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House Hunters

Witness the work of Connecticut icons who prove "you are what you build."

Mark Twain House & Museum

Many intriguing structures and pristine architecture preserve Connecticut's legacy. The one most immediately credited to its tenant: Hartford's Mark Twain house. Twain and his family lived in the Gothic landmark from 1874 to 1891, a span the author called the happiest and most productive period of his life. Twain wrote The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and other classic works in his third-floor billiard room.

Mark Twain House - Daniel Hartwig/Flickr

Visitors today tour high-style interiors that reflect an owner who was one of the first world travelers. Ornamental architecture inside and out, the 11,500-square-foot Connecticut home with 25 rooms was decorated by Tiffany & Co. designers, who covered all the walls and ceilings of public spaces with Middle Eastern and Asian motifs. The home had a lot of firsts for the time, including hot and cold running water and flush toilets in the bathrooms, a heating system and a telephone in the kitchen.

Who knew? Mark Twain moved around a lot later in life, and he always took his bed with him. He is said to have slept backward so he could appreciate the elabo-rate carvings on the headboard, crafted in Venice in 1878, and now on display in the museum.

Harriet Beecher Stowe Center

The Nook Farm neighborhood of late-19th-century Hartford, Connecticut was considered the preeminent literary community in the nation. Large estates with astounding architecture on large lots housed residents that ranged from bestselling authors to actors to social reformists. Mark Twain's neighbor was Harriet Beecher Stowe, who wrote the anti slavery novel Uncle Tom's Cabin.

Stowe's 1871 Gothic Revival cottage was smaller than other homes in the area, but her Victorian gardens outshined the neighbors'. Visitors today take guided tours of the grounds and cottage, which includes thousands of books, manuscripts and correspondence. Stowe's original artwork, plus decorative arts and period furniture, open a window to a creative force in United States history.

Who knew? Stowe wrote more than 30 books in her career, including The American Woman's Guide, a domestic how-to she co-wrote with her sister.

Hill-Stead Museum

Theodate Pope was one of the first female architects in the United States. She designed Hill-Stead, her family's Farmington, Connecticut country estate, beginning in 1898. One of her guiding principals was to create a space grand enough to exhibit her father's collection of French Impressionist paintings.

For the first half of the 20th century, the family lived in the Colonial Revival residence. Artists, academics and even presidents visited the estate over the years. Today, visitors tour 19 period rooms that showcase one of the most important private art collections in the world.

Who knew? The 150-acre estate includes a carriage house, a carpentry shop, and even a theater, where Pope invited the community over to see early motion pictures.

Gillette Castle

Actor William Gillette was once the most popular actor in the country, best known for his portrayals of Sherlock Holmes in the early 20th century. He retired a rich man, and set his focus on a project overlooking the Connecticut River in East Haddam, Connecticut. For five years, 20 men built his castle from local fieldstone. The 180-acre estate at one time included three miles of train track and a working steam engine and hosted legendary parties.

With architecture reminiscent of a Medieval castle from approach, the home quickly turns into a woodsy lodge when visitors enter. Master woodworkers were commissioned to outfit the 24 interior rooms. Visitors take self-guided tours of this eccentric place, which was purchased by the state of Connecticut in 1943 and protected as Gillette Castle State Park. Getting there is half the fun. In warm-weather months, visitors can take a ferry from Chester, Connecticut. The surface route passes over the East Haddam Swing Bridge.

Who knew? Gillette designed this castle himself. His architectural design includes a series of hidden mirrors for surveillance of public rooms from the master bedroom.

The Glass House

Philip Johnson's buildings define cityscapes from New York City to Garden Grove, California, but his private residence in New Canaan, Connecticut stands as his greatest influence to architects and tastemakers around the world. Johnson started as an associate of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and came into his own to win accolades as the leading American Modernist during the second half of the 20th century.

The original 1949 estate grew in acreage, number of buildings and reputation over the decades. It was once a rite of passage for Yale architecture students to sneak onto the private property for a look. Today, one of the greatest landmarks of American architecture is an international destination for design-philes of all makes. The 47-acre campus includes 14 structures as architecturally experimental as the anchor, including a glass-covered sculpture garden. Plan ahead for public tours May-November.

Who knew? But where do you hang the art? Johnson's underground art gallery was curated by his longtime companion, David Whitney. Their collection includes artwork from pals Andy Warhol and Jasper Johns.

This article originally appeared in the 2012 Connecticut Visitors Guide written by Jeff Atwell.

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