Updated: Mar 21, 2022
Walking from Mark Twain’s richly decorated dining room into his library, it is easy to imagine the iconic writer living there. The walls are lined with beautifully bound books and details seem to jump out: a vase, a framed photo of a cat, the plush velvet of an antique chair. From the far end of the impressive room there is a green glow that emanates from a small greenhouse, full of happy plants and sunlight that is blinding compared to the much darker corners of the Gothic home.
The Mark Twain House in Hartford, Connecticut is not just a historical landmark, it is an important literary one. When standing inside the home, one is struck not just by the per- sonality of Mark Twain, which is present nearly everywhere, but also by the great number of other book lovers who have found their way into the home as well, individuals who must have marveled at the space in the very same way.
On their website, the Mark Twain House has a quote on their landing page: a house with a heart and soul. This is a perfect description. The house, while under- going many different owners and renovations, has been perfected into a place that is believably Mark Twain’s home, as if no one else has ever lived there besides him. For the duration of our tour, I couldn’t help but entertain the far-fetched idea that Mr. Twain was going to round the corner and explain the choice of wallpaper, the origins of the rich wood in the lobby, the fun that was had in his billiards room.
It is true, the heart and soul of Mark Twain is ever present in his home, so it is easy to understand why the museum draws so many visitors. Samuel Clemens, known more widely by his pen name Mark Twain, moved with his wife Livvy and his children to the house in Hartford on September 19, 1874. Smitten with the city of Hartford, he said, “Of all the beautiful towns it has been my fortune to see, this is the chief.... You do not know what beauty is if you have not been here.”
In 1896, tragedy struck when Clemens’ daughter Susy passed away. Too heartbroken to stay in the house, Samuel and Livvy decided to sell the property in 1903 to Richard Bissell. Over the years, the house was used as a residential home, a school for boys and then as an apartment building. It was Katharine Seymour Day, working for The Friends of Hartford, who purchased the house in 1929. The Mark Twain Memorial and Library Commission was started to restore Mark Twain’s House on Farmington Avenue.
The house became a National Historic Landmark in 1963 and restoration began with the Billiards Room. The space is now portrayed as a hybrid of a bachelor’s playroom and an author’s workplace. The center of the room features a large billiards table, and in the corner is the desk that Samuel wrote his most famous pieces, including “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” After restoring the rest of the house, all of the major rooms were opened to the public in 1974, just in time for the 100th anniversary of the house.
As the years have gone by, more renovations were completed and members of the public have continued to flock to the fantastic space. The Mark Twain House and Museum has also opened its space for events and workshops for lovers of literature and writing. For the blooming literary and book-loving community in the Hartford area, this historical place is more than just a museum. As we were shown around the grounds by Jennifer LaRue, the marketing director at the Mark Twain House, she shared with us a phrase that she coined about the space: “A writer’s home, and a home for writers.” We couldn’t agree more.
For more about the Mark Twain House, please visit https://marktwainhouse.org.
Photos courtesy of the Mark Twain House