19 Aug 22 Must-Visit Historical Homes Of America
Charleston is steeped in history. Walking the colorful, narrow cobblestone streets of one of America’s oldest towns, with its stunningly preserved colonial homes, you can see its story play out before your eyes practically everywhere you turn. Indeed, Charleston, South Carolina, is among the most celebrated places in the U.S. to explore fine examples of American architecture and its progression through time.
A veritable museum without walls, the city is home to over 2,800 historic buildings designed in an array of period styles such as Colonial, Georgian, Regency, Federal, Adamesque, Classical Revival, Greek Revival, Gothic Revival, Italianate, Queen Anne, Victorian, and Art Deco, all playing witness to its eventful past.
Yes, Charleston’s history can be traced through its many homes and the same can be said for the rest of America.
America is full of history and the most prominent display is that of architecture and historic estates. Though the United States is a much younger country than many others, it has more than its share of exquisite homes that are full of history. Constructed over the span of four centuries, from the 1600s through the mid-1900s, in almost every architectural style, from the utilitarian clapboard homes of the early settlers to the Classic Revival mansions of the nation’s first presidents to French chateaux, the U.S. boasts some of the most interesting historic homes anywhere.
So far this post we are going to venture outside of Charleston. If you love history and architecture (mixed with a little bit of traveling and intrigue) then this is the list of lists for you! Hopefully you have some time to visit these amazing historical homes.
Image from Biltmore.com
The Biltmore Estate
Asheville, North Carolina
The Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina, is the largest privately-owned residence in the United States.
It was built between 1889 and 1895 for the industrialist George Washington Vanderbilt II. Renowned architect Richard Morris Hunt was commissioned to design the residence while Frederick Law Olmistead oversaw the landscape design of Vanderbilt’s near 125,000 acres. The home is truly massive at over 170,000 square feet. The descendants of the Vanderbilt’s still own it.
The Biltmore Estate is a French chateau-style mansion. The construction required the labor of thousands of stone masons, bricklayers and more. The Biltmore features steeply pitched roofs, sculptured ornamentation, and turrets. The asymmetrical, four-story, limestone facade stands at more than 375 feet in height.
Equally as magnificent as the exterior, the interior covers more than 4 acres of floor space, contains 250 rooms including 65 fireplaces, 43 bathrooms, and 35 bedrooms.
Image from newportmansions.org
Newport, Rhode Island
The largest, privately-owned home in the United States was not enough property for the Vanderbilts, one of the wealthiest families in the Gilded Age of unchecked American prosperity. Cornelius Vanderbilt II, another prominent scion of the family, had the Breakers, a Newport, Rhode Island, summer home built between 1893 and 1895. While not occupied year round, this Neo Italian Renaissance-inspired residence covers nearly an acre of the 14-acre estate.
Like the Biltmore, famed architect Richard Morris Hunt gets the credit for designing the Breakers. The four-floor residence has over 120,000 square feet of livable space and 70 rooms.
Among the many luxurious features of the home, finely appointed by the celebrated Parisian design house of Jules Allard and Sons, is the 2440-square-foot dining room. The room features twelve free-standing alabaster columns supporting a gilt cornice, an adorned ceiling painting of the Goddess Aurora, and two Baccarat crystal chandeliers illuminating the room using either gas or electricity.
Image from asapackermansion.com
Asa Packer Mansion
Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania
This mansion was home to Asa Packer, philanthropist, railroad magnate, and founder of Lehigh University. Built in 1861 by Philadelphia architect Samuel Sloan, the home is topped by a red-ribbed tin roof and central cupola. It also has a cast iron frame and consists of 18 rooms, covering approximately 11,000 square feet of living space. The history of the Parker family, with knowledgeable tour guides and traditional house furnishings, make this a special place of history.
Image from pabstmansion.com
The Pabst Mansion
Designed by George Bowman Perry and Alfred Charles Clas, the Pabst Mansion was home to Captain Frederick and Maria Pabst. Construction lasted two years and was completed in July of 1892. As leading figures in Milwaukee high society (Pabst was the former president of Pabst Brewing Company), both Captain and Maria became passionate art collectors, filling their mansions with priceless treasures. During the years of the Pabst family’s ownership, the house was the scene of many fine parties and receptions, a wedding, and Captain and Mrs Pabst’s funerals.
After the Pabst descendents sold the house in 1908, it became the archbishop’s residence and the center of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Milwaukee for more than 57 years. When it was sold in 1975, the mansion was nearly torn down to make a parking lot for a neighboring hotel, but a three-year crusade for its preservation spared the home from demolition.
Image from hearstcastle.org
San Simeon, California
Created by architect Julia Morgan and newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, the 165-room estate overlooking the California town of San Simeon showcases a magnificent collection of art and antiques, as well as 123 acres of terraces, gardens, and pools including the iconic Neptune Pool.
The property is now a house museum and a California State Park where visitors can explore different aspects of Hearst Castle history, from its art and architecture to its heyday as a retreat for Hollywood’s biggest names.
Image from galvestonhistory.org
Bishop’s Palace (a.k.a. Gresham House)
This house was built between 1887 and 1893 by Galverston architect Nicholas J. Clayton for lawyer and politician Walter Gresham, his wife Josephine, and their nine children.
Architectural historians consider the Bishop’s palace one of the finest examples of a Victorian residence in the country. It has a grand interior, stained glass windows, marble columns, 14-foot ceilings and an octagonal mahogany stairwell that is 40 feet tall with stained glass on five sides of it. One of the fireplaces is even lined with silver.
In 1923, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Galverston purchased the house and it served as the residence for Bishop Christopher E. Byrne. After the diocesan offices were moved to Houston, the diocese opened the mansion to the public in 1963.
The house is now owned by the Galveston Historical Foundation and self-guided tours are available daily. A portion of each admission supports the preservation and restoration of the property.
Image from olana.org
Olana State Historic Site
Hudson, New York
Painter Frederick Edwin Church designed his home in the Hudson River Valley on a hilltop with the help of architect Calvert Vaux. Church was inspired by his travels and incorporated Middle Eastern motifs (specifically Persian) alongside the Victorian architecture.
The 250-acre estate is now a National Historic landmark; the house showcases work by Church and the artist’s collection of decorative art.
Image from hudsonvalley.org
Kykuit, The Rockefeller Estate
Sleepy Hollow, New York
This Colonial Revival Home was built in 1923 for John D. Rockefeller and his family. It served as the family home for over four generations. On daily tours, you can see the main floor of the house which has 18th century style furniture and Asian ceramics.
The grounds contain fountains, pavilions, and a collection of large scale sculptures, including works by Louise Nevelso, David Smith, Pablo Picasso, and Henry Moore. This collection was curated by grandson Nelson Rockefeller.
Image from drumthwacket.org
Princeton, New Jersey
Built in 1835 for Charles S. Olden, the former governor of New Jersey, this Greek Revival Mansion is now owned by the state of New Jersey and is the official governor’s residence. Steeped in history, Drumthwacket is where the pivotal battle of Princeton was fought during the American Revolution. If you’re wondering where the name Drumthwacket originates from, it means “wooded hill” in Gaelic.
During the guided tour, walk through six public rooms that the governor uses for meeting and state receptions or explore the light filled solarium and opulent center hall.
Image from rowanoak.com
Rowan Oak was author William Faulkner’s home for over 40 years. Built in the 1840s, this primitive Greek Revival House was purchased by Faulkner in the early 1930s (he later did many of the renovations himself). He renamed it Rowan Oak in 1932 after the rowan tree as symbol of security and peace.
Though the house isn’t large, it’s still a charming look into the homelife one of America’s most loved writers. The home is pretty much as Faulkner left it, with phone numbers written on the walls and books still on the shelves.
Image from vizcaya.org
Vizcaya Museum and Gardens
The waterfront villa in Miami was built by industrialist James Deering (Deering McCormick International Harvester fortune) who hired artist and interior designer Paul Chafin to create his vacation home with the help of architect Frances Burreld Hoffman, Jr. in 1916.
This waterfront estate consisted of 32 rooms and 10 acres of formal gardens. Following Deerings death in 1925, the estate served as a private and later public museum.
The main house showcases more than 2,500 furnishings, artwork, and objects, and visitors can also explore the formal gardens as well as forests and an impressive orchid collection.
Image from mollybrown.org
Molly Brown House Museum
The Molly Brown House, or the House of Lions, was the home of the “Unsinkable Molly Brown,” the philanthropist and socialite Margaret Brown who survived the sinking of the RMS Titanic in 1912.
The house was built in the 1880s and incorporated the Queen Anne style of architecture. The owners, Isaac and Mary Large, experienced a financial downturn in the 1890s and were forced to sell the home, which is when Molly’s husband James purchased it.
Molly’s survival of the Titanic tragedy helped her gain a platform to promote issues she felt strongly about including women’s rights, workers rights, education, and historic preservation.
Unfortunately, after her death the home’s condition deteriorated. It was set for demolition until a group of citizens formed Historic Denver Inc. and raised funds to restore it. The museum now presents exhibits and items from Molly’s life.
Image from winchestermysteryhouse.com
Winchester Mystery Mansion
San Jose, California
Whether you like ghost stories or just architecture, this mansion will tick all the boxes for you. The Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California, is where Sarah Winchester resided after the passing of her husband, William Wirt Winchester. Yes, those Winchesters….the firearm family. People claim they began around-the-clock construction in 1886 on what was initially 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 kitchens, and doors that led nowhere….all for the equivalent of $71 million today! The claim for this is that the soul of every person killed by a Winchester firearm haunted Sarah, and she believed they would not harm her as long as construction continued at 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?
Image from monticello.org
Thomas Jefferson began construction on his plantation, Monticello, in 1769. He found inspiration in the work of Andrea Palladio, as well as in ancient and Renaissance architecture. He later enlarged and remodeled the house beginning in 1796. The 43-room estate was Jefferson’s home until his death in 1826.
Monticello is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Museum, where visitors can view exhibitions about Jefferson, the estate, and enslaved people who lived and worked there.
Image from thegildedbutler.com
West Long Branch, New Jersey
The Great Hall at Shadow Lawn was built in 1929. The mansion stands in the footprint of an earlier mansion which was destroyed by fire 1927 shortly after $1 million had been spent on its renovation. That former colonial wood frame structure, also known as Shadow Lawn, contained fifty-two rooms and was built in 1903 for John A. McCall, president of the New York Life Insurance Company. The current mansion, which has 130 rooms, cost $10.5 million to build and was the private residence of the F.W. Woolworth Company president, Hubert Templeton Parson and his wife Maysie.
The current mansion fell under municipal ownership in 1939 and later served as the site of a private girls school until Monmouth University (then known as Monmouth Junior College) acquired the property in 1955 at a cost of $350,000.
In 1980, the Great Hall was the location for scenes in the musical film Annie. It served as the Park Avenue mansion of the film’s Daddy Warbucks.
In 1985, the Great Hall at shadow Lawn was designated a National Historic Landmark.
Image from hemingwayhome.com
Ernest Hemingway House
Key West, Florida
This house was built in 1851, fell into disrepair, and was purchased by Hemingway’s father-in-law as a wedding gift for $8,000. Ernest and Pauline (his second wife) spared no expenses. Their house was the town’s showpiece….and it still is.
This house still contains furniture that Hemingway owned, some of the most noteworthy being a beautiful chandelier collection and a 17th century chest made of Circassian walnut. Today, the estate still remains to be the single largest residential property or the island of Key West.
And for all the cat lovers out there, you’re in for a sweet treat; the house is home to 40-50 polydactyl (six toed) cats! They are descendants of the original cats Hemingway kept while living in the house.
Image from theglasshouse.org
The Glass House
New Canaan, Connecticut
Architect Philip Johnson’s home in Connecticut is an icon of modern architecture. The Glass House, completed in 1949, was revolutionary for its integration into the landscape and its use of materials. The 49-acre property is home to 14 structures, built between 1949 and 1995, including a sculpture gallery, a studio, and Ghost house, an architectural folly.
The estate also has an impressive collection of 20th century artwork (collected by Johnson and his partner curator David Whitney) including pieces by Frank Stella, Andy Warhol, and Robert Rauschenberg.
Image from mountvernon.org
Mount Vernon, Virginia
George and Martha Washington’s plantation home was originally built by the president’s father in 1734. Washington expanded the house over 46 years beginning in 1754, and transformed the one-and-a-half-story house into a 21-room mansion. Many of the buildings on the property have been restored or reconstructed, such as the out buildings where enslaved men and women worked, and a museum showcasing artifacts from Washington’s life and presidency.
Image from nps.gov
Harriet Tubman National Historic Park
Auburn, New York
In the late 1850s, abolitionist Harriet Tubman purchased property in Auburn, New York, from senator William Seward and moved there with her parents from Canada where they had been living since 1851.
She returned to the home following the Civil War, and in 1896 she purchased 25 acres of adjacent land to create the Harriet Tubman Home for the Aged. She deeded the property to the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in 1903.
Today, the residence, the Home for the Aged, and the Thompson AME Zion Church make up the Harriet Tubman National Historical, which was established in 2017.
Image from 7gables.org
House of the Seven Gables
Made famous by Nathaniel Hawthornes’s novel, “The House of the Seven Gables,” this colonial seaside mansion was built in 1668 for Captain John Turner I, the head of one of the most successful maritime families in the New England colonies. The house has many architectural features still intact, such as high style Georgian paneling and the original beams and rafters.
Adding to the site’s charm are beautiful colonial gardens and the Nathaniel Hawthorne birthplace adjacent to the House of the Seven Gables. Unlike the Seven Gables house, Hawthorne’s birthplace is much more modest.
During a house tour, professional guides dive into Salem’s maritime history, the literary history of Nathaniel Hawthorne, and reveal the famous hidden staircase. (Be careful, many people bump their heads.)
Image from ringling.org
It turns out, having a monopoly on traveling circuses was an incredibly lucrative venture at the turn of the century. 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 and that the Ringling Brothers took second billing. 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 sits on 20 acres of land purchased in 1911 by John and his wife Mabel, and overlooks Sarasota Bay.
The 22,000-square-foot, four-story residence has 32 bedrooms, 15 bathrooms, and the original crystal chandelier from New York’s famed Waldorf Astoria. The estate is truly stunning with its stark Gothic design surrounded by the Florida landscape and 1,000 feet of waterfront views.
Visiting these history-filled dwellings opens up a wide array of cultural history and learning. You will not regret adding these 22 historical homes in the U.S. to your must-visit list.
Image from lyndhurst.org
Tarrytown, New York
Lyndhurst is considered one of America’s finest Gothic Revival mansions. It was originally designed in 1838 by American architect Alexander Jackson Davis for former New York City mayor William Paulding. It later became the summer home and country retreat of railroad tycoon Jay Gould.
The 67-acre estate is now a property of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and has been featured in television shows like the Blacklist and Project Runway. Lyndhurst’s vast collection of art, antiques, and furniture have remained largely intact. One of the most gorgeous rooms is the north guest bedroom; the vaulted, ornamented ceilings are painted a dusty blue and produce a charming, romantic effect.
When visiting Lyndhurst, make sure you spend time walking around the sprawling estate grounds. They contain not only sweeping lawns accented with shrubs and specimen trees, but also a curving entrance drive and the nation’s first steel-framed conservatory. And be sure not to miss the breathtaking views of New York City’s skyline from the top of Lyndhurst’s restored observation tower.