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15 Old Houses That Are Now Museums

By Andréana Lefon, Bob Vila

Nichols House Museum in Boston


Located in the historic Beacon Hill neighborhood of Boston, this large townhouse was constructed in 1804. It became the residence of Dr. Arthur Nichols and his family in 1885. His eldest daughter, Rose Standish Nichols, owned the house from 1934 until her death in 1960, when, through her bequest, it became a museum where priceless furnishings, artwork, and decorative accents re-create upper-class domestic life of the early 20th century.


Glessner House in Chicago


While Gilded Age moguls were building castles, John Glessner envisioned something different: a real home. With an elegant stone exterior and red-tiled roof, Glessner House resembles a romantic fortress, but on a charming, domestic scale. The home, part of the Prairie Avenue Historic District in Chicago, is open to the public for guided tours and offers free admission on Wednesdays. 


Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston


The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum offers the perfect blend of art and culture, with more than 7,500 masterworks from around the world as well as a full calendar of concerts and lectures. Completed in 1901, the museum was constructed to house the wide-ranging collection of artwork Gardner and her husband had amassed. Today, the museum is an absorbing, idiosyncratic reflection of the unconventional Gardner, who maintained a private apartment on the fourth floor. 


Georgia O’Keeffe Home and Museum near Santa Fe


One of America’s foremost artists, Georgia O’Keeffe felt drawn to, and ultimately made her home in, northern New Mexico. Her work expresses “the wideness and wonder” of the natural world that so captivated her. 


Whitney Plantation in Louisiana


The Whitney Plantation, built in 1803 along the Mississippi River, documents the reality of life for slaves on a sprawling antebellum plantation. The restored property, which is about 50 miles west of New Orleans, encompasses slave cabins, the 1790 owner's house, outbuildings, and a Wall of Honor “engraved with the names of hundreds of slaves who lived, worked, and died there.”


Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst, Massachusetts


Dickinson is one of our nation's most beloved poets, and today her home is a museum dedicated to art and literature. The property includes two family estates, The Homestead, where Dickinson was born in 1830, and The Evergreens, where her older brother, Austin, lived with his family. Dickinson spent her entire life at The Homestead, which you can visit as part of a guided tour. It's the perfect place to explore during April, which is National Poetry Month.


The Ringling—Ca’ d’Zan in Sarasota, Florida


It's not surprising that the Florida home of John Ringling, one of the five proprietors of The Ringling Circus, aka “The Greatest Show on Earth,” would be a fabulous, bigger-than-life Venetian-style palazzo. Upon its completion in 1926, Ringling commissioned a museum to display his significant art collection. Today, after a $15 million renovation in 2001, the house, museum, and gardens are a dazzling feast for the senses.


Fallingwater in Mill Run, Pennsylvania


This incomparable American architectural masterpiece also happens to be a home. Built by famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright for the Kaufmann family of Pittsburgh, the structure seems to spring organically from the rock and rushing water that surround it. To visit Fallingwater is to experience “energy and grace,” in the words of the Kaufmanns’ son, Edgar.


Winterthur in Delaware


Winterthur (pronounced "winter-tour") is the home of Henry Francis du Pont, whose family founded the DuPont chemical company. Over 90,000 pieces of decorative art are on display in the museum, which had been Du Pont's childhood home. But don’t spend all your time indoors—Winterthur is surrounded by a 1,000-acre preserve of forests and meadows, which include 60 acres of gardens. Tickets to the house, gardens, and special exhibits are available online.


The Paul Revere House in Boston


We learn about his midnight ride in elementary school, but there's so much more to know about Paul Revere. At the Paul Revere House, you can get up close and personal with the Boston silversmith who who alerted the Revolutionary militia in 1775. In the self-guided tour, visitors learn about Revere and his family and experience everyday life in colonial Boston. The site also offers family-friendly events, including programs with actors who portray various members of the Revere circle. The museum has a cash-only admission policy.


Alden B. Dow Home & Studio in Midland, Michigan


Architecture is the art of daily life, a tenet that's embodied by the Alden B. Dow Home & Studio. This man of “Big Ideas,” scion of the founder of the Dow Chemical Company, constructed his life and buildings around three values: honesty, humility, and enthusiasm. In keeping with his belief in architecture in which "gardens never end and buildings never begin," Dow's home in Midland, Michigan, seems to emerge from the surrounding lake. Inside, midcentury modern furnishings create balance and harmony.


Whaley House in San Diego


Are you a believer—in ghosts, that is? If so, a visit to Whaley House may get your spirit juices stirring. Built where a gallows once stood, this San Diego institution was the home of the colorful Whaley family, whose members included Revolutionary gunsmiths and West Coast merchants. Ghostly sightings have been rumored, and you can explore the century-old homestead during nighttime tours.


Monticello in Charlottesville, Virginia


In any ranking of presidents' homes, Thomas Jefferson's would be a winner. Designed by Jefferson, the stately Monticello (“little mountain” in Italian) stands as testament to our nation's journey toward freedom and our legacy of slavery.


Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California


For palatial splendor on the West Coast, make a stop at Hearst Castle on your next road trip. This mansion overlooking the Pacific Ocean was built in the 1920s by William Randolph Hearst, a newspaper mogul and art collector. Today, the opulent property is a must-see destination with a range of tours that can be booked online.


Mount Vernon in Virginia


What better place for an American to visit than the residence of George Washington, our first president.? And while the interiors at Mount Vernon have been beautifully restored to their 1799 grandeur, there are also gardens, a working farm with heritage animals, two museums, and a restaurant on the property.

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