America’s historic houses are a key part of the country’s heritage. Stepping inside one of these well-preserved homes gives visitors a glimpse of architectural achievements, as well as the lifestyles and traditions of the past.
Whether you’re a fan of the founding fathers, a literature buff, or a connoisseur of the modernist masters, there are plenty of pedigreed properties to visit across the country.
From 18th-century plantations on the East Coast to 20th-century mansions owned by California’s elite, America’s historic homes offer a look at the past while showcasing art, artifacts, and gardens that are as spectacular as the homes they accompany.
They also provide an intimate look at the lives of their notable owners, including Edith Wharton, Frederic Edwin Church, Harriet Tubman, and Philip Johnson. Discover some of the best historic homes in the United States and start planning a trip back in time.
Harriet Tubman National Historical Park (Auburn, New York)
In the late 1850s, abolitionist Harriet Tubman purchased property in Auburn, New York, from Senator William Seward and moved there with her parents from Canada, where they had been living since 1851. She returned to the home following the Civil War, and in 1896 she purchased 25 acres of adjacent land to create the Harriet Tubman Home for the Aged. She deeded the property to the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in 1903. Today, her residence, the home for the aged, and the Thompson AME Zion Church make up the Harriet Tubman National Historical Park, which was established in 2017.
Biltmore (Asheville, North Carolina)
Known as America’s largest home, Biltmore House boasts 250 rooms and the square footage of four football fields. The massive manse was built by George Vanderbilt, in collaboration with architect Richard Morris Hunt and landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, over a period of six years. The 8,000-acre estate now includes a winery and a village with a hotel, shops, and restaurants.
The Breakers (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 Oaks (Tuskegee, Alabama)
Completed in 1900, the Oaks was the home of educator and author Booker T. Washington at the Tuskegee Institute, where he served as the first president. The Queen Anne Revival–style house was built by students and local craftsmen and was the first residence in Macon County to be equipped with electricity and steam heating. In 1974, Congress established the Tuskegee Institute National Historic Site, which includes the Oaks, the George Washington Carver Museum, and the university grounds.
Hearst Castle (San Simeon, California)
Created by architect Julia Morgan and newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, the 165-room estate overlooking the California town of San Simeon showcases a magnificent collection of art and antiquities, as well as 123 acres of terraces, gardens, and pools, including the iconic Neptune Pool. The property is now a house museum and a California State Park where visitors can explore different aspects of Hearst Castle history, from its art and architecture to its heyday as a retreat for Hollywood’s biggest names.
Langston Hughes House (New York)
The top floor of the Italiante Brownstone on East 127th Street in Manhattan’s Harlem neighborhood was home to the acclaimed poet, playwright, and novelist Langston Hughes for the last 20 years of his life. The 1869 building was where the Harlem Renaissance leader wrote I Wonder As I Wander and Montage of a Dream Deferred. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982, and from 2016 to 2019 it was home to the I, Too Arts Collective.
The Mount (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.
Monticello (Charlottesville, Virginia)
Thomas Jefferson began construction on his plantation, Monticello, in 1769 and found inspiration in the work of Andrea Palladio, as well as in ancient and Renaissance architecture. He later enlarged and remodeled the house beginning in 1796. The 43-room estate was Jefferson’s home until his death in 1826. Monticello is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and museum, where visitors can view exhibitions about Jefferson, the estate, and the enslaved people who lived and worked there.
Martin Luther King Jr. Birth Home (Atlanta)
Built in 1895, this Queen Anne–style home on Auburn Avenue in Atlanta was later purchased by Rev. Adam Daniel Williams. Williams’s daughter Christine and her husband, Michael King, would have three children there, including Michael Jr., who would later become known as Martin Luther King Jr. The civil rights leader would spend his first 12 years in the home and after his assassination in 1968, it was restored and turned into a museum. In January of 2018, the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site, which includes the house, was designated a national historic park and later that year, the house was purchased by the National Park Foundation.
Gamble House (Pasadena, California)
Designed by architects Charles and Henry Greene for David and Mary Gamble, the Gamble House is one of the best examples of American Arts and Crafts architecture. The home was completed in 1908. It became a museum after it was deeded to the city of Pasadena and the University of Southern California in 1966. The home and its original furniture, which was also designed by Greene & Greene, have been beautifully conserved and the exterior was restored in the early 2000s.
Olana State Historic Site (Hudson, New York)
Painter Frederic Edwin Church designed his home in the Hudson River Valley on a hilltop site with the help of architect Calvert Vaux. Church was inspired by his travels, and incorporated Middle Eastern motifs (specifically Persian) alongside the Victorian architecture. The 250 Acre Estate is now a National Historic Landmark; the house showcases work by Church and the artist’s collection of decorative arts.
The African Meeting House (Boston)
The oldest surviving Black church in America, the African Meeting House—also known as First Independent Baptist Church and the African Baptist Church of Boston—was built in 1806 on Boston’s Becon Hill. Many well-known abolitionists spoke at the meeting house, including Frederick Douglass, Sarah Grimké, and William Lloyd Garrison, who founded the New England Anti-Slavery Society there in 1932. The building is now owned and operated by the Museum Of African American and is the final stop on the Black Heritage Trail.
Vizcaya Museum and Gardens (Miami)
The waterfall Villa in Miami was built by James Deering, who hired artist and interior designer Paul Chalfin to create his vacation home with the help of architect Francis Burrall Hoffman Jr. Following Deering’s death in 1925, the estate served as a private, and later public, museum. The main house showcases more than 2,500 furnishings, artwork, and objects, and visitors can also explore the 10 acres of formal gardens, as well as forests and an impressive orchid collection.
Paul Laurence Dunbar House (Dayton, Ohio)
Acclaimed poet and author Paul Laurence Dunbar purchased this 1894 brick home in Dayton, Ohio, in 1904 and lived there until his death in 1906. Following the death of his mother in 1934, the house was purchased by the state, and in 1936 it was designated as the first state memorial honoring an African American. The home is open to the public and displays Dunbar’s personal belongings, including the desk where he wrote much of his work, a sword given to him by President Theodore Roosevelt, and a bicycle built by his friends Orville and Wilbur Wright.
The Glass House (New Canaan, Connecticut)
Architect Philip Johnson’s home in Connecticut is an icon of modern architecture. The Glass House, completed in 1949, was revolutionary for its integration into the landscape and its use of materials. The 49-acre property is home to 14 structures, built between 1949 and 1995, including a sculpture gallery, a studio, and Ghost House, an architectural folly. The estate also hosts an impressive selection of 20th-century artwork collected by Johnson and his partner, curator David Whitney, including pieces by Frank Stella, Andy Warhol, and Robert Rauschenberg.
Drayton Hall (Charleston, South Carolina)
Set on the Ashley River, Drayton Hall was founded in 1738 and is now the oldest unrestored plantation house in America. The house is the first example of Palladian architecture in the country and is displayed unfurnished to allow the original materials and architectural details to take center stage. Today the estate is a National Trust for Historic Preservation site, and guests can tour the house and grounds, which includes one of the country’s oldest African-American cemeteries.
Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens (Houston)
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.
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