To Remain Indestructible in a Perishable World

By McHugh, Nicky | History Today, January 2004 | Go to article overview

To Remain Indestructible in a Perishable World


McHugh, Nicky, History Today


AT THE MARK TWAIN HOUSE & MUSEUM the public can experience a taste of the author's life in the house where he lived from 1874 for nearly twenty years. During this time, Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, wrote eight major works, raised three daughters, entertained famous guest and went on to become America's best-known author. Today, this National Historic Landmark builds on its literary legacy with a new Museum designed to connect the past to the future.

In 1873, the Clemens family purchased land at 'Nook Farm' on Farmington Avenue, joining neighbour Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of the abolitionist novel Uncle Tom's Cabin to establish what became a thriving literary community. The houses of Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-96) and Mark Twain (1835-1910) stand side by side, fine examples of American Victorian architecture and custodians of the reputation of two of America's most revered literary giants.

The Clemenses engaged New York City architect Edward Tuckerman Potter to design die house. Mrs Clemens sketched a layout, and the commodious house was largely completed by October 1874, at a cost which apparently exceeded the family's budget. Built in the picturesque Gothic style, the house attracted attention even before its celebrated owner moved in. The Hartford Daily Times commented on the emerging structure: 'The novelty displayed in the architecture of the building, the oddity of its internal arrangement, and the fame of its owner; will all conspire to make it a house of note for a long time to come.'

In 1881, the success of Tom Sawyer and several lecture tours allowed Twain and his wife to hire Louis Comfort Tiffany's design firm, Associated Artists, to decorate the first floor of the house. However, financial difficulties forced Twain to leave the house a decade later and he eventually sold it in 1903.

In a letter to J. Pierpont Morgan written six years later, Twain wrote: 'One of my high ideals ... is to remain indestructible in a perishable world'. Ensuring that Twain's legacy remains intact, the house is undergoing extensive renovation, including the billiard room where Twain penned most of his novels, and two months ago a new $16.5 million, 35,000 sq ft Museum Center opened.

The new museum's architect, was confronted with the challenge of building a modern museum to meet the future needs of visitors while respecting the historic intedrity of the site. …

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