A Photo Tour of the Mark Twain House in Connecticut

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The Mark Twain House

The Mark Twain House is elaborately decorated with patterned brick and ornamental stickwork
Hartford, Connecticut (1874) The Mark Twain House is elaborately decorated with patterned brick and ornamental stickwork. Photo © 2007 Jackie Craven

The Hartford, Connecticut home of American author Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens)

Before he became famous for his novels, Samuel Clemens ("Mark Twain") married into a wealthy family. Samuel Clemens and his wife Olivia Langdon asked the noted architect Edward Tuckerman Potter to design a lavish "poet's house" on Nook Farm, a pastoral neighborhood in Hartford, Connecticut.

Taking the pen name Mark Twain, Samuel Clemens wrote his most famous novels in this house, including The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The house was sold in 1903. Samuel Clemens died in 1910.

Built in 1874 by Edward Tuckerman Potter, architect and Alfred H. Thorp, supervising architect. Interior design of the first floor rooms in 1881 was by Louis Comfort Tiffany and Associated Artists.

Architect Edward Tuckerman Potter (1831-1904) was known for designing grand Romanesque Revival churches, a popular stone style that had taken 19th century America by storm. In 1858, Potter designed the 16-sided stylized brick Nott Memorial at Union College, his alma mater. His 1873 design for the Clemens home was bright and whimsical. With brilliantly colored bricks, geometric patterns, and elaborate trusses, the 19-room mansion became a hallmark of what came to be known as the Stick Style of architecture. After living in the house for several years, the Clemens hired Louis Comfort Tiffany and Associated Artists to decorate the first floor with stencils and wallpapers.

The Mark Twain Home in Hartford, Connecticut is often described as an example of Gothic Revival or Picturesque Gothic architecture. However, the patterned surfaces, ornamental trusses, and large decorative brackets are characteristics of another Victorian style known as Stick. But, unlike most Stick Style buildings, the Mark Twain house is constructed of brick instead of wood. Some of the bricks are painted orange and black to create intricate patterns on the facade.

Sources: G. E. Kidder Smith FAIA, Sourcebook of American Architecture, Princeton Architectural Press, 1996, p. 257.; Edward Tuckerman Potter (1831 - 1904), Schaffer Library, Union College [accessed March 12, 2016]

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Dining Room - Mark Twain House

Tiffany's firm, Associated Artists, created the wallpaper and stenciling.
Hartford, Connecticut (1881) Tiffany's firm, Associated Artists, created the wallpaper and stenciling for the dining room of Mark Twain's Conneticut home. Photo courtesy of The Mark Twain House & Museum, Hartford CT

The 1881 interior decorating of the Clemens' dining area by Louis Comfort Tiffany and Associated Artists included heavily embossed wallpaper, simulating leather in texture and color.

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Library - Mark Twain House

Samuel Clemens told stories in the library of his Conneticut home.
Hartford, Connecticut (1881) Samuel Clemens told stories, recited poetry, and read from his books in the library of his Conneticut home. Photo courtesy of The Mark Twain House & Museum, Hartford CT

The library at the Mark Twain house is typical of Victorian colors and interior design of the day.

Most of the interiors on the first floor were designed in 1881 by Louis Comfort Tiffany and Associated Artists.

This first floor room of the Hartford, Connecticut home was a kind of family room, where Samuel Clemens would entertain his family and guests with his famous stories.

 

 

 

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Conservatory - Mark Twain House

The library of Mark Twain's Conneticut home opens to a glass-walled conservatory.
Hartford, Connecticut (1874) The library of Mark Twain's Conneticut home opens to a glass-walled conservatory with greenery and a fountain. Photo courtesy of The Mark Twain House & Museum, Hartford CT

A conservatory is from the Modern Latin word for greenhouse. "Glass Houses," like the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Pittsburgh, were very popular in America's Victorian era. For private homes, the conservatory room was a sure sign of affluence and culture. For the Mark Twain House in Hartford, the exterior of the conservatory room became a fine architectural addition that complemented the nearby turret.

To this day, classic Victorian conservatories add value, charm, and stature to a home. Check them out online, like Tanglewood Conservatories, Inc. in Denton, Maryland. Four Seasons Sunrooms calls their Victorian Conservatory with Wood Interior simply a four seasons sunroom.

Learn More:

  • Crystal Palaces by Anne Cunningham, Princeton Architectural Press, 2000
    Buy on Amazon

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Mahogany Room - Mark Twain House

The luxurious guest bedroom adjacent to the library had mahogany furnishings.
Hartford, Connecticut (1881) The luxurious guest bedroom adjacent to the library had mahogany furnishings and a private bathroom. Photos courtesy of The Mark Twain House & Museum, Hartford CT

The first floor Mahogany Room is the aptly named guest room at the Mark Twain house. Clemens' friend, the writer William Dean Howells, is said to have called it “the royal chamber.”

Source: Room by Room: A Home Brought to Life by Rebecca Floyd‚ Director of Visitor Services, The Mark Twain House and Museum

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Stick Style Porch - Mark Twain House

Decorative stickwork forms geometric patterns around the expansive porch of Mark Twain's home.
Hartford, Connecticut (1874) Decorative stickwork forms geometric patterns around the expansive porch of Mark Twain's Connecticut home. Photo © 2007 Jackie Craven

The rambling wooden porch at the Mark Twain House is reminiscent of both Gustav Stickley's Craftsman Farms-type of Arts and Crafts architecture combined with Frank Lloyd Wright's  geometric designs found on his Prairie Style homes. However, Wright, born in 1867, would have been a child when Samuel Clemens built his house in 1874.

Note here, the patterned rounded brick part of the house surrounded by the horizontal, vertical, and triangular geometric patterns of the wooden porch—an appealing visual contrast of textures and shapes.

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Leaf Motifs - Mark Twain House

Porch pillars at the Mark Twain house are ornamented with a decorative leaf motif.
Hartford, Connecticut (1874) Porch pillars at the Mark Twain house are ornamented with a decorative leaf motif. Photo © 2007 Jackie Craven

Decorative corner brackets are characteristic of Victorian house styles, including Folk Victorian and Stick. The leaf motif, bringing "nature" into the architectural detailing, is typical of the Arts and Crafts movement, led by English-born William Morris.

 

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Conservatory and Turret - Mark Twain House

A round atrium floods light into the parlor of Mark Twain's Hartford, Connecticut home
Hartford, Connecticut (1874) A round atrium floods light into the parlor of Mark Twain's Hartford, Connecticut home. Photo © 2007 Jackie Craven

Fashionable Victorian homes often included a conservatory, or small greenhouse. At the Mark Twain House, the conservatory is a round structure with glass walls and roof. It is adjacent to the library of the house.

No doubt, Samuel Clemens had seen or heard of the Nott Memorial at Union College, a similarly rounded structure designed by his architect, Edward Tuckerman Potter. At the Mark Twain house, the conservatory is off the library, just as the Nott Memorial used to house the college library.

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Decorative Brackets - Mark Twain House

Elaborate decorative brackets support the gables and eaves of Mark Twain's home and carriage house.
Hartford, Connecticut (1874) Elaborate decorative brackets support the gables and eaves of Mark Twain's home and carriage house. Photo © 2007 Jackie Craven

Note how architect Edward Tuckerman Potter uses a variety of architectural detail to make the Mark Twain House visually interesting. The house, built in 1874, is constructed with a variety of brick patterns as well as brick color patterns. Adding these decorative brackets in the cornice creates as much excitement as a plot twist in a Mark Twain novel.

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Turrets and Bay Windows - Mark Twain House

Turrets and bay windows give the Mark Twain House a complicated, asymmetrical shape
Hartford, Connecticut (1874) Turrets and bay windows give the Mark Twain House a complicated, asymmetrical shape. Photo © 2007 Jackie Craven

Edward Tuckerman Potter, the design architect of the Mark Twain House, would have known about Olana, the Hudson River Valley mansion that architect Calvert Vaux was building for painter Frederic Church. Potter's architecture practice was centered in his hometown of Schenectady, New York, and the Mark Twin House was built in 1874 in Hartford, Connecticut. In between the two venues is Olana, Vaux's Persian-inspired design built in 1872 in Hudson, New York.

The similarities are striking, with colored bricks and stenciling inside and out. In architecture, the popular is usually what gets built and surely it's what gets adapted by the eager architect. Perhaps Potter stole some ideas from Vaux's Olana. Perhaps Vaux himself was familiar with the Nott Memorial in Schenectady, the domed structure Potter designed in 1858.

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Billiard Room - Mark Twain House

The third floor Billard Room in Mark Twain's house was a gathering place.
Hartford, Connecticut (1874) The third floor Billard Room in Mark Twain's house was a gathering place for friends and also a private retreat where Mark Twain wrote many of his books. Photo courtesy of The Mark Twain House & Museum, Hartford CT

The interior design of the Mark Twain House was mostly finished in 1881 by Louis Comfort Tiffany and Associated Artists. The third floor, complete with exterior porches, was the workplace for author Samuel Clemens. The writer not only played pool, but used the table to organize his manuscripts.

Today, the billiard room might be called Mark Twain's "home office" or maybe even a "man cave," as the third floor was at a level separate from the rest of the house. The billiard room was often filled with as much cigar smoke as the writer and his guests could tolerate.

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Brackets and Trusses - Mark Twain House

Gables at the Mark Twain house have massive brackets and decorative trusses.
Hartford, Connecticut (1874) Gables at the Mark Twain house have massive brackets and decorative trusses. Photo © 2007 Jackie Craven

Built in 1874 by architect Edward Tuckerman Potter, the Mark Twain House in Hartford, Connecticut is an interesting feast for the eyes. Potter's colors, brick ornamentation, and brackets, trusses and balcony-filled gables are the architectural equivalent of Mark Twain's well-built, exciting American novels.

 

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Patterned Brick - Mark Twain House

Patterned Brick at the Mark Twain House
Hartford, Connecticut (1874) Patterned Brick at the Mark Twain House. Photo © 2007 Jackie Craven

Edward Tuckerman Potter's patterns of brick in 1874 are not unique to the Mark Twain House. Yet the design continues to astonish visitors to staid Hartford, Connecticut, long known as "the insurance capital of the world."

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Brick Details - Mark Twain House

A row of bricks set at angles adds texture to the walls of Mark Twain's Connecticut home.
Hartford, Connecticut (1874) A row of bricks set at angles adds texture to the walls of Mark Twain's Connecticut home. Photo © 2007 Jackie Craven

Architect Edward T. Potter angled rows of bricks to create interesting exterior patterns. Who said bricks have to be lined up?

 

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Chimney Pots - Mark Twain House

Chimney Pots at the Mark Twain House
Hartford, Connecticut (1874) Chimney Pots at the Mark Twain House. Photo © 2007 Jackie Craven

Chimney pots were often used in 18th and 19th century city residences, as they increased the draft of a coal-fired furnace. But Samuel Clemens did not install ordinary chimney pots. On the Mark Twain House, the chimney extenders are more like ones found on the Tudor Chimneys of Hampton Court Palace or even precursors to the modern designs of Spanish architect  Antoni Gaudi (1852-1926), who sculpted chimney pots for Casa Mila.

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Patterned Slate Roof - Mark Twain House

Colored slates form patterns on the slate roof of the Mark Twain House
Hartford, Connecticut (1874) Colored slates form patterns on the slate roof of the Mark Twain House. Photo © 2007 Jackie Craven

Slate roofing was common during the time the Mark Twain House was being built in the 1870s. For architect Edward Tuckerman Potter, multi-colored hexagonal slate afforded another opportunity to texturize and colorize the house he was designing for Samuel Clemens.

Learn More:

  • "The Loveliest Home That Ever Was": The Story of the Mark Twain House in Hartford by Steve Courtney, Dover, 2011
    Buy on Amazon
  • A Visit to Mark Twain's House with Garrison Keillor (CD)
    Buy on Amazon

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Carriage House - Mark Twain House

Mark Twain's carriage house had the same careful detailing as the main house.
Hartford, Connecticut (1874) Mark Twain's carriage house had the same careful detailing as the main house. Photo © 2007 Jackie Craven

You can learn a lot about people by the way they treat their animals and employees. One look at the  Carriage House near the Mark Twain House tells you how caring the Clemens family was. The building is very large for an 1874 barn and coachman's apartment. Architects Edward Tuckerman Potter and Alfred H. Thorp designed the outbuilding with styling similar to the main residence.

Built almost like a French-Swiss chalet, the Carriage House has architectural detailing like the main house. The  overhanging eaves, brackets, and second-story balcony may be slightly more modest than the author's home, but the elements are there for Twain's beloved coachman, Patrick McAleer. From 1874 until 1903, McAleer and his family lived in the Carriage House to serve the Clemens family.

Source: MARK TWAIN CARRIAGE HOUSE (HABS No. CT-359-A) by Sarah Zurier, Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS),Summer 1995 (PDF) [accessed March 13, 2016]