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History of the House

Sam and Livy Clemens were married in 1870 and moved to Hartford in 1871 to be near his publisher, the American Publishing Company. The family first rented a house on Forest Street in the Nook Farm section of the city from Livy's friends, John and Isabella Beecher Hooker, and later purchased land on Farmington Avenue, where their neighbors were some of Hartford's most prominent citizens. In 1873, they engaged New York City architect Edward Tuckerman Potter to design their house.

Mark Twain and his family enjoyed what the author would later call the happiest and most productive years of his life in their Hartford home. Twain wrote:

"To us, our house . . . had a heart, and a soul, and eyes to see us with; and approvals and solicitudes and deep sympathies; it was of us, and we were in its confidence and lived in its grace and in the peace of it benediction."

Financial problems forced Sam and Livy to move the family to Europe in 1891. Though he would complain about the other places the family lived ("How ugly, tasteless, repulsive are all the domestic interiors I have ever seen in Europe compared with the perfect taste of this [the Hartford home's] ground floor"), the family would never live in Hartford again. 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 changed owners several times after the turn of the century. The Bissell family, who purchased the house from the Clemens family, lived in the house until 1917. From 1917 to 1921, the Bissells rented the building to the Kingswood School for boys. In 1921, the house was sold to a developer who by the middle of the decade began to plot the house's destruction so that he could more successfully exploit this prime site by constructing apartment buildings.

The Friends of Hartford saved the house in 1927 and from 1931 until the late 1950s its first-floor occupant was The Mark Twain Branch of the Hartford Public Library. The remainder of the house was rented as private apartments through the 1960s, when the first era of restoration began in earnest in time for the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the house in 1974.

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."


 
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