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  • October 25, 2014

Design Rediscovered: Mark Twain House & Museum - Ladue News: Design

Design Rediscovered: Mark Twain House & Museum

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Posted: Thursday, May 29, 2014 12:00 pm

We all know Missourian Samuel Langhorne Clemens (better known to the world as Mark Twain) for his wit, humor and sarcasm; but as might be expected, the author had a very visual artistic side, as well.

In 1873, Sam and Olivia ‘Livy’ Clemens began construction on their home on Farmington Avenue in Hartford, Connecticut, and would move there the following year. The neighborhood boasted such renowned residents as Harriet Beecher Stowe and Isabella Beecher Hooker. The Clemenses engaged the services of New York architect Edward Tuckerman Potter to create the design of their new home. And while Livy had a strong voice in its design and decoration of the home, Sam clearly was pleased with the end result, once stating in a letter: To us our house was not unsentient matter—it had a heart & a soul & eyes to see us with, & approvals & solicitudes & deep sympathies; it was of us, & we were in its confidence, & lived in its grace & in the peace of its benediction. We never came home from an absence that its face did not light up & speak out its eloquent welcome--& we could not enter it unmoved.

The home was not small by even today’s standards, measuring 11,500 square feet. It had three floors, 25 rooms and seven bathrooms (with hot and cold running water and flush toilets)—and all lit by gaslight! Some ‘high-tech’ items of the day were a burglar alarm, servant call system and an early model of the telephone. Since the cost to build the home was somewhere between $40,000 to $45,000, the first attempt at the interior was very simple and rather sparse.

In 1881, Louis C. Tiffany and Company, Associated Artists, led the renovation. Keep in mind that at this particular time in history, Hartford had more per capita wealth than any other city in the country. Having made a fairly good deal of money with Sam’s writing and with the benefit of having traveled the world, the couple could easily afford the exotic elements that were added to the home, in keeping with the Victorian Gothic architecture and the concept of ‘more is more.’

Unfortunately, due to some poor investments, in the early 1890s, the Clemenses had to take on a speaking tour through Europe to earn some money. Sadly, before their return, daughter Susy died in the Farmington Avenue home in August 1896 of meningitis. Not able to emotionally return to their beloved home, the family went abroad and sold the property in 1903.

In 2012, National Geographic named the Mark Twain House & Museum one of the Top Ten Historic Homes in the world.

For more information, visit marktwainhouse.org.

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