If you ever happen to be in the area of Hartford, Connecticut, a stop at the Mark Twain House and Museum will be an experience you won’t soon forget. For those of you who aren’t aware, Mark Twain was the pen name of Samuel Clemons. Mr. Clemons was a classic American author who wrote probably the two most well known adventure books written in the late nineteenth century: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” So as not to confuse the reader, I will refer to the author as Mark Twain throughout this review.
History of the House
The respect Mark Twain gained as an author, and later as a humorous lecturer, provided him enough money to build and furnish an amazing home for his family in Connecticut. Apparently this home was one of the most amazing homes of its time, and certainly grand by Connecticut standards. Although Mark Twain did not want to be bothered with the little details of construction, design and home furnishing, his wife Livy loved all of the above and had major input while the home was being built. Although the family moved into the home in 1874, the home took more than two years to be completed and is 11,500 square feet with 25 rooms spread out over three floors. The couple raised their three daughters in this home, helped by a whole staff of servants.
The Mark Twain House is located in the middle of the city of Hartford on Farmington Avenue in an area once known as Nook Farm. Back in the late nineteenth century, this area of Hartford was a fashionable neighborhood. It is now on the outskirts of Connecticut’s capital city, but at that time was rather rural and a wonderful place to raise a family. Next door to the Mark Twain House and Museum is the Harriet Beecher Stowe House. This home was owned and lived in for the last twenty three years of her life by the author of another classic American novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” One can purchase tickets to either house, or buy a combined tour ticket and see them both.
My husband and I decided to tour the Mark Twain House and Museum a few months ago prior to an upcoming move south to the state of Georgia. We had both lived in Connecticut for over 50 years, but neither of us had been. The house is now a National Historic Landmark and we are so glad we went.
We were happy to discover free parking in a special parking lot directly behind the museum. After walking up a long flight of stairs, we walked into the museum, passed the gift shop and arrived at the ticket counter. We were given the option of touring just the Mark Twain House and museum, or that along with the Harriet Beecher Stowe house. Due to time constraints, we chose just the Mark Twain tour. We were told that we must wait for a guided tour and that another one would be leaving in twenty minutes so we could watch the short documentary about Mark Twain’s life which was just around the corner. There was also a small room with some belongings of his, and other items of the time period that was off to the side for us to browse through. There is also a really fun life sized Lego model of Mark Twain inside the museum waiting area. The toy Company Lego has it’s North American headquarters based in Enfield, Connecticut. Enfield is a short twenty minute ride from the museum and it was a nice gesture, and great marketing ploy, to create a life-sized model of Twain for the museum.
After waiting our twenty minutes, we were joined by a tour guide and eight other tourists for the beginning of our tour. We were led up two sets of stairs and past the museum area, and a small café. The café looked as though it had salads, sandwiches and healthy snacks for families wanting to take children along. It was a well placed refreshment area. Once outside the doors of the café, we saw the old stables made of brick. Approximately 100 yards past the stables was the house itself. It was designed in the Gothic style of that day and had many porches on it. On the outside of the home we could see an area that jutted out like a greenhouse. We were not allowed to take pictures inside the home, so I made a mental note to make sure to take pictures outside later.
The main entrance hallway was amazing and one of those places that when you walk in, you hear murmurs of people around you who are awestruck. Livy Clemons spared no attention to detail and it was evident in the dark wood, and the beautifully carved staircase one sees when entering the house. She also employed some artisans from the famed Tiffany and Co. to design the wallpaper and décor in the main entrance. It would seem she was definitely going for the “wow factor” and she nailed it.
We were led by the tour guide from room to room and at each room, she would stop to tell the group stories about the Clemons family. This was not just a tour of the house, but a lecture on the life of the famous author and his family.
My favorite story was about the part of the house that jutted out that I had seen from the outside. It was actually a solarium complete with many plants, windows and even a working water fountain. We were told that the head male servant used to pretend he was a lion in the jungle inside that area with all the plants and the little girls would climb upon his back while their father would chase the “lion” around, amidst squeals of laughter and excitement.
We were treated to views of the kitchen, dining room, bedrooms, bathrooms and library. But the most remarkable room to me was the actual office of Mark Twain himself. Located up on the third floor and away from the rest of the family, it was what one would describe today as a true “man cave.” There was a desk at the far end, which Twain used when he was writing. Off to the side there was a porch so that he could get outside to think. But in the middle of the room was a rather large pool table. Apparently Twain would entertain his buddies up there when he wasn’t writing and they would have a grand old time smoking cigars and imbibing in whatever liquor they chose for the evening. As a writer myself, I felt honored to be standing in the same place this classic author lived and wrote such classic novels.
When the tour of the house was over, I was disappointed. It was one of those experiences that was so interesting, I didn’t want it to end. The guided tour lasted about 45 minutes. We were allowed to take pictures outside and told we could go through the museum at our leisure and that the official tour was over.
The museum is a very large room which held many artifacts of Twain’s life, including furniture and personal belongings. It held pictures on the wall of Twain, his family and some of the servants. It included hand written letters of his, as well as some of the servants as they remembered the man and what it was like to work for this family. Many thought the world of the Clemons family and felt quite happy about having been able to work for them. To really see everything in the museum and read all the letters and posted information, one should allow 45 to 60 minutes.
The Gift Shop
When done perusing the museum, you are instructed by signs to head back to the front door. But of course that means you will pass the gift shop. We stopped in there and discovered lots of fun and interesting items for sale. These included books by Twain and biographies of his life of course. But also many gift items such as children’s toys from the period of Mark Twain’s life, t-shirts with some of Twain’s famous sayings, material for writers including journals and pens, souvenirs of the Twain House and Museum, posters, Christmas ornaments and gift items stemming from the Victorian time period.
If You Plan On Going…
If you plan on going to the Mark Twain House and Museum, I would suggest you plan on spending at least two hours there, and that does not include the wait time you may have before the tour begins. Tours usually run every 30 minutes. It is suggested that you get there early in the day as the tours are first come first served, and if there is a tour ahead of you that is full, you will have to wait till the next one. The last tour each day is at 4:30 pm and if you get there too late and that tour is full, you won’t be able to tour the home. Hours are Monday through Saturday from 9:30 am till 5:30 pm and Sundays from 11:00 am till 5:30 pm.
Mark Twain House and Museum:
- $18 for adults
- $15 for seniors aged 65 and over
- $11 for children ages 6 to 16
- Children under age 6 are free
Combined Tour with the Harriet Beecher Stowe House:
- $25 for adults
- $22 for seniors
- $16 for children
- Children under age 6 are free
The museum is handicapped accessible, but only the main floor of the home is wheelchair accessible. It is a bit oddly laid out in that the museum, gift shop and café are in a separate building from the main house and stable. But the tour is an amazing glimpse into the life and times of Mark Twain and well worth the time and money especially for history buffs, writers and aspiring writers.
By Karen Hellier