10 of the best historic homes to visit in New England

In New England, historic houses are two a penny, of course, but these ten homes have stories beyond brick and mortar, or clapboard and shingle.

Orchard House – Concord, Massachusetts

This was the house where Louisa May Alcott and her family lived when she wrote “Little Women,” creating one of literature’s most endearing and enduring works. Remarkably preserved, this Federal-style clapboard house on the outskirts of still-bucolic Concord still has the very furnishings used by the family, including the simple shelf desk in Louisa’s room where she wrote her most famous novel.

Florence Griswold Museum – Old Lyme, Connecticut

Cafe Flo at the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme, Connecticut

Griswold opened up her coastal Connecticut boarding house to artists, nurturing and encouraging them, and charging small rents. For that, she’s often called the patron saint of American Impressionism. At the turn of the 20th century, following the nearby Cos Cob Art Colony, her boarders founded the Old Lyme Colony, which became the largest and best known Impressionist art center in the nation.

Griswold would be happy to see an impressive art museum now stands on the beautiful grounds, and that the paintings the artists added to the interior of her house are still on view. The house, gallery and Cafe Flo are a truly delightful experience.

The Mount – Lenox, Massachusetts

The Mount in Lenox, Massachusetts

Novelist Edith Wharton (“The Age of Innocence”) built her magnificent home in the picture-perfect Berkshires, surrounded by the estates of America’s wealthy Gilded Age elite. The author and her husband maintained the massive house and extensive gardens as their escape from city rigors.

The couple’s beloved dogs are buried on a hillock in the garden, each with an inscribed gravestone. Take a guided tour for the inside story, which reveals the couple did not lead a quiet country life – and their affairs were far from innocent.

Strawbery Banke Museum – Portsmouth, New Hampshire

Strawbery Banke Museum in Portsmouth, New Hampshire

Named Strawbery Banke by the first English settlers, and later called Puddle Dock, this salvaged neighborhood is now an outdoor history museum. Begun in 1958, many of the 32 historic buildings, the earliest dating to 1695, are open to tour; some have exhibits.

Costumed interpreters and informed staff bring to life the stories of families who lived and worked there, including enslaved people and the Abenaki, the Indigenous people who owned this land for thousands of years.

Hildene – Manchester, Vermont

Hildene in Manchester, Vermont

Robert Todd Lincoln, President Abraham Lincoln’s son, and his wife Mary built this Georgian Revival mansion in 1905. Lincoln was the Pullman Company’s president and already aged 62. The non-profit Friends of Hildene took over the property in the 1970s, beautifully restoring the house and formal garden, and turning the carriage barn into a lively gift shop.

The 400-plus acres of natural landscaped grounds houses a restored 1903 Pullman car, called Sunbeam, as well as an agricultural and ecology educational facility that includes Dene Farm, with a solar-powered goat dairy and cheese-making facility and a 600-foot floating wetland boardwalk.

The Crane Estate – Ipswich, Massachusetts

The Crane Estate in Ipswich, Massachusetts

Chicago industrialist Richard T. Crane, Jr., head of a very successful plumbing business (among other things), purchased the land overlooking Ipswich Bay in 1910. It was to be the Crane family’s summer home complete with a grand house that Mr. Crane built twice because Mrs. Crane disliked the first. Finished in 1928, and perched atop Castle Hill, the second house includes lavish Crane plumbing fixtures.

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