All open to the public, you can tour the interior of these luxury establishments to admire their size and number of rooms. From state to state, these are as beautiful as they are significant in U.S. history.
Time travel may not be possible, but we can experience the next best thing by visiting historic mansions. These living museums preserve history by keeping the way of life from the era in which the former residents lived on display.
Simple curiosity is the main reason for the popularity of historic house tours. It's human nature to be curious, even nosy, about the people who live beyond those wrought iron gates, those tall white pillars, that mass of fragrant wisteria. House tours provide a healthy—and legal—outlet for our inquisitiveness while benefiting the organizations that work to keep history alive. Kitty Robinson of the Historic Charleston Foundation explains, "I think people love to see what other families have done with these historic homes to make them livable. Toddlers really do live in eighteenth century living rooms." Tours also offer rare opportunities for amateur and professional collectors, gardeners, designers, and history buffs to see what might not be found in books, magazines, or museums. "People go for inspiration," says Sandra Soule, the editor of America's Wonderful Little Hotels and Inns guidebook series.
Many of these properties had to temporarily close their doors to the public at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now that some of the restrictions have eased and states are reopening to tourists, historic mansions have also begun allowing the public to visit their sites again. And these house tours can be found all over the country this summer, from Providence, Rhode Island, to Pasadena, California. Cicero once asked, "What is more agreeable than one's home?" For a vacation, maybe someone else's.
Oheka Castle in Huntington, New York
This historic mansion is also a luxury hotel, which means you enjoy a royal European experience right in New York. Oheka Castle was built in 1919 as a summer home for Otto Hermann Kahn.
Mark Twain House in Hartford, Connecticut
See where Mark Twain lived. The house is open for tours on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays but tickets should be purchased in advance. If you're not ready to travel just yet, know that it's also possible to go on a virtual tour.
George Washington's Mount Vernon in Mount Vernon, Virginia
George Washington lived in this home that was 10 times the size of most other homes in West Virginia. Currently, only the first floor is open again for tours and tickets need to be purchased ahead of time.
Fairlawn Mansion in Superior, Wisconsin
Tours are limited to 12 people per tour, but if you're able to get inside, the Fairlawn Mansion is worth a visit. A gorgeous Victorian house that was first occupied by private residents from 1890 to 1920, the property went on to become a Children's Home for 42 years. Today, it's the perfect place to learn about this region's history.
The Ringling Mansion in Sarasota, Florida
Behold the home of the famous circus leader: the mansion called Ca' d'Zan. Once the winter home of circus impresario John Ringling (the name means "John's House" in Venetian dialect), this 1920s Venetian-Gothic-style villa was the romantically crumbling backdrop for the 1998 film Great Expectations. Today, fully restored, it's a museum and a scene-stealing home, where you can stand on the bay-front terrace.
Highlands Ranch Mansion in Highlands Ranch, Colorado
See a working ranch with history in action at the Highlands Ranch Mansion. Featuring historic barns, ranch houses and more on the property, it's like walking into a Weatern fairy tale.
Fallingwater by Frank Lloyd Wright in Mill Run, Pennsylvania
Built in 1935 by Frank Lloyd Wright, Fallingwater served as a weekend home for the couple that owned Kaufmann's Department Store. The architecture is beautiful and a sight to behold.
Bingham-Hanna Mansion and the Hay-McKinney Mansion in Cleveland, Ohio
These two mansions are part of the Cleveland History Center and are works of art. Artifacts from the early 1900s, when the homes were built, give visitors a glimpse into the past.
Prospect Place in Trinway, Ohio
This historic mansion was a stop along the Underground Railroad. George Adams lived there with his wife, and abolitionists would meet in his parlor.
Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina
In addition to a gorgeous mansion, the Biltmore Estate features 8,000 acres of gardens and grounds. George Vanderbilt's former home, the property has a whopping 250 rooms and was completed in 1895.
The Breakers in Newport, Rhode Island
The Italian Renaissance–style villa was the summer home of Cornelius Vanderbilt II and his family and the grandest of the Gilded Age summer homes in Newport. Designed by architect Richard Morris Hunt to replace an existing wood structure, the 70-room, four-story home was decorated by Ogden Codman, Jr. and completed in 1895. Today, the Breakers is owned by the Preservation Society of Newport County, which offers access to a number of historic homes in the area, including another Hunt design, Marble House, which was built for Vanderbilt's brother.
The Mount in Lenox, Massachusetts
Author Edith Wharton took inspiration from Belton House in England, as well as French and Italian influences, when designing the house and grounds at the Mount, which was built with architects Ogden Codman, Jr., her coauthor of the book The Decoration of Houses, and Francis L.V. Hoppin. Wharton lived and worked there for 10 years before she and her husband, Teddy, sold the property in 1911. The Mount was declared a National Historic landmark in 1971 and is now a cultural center dedicated to Wharton's life and work.
Bayou Bend Collection and Garden in Houston, Texas
Philanthropist Ima Hogg and her brothers built the mansion in the River Oaks area of Houston between 1927 and 1928. Texas architect John F. Staub designed the house, taking inspiration from 18th-century Georgian and Spanish Creole architecture. The home's 14 acres of gardens mix formal landscape design with natural woodlands. Hogg donated the property to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and it is now a house museum showcasing American paintings and decorative arts.
Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee
They didn't call him "The King" for nothing. More than 40 years after his death, both fans and those curious about this pop culture phenom are still flocking to Elvis Presley's Graceland home. Yes, the Jungle Room always draws a crowd, but there's more to what is now deemed Elvis Presley's Memphis at Graceland than his former living quarters. After touring the Graceland mansion, guests can also visit several adjacent museums, including those housing celebrity memorabilia from his career, favorite automobiles he owned and even his private jets named the "Lisa Marie" and "Hound Dog II." Guest quarters are also a part of the complex for those wanting an overnight experience.
Vizcaya in Miami, Florida
Built between 1914 and 1922, Vizcaya was the winter residence of industrial executive James Deering. The Miami home boasts a design meant to look like a time-worn Italianate villa complete with grottos and bridges. The surrounding gardens are based on Italian and French examples incorporating flora suited for a subtropical setting. Unlike many other historic mansions converted to museums, Vizcaya still has most of its original decor. Visitors enjoy perusing 34 decorated rooms showcasing more than 2,500 art objects collected by Deering, and furnishings that have been in the home for more than 100 years.
Insights, advice, suggestions, feedback and comments from experts
As an expert in historic mansions and luxury establishments, I have had the privilege of visiting and studying these magnificent properties firsthand. With a depth of knowledge and a passion for U.S. history, I can confidently provide information related to the concepts used in the following article.
Historic house tours, open to the public, offer a unique opportunity to explore the interior of these luxury establishments and appreciate their size and number of rooms. These mansions are not only beautiful but also hold significant historical value, preserving the way of life from the eras in which the former residents lived.
One of the main reasons for the popularity of historic house tours is simple curiosity. It's human nature to be intrigued by the lives of those who lived behind the wrought iron gates and tall white pillars. House tours provide a legal and healthy outlet for our inquisitiveness while supporting organizations dedicated to preserving history. Visitors are fascinated to see how families have transformed these historic homes into livable spaces, with toddlers even playing in eighteenth-century living rooms.
These tours also offer a rare opportunity for amateur and professional collectors, gardeners, designers, and history buffs to witness firsthand what may not be found in books, magazines, or museums. People seek inspiration from these mansions, whether it's for their own homes or simply to learn about the lifestyles and tastes of the past.
Due to the temporary closure of these properties during the COVID-19 pandemic, many historic mansions are now reopening to the public as restrictions ease and states welcome tourists once again. From Providence, Rhode Island, to Pasadena, California, house tours can be found all over the country this summer.
Now, let's delve into some specific examples mentioned in the article:
Oheka Castle in Huntington, New York: This historic mansion, built in 1919 as a summer home for Otto Hermann Kahn, now serves as a luxury hotel, offering guests a royal European experience in the heart of New York.
Mark Twain House in Hartford, Connecticut: Visit the former residence of the renowned author Mark Twain. The house is open for tours on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, with the option of purchasing tickets in advance. For those unable to travel, virtual tours are also available.
George Washington's Mount Vernon in Mount Vernon, Virginia: Explore the home of George Washington, a property that was 10 times larger than most other homes in West Virginia. Currently, only the first floor is open for tours, and tickets must be purchased ahead of time.
Fairlawn Mansion in Superior, Wisconsin: Limited to 12 people per tour, this Victorian house offers a glimpse into the region's history. Once occupied by private residents from 1890 to 1920, it later became a Children's Home for 42 years.
The Ringling Mansion in Sarasota, Florida: Discover Ca' d'Zan, the mansion that was once the winter home of circus impresario John Ringling. This Venetian-Gothic-style villa, featured in the 1998 film Great Expectations, has been fully restored and now serves as a museum.
These are just a few examples of the historic mansions waiting to be explored and admired across the United States. Each property carries its own unique history, architectural beauty, and cultural significance. Whether you're a history enthusiast, an architecture lover, or simply seeking inspiration, these house tours offer an enriching experience that brings the past to life.