Top 25 Historic US Homes That
Fly Under the Radar

By: House Method

Step back in time with these historic gems that often go unnoticed. From architectural masterpieces and exquisite mansions to humble abodes and world-famous residences, here are the top 25 historic homes in the United States that you must visit. We considered:

  • How well preserved the home is
  • The quality of tours (if any) and how knowledgable the docents are
  • The historical significance of the home
  • The beauty and architectural elements of the home
  • Third-party reviews from visitors
Photo by Wikimedia Commons

25. Trail End

Sheridan, Wyoming

This 13,748-square-foot mansion provides an intriguing glimpse into life in the early 1900s, primarily as seen through the eyes of John B. Kendrick and his family. Kendrick was one of Wyoming’s most successful ranchers and politicians, eventually becoming a US Senator for Wyoming.

Almost all of the building materials for Trail End had to be shipped on railroad cars, from the Montana granite foundation to the Missouri clay roofing tiles. The house also features Kansas brick, Honduran mahogany and Michigan oak woodwork, Italian and Vermont marble, stained glass windows from New York City, limestone trim from Indiana, French silk damask wall coverings, and Persian rugs. It also contains some of the most advanced technology of the time, including electricity, an intercom, a dumbwaiter, and indoor plumbing.

The grounds are also incredibly beautiful, featuring a variety of trees, shrubs, bushes, saplings, and vines, and dozens of wildlife species. Self-guided tours are encouraged at Trail End and visitors are welcome to wander at their own pace.

Photo by Wikimedia Commons

24. Salem’s House of the Seven Gables

Salem, Massachusetts

Made famous by Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel, The House of the Seven Gables, this colonial seaside mansion was built in 1668 for Captain John Turner I, the head of one of the most successful maritime families in the New England colonies. The House has many unique architectural features still intact, such as high-style Georgian paneling and the original beams and rafters.

During a house tour, professional guides dive into Salem’s maritime history and the literary legacy of Nathaniel Hawthorne and reveal the famous hidden staircase (be careful: many people bump their head on it!).

Adding to the site’s charm are beautiful colonial revival gardens and the Nathaniel Hawthorne birthplace adjacent to the House of the Seven Gables. Unlike the Seven Gables house, Hawthorne’s birthplace is much more modest. Another interesting fact to note: it’s one of the largest timber-framed mansions in North America still on its original foundation.

23. Asa Packer Mansion

Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania

This mansion was home to Asa Packer, philanthropist, railroad magnate, and founder of Lehigh University. Built in 1861 by Philadelphia architect Samuel Sloan, the home is topped by a red-ribbed tin roof and a central cupola. It also has a cast-iron frame and consists of 18 rooms, covering approximately 11,000 square feet of living space. The history of the Packer family combined with knowledgeable tour guides and traditional house furnishings make this a special place of history.

22. Pittock Mansion

Portland, Oregon

Henry Pittock, former editor of The Oregonian, began planning his “mansion on a hill” in the early 1900s, desiring panoramic views of Portland, the Willamette River, and the Cascade Mountains. Completed in 1914, this 16,000-square-foot, 22-room house is filled with period furniture and up-to-date features like a central vacuum system and thermostat-controlled central heating. Designed by architect Edward T. Foulkes, this charming mansion is an eclectic mix of Jacobean, Edwardian, and French Renaissance architecture.

In 1965, Pittock Mansion opened to the public as a historic house museum. While you’re there, be sure to venture around the woods behind the mansion (considered to be a part of Forest Park).

21. The Pabst Mansion

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Designed by George Bowman Ferry and Alfred Charles Clas, the Pabst Mansion was home to Captain Frederick and Maria Pabst. Construction lasted for two years and was completed in July of 1892. As leading figures in Milwaukee high society (Pabst was the former president of Pabst Brewing Company), both Captain and Maria Pabst became consummate art collectors, filling their mansion with priceless treasures. During the years of the Pabst family’s ownership, the house was the scene of many fine parties and receptions, a wedding, and Captain and Mrs. Pabst’s funeral.

After the Pabst descendants sold the house in 1908, it became the archbishop’s residence and the center of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Milwaukee for more than 67 years. When it was sold in 1975, the mansion was nearly torn down to make way for a parking lot for a neighboring hotel, but a three-year crusade for its preservation spared the home’s demolition. The Mansion was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on April 21, 1975.

Photo by Sherry Lachelle Photography

20. Lane-Hooven House

Hamilton, Ohio

The Lane-Hooven House was built in 1863 for Clark Lane, a Hamilton Industrialist and one of Hamilton’s first philanthropists. In 1866, Lane built another octagonal building across the street in the Romanesque Revival style to be used as a free public library. After Lane passed away, the C. Earl Hooven family, responsible for incorporating an agricultural business that was the successor to the company originally founded by Lane, resided in the house from 1895 to 1942. In 1942, the house was passed down to their daughter, Mrs. Marian Rennick Hallowell, and the next year, Bertrand Kahn, who had once lived in the house immediately north, presented the Lane-Hooven House to the community for civic and charitable uses.

Because of its octagonal shape, the house is widely regarded as Hamilton’s most unique residential structure and is sometimes called “Lane’s Folly.” Ownership of the Lane-Hooven House was transferred to the Hamilton Community Foundation in 1951.

Photo by Wikimedia Commons

19. Körners Folly

Kernersville, North Carolina

This historic home was built in 1880 by interior furniture designer and decorator Jule Gilmer Körner, and is considered one of the strangest homes in the world. This 6,000-square-foot eccentric brick dwelling originally served to display Körner’s interior design portfolio and was constantly evolving throughout his lifetime: Körner valued change and dynamism, ultimately remodeling the house twice—once in 1890 and again in 1906. No two doorways or windows are exactly alike, there are 15 different fireplaces, and ceiling heights range from 5.5 to 25 feet.

Today, visitors can explore this quirky, 22-room house and admire the decorative murals or wander throughout the playful, child-size rooms. While visiting be sure to check out the uppermost level of the house: it was transformed from a billiards room to a charming theater (Cupid’s Park Theater), which was run by the designer’s wife, Polly Alice Masten Körner.

Photo by Wikimedia Commons

18. Louis Armstrong House

Queens, New York

The Louis Armstrong House was home to world famous jazz musician Louis Armstrong and his wife Lucille from 1943 until his death in 1971. After Armstrong’s death, Lucille transferred ownership of the house to the City of New York to create a museum focused on her husband.

During the 40-minute guided tours, audio clips from Armstrong’s homemade recordings are played and visitors get a chance to hear Armstrong practicing his trumpet, enjoying a meal, and talking with friends. Pay special attention to Armstrong’s den—this was his man cave where he would make reel-to-reel tapes and entertain other famous jazz musicians like Dizzy Gillespie and Clark Terry.

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17. Taos Pueblo

Taos, New Mexico

Set in the idyllic Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Taos Pueblo is the only living Native American community designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and a National Historic Landmark. The multi-storied adobe buildings have been inhabited for more than 1,000 years by the Tiwa-speaking Native American tribe of Puebloan people, and what’s incredible is that most inhabitants still live without running water or electricity. Visit in August for a glimpse into the spiritual Corn Dances or stop by in September for San Geronimo Feast Day. Guided tours touch on the culture and history of the Puebloan people.

Photo by Wikimedia Commons

16. The Robert Frost Farm

Derry, New Hampshire

The Robert Frost Farm Historic Site was home to Robert Frost and his family from 1900 to 1911. One of the nation’s most acclaimed poets, Frost derived many of his works from memories during his years spent in Derry. Highlights of the Frost Farm include the kitchen, where Frost wrote poems late at night, and the stairs that inspired the setting of his famous poem, “Home Burial.”

To view the inside of the Frost Farmhouse, guided tours are required. There’s also a free, self-guided nature trail, approximately half a mile long, that follows the perimeter of the property. On this trail, you’ll find 14 signs that indicate points of interest (i.e., Hyla Brook, a road not taken, the mending wall, etc.), each with a famous Frost poem.

15. Molly Brown House

Denver, Colorado

The Molly Brown House, the historic home of J.J. and Margaret “Molly” Brown (the Unsinkable Molly Brown), has been beautifully preserved and stands as a symbol of the turn of the 20th century in Denver. It features an extensive collection that consists of approximately 10,000 artifacts. The Museum’s collection also includes original Brown artifacts and period pieces that reflect the life of an upper-middle class family in early 20th century Denver with connections to Colorado’s mining industry.

The docents deliver excellent tours, describing the Brown family in great detail and separating fact from fiction about Molly’s life. In fact, you’ll learn more about Molly’s activism and philanthropy than you will her epic Titanic survival.

14. Rowan Oak

Oxford, Mississippi

Rowan Oak was author William Faulkner’s former home for over 40 years. Built in the 1840s, this primitive Greek Revival house was purchased by Faulkner in the 1930s (he later did many of the renovations himself). He renamed it Rowan Oak in 1931 after the rowan tree, a symbol of security and peace. Though the house isn’t large, it’s still a charming look into the life of one of America’s most loved writers—the home is pretty much as Faulkner left it, with phone numbers written on the walls and books still on the shelves.

Photo by Christian Collins

13. Alden B. Dow Home and Studio

Midland, Michigan

This was the home and studio of 20th-century architect Alden B. Dow. Built into an encompassing pond, the home and studio features reflective light, soaring roof lines, diverging angles, brilliant color, and the perfect balance of enticement and tranquility. This site reflects Alden B. Dow’s desire to redefine architecture, merging form and function for the ultimate experience. Unlike most historic houses, the Alden B. Dow Home and Studio allows visitors to sit on the furniture and immerse themselves in Dow’s home.

Photo by John K. Zacherle

12. The Schindler House

West Hollywood, California

The Schindler House, also known as the Schindler Cace House or Kings Road House, was designed by architect Rudolph M. Schindler. It’s considered to be the first house ever built in the Modern style. Elements of the International Style, Cubism, and Europe’s De Stijl Movement are present throughout the home.

Incorporating both architectural and social theory, Schindler built the house as an experiment in communal living. He planned to share it with another couple, Clyde and Marian Chace, thus creating communal gathering areas and four separate rooms for each person to express their individuality. Using a consistent four-foot module and standardized slab-tilt construction, Schindler created a building in which no two spaces are alike while at the same time seamlessly integrating indoors and out, creating, in his words, “a real California scheme.”

11. Ernest Hemingway House

Key West, Florida

Home of the beloved author Ernest Hemingway, this house still contains furniture that Hemingway owned, some of the most noteworthy being a beautiful chandelier collection and a 17th-century chest made of Circassian walnut. Today, the estate still remains to be the single largest residential property on the island of Key West. And for all the cat lovers out there, you’re in for a sweet treat: the house is home to 40–50 polydactyl (six-toed) cats—these are descendants of the original cats Hemingway kept while living in the house.

10. Vaile Mansion

Independence, Missouri

According to an 1882 Kansas City Times Report, the Vaile Mansion was “the most princely house and the most comfortable home in the entire west.” Built for abolitionist Colonel Harvey and Mrs. Sophia Vaile in 1881, the 31-room mansion features nine marble fireplaces, painted ceilings, and a 48,000-gallon wine cellar. Though the original furniture was auctioned off when the estate left the Vaile family, the interiors still boast original artwork and two of the three original chandeliers. Situated on North Liberty Street, the three-story, Gothic structure is a significant example of Second Empire architecture.

Photo by Robert Lyle Bolton

9. Nemours Mansion and Gardens

Wilmington, Delaware

Developed by Alfred I. duPont, the Nemours Estate comprises an exquisite, 77-room mansion that occupies nearly 47,000 square feet, the largest formal French gardens in the US, a chauffeur’s garage that houses a collection of vintage automobiles, and nearly 200 acres of scenic woodlands. DuPont hired Carrere and Hastings, a prestigious New York architectural firm, to design the mansion in the late 18th-century French style that his second wife, Alicia, adored. He named the estate Nemours after the French town that his great-great-grandfather represented in the French Estates General.

Perhaps one of the most striking features of this estate is the long walk. Lined with Japanese cryptomeria, pink horse chestnuts, and pin oaks, this manicured strip extends from the mansion to the reflecting pool and makes you feel like you’re walking the grounds of European royalty.

8. Ca d’Zan

Sarasota, Florida

Famously known as the home of circus owners John and Mable Ringling, Ca d’Zan was inspired by and designed in the Venetian Gothic style of the palazzos that ring the Venice canals, perfectly capturing the splendor and romance of Italy.

During their travels throughout Europe, the Ringlings gained an admiration for the architectural style of Venice’s Ducal Palace, Ca’ d’Oro, and the Grunwald Hotel. When they decided to build their home in Sarasota, the Ringlings incorporated the architectural style and design from these very buildings. Built by famous New York architect Dwight James Baum, this 36,000-square-foot Mediterranean Revival residence sits at the dazzling waterfront on Sarasota Bay in all of its opulent splendor.

Photo by Wikimedia Commons

7. Drumthwacket

Princeton, New Jersey

Built in 1835 for Charles S. Olden, the former governor of New Jersey, this Greek Revival mansion is now owned by the state of New Jersey and is the official governor’s residence. Steeped in history, Drumthwacket is where the pivotal Battle of Princeton was fought during the American Revolution. If you’re wondering where the name Drumthwacket originates from, it means “wooded hill” in Gaelic.

During the guided tours (Drumthwacket is open for tours only on Wednesdays), walk through six public rooms that the governor uses for meetings and state receptions or explore the light-filled solarium and opulent center hall. Be sure to check out the library stacked with an impressive book collection as well as the governor’s study.

6. The Breakers

Newport, Rhode Island

A couple states north of the famous Biltmore estate, you’ll find another one of the Vanderbilt family’s grand mansions. Built as a summer home for Cornelius Vanderbilt II, The Breakers is the architectural and social archetype of the Gilded Age. The Great Hall dazzles visitors with its red, velvet staircase, and the library features a 16th-century fireplace that remains in pristine condition.

If the mansion’s monumental beauty isn’t enough to take your breath away, just take a look at the grounds. Clipped hedges of Japanese yew and Pfitzer juniper line the tree-shaded foot paths that meander about the grounds and informal plantings of dwarf hemlock provide attractive foregrounds for the walls that enclose the formally landscaped terrace.

Photo by Karen Desuyo

5. Shangri La

Honolulu, Hawaii

Shangri La was the home of American heiress and philanthropist Doris Duke. Shangri La was inspired by Duke’s extensive travels throughout North Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia, reflecting architectural elements and commissioned work from India, Iran, Morocco, and Syria. The elegant ceilings, furnishings, doors, ceramic tiles, and decorative screens give Shangri La its unique character and incorporate traditions from throughout the Islamic world. As a major collector of Islamic art, Duke assembled a collection of more than 2,500 pieces within Shangri La—a sustained effort of nearly 60 years.

In her will, Duke opened the doors to Shangri La by establishing the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art to own and manage the site and collections and to “promote the study and understanding of Middle Eastern art and culture.” Among her many legacies, Duke’s foresight in creating Shangri La and dedicating it to improving public understanding of Islamic arts and cultures was nothing short of visionary.

4. Glessner House

Chicago, Illinois

Calling all architecture buffs. Designed by notable American architect Henry Hobson Richardson, the Glessner House remains an architectural treasure of Chicago. Built during the Gilded Age for John and Frances Glessner, known for their involvement in Chicago civic affairs and philanthropy, the Glessner House represents Richardson’s response to the Glessners’ desire for a simple, comfortable home that retained the cozy feeling of their previous home on West Washington Street.

A radical departure from traditional Victorian architecture, the house served as inspiration to architects Mies van der Rohe and Frank Lloyd Wright. The innovative floor plan and design of the Glessner House make it one of the most important residential commissions of the 19th century. Its monumental, fortress-like design features round arches and design elements derived from French and Spanish Romanesque architecture. The house is over 17,000 square feet and contains most of the furnishings and artifacts original to the Glessner family.

3. Reynolda House Museum of American Art

Winston-Salem, North Carolina

Built in 1917 by Katharine Smith Reynolds and husband R.J. Reynolds, founder of the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, the Reynolda House originally occupied a 1,067-acre estate that encompassed formal and informal gardens, a lake, a school, a model farm for demonstrating current farming and dairying practices, and a village to house workers. Working with notable architect Charles Barton Keen and landscape architect Thomas Sears, Katharine Smith Reynolds played a dominant role in planning this self-sufficient estate just outside the city limits of Winston-Salem.

In 1965, the house was established as a non-profit institution dedicated to the arts and education and, in 1967, became a public museum that would be the setting for a premier collection of American art. The collection boasts paintings, drawings, photographs, and sculptures dating back to 1755.

Today, the Reynolda House Museum of American Art showcases portraits and landscapes by artists such as Georgia O’Keefe and Stuart Davis as well as unique fashion and decorative arts. If you want to tour the grounds, much of the original estate can still be explored by foot. Visit one of the remaining 28 buildings or take a stroll through the restored formal gardens, noted for their Japanese cryptomeria and weeping cherry trees. A short walk across the dam leads from Reynolda Village, occupied by a plethora of shops and restaurants, to Wake Forest University.

Photo by Glensheen.org

2. Glensheen

Duluth, Minnesota

Perched on the shore of Lake Superior, Glensheen is the most visited historic home in Minnesota. The 12-acre estate features gardens, bridges, and the famous 39-room mansion built with remarkable 20th-century craftsmanship. Chester and Clara Congdon, known for opening up iron mining in Minnesota and shaping the city of Duluth, built Glensheen between 1905 and 1908. The estate was donated to the University of Minnesota and opened as a historic house museum in 1979.

Filled with history and beauty, the house contains an intact historical collection of items that previously belonged to the Congdons, like Chester’s top hat and some of Clara’s letters. One of the most interesting things about the house, however, isn’t its humble beginnings—it’s the murder of Elisabeth Congdon, Chester’s last surviving child, and her night nurse, Velma Pietila. To this day, the case continues to draw visitors, overshadowing the broader Congdon story.

When visiting Glensheen, there are a variety of tours you can take based on what piques your interest. Want to experience Glensheen like a Congdon servant? Take the Servants Tour and explore the servants’ wing of the mansion exclusively from the perspective of a 1910 staff member. Interested in the small details of the home? The Nooks & Crannies Tour gives you access to previously restricted areas and explores the history of Glensheen. You could always opt for the Classic Tour, which covers the foundational basics and showcases the lower level and first and second floors of the home.

1. Lyndhurst

Tarrytown, New York

Coming in at number one on our list, Lyndhurst, also known as the Jay Gould Estate, is considered one of America’s finest Gothic Revival mansions. It was originally designed in 1838 by American architect Alexander Jackson Davis for former New York City mayor William Paulding and later became the summer home and country retreat of railroad tycoon Jay Gould.

This 67-acre estate is now a property of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and has been featured in television shows like The Blacklist and Project Runway. Lyndhurst’s vast collection of art, antiques, and furniture have remained largely intact (most furnishings are original to the house and more than 50 pieces were designed by Davis). One of the most gorgeous rooms is the north guest bedroom—the vaulted, ornamented ceilings painted a dusty blue produce a charming, romantic effect.

When visiting Lyndhurst, make sure you spend time walking around the grounds: sweeping lawns accented with shrubs and specimen trees, a curving entrance drive, and the nation’s first steel-framed conservatory sprawl over the estate. And be sure not to miss the breathtaking view of New York City’s skyline from the top of Lyndhurst’s restored observation tower.

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