It’s a long way from Hannibal, Mo., and yet, it is the place where Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn were brought to life. The Mark Twain House and Museum at 351 Farmington Ave. in Hartford, Conn., is the home where Samuel Clemens, aka Mark Twain, lived alongside his wife, Olivia, and his three daughters from 1874 to 1891.
Designed by New York architect Edward Tuckerman Potter, construction on the Victorian Gothic Revival home began in August 1873 while the family was abroad. It had not been completed when they moved in on Sept. 19, 1874. Clemens spent between $40,000 to $45,000 on the 11,500-square-foot abode that represented the happiest and most productive time in the famed author’s life.
Unfortunately, the collapse of Clemens’ publishing company and other financial woes forced the family to relocate to Europe in 1891. When the couple’s second daughter, 24-year-old Susy, died of meningitis, Olivia Clemens could not bear returning to the residence.
They sold the property in 1903. Over the years, the home was converted into a school, an apartment building and a branch of the public library.
In 1929, the house was rescued from the threat of demolition by a nonprofit group known as the Mark Twain Memorial. In 1963, it was designated a National Historic Landmark.
In addition to being right next door to the Harriet Beecher Stowe Museum – Stowe was a neighbor of the Clemens family — the house has hosted celebrity guests including Steven King, Judy Blume and John Grisham. It has also been named one of the best historic homes in the nation by several major publications.
A tribute to the ‘gilded age’
The Mark Twain House and Museum campus is comprised of three buildings: The Webster Bank Museum Center, the historic home and the carriage house, which can be rented out for private parties and meetings but is not open to the public. The property also includes several gardens that are overseen by University of Connecticut master gardeners.
Naturally, the home itself is the centerpiece of the hour-long tour. After taking in the visitor’s center, where guests can learn more about the man and his family, a guide takes them on a tour of the home that features inspired architecture, modern innovations — at least by 1874 standards — and 25 luxuriously appointed rooms across three floors of living space.
Thanks to Clemens’ success as a writer and public speaker, he had the means to make the most of his home. It is a tribute to the “gilded age” — a term Twain himself coined.
Everywhere a person looks
In 1881, Twain commissioned Louis Tiffany & Co., Associated Artists to style the walls and ceilings of the house with intricate detailing, which is immediately noticeable in the dimly lit entryway where the Clemens family welcomed guests. The drawing room offers a lighter color palette but is just as ornate, with stenciled walls and tufted furniture that was used by the family when they lived there.
The library is another highlight of the home, and, in addition to its bookcases and various volumes, the fireplace is especially notable as the place where Twain often read poetry and workshopped his latest stories to his friends. The conservatory is a wonderful space where he romped with his daughters among the lush plants as if they were in a magical jungle.
The bedroom suites and schoolroom on the second floor show off the opulence the family was able to enjoy in their private quarters, including removable cherubs mounted on the master suite bed knobs with which the Clemens girls used to play. The third-floor billiard room served as Twain’s man cave and was the place where he was able to write, enjoy a game of billiards and entertain informally.
There are two types of guided home tours available to the public — 55-minute general house tours and 70-minute living history tours. The latter is an immersive experience that allows visitors to explore unique facets of the Victorian era and meet and interact with members of the Clemens household.
“This tour is totally worth it,” said one visitor from Michigan who toured the Twain home this summer. “The tour guides are in costume and walk through every room, sharing details of Sam Clemens and his family that we never knew.”
Another visitor highly recommended booking one of the costumed actor tours. “We had Beth as our guide, and she was an excellent Olivia Clemens,” he said. “We learned a lot about Mark Twain, their family, history, and life in 1880s Hartford. Beth made history come alive.”
Planning to go?
Tickets for guided tours of the Mark Twain House and Museum are available online. It is recommended that they be purchased in advance because tours often sell out. The museum and first floor of the home are wheelchair accessible. Large parties and those with special needs may call guest services at (860) 247-0998 to find out what accommodations can be arranged. For more information, visit www.marktwainhouse.org.