As with many of the Gilded Age mansions, the family’s wealth declined over time. Some of Widener’s descendants died, along with many wealthy U.S. people, in the RMS Titanic sinking. Once referred to as “The last of the American Versailles” by Widener’s grandson, it became a property up for grabs. The property is currently up for sale, as of May 2019, with an asking price of $11 million. For this price, a new owner would have access to amenities such as a 1,000 person capacity ballroom, a working farm, a swimming pool, and an electrical power plant. Up next, Hearst Castle across the country to sunny California.
Hearst Castle is perhaps one of the most famous mansions in the world. The sprawling, palatial estate in central California is a popular tourist destination. The castle is the brainchild of media magnate William Randolph Hearst, a famously satirized in Citizen Kane, and famed historic female architect Julia Morgan. Also notably, Morgan was the first woman at the School of Beaux-Arts in Paris to study architecture. Later, Morgan was the first woman in California to own her own architectural firm. Collaborating with Hearst, Morgan developed what was previously a 40,000-acre family vacationing and camping refuge into the National Historic Landmark that it is today. Hearst often affectionately referred to the castle as “The Ranch.”
An 11-million-dollar inheritance from his mother in 1919 allowed Hearst the ability to bring his Spanish Colonial Revival castle to fruition. Given the lack of infrastructure and remote location, construction proved a significant challenge. They constructed gravity-fed wells to provide access to water and the construction of a private hydroelectric plant. Strong winds from the Pacific Ocean and cold winters further served as significant construction challenges. With construction completed in 1947, the castle had, among its many features, 127 acres of landscaped gardens, a movie theater, an elaborate entrance fashioned after the Church of Santa María la Mayor in Spain, and the world’s largest private zoo. The property is the inspiration behind Citizen Kane’s Xanadu, the home of Charles Foster Kane.
The Betsy Ross House in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is probably one of the smallest on the list, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in history. While many historians question the story, Ross family lore reports that in 1776 George Washington, in tow with two other Congressional Representatives, purportedly met with Betsy at her modest Pennsylvania Colonial Style home to commission her to fashion the country’s first flag. At the time, widowed and supporting herself as a seamstress, Ross negotiated with General Washington on the flag design’s finer points to expedite the manufacturing process. As reported by her grandson, nearly 100 years later, General Washington’s six-pointed star became five-pointed. Betsy Ross continued to make flags for more than 50 years.
Like most modest structures built in the 1740s, the traditional Pennsylvania colonial style found throughout the area, Betsy Ross’s home required renovation. In 1937, with a $25,000 dollar donation from A. Atwater Kent, historical architect Richardson Brognard Okie was awarded the commission. To maintain historical and architectural integrity, Okie incorporated both original elements and repurposed materials from structures of the same period. Today, the Betsy Ross House is the site of Philadelphia’s annual observance of Flag Day, and remains believed to be Ross’ were interred in the home’s courtyard. The home sits only blocks away from both the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall and where both the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were adopted.
It turns out having a monopoly on traveling circuses was an incredibly lucrative venture at the turn of the century. McGregor, Iowa born John Ringling put that wealth to use to create the palatial Venetian Gothic Revival mansion called Ca’ d’Zan in Sarasota, Florida. In 1884, John and four brothers, along with another showman, formed “The Yankee Robinson and Ringling Brothers Double Show.” Let’s note that this first show was the only one the Ringling Brothers took second billing. In 1888, their humble performance had graduated into the “Ringling Brothers United Monster Shows, Great Double Circus, Royal European Menagerie, Museum, Caravan and Congress of Trained Animals.” By 1889, with the use of railroad cars, they became the first true traveling circus.
The mansion’s name, Ca’ d’Zan, means House of John in Venetian, a regional Romance language. The mansion, sitting on 20 acres of land purchased in 1911 by John and wife Mable, overlooks Sarasota Bay. Architect Dwight James Baum pulled numerous designs from the Ringlings’ extensive travel. One includes the famed Doge Palace in Venice as well as more contemporary buildings like the original tower of Madison Square Garden and Mable Ringling’s travel sketches. The 22,000 square feet four-story residence has 32 bedrooms, 15 bathrooms, and the original crystal chandelier from New York’s famed Waldorf Astoria. This estate is truly stunning, with its stark Gothic design surrounded by the Florida landscape and 1,000 feet long waterfront.
Boldt Castle’s story is a rather sad one, with the building never being completed to its creator’s full vision. Gracing the picturesque shore of Heart Island, the Prussia born George Boldt, manager of the famed Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York City, began building the castle in 1900 as a present for his wife, Louise. Although the couple already had a home on the Island, he wanted something grander for her. Enlisting the architectural firm G. W. & W. D. Hewitt, George Boldt hoped the six-story stone Chateauesque Rhineland structure would be one of the largest private homes in the United States.
Despite four years of construction and hiring hundreds of laborers to complete his grand stone castle, his beloved Louise died unexpectedly. She would never be able to see her husband’s vision come to fruition. Upon her death, a heartbroken George Boldt sent word via telegram that all construction must stop immediately. With that, 300 hundred works ceased construction on the 120 room seaside mansion. After being abandoned for 73 years and much of the structure left exposed to the elements, the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority procured the property for one dollar. Today, Louise’s unrealized gift serves as a tourist destination enjoyed by visitors today. Albeit, you’ll need a boat to get there. Keep reading, because Frank Lloyd Wright’s incredible Pennsylvania’s Fallingwater mansion is next.
Fallingwater, in bucolic rural Pennsylvania, is arguably famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s most iconic work. It is a beautiful example of his commitment to strong, clean horizontal and vertical lines as well as his concept of organic architecture, best illustrated by the home’s outgrowth over a natural waterfall. Once the location of a simple summer cabin retreat, Edgar and Liliane Kaufmann contracted Wright to design a structure more fitting of the picturesque landscape. Wright, given to procrastination, famously girded his design genius and, in two hours before a previously unexpected visit by Edgar Kaufman, effortlessly completed the initial blueprints for a residence that is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. Wright designed the home in 1935 when he was already 67 years of age. The architect, heavily influenced by Japanese design, oversaw the 5300 square foot residence construction and its featured Cantilevered design.
With the initial building estimate of $35,000 dollars, the waterfall residence’s budget ballooned to $75,000 dollars. They dealt with some questionable engineering choices, disputes with onsite engineer Edgar Kaufman, and increased funding. Nevertheless, he completed Fallingwater in 1938. It was quickly recognized as an architectural achievement, being named a National Historic Landmark in 1966. The home’s construction cost an estimated $2.8 million, adjusted for inflation; another invested almost $12 million into its restoration at the turn of the century. So admired for this achievement, the residence was lauded by the Smithsonian’s “Life List of 28 Places to See Before You Die.”
Could any list of famous U.S. homes be complete without the home of the U.S. president? The world-renowned 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue has been the home of every U.S. president, beginning with John Adams in 1800. The White House even survived being set on fire by British troops during the War of 1812. Previously known as the “Executive Residence,” it wasn’t officially named “The White House” until 1901 by our 26th President Teddy Roosevelt, who believed the generous location required a historic designation. Despite the famous address, presidents have to pay for food, staff, and events. It is not uncommon for Presidents to end their term in debt because of these expenditures.
The White House construction is a fascinating story, as with many events surrounding the Founding Fathers. There was a design contest to choose an architect, in which Thomas Jefferson submitted an anonymous losing proposal. Eventually, a design by architect James Hoban, an Irish immigrant, was agreed upon. Construction began with the first cornerstone laid in October of 1792. The structure features many elements of Classical architecture, influenced explicitly by Vitruvius and Andrea Palladio. It is grand in size with a 70 foot high and 168-foot wide structure. Furthermore, it takes more than 570 gallons to paint and is painted every 4 to 6 years. Sadly, like much of the construction during this period, slaves were the primary source of labor. Next, a simple but iconic humble home in Iowa.
Apart from art historians, few people likely realize the classic farmhouse perched behind the creepy couple in American Gothic is still standing peacefully in rural Iowa. It is in the same location as when Grant Wood originally stumbled upon it while touring the state for inspiration in the Summer of 1930. An Iowa native himself, Wood found the house on a drive and was struck by the strangeness of seeing classical Gothic architecture on a clapboard farmhouse. Also notable, Nan Wood Graham and Dr. Byron McKeeby, the couple featured in the painting, were neither related nor were the residence occupants. The owners, Selma Jones-Johnson and family, would permit Wood to use the home in a series he referred to as “cardboardy frame houses on Iowa Farms.”
Wood only visited the house twice, which stands in Eldon, Iowa, twice. Noting the house had “the kind of people [he} fancied should live in that house” Wood sketched the home on paperboard while altering the roofline to accentuate the sizeable gothic window. The foreground subjects were his sister and his dentist, whom he recruited and dressed in period clothing. He finished the oil painting in his Cedar Rapids, Iowa studio. Various caretaker owners have rented the house throughout the years, but many people still drive out to rural Wapello County to see the iconic front of the home. Read on. Leaving the rolling cornfields behind, we’re off to Phoenix, Arizona.
Who would have thought chewing gum would enable someone to build a 12,000 square foot house? This idea became the reality of Wrigley chewing gum magnate William Wrigley Jr., who had noted architect Earl Heitschmidt build the sprawling home in suburban Phoenix, Arizona. Despite the size, the Wrigley Mansion was one of his smaller homes, believe it or not. They used it for a few weeks each year. The architects constructed it between 1929 and 1931 atop a 100-foot knoll with a view of the greater Phoenix area. You could find its location near the Arizona Biltmore Hotel, which Mr. Wrigley Jr also owned.
They built the 24 room, 12 bath home in a strongly Mission-Spanish Colonial Revival style. It is a lovely fit for the surrounding desert landscape at the cost of $1.2 million. Wrigley’s former residence currently operates as a private club owned by Geordie Hormel. Sadly, to comply with zoning restrictions, the mansion is not open to the public. Do not fret! People can rent it for meetings, weddings, and other events. In 1989, they placed it on the National Register of Historic Places in 1989. They were also designated as a Phoenix Point of Pride. Next up, we’re going to visit the humid heat of Louisiana!
There are few more iconic images of the U.S. Antebellum South than the oak-lined walkway leading up to the Oak Alley Plantation. A common sight on magazine covers and calendars, the historic sugarcane plantation, which sits on Vacherie, St. James Parish, Louisiana, displays many of the iconic features of Antebellum design from the oak trees themselves to the columned facade. Today, the site features a restaurant and cottages and offers tours to anyone interested in the history of the plantation’s past. The area is rife with farms, with several nearby, including Laura Plantation, Houmas House, San Francisco Plantation, Nottoway Plantation, and Whitney Plantation, to name just a few.
They built the home for Valcour Aime, one of the wealthiest sugar men in the south. He was very wealthy. Furthermore, he was known as the “King of Sugar,” referring to the moneymaking sugarcane. It should go without saying, but slave labor made not only much of the home but also Aime’s wealth. Slave agricultural labor ran the plantation empire. In fact, a noted variety of grafted pecan trees was developed by a slave on the estate, Antoine. The plantation was incredibly expensive to maintain, especially after the Civil War. With the end of slavery, it was no longer economically profitable. Over time, it changed ownership several times and eventually was acquired by the Stewarts, who opened it to the public and established it as it is today.
The House of the Seven Gables, also known as the Turner House, in Salem, Massachusetts, was made famous by Nathaniel Hawthorne in his novel The House of the Seven Gables. A gable is a solid triangular peak at the top of a house, over a window or door. Mr. Hawthorne was more inspired by the sound of the phrase “seven gables” than the appearance of the house, surprisingly, and he wrote of the home as though it was an actual character. Its architecture is a mix of traditional Colonial architecture with some Georgian renovations added in the 18th century.
They called this historic U.S. home the House of the Seven Gables because it has, unsurprisingly, seven gables. The home is one of the oldest preserved timber-framed Colonial homes in the United States, built in 1667. It has 17 rooms and over 8,000 square feet, including its notably large cellars. The house remained in the Turner Family for three generations. It was designated a National Historic Landmark District in 2007 after being restored. However, it has been open to the public as a museum since 1910. Today, over 100,000 visitors enter its doors yearly. Next up, let’s visit the Henry Ford Estate!
Fair Lane, named after a region in Cork, Ireland, was the principal residence of Ford Motor Company founder Henry Ford and his wife, Clara, in Dearborn, Michigan. Built between 1913 and 1915, Frank Lloyd Wright started the design, but an assistant completed it after Wright fled to Europe with his mistress. In addition to other famed architects, Thomas Edison laid the house’s cornerstone and helped design the home’s hydropower electrical system. The home is made of limestone and employs the Prairie Style, a 19th and 20th-century style commonly found in the Midwest and characterized by flat roofs and extensive horizontal lines.
The main residence and part of the grounds are open to the public. However, they preserve the remaining portion of the estate as a nature study area for the University of Michigan. The estate includes a 31,000 square foot house with 56 rooms and even used to house a restaurant. They built it on 1,300 acres of farmland. The home was one of the first historical sites designated a National Historic Landmark and is not one to miss! Next up on our list is another must-see: Glensheen of Minnesota.
The only house on this list that resides in Minnesota, Glensheen is a huge house that combines many elements and styles, including Art Nouveau, Federal, Arts and Crafts, and more. Clarence H. Johnston desgined and built it over 13 years from 1905 to 1918 in Duluth. He created the home for the lawyer and capitalist Chester Adgate Congdon. Sadly, this home is infamous for the murder of a Congdon family member by Roger Caldwell, another family member’s husband, in 1977. Tour guides do not discuss the incident during tours of the mansion out of respect for surviving family members.
The mansion spans 20,000 square feet. It features twelve acres of Lake Superior waterfront property. It has 39 rooms and costs the equivalent of about $22 million in current value. The house still contains most of the original furniture and art collections. You may even recognize the interior if you’ve watched the 1972 movie You’ll Like My Mother with Patty Duke and Richard Thomas, as they filmed at the Glensheen mansion! Tours of the Glensheen mansion are available, and they’re definitely with the times – you can even download the Glensheen app for a virtual tour! Though you probably can’t virtually tour our next spot, let’s move on to Drumthwacket.
Drumthwacket is the governor of New Jersey’s official residence, located at 354 Stockton Street in Princeton. Its rather unique name is a combination of the Gaelic words for “wooded” and “hill” to describe the lovely setting of the home in Princeton, New Jersey, just outside the capital of Trenton. It is only one of four official governor’s homes in the nation that are not within the state capital – the other three being Wisconsin, Tennessee, and Ohio. William Penn, the Quaker who originally founded Pennsylvania’s territory for the colonizers, once owned the land on which Drumthwacet sits.
Drumthwacket’s architecture is a blend of Colonial Georgian style and Greek Revival, as illustrated by the extensive use of columns at the residence’s front. New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection currently administers the estate. The home is also a historic house museum. Not all governors have used the mansion as their primary estate; many of them have maintained their private residences and either lived in the mansion part-time or only chose to hold official functions in the mansion. The home has twelve private rooms for use by the first family and six public spaces on the main floor. An annual Garden Club holiday display is a tradition at the estate, and you can tour the estate most Wednesdays.
This property is also known as the Otto Kahn Estate. They built it for capitalist Otto Hermann Kahn, a massive estate on the North Shore of Long Island, New York. The name, Oheka, is taken from the initials of Kahn’s name and was also used to name at least one of yachts and a second home, Villa Oheka, in Palm Beach, Florida. The mansion was built between 1914 and 1919 and is the second-largest private home in the entire United States; it features a whopping 127 rooms and over 109,000 square feet of floor space. Oheka Castle is now operated as a historic hotel available for private rentals, events, film shoots, and more.
The word castle is no exaggeration in this case. It is the second-largest private home in the nation! In 2004, they listed it on the National Register of Historic Places, and it is a member of Historic Hotels of America. The castle served as partial inspiration in Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and has been shown in several movies and tv shows like Citizen Kane, What Happens in Vegas, As The World Turns, and Succession, just to name a few. From one of the largest to one of the smallest, let’s move on to the Maltese Cross Cabin.
Though this historical U.S. home is easily the smallest house on the list, it is incredibly rich in history. The Maltese Cross Cabin, just outside Medora, North Dakota, in the Northern Badlands, was once home to U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt. President Roosevelt later said of his time in North Dakota, “I would not have been President had it not been for my experience in North Dakota.” One of his most significant undertakings as president was establishing the conservation of public lands. This goal was strongly inspired by his time at the cabin and in the Dakota Territories in general.
President Roosevelt thoroughly enjoyed the outdoor lifestyle, and this cabin allowed him to delve into that fully. The cabin was about seven miles outside of Medora, and though it seems quite bare to us now, at the time, it was considered almost luxurious with its wooden floors and three separate rooms. Though many of the room furnishings have been added to represent what life would have been like in those days, some items are original to President Roosevelt – specifically his traveling trunk. He even inscribed his initials! Roosevelt’s second ranch, the Elkhorn Ranch, was about 35 miles away from Medora on the Little Missouri River was his primary residence. From one form of American royalty to another, let’s travel on to Graceland.
Along with the White House, Graceland is probably of the most immediately recognizable and famous houses on this list. The home of Elvis Presley, Graceland, continues to be a top-rated tourist attraction. While the estate in Memphis, Tennessee, was not initially built for Elvis, it became (and continues to be) famous for its redecoration and residence there. The home is renowned for themed rooms like The Jungle Room, decorated with grass-like carpet and wet-looking stone walls. Other unique features include a wall of mirrors and a billiards room with dark, patterned fabric covering the walls and ceiling.
Elvis’s daughter, Lisa Marie Presley, has been the owner of Graceland since his death in 1977 and opened it to the public as a museum in 1982. The site was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1991, making it the first rock and roll-related site to be entered! It is at 3764 Elvis Presley Boulevard, so it shouldn’t be too hard to find. It’s the second most-visited house in the U.S. each year after the White House! Graceland spans 17,552 square feet and has a total of 23 bedrooms, including eight bedrooms and eight bathrooms! The second floor is not open to visitors to avoid any unnecessary focus on the bathroom, which was the site of Elvis’s untimely death. Next up, Texas!
Bishop’s Palace in Galveston, Texas, is a classic example of rich Victorian architecture. Also known as the Gresham Castle, they built it entirely of stone between 1887 and 1893. It was so strong it withstood the great hurricane that hit the city in 1900, during which the Gresham family sheltered hundreds of people. Walter Gresham, the original owner, was a Democrat representative for Texas. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Galveston later purchased it, which still owns the property; now, it is open to the public with an organization aiding Catholic students housed in the basement.
The palace covers just over 19,000 square feet and is on Broadway and 14th street in the East End Historic District. Its value today is estimated to be over $5.5 million, and a portion of each admission ticket supports the preservation of the palace. The castle has a basement and three floors, though the basement is raised and can be its own floor. On the second floor, what was previously one of the Gresham daughter’s room has now been converted to a chapel, complete with stained glass, a fresco depicting the four gospel writers on the ceiling, and an altar.
Hildene, also known as the Lincoln Family Home, was the summer home of Robert Todd Lincoln, the first-born son of President Abraham Lincoln, and his wife, Mary Harlan Lincoln. The house, which stands in Manchester Center, Vermont, was built in the Georgian Revival style. Between 1714 and 1830, the property was presided over by the four George Kings of England, hence the name. Typical hallmarks of Georgian Revival architecture include the use of brick, stone, or stucco as well as the revised use of Palladian architecture; this architecture followed the principles laid out by famed Italian architect Andrea Palladio.
The home remained occupied by Lincoln family descendants until 1975. In 1978, the Friends of Hildene, a non-profit organization, purchased the property and began to restore it. The name Hildene comes from old English words meaning hill, valley, and stream. The house itself is on a headland that overlooks the Battenkill Valley, and its garden is well known for its vast peony collection. The interior of the home remains furnished almost entirely with Lincoln family belongings to this day! The next entry on this list is yet another presidential estate, Mount Vernon. Keep reading to find out more!
Mount Vernon was the plantation home of the first U.S. president, George Washington. The estate sits on the Potomac River in Fairfax County, Virginia. It was built following Palladian Architecture styles, as was the tradition in Georgian Revival buildings. As the Washington family’s fortunes continued to decline, the descendants who inherited the home were unable to manage its upkeep, and it began to fall into ruin. Thankfully, the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association saved the house from utter destruction in the 1800s. They preserved it until they added it to the Historic Landmark in 1960. IThe Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association still owns it to this day.
When Washington’s ancestors acquired the estate, it was named Little Hunting Creek Plantation after the nearby creek. When Washington lived there, the property spanned over 8,000 acres, though it has been reduced to around 500 acres today. The architect of the mansion is unknown. Some attribute it to John Ariss, a prominent Virginian architect who designed Paynes Church and Mount Airy. Others credit Colonel Richard Blackburn with its design, and still, many historians believe Washington alone is responsible for Mount Vernon’s design. The truth shall remain a mystery to us forever! We are confident that the architect designed the next site, though, so stay tuned to find out more about the Pabst Mansion!
The Pabst Mansion, built for Frederick Pabst, founder of the Pabst Brewing Company, sits at 2000 Wisconsin Avenue in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Architect George Bowman Ferry designed the home in the Flemish Renaissance Revival style, which drew from various Italian classical types. Despite its size and unique architecture, the mansion was once scheduled to be demolished and replaced with a parking ramp. It was only saved when the building was purchased from Milwaukee’s Archdiocese by a historic preservation group. The archdiocese even used the conservatory of the mansion as the archbishop’s chapel, and for the next 67 years, many priests, sisters, and five archbishops resided at the mansion.
Today, the mansion is now open to the public for daily tours and has been a site for television episode filming and several commercials. Though the mansion is currently closed to implement safety measures, they have made a free virtual tour available on their website for interested parties! A donation is encouraged but not required, and visitors can walk through a rendering of the mansion at their leisure. They can choose floors, rooms, or even view it as a dollhouse! Each room has a tidbit of information, almost like a self-guided tour. If you are interested in seeing this beautiful landmark, we highly recommend the tour! Next up on our list is Grey Gardens!
Grey Gardens is a beautiful home in its own right. However, it is more famous for the titular television program that documented the Kennedy family inhabitants’ incredibly eccentric life. The documentary, also titled Grey Gardens, followed the mental illness and decline of a mother and daughter both named Edith Beale. They were the aunt and cousin of Jacqueline Onassis Kennedy, as they lived in the deteriorating home. Located in East Hampton, New York, the 14 room mansion was built in 1897 and has changed hands several times. It entered the extended Kennedy family when Edith Beale was gifted the property by her husband.
It fell into disrepair, leading to the documentary after cutting his estranged wife off from all financial support. The home conditions were so bad – fleas, cats, raccoons, decay, and a lack of running water, for example – that the Beale women were facing eviction at one point until Jackie O intervened with the needed funds for repairs. Not only is the home itself historically relevant, but the documentary itself was also selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the U.S. National Film Registry for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” Financial management was a problem for the inhabitants of the next household, too.
Mark Twain, whose actual name was Samuel Longhorn Clemens, was raised here in Hartford, Connecticut. The house is a stunning example of Victorian Gothic Revival design with its asymmetrical window layout and incredibly steeply pitched roof. The notorious author’s father built the home with his wife’s inheritance, but part of the family fled to Europe in 1891 due to poor financial management. His father earned money by lecturing to attempt to pay off the family’s debts. After Mark Twain’s younger sister died in the home, the rest of the family could not bear to return to it. Thus, they sold the house. It now is a public museum dedicated to Mark Twain’s life and legacy.
Justin Kaplan, the biographer for Mark Twain, described the home as “part steamboat, part medieval fortress, and part cuckoo clock.” Mark Twain penned many of his most well-known books at the Mark Twain house, including The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Prince, and the Pauper, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and Life on the Mississippi. After his sister’s death and the home’s sale, people used the building as a school, an apartment building, and a public library. In 1929, they saved it from being demolished. A non-profit group called the Mark Twain Memorial created a restoration effort that eventually led to its opening as a house museum in 1974. Stay tuned to find out more about yet another historical home: Castle Hill.
Castle Hill in Ipswich, Massachusetts, is a classic surviving example of the Country Place Era of landscape design in which wealthy Americans had extensive, luxurious gardens designed for their estates. It includes numerous outbuildings, a palatial mansion, and expansive, carefully landscaped gardens. The New York firm Olmsted Brothers designed the landscaping. These were the famed Frederick Law Olmstead, sons who designed Central Park, Prospect Park, and other famous spaces. Castle Hill has a massive grass mall, terraced gardens, and many other luxuriously designed gardens. The mansion and the salt marsh near it are part of the 2,100-acre Crane Estate, including 21 outbuildings, the mansion itself, and several designed landscapes.
Crane initially built an Italian Renaissance-style villa, though his wife despised the mansion for its cold draftiness. He promised her that if she gave it ten years, he would replace it if she still hated it. In 1924, true to his word, Crane tore down the Renaissance villa, and a new, 59 room mansion in the style of 17th-style Stuart, designed by architect David Adler took its place. The mansion remains largely unchanged today, and the Olmstead brothers’ landscaping remains resplendent as ever. After the Cranes passed, the property was used for outdoor concerts for legends like Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, and Dave Brubeck. The next entry on the list is a much less grand, though no less historic, home. Keep reading and find out more about the Jonathan Corwin House!
The Jonathan Corwin House is noteworthy for its age; they built it in the first half of the 1600s. Its traditional Colonial style is also striking. However, it is sadly best known for its role in the persecution and murder of women in the infamous Salem Witch Trials. Better known as the Witch House, it was the home of Judge Jonathan Corwin, who presided over the vast majority of the killings. The Witch House is the only structure remaining in Salem, Massachusetts, with direct ties to the trials. While nobody ever conducted interrogations or trials at this property, Corwin’s extensive role in the trials makes the house an essential landmark in the witch trials’ tragic history.
This property is at 310 Essex Street — at the intersection of North Street and Summer Street. They designed the house in a traditional 17th century New England style. However, the construction year is unclear. They moved it about 35 feet in the 1940s when the streets were widened. Furthermore, experts restored it to resemble what homes would have looked like during the time Judge Corwin lived there. Presently, the City of Salem operates it as a museum. People can visit the property seasonally. It remains a popular attraction for supernatural-minded people, with Ghost Hunters filming an episode there.
Point of Honor is a historic home in Lynchburg, Virginia, most noteworthy for its extensive ties to the Founding Fathers. Dr. George Cabell, a friend of Thomas Jefferson and physician to Patrick Henry, the famed orator of “Give me liberty or give me death!” initially owned the property. The home’s name, Point of Honor, refers to the numerous sword duels fought on the home’s grounds. The house changed hands countless times due to death, loss of finances, and regular sales before finally being deeded to the City of Lynchburg in the will of James R. William, Jr. in 1968.
The home is irregularly shaped, following a Federal-style with a stucco brick exterior. They listed it on the National Register of Historic Places in 1970. They opened a museum to the public in 1978. On the home’s website, you’ll find an interesting tidbit about its mission: “to engage and educate a diverse audience by collecting, preserving, and interpreting Lynchburg’s history during the Era of Good Feeling, 1815-1830.” That references the strong national sense of purpose and unity the United States experienced in the aftermath of the War of 1812. Benjamin Russell coined it. Next up, we’ll learn more about the gorgeous Vizcaya Museum and Gardens!
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
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?