That Old House
September 2, 2015 3:36 PM   Subscribe

What are the most awesome historic homes that can be toured? I am most immediately interested in the North East US, but am glad to hear about ones all over the country and even out of the country, because, well, I seem to be trying to make it everywhere....

I just saw Beauport -the Sleeper-McCann House in Newburyport. Wow! I feel like I am ruined. I have seen some great historic houses, but this house wasn't just a mansion he showed off his wealth with. He built (and rebuilt) a thoughtful home with a sense of humor. A place you wanted to move into! (He was one of the first pro interior designers)
Now since I am headed to Newport, RI tomorrow I am wondering what historic homes I should see there. I figure we'll see a couple.

Then on to planning the next vacation ... What homes are some of the most interesting and most beautiful?
posted by ReluctantViking to Travel & Transportation (55 answers total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
Probably falls more into the category of "mansion for showing off wealth," but Hearst Castle in California near San Luis Obispo is stunning.
posted by Mallenroh at 3:41 PM on September 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Concord Mass has many historic homes, including the homes of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Louisa May Alcott. They aren't grand, but I really enjoyed visiting Ralph Waldo Emerson's house. There's some interesting artwork and photographs, and the guides were charmingly... quirky.

Also, Edward Hopper's house in Nyack (also small). You can see the view from his studio, that's kind of cool.
posted by maggiemaggie at 3:43 PM on September 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

The House of the Seven Gables, Salem, MA.
Hammond Castle, Gloucester, MA.
Winchester House, San Jose, CA.
(Henry) Longfellow House, Cambridge, MA.
posted by Melismata at 3:44 PM on September 2, 2015

Paul Revere's House, Boston, MA.
posted by Melismata at 3:45 PM on September 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Manitoga in Garrison, NY was the home of Russell Wright, if you are interested in mid-century design. The landscape is especially amazing.
posted by maggiemaggie at 3:45 PM on September 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

you can visit Carl Sandberg's House in the Asheville area of North Carolina
posted by supermedusa at 3:49 PM on September 2, 2015

Glensheen Mansion in Duluth, MN.

Telly Savalas shot a commercial there, once.

Hours and other info.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 3:52 PM on September 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

I don't mean to thread sit but I don't want to exclude"showing off wealth" because that includes craftsmen that could afford to do incredible feats and vistas of nature that no one else could afford!
posted by ReluctantViking at 3:57 PM on September 2, 2015

House on the Rock is more about the weird shit in the house than the house itself, but definitely worth seeing. While you're in the area, see Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin.
posted by desjardins at 4:06 PM on September 2, 2015 [5 favorites]

This is, for better or worse, what I grew up doing on vacation. I still do, truth be told. Some of my favorites:

Thomas Jefferson's Monticello: a don't miss for the restless intelligence evident in every inch of the house. As a bonus, the slave quarters have been restored of late and tell a fascinating story all their own.

Olana: Painter Frederick Church's home is beautiful and also very clearly the product of an extraordinary man and his particular interests and desires. He also reshaped the mountain the house stands on to an astonishing degree, pretty much inventing the field of landscape design.

Fallingwater: Frank Lloyd Wright was a crazy genius, part one.

FLW Home, Oak Park: ...and part two.

(My favorite FLW house - the Pope-Leighey - is a few miles from Monticello, actually, should you want to add part three. It's tiny, and a fascinating contrast to and refinement of the ideas you can see evident in the above.)

Ten Chimneys: a fully-realized and yet utterly bonkers interior courtesy of stage legends Alfred Lunt and Lynne Fontanne; the Brangelina of their day.
posted by minervous at 4:13 PM on September 2, 2015

You've got to visit The Mount, Edith Wharton's home in Massachusetts. She was very involved in the design of the house, and even collaborated with the architect to write a very popular book on interior design.

If you're in ever in upstate NY, I would recommend the Sonnenberg Gardens as well.
posted by lemerle at 4:18 PM on September 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Heritage Square Museum in Los Angeles literally picked up and relocated historic homes that were in danger of destruction due to modernization.. It's fantastic. The guides are very knowledgeable, and there has been very careful preservation/restoration of the homes (and you can see some of it in progress).
posted by erst at 4:19 PM on September 2, 2015

you can visit Carl Sandberg's House in the Asheville area of North Carolina

I don't consider this Northeast US, but if you do find yourself in the Asheville area, there's of course the Biltmore Estate. There's also the Vance Birthplace, which is on the other end of the spectrum (i.e., not showing off wealth but surviving creatively and beautifully).

The Tenement Museum in NYC is another that's hardly a symbol of wealth but definitely worth seeing.
posted by whoiam at 4:20 PM on September 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

Mark Twain's house in Hartford is a great tour both for the architecture and the fact that you can stand in the room where Huck Fin and Tom Sawyer were written.
posted by octothorpe at 4:26 PM on September 2, 2015 [3 favorites]

Biltmore, the Vanderbilt Mansion in Asheville, NC, which is the Austin of that state, and like all cities in the SE, is near numerous other interesting cities. There's a late-night candle-light tour if that's your thing, but the home is impressive, and the gardens and landscaping (by Frederick Law Olmsted) are also amazing. You can enjoy some of them on your 10-minute drive through the property before you get to the parking lot from which you'll be shuttled to the mansion.

Also, there's a fancy little mansion, still occupied, at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave in Washington DC that's worth a visit. Seems the resident has a government job of some sort and does a lot of entertaining. George Washington himself picked the site in 1791, but he never lived there. It was burned down in 1814, but was quickly rebuilt and is constantly being updated. The security there is a bit of a bother, but it's worth seeing. Just manage your expectations: you really really are not going to meet the current residents.
posted by Sunburnt at 4:29 PM on September 2, 2015 [3 favorites]

The Laura Ingalls Wilder homes in Pepin, WI; Walnut Grove, MN; Burr Oak, IA; De Smet, SD; and Mansfield, MO.

Helen Keller's house in Tuscumbia, AL.
posted by Melismata at 4:30 PM on September 2, 2015

Not far from Philadelphia is the Wharton Esherick Museum, technically a studio, but very much in the spirit of a dwelling that reflects the art and craft of its creator. Link goes to a virtual tour; it's difficult to do justice to the aliveness and organic beauty of the site, though. It is gorgeous.
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:35 PM on September 2, 2015

Naumkeag, Stockbridge, Mass. Also the Mission House.

Not quite the same thing, but the Hancock Shaker Village shows an entirely different living situation, as do the houses at Sturbridge Village and Plymouth Plantation.

Also the John Brown house in Providence, RI.

I have not been there but the John Jay house near Bedford , NY is viewable. I forget where it is, but the Nathan Hale house is still around.

There are several old houses in Guilford, CT which you can Google.
posted by SemiSalt at 4:40 PM on September 2, 2015

Fonthill Castle in Doylestown, PA. Wealthy cement/tile magnate built an entire house out of poured reinforced concrete (incl. concrete bed and desk). It's fascinating inside-- very ornate.
posted by Bardolph at 4:50 PM on September 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

Castle in the Clouds in Moultonborough, New Hampshire.
posted by Knappster at 4:53 PM on September 2, 2015

Since you are so close, check out the Jackson Homestead in Newton, Ma - it was part of the underground railroad, so very cool.

If you are in the west, the Winchester Mystery House is definitely an interesting one.
posted by Toddles at 4:53 PM on September 2, 2015

The Gamble House in Pasadena, California. I miss it so much! More Frank Lloyd Wright: Hollyhock House in Hollywood and the Ennis House* a few miles away in Los Feliz. In New England there's Wright's Zimmerman House in Manchester, NH - another MeFite and I were threatening to get a group meetup/tour together a while back but nothing ever came of it.

*Maybe. The house was sold a few years ago but I thought one of the conditions of the sale was that it be opened to the public a couple of times a year. Not much info on the site though.
posted by usonian at 4:57 PM on September 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

If you happen to drop by Rochester, NY, there's the George Eastman House (which, while it's a photography museum, also preserves the house and its furnishings) and, less grandly, the Susan B. Anthony House.

In Beverly Hills, CA, there's Greystone Mansion, which has, to say the least, a checkered past. A couple of months each year, they host The Manor, a drama about what happened to the Doheny family; it's an interesting way to tour the accessible parts of the house.
posted by thomas j wise at 5:11 PM on September 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

I will second Sonnenberg Gardens. It's got some amazing gardens and they've been doing restoration work on the house. I had a lovely time touring it about a decade ago.
posted by caphector at 5:12 PM on September 2, 2015

The Justin Smith Morrill home in Stafford, VT is awesome.

Full disclosure: I did volunteer gardenimg there, was on the board of the friends group and gave tours. I just love it.
posted by terrapin at 5:14 PM on September 2, 2015

Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst, MA
John Brown's Farm in Lake Placid, NY
posted by release the hardwoods! at 5:18 PM on September 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Every May there's a tour of a bunch of Frank Lloyd Wright houses in Oak Park and River Forest. His Home and Studio is a museum and there's lots of tours of Unity Temple, a few blocks away.
posted by readery at 5:33 PM on September 2, 2015

...and in Chicago proper is Wright's Robie House.
posted by usonian at 5:48 PM on September 2, 2015

Mark Twain's house in Hartford is a great tour both for the architecture and the fact that you can stand in the room where Huck Fin and Tom Sawyer were written.

And the technology: Twain was an early-adopter.

Annapolis has a lot of house museums a relatively short distance apart, of various shapes, sizes and ages.
posted by holgate at 5:50 PM on September 2, 2015

Sorry, a few more in the northeast that occurred to me: Gillette Castle in East Haddam, Connecticut - a really unusual & interesting place. I've never been to Hammond Castle in Gloucester, Massachusetts or Edward Gorey's house in Yarmouth, Massachusetts, but I've heard good things about both. There's also Winslow Homer's Studio in Prout's Neck, Maine.
posted by usonian at 5:55 PM on September 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Don't miss the big one at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., Washington, in the District of Columbia.

sorry but I had to
posted by Dashy at 6:13 PM on September 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

(Apologies, missed the earlier reply on my first scan)
posted by Dashy at 6:15 PM on September 2, 2015

Here is a list from

I was extremely impressed with Ruthmere, in Elkhart Indiana if you ever find yourself there.
posted by sulaine at 6:30 PM on September 2, 2015

posted by Huffy Puffy at 7:00 PM on September 2, 2015

Mark Twain's house in Hartford is a great tour both for the architecture and the fact that you can stand in the room where Huck Fin and Tom Sawyer were written.

I came in to recommend the Mark Twain House. Bonus: Harriet Beecher Stowe's house is next door!
posted by HumuloneRanger at 7:59 PM on September 2, 2015

I highly recommend the Saint-Gaudens estate in New Hampshire, which includes his house and other buildings and his artwork (scroll to the end of the linked article to see a number of photos.)

Also, you can go to a restored ghost town located in a state forest in the pinelands (of New Jersey!). Batsto is the name and it includes a mansion. Video.

Also seconding the Tenement Museum in NYC. If you are in NYC then the Merchant's House Museum is worth a visit.
posted by gudrun at 8:20 PM on September 2, 2015

Architecture lovers have long lamented the demolition of Irving Gill's modernist Dodge house on Kings Road in West Hollywood, so it was kind of a miracle when news emerged of a forgotten sister house in Santa Fe Springs which not only survives, but is open for free public tours and low-cost weddings for locals. The Clarke Estate is simple, perfect and breathtaking.
posted by Scram at 9:00 PM on September 2, 2015

Repeats: Gamble House in Pasadena and Robie House in Chicago.

The Frick in NYC is an amazing museum and was Frick's house.
posted by persona au gratin at 1:03 AM on September 3, 2015

Hildene in Manchester VT, Robert Lincoln's(Abraham's son) home.
posted by brujita at 2:12 AM on September 3, 2015

Some from New Jersey that I thought of:

- Thomas Edison's house in West Orange. You can tour the factory too.

- The Ballantine House in Newark

- The Ford Mansion in Morristown. (Washington slept there!).

- Gustav Stickley's Craftsman Farms in Morris Plains.
posted by octothorpe at 4:33 AM on September 3, 2015

persona au gratin: "The Frick in NYC is an amazing museum and was Frick's house."

Frick's house Clayton in Pittsburgh is great too. Sadly most of the other Pittsburgh robber baron's mansions (Carnegie, Westinghouse, Mellon, etc) are gone.
posted by octothorpe at 4:36 AM on September 3, 2015

Gropius House in Lincoln, MA, is wonderful. Gropius was one of the founders of the Bauhaus in Weimar Germany before coming to the U.S. The house has all the contemporary furniture and gives a good idea of what kind of living modernists like the Bauhaus were advocating for. If you find some industrial-inspired design ugly, this can really put it into context. Also, I totally want to live in that house.
posted by dame at 5:59 AM on September 3, 2015

The Ringlings' (of circus fame) Ca’ d’Zan in Sarasota. "Inspired by and designed in the Venetian Gothic style of the palazzos that ring the Venice canals, this dazzling palatial mansion perfectly captures the splendor and romance of the Italy the Ringlings so loved."
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 6:38 AM on September 3, 2015

The James J. Hill house in St. Paul, MN, is awesome, especially so at the holidays. And it's at one end of Summit Avenue, which features tons of historic houses.

(Also, the House Of Seven Gables in Salem, MA, is lame. Intead go to the Phillips House across town.)
posted by wenestvedt at 7:22 AM on September 3, 2015

2nding Edith Wharton's The Mount in Lenox, Massachusetts. Most of it has been updated in a contemporary way, but the library has been recovered and restored to match the original. Also in Lenox, MA is Elm Court, the management of which is in flux but it was another Vanderbilt sibling (a sister to George W. Vanderbilt of Biltmore, which you should also visit, of course. It is worth every penny). Elm Court is fascinating because it was left empty and abandoned for almost 50 years, during which time it was looted and squatted-in by locals. You may not be able to see the decrepit parts, but it's so, so, so fascinating to see what happens when mansions aren't restored and preserved à la Newport or Biltmore.

Newport, of course, is delightful. The servant's tour at The Elms is a treat. Doris Duke's home in Newport, Rough Point, has been preserved as she left it in the early 1990s. Amazing to see contemporary knick-knacks among Gilded Age style.

Another Vanderbilt sister created Shelburne Farms near Burlington, VT. Much like Biltmore, Shelburne is a working farm with Olmsted's hand in the landscape design. Unlike Biltmore, you can touch the furniture and sleep in the mansion. If you have a splurge in the budget, do it here. The best overnight in my life was at the Shelburne Inn and I'm currently lobbying hard for a honeymoon trip there. Bonus: they have delicious cheddar from their dairy farms.
posted by witchen at 7:24 AM on September 3, 2015

Oh! Also Hyde Park, NY. There is still another Vanderbilt sibling home, plus two Roosevelt homes.
posted by witchen at 7:28 AM on September 3, 2015

Ringwood Manor, in Ringwood, NJ. There's a whole series about it on the Cooper-Hewitt website.

Unfortunately, the Teddy Roosevelt House in NYC is closed for renovations.
posted by 1970s Antihero at 7:35 AM on September 3, 2015

Phillip Johnson's glass house in New Canaan, NC. Google for info about tours which are the only way to see it.

Teddy Roosevelt's Sagamore Hill on long Island.

If you go to the Norman Rockwell museum in Stockbridge, MA, you can visit his studio.
posted by SemiSalt at 9:20 AM on September 3, 2015

Hillwood, in Washington, D.C., has fabulous collections. The movie room is to die for, and the dacha is adorable. Very fascinating story--really enjoyed my time there.
posted by Mrs. Rattery at 12:05 PM on September 3, 2015

Boldt Castle. It's in the Thousand Islands of the St. Lawrence River on the border of NY and Ontario. Fantastically romantic story. Boldt ran the Waldorf-Astoria and was building this castle as a summer retreat for his family. When his wife died in 1904 they halted construction and the place fell into ruin. It's open to the public now and restoration has been ongoing since the 1970's.
posted by saffry at 12:18 PM on September 3, 2015

The TR house in NYC is a reproduction of the original.
posted by brujita at 1:36 PM on September 3, 2015

In Boston, there's a back bay mansion essentially unchanged from the turn of the century, the Gibson House.
posted by rmd1023 at 4:32 AM on September 8, 2015

Fallingwater near Pittsburgh PA has a current nomination to be a world heritage site. Kentuck Knob, 15 minutes away, may be better still. Frank Lloyd Wright designed both. For me, the furniture in those two houses is at least as amazing as the house itself.

The Biltmore Mansion near Asheville TN is the largest private residence in America. It is nuts. Dolly Parton played on the side lawn the day after we toured through it. It was the Vanderbilt's largest house. I'm going to suggest they were as nuts as they were rich; intentional forest preservation in America dates to their backyard, as they actively worked to preserve the view.
posted by talldean at 6:38 AM on September 8, 2015

The Star-Spangled Banner Flag House in Baltimore is worth seeing. It's where Mary Pickersgill received the commission for and sewed the flag that flew over Fort McHenry and inspired the national anthem.

Disclaimer: I work there.

In Newport: The Breakers is fantastic and totally worth it. The multi-house pass is a good buy since you can easily walk from one to another.
posted by youcancallmeal at 7:01 AM on September 8, 2015

When I was a kid, my grandmother was a volunteer docent at Stan Hywet in Akron, OH. It fueled my fantasy life for years.
posted by RedEmma at 9:28 AM on September 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

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