Hartford CT Historic Homes: Mark Twain House

Published: 17th June 2015
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The home of one of America's most beloved authors where he wrote several of his most important books including The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Samuel Langhorne Clemens - best known as Mark Twain - lived in this house in Hartford, Connecticut from 1874 to 1891. Mark Twain would spend what he would later describe as the happiest and most productive days of his life in this beautiful, Victorian Gothic style mansion.

The house was built in 1874 by Edward Tuckerman Potter with elaborately colored bricks, spiring chimneys atop steep gables, bay windows crowned by a turret and elaborately detailed trusses supporting the steep roof overhangs. The home was built after Samuel Clemens had married into a wealthy family who paid for its construction - before he had achieved fame as Mark Twain, the author.

Samuel Clemens was born in 1835 in Missouri and grew up in the small frontier town of Hannibal. His father died when he was 11, and shortly thereafter he left school in fifth grade to work as a printer's apprentice with a small local newspaper. When he turned 18, he went east to the big cities of New York and Philadelphia working at several different newspapers and began writing articles.

By the time he was 22 in 1857, he returned to Missouri and the Mississippi where he embarked on a career as a riverboat pilot. It was here that his ear for pithy language seized upon the riverboat call of "Mark Twain" which means "all clear" by the man at the bow testing the depth that the channel has plenty of bottom for safe travel that lead to him taking this as his pen name.

When the Civil War broke out in 1861, all traffic on the Mississippi came to a sudden halt. Being in the South at the time and swept up in the spirit of the times he volunteered to join the Confederate Army in a unit known as the Marion Rangers. He deserted, however, after two weeks - later saying he was a greater threat to the Confederacy under arms than deserting - and traveled west to accept an offer of a job as aid to his brother, Orion who had been appointed as the Secretary of Nevada Territory just as the silver boom hit.

On his journey west, Samuel Clemens met with colorful characters and mishaps - like when the Indians camped at a stage stop he was at suddenly packed up saying "Big water coming" and abruptly left. Although there wasn't a cloud in the sky, within a very short period of time the stage stop was totally engulfed by a flash flood leaving it a rapidly diminishing island. The teamsters he was now marooned on the island with became so drunk and abusive that he risked his life crossing the raging floodwaters because he didn't believe he'd live another hour with the drunks turning anything he said into an insult as an excuse to cut his throat.

He met "Pocket miners." Miners who didn't stake claims, just went around the Nevada desert with a blanket and a shovel trying a shovel full of dirt here, a shovel full there. Then suddenly one shovel would yield a bonanza worth thousands of dollars, they'd go into town and have the time of their life spending it all in one night of debauchery - and be perfectly content to live destitute for the next year until another shovel full would yield an equally exuberant but short lived payday. These stories of his time in the Nevada desert would result in several short stories and his first book "Roughing It".

In Nevada, Samuel Clemens wrote for the Territorial Enterprise, a small Virginia City Newspaper where he began using for the first time his pen name, Mark Twain. By 1864, he went to San Francisco where his first big break came with his story "Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog" about a frog jumping contest in California's gold country that got picked up by newspapers across the country. He began to make a name for himself as a writer of pithy language people loved.

This lead the next year to him being hired by the Sacramento Union to travel and report on Hawaii - known at the time as the Sandwich Islands - and his writings became so widespread that he conducted his first lecture tour where he established himself as a popular public speaker.

Mark Twain first traveled to Hartford, Connecticut on business in 1868 to visit his publisher, Elisha Bliss of the American Publishing Company. Here he met and fell in love on first site with Olivia Langdon, who after two years of courtship, he married. Hartford at the time had the highest per capita income in the country, and she was of a very wealthy family.

The house was built in 1874 in a Victorian Gothic style designed by architect Edward Tuckerman Potter. The mansion with it bright colored bricks with geometric patterns, steeply sloped roofs and elaborate trusses was what would come to be known as the Stick Style of Victorian architecture.

Mark Twain lived in the house from 1874 to 1891 and considered this period of his life to be the happiest and most productive period of his life where he wrote what are considered his greatest works. He wrote of Hartford, Connecticut, "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."

The top floor of the house was his billiard room where he entertained his men friends with liquor and cigars and was strictly off-limits to his wife and family. Twain said "There ought to be a room in this house to swear in. It's dangerous to have to repress an emotion like that." This was also his personal study where he would write until late into the night.

Samuel Clemens became famous as Mark Twain writing his most important works in this house including The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Prince and the Pauper, Life on the Mississippi, Huckleberry Finn, A Tramp Abroad, and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court.

During his residency in Hartford between 1874 and 1891 Samuel Clemens gained considerable financial success. He invested his money in what was the most advanced cutting edge publishing technology of his time - the typesetting machine by James W. Paige. He also helped found a publishing company that published Mark Twain's works beginning with the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and the memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant.

However, the typesetting machine was quickly overtaken by the linotype machine, and Mark Twain lost most of his investments. The Twains moved to Europe to live more inexpensively in 1891. In 1894, the publishing company went bankrupt leaving him saddled with debt and began a speaking tour to capitalize on his fame and recoup his losses.

The Clemenses daughter tragically died in the house in 1896 making it too difficult for them to live in the house when they returned to Connecticut in 2000 after touring the world for years and recovering solvency. They never lived in Hartford again and sold the property in 1903, preferring to live in Redding, Connecticut until his death in 1910.

The Mark Twain House was restored in the 1950s and 60s and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1966. It has become an internationally known house museum visited by tens of thousands of people each year. It was rated by National Geographic as #7 of the top 10 best historical homes in the world making it one of Harford, Connecticut's most important historic homes.


Author of Hiring The Best People, Steven Penny writes on Connecticut's best places to live. If you are looking for Homes in West Hartford visit http://www.Prudentialct.com

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