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History of Institution

History of the Institution

Financial problems forced Sam and Livy Clemens to move the family to Europe in 1891. Susy's death in 1896 would make it too hard for Livy to return to their Hartford home and they sold the property in 1903. Twain's remarkable 19–room Victorian mansion would change owners several times after the turn of the century.

The Bissell family lived in the home until 1917, then rented it to the Kingswood School. In 1921, private developers purchased the property and, when the Kingswood School moved to new quarters in 1922, the developers converted the home into several apartments, and built apartment buildings on a portion of the land owned by the Clemens family. In 1926, another group of developers bought the property, and began to consider the demolition of the historic Twain house and Carriage House in order to build construct additional apartment buildings on the Farmington Avenue site.

From the Clemens's sale of the property in 1903 through the 1920s, several groups of Hartford residents had suggested purchasing the Twain House to preserve it as a memorial to the famed writer. Prior to 1927, each effort had failed. But in 1927, under the leadership of Katharine Seymour Day, the grandniece of Harriet Beecher Stowe, a group of concerned citizens known as the "Friends of Hartford" began what would amount to a two-year campaign to purchase the Mark Twain House and preserve it for future generations. In 1929, the "Mark Twain Memorial and Library Commission" was chartered by the State of Connecticut as the non–profit organization that would purchase, restore and manage the Twain House. That year, the Memorial purchased the house for $150,000, using donations, a personal guarantee from a friend and a $55,000 mortgage. The group leased out the first floor of Twain's home to the Hartford Public Library, which paid $100 monthly rent to house the Mark Twain Branch.

From its inception, the institution's goal was to honor and interpret the legacy of Mark Twain. Within the library space and a separate area known as the Commission Room, the trustees conducted tours, exhibited memorabilia, presented programs, and operated a small sales desk. For the next 30 years, the museum, library and apartments shared the buildings and grounds.

In 1955, after the mortgage was paid in full, the trustees enlarged the interpretive aim and began to restore the house as nearly as possible to the state enjoyed by the Clemens family during its 17–year residence. Over the next 20 years, the restoration generated important discoveries in the history of design and horticulture and brought donations of significant family memorabilia, decorative arts, and archival material for the recreation of the Clemens home. Skilled craftsmen painstakingly replicated the original L. C. Tiffany and Associated Artists designs, making the house an icon of the American Aesthetic Movement.

In the meantime, the neighborhood began to change as signaled by the insertion of the Mark Twain Apartments on Farmington Avenue in the 1920s and again more considerably in the early 1960s with the arrival of Hartford Public High School on Forest Street. The latter triggered the destruction of several Nook Farm period houses, and the texture of the immediate surroundings of the Twain House was sharply compromised. While a good neighbor and partner, the high school's physical presence dwarfed the historic landmarks nearby and effectively terminated the sense of a 19th–century setting to the south.

The Mark Twain House was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1963. The restoration was largely completed for the house's centennial in 1974. This early preservation of a Victorian home set the stage for and encouraged similar projects throughout the nation. In 1977, the National Trust for Historic Preservation honored the museum with the David E. Finley Award for
"exemplary restoration."

In the 1980s, the trustees expanded the educational programs to encompass new interest in family home-life, arts, and culture of the late–19th century as portrayed through the life and writings of Mark Twain. To better serve this expanded mission, a professional staff was hired. By 1983, with a $100,000 challenge grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the trustees and staff raised a $1.25 million endowment to ensure a more stable future for the museum. Tours, programs, exhibitions, and publications continue to support the museum's mission to present Mark Twain, his works, and his times to a broad audience.

In the mid 1990s, after completing a rigorous study of the mission and the future of the museum, the board of trustees realized that it had to make significant changes in order to serve the community and the nation in several arenas. General visitation by tourists from around the world was reaching its limit because of the constraints of the site for parking, as well as the serious lack of appropriate amenities, such as orientation exhibits and even food service. There was a serious lack of classroom and meeting space that was restricting the museum's growth as an educational institution. There was no more available space for offices or administrative storage, and there was no room at all for providing a safe harbor for the growing collection of rare books and manuscripts, historic photographs, and fine and decorative arts.

Twain's property had been reduced to a much smaller parcel over the years encompassing only the main house, the carriage house and a small area of parking to the west. In 1997, the city of Hartford and a neighbor, Clemens Place Apartments, transferred an additional four acres of property to the museum as part of a complex series of land transactions that also included the Hartford Board of Education and the State's Department of Transportation. This public-private partnership was essential for the future growth of the Twain House and the new museum center stands on part of this land. As part of the restoration of the historic landscape, the City recently granted a 50–year conservation agreement that transferred to the museum the stewardship of another quarter acre of Twain's original hillside. In addition, this spring the museum purchased the Charles Boardman Smith house (1875) from the Antiquarian & Landmark Society. This Nook Farm era residence is directly across from the new museum center on Forest Street and is used for conference rooms and administrative offices which will allow several spaces in the Twain House and Carriage House to be restored for public viewing.

Open year–round for guided tours, The Mark Twain House attracts more than 60,000 visitors a year and is one of the premier tourist attractions in Connecticut. Because of the international notoriety of Twain, The Mark Twain House attracts visitors from every state in the nation as well as from more than 70 countries around the world. In addition to opening the historic house for tours, the organization also runs dozens of special programs about Twain's writing, his family life, and the literary elite who lived in Connecticut during Twain's time, including his Nook Farm neighbor, Harriet Beecher Stowe.

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