The Mark Twain House: Birthplace of Many Great American Novels

Images of a steamboat chugging down the muddy brown water of the Mississippi River is the first image that comes to mind when I hear “Mark Twain”, followed by his infamous all white suit, thick eyebrows and mustache. Hartford, Connecticut however does not come to mind. I was so very surprised to find out that Samuel Langhorne Clemens,  otherwise known as Mark Twain, had resided in a beautiful home there, which is where he wrote The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Once I realized the house was open for tours, I set out to Hartford for a day trip!

Historical Highlights

  • Samuel Langhorne Clemens was born in 1835 and grew up in Hannibal, Missouri, which would later become the setting for both Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. He tried many different trades in his younger years, including printers apprentice, typesetter, riverboat pilot, a miner in Nevada, and eventually turned to journalism when he found himself in Virginia. 
  • A newspaper he worked for sent him on a trip to Europe, where he met a fellow passenger who set him up with his sister, Olivia Langdon, who was from a very wealthy family. Samuel & Olivia were married in 1870.
  • In 1873, Samuel moved his wife and one daughter at the time, Susy, to Hartford, Connecticut and designed a grand home for them, which was finished in 1874. The home would later see the birth of Clara and Jean Clemens as well.
  • Samuel Clemens would become very wealthy & a very well known man due to the popularity of his novels and writings, however he would make poor investment choice. On the verge of bankruptcy in 1891, they made the hard decision to leave their beloved home and move to Europe. They did eventually end up moving back to America, but never again would reside in the Hartford home.
  • The home was sold and eventually used as a boarding house up until the 1920s, and came under protection to become the museum you can visit today.

My Favorite Spots

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Architect Edward Tuckerman Potter designed the home for the Clemenses,  decorating the facade with brilliantly colored bricks in bold geometric patterns with lots of elaborate woodworking. The 19-room home has been identified as “Picturesque Gothic”, but there are many elements of the “Stick Style” as well. It’s ornate, intricate, and simply gorgeous. I highly recommend walking around the entire home, as from every angle there are new details to notice. Just wait until you get inside!

First Floor Guest Room

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One thing struck a cord with me in this room instantly – the wallpaper. My grandfather kept bees, and when I was a little girl nothing was a better treat than him bringing me a giant hunk of honeycomb. During what would be the last Thanksgiving with my grandfather, this memory of the honeycomb somehow came up. He got up in the middle of dinner and brought me back a hunk of that sweet honeycomb, and had such a huge smile on his face. I’ll never forget that. So, walking into this room that was entirely covered in bees was not only sentimental, but also so pretty. I’m obsessed and ready to cover the walls of my home in bees too! This was known by guests as “the best guest room in the house” – and I would completely agree with that statement!

Conservatory

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Just off the family room sits this beautiful conservatory area. As soon as you enter the home you can hear running water, not yet knowing where it comes from. Moving through the front parlor and the dining room, you eventually find yourself in what was a living room and library with this gorgeous connected conservatory. The remainder of the room, and majority of the first floor, is decorated in very dark wood tones and wall coverings, so this light, bright greenery is a welcome sight. Plus, who doesn’t want a water feature inside their home?

Billiard Room 

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On the third floor you’ll find where Samuel Clemens transitioned into Mark Twain. This billiards room was, of course, used for entertaining guests (there was even a lovely guest bedroom next door in case the game ran late or you enjoyed yourself a bit too much and wanted to spend the night). However, after the arrival of the third daughter and an eventual need for a nursery and schooling area for the girls, his study on the second floor was re-purposed and he started to use this room as his office instead. It is said that he took his writing seriously in the sense that he was not to be disturbed often from 9 am – 5 pm, but that after “work hours” it was family time. He would often read to his wife and daughters that which he had written during the day, or if it was inappropriate for his daughters his wife would read it silently while they watched intently for her reaction. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, A Connecticut Yankee, King Arthur’s Court  and more were all worked on in this very room. As you can see from above, notes and musings are strewn on the pool table, as would have been the case when he was writing. There are two balconies off this room, allowing for tons of natural light, and an easy escape for him to smoke as many cigars as he’d like without upsetting his wife by smoking in the house.

Eye Spy

  • The wall coverings in this house are incredible. Samuel Clemens hired Louis Comfort Tiffany and Associated Artists (yes, of the infamous jewelers!) to decorate the home with intricate stencils and wallpapers, similar to the geometric patterns you see in brick on the exterior of the home. Throughout you see many patterns, with most of the colors being silver or golds to reflect the light. While what you see today is not original, there are areas throughout the home which show the original paint and how preservationists copied the patterns to bring it back to what it would have looked like.
  • The three story staircase in the home is a stunner. With intricate (albeit low) hand railings, trussed beams on the ceiling of lands and more, you need to take a moment on the first floor to simply gaze.
  • The mahogany fireplace in the living room & library is a piece of art. It was an antique brought to the home from Europe, and upon arrival all were upset to find that someone had miscalculated and it was too tall for the space (my worst nightmare). However, they were able to remove a top molding piece, which now sits above an adjoining doorway. Problem solved!
  • Samuel Clemens was always very interested in technology, and had many “firsts” of the time installed in his home. This included a telephone, along with a battery operated alarm system! 

Visiting Tips

  • The home is open year round, but was one of the more expensive homes that I’ve paid to tour ($20 per person, but we came bearing coupons from a local library – so look into that before you visit!) But it was a gorgeous home and worth it! 
  • There are lots of stairs and the home is overall very dark. And, ask a lot of questions if your tour guide doesn’t offer up what you may be curious about! 
  • The Harriet Beecher Stowe Home & Museum is literally right next door – so, if you have time make a visit there too!

The Mark Twin House & Museum

351 Farmington Avenue, Hartford, CT 06105 

Top Photos

Below are some of my top photos, but I’ll be sharing more on our Facebook & Instagram pages as well! Hope you enjoy and plan a visit yourself soon!

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