From Twain to Today: How The Mark Twain House & Museum Came to Be

After Sam and Olivia Clemens sold their remarkable mansion to the Richard Bissell family in 1903, it changed owners several times.

The Bissells lived in the house until 1917. For the next four years they rented the building to the Kingswood School for boys. In 1922 the house was sold to a developer, who immediately made plans to turn the house into an apartment building. According to a 1923 Hartford Courant article, “The apartments will be ready for occupancy on July 1. There will be eleven apartments and in the basement there is to be a large dining hall to be used for commercial purposes or for functions arranged by the tenants. Each apartment will have a large room with a fireplace and there will be three small bedrooms with folding beds ingeniously worked into the panels of the doors.”

The Friends of Hartford, led by Katharine Seymour Day, purchased the house in 1929.

That April, a group called The Mark Twain Memorial and Library Commission was chartered, with the purpose of saving and restoring Mark Twain’s House on Farmington Avenue. From 1930 until 1956 the organization rented out the first floor to The Mark Twain Branch of the Hartford Public Library.

The remainder of the house was rented as private apartments through the 1960s.

Formal restoration of the house began in 1963, the same year the Mark Twain House was designated a National Historic Landmark.

The work began with the Billiards Room. Research, physical investigation, and restoration of the rest of the house continued, and all the major rooms of the home were opened in time for the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the house in 1974.

In 1999, the museum began a capital campaign that led to the opening of the museum center in 2003, by which time the organization had been renamed The Mark Twain House & Museum.  The new structure, strategically located and nestled in a hillside not to detract from the Mark Twain House, was designed by Robert A. M. Stern and was the first LEED-certified “green” museum in the United States.

The following years included a significant interior restoration in 2004-2005, including the restoration of the Kitchen and Servants’ Wing.

The 2010 Centennial of Mark Twain’s death was an occasion for a revival of activities in the house and museum. During that summer, as average museum attendance declined in the region, attendance at the Mark Twain House & Museum reached record levels.

Friends of The Mark Twain House & Museum

Fran Gordon met with 32 women on September 25, 1967 to formally organize what is now the Friends of the Mark Twain House & Museum.* The group evolved after the president of the Board of Trustees added women to its membership in 1954. They were responsible for caring for museum collections, library cataloging and research, and giving tours of the house.

The Friends began fundraising in 1954 when they assisted with the celebration of Twain’s birthday with the reading of his works by Governor Lodge. As their numbers grew so did the events they developed and sponsored. The yearly financial contribution to the MTH began with a donation of $1,366 in 1970 after a fashion show. In 1975 member trips to locations Mark Twain wrote about became another source of revenue, and by 1976 the group’s contributions exceeded $19,000.

The annual Holiday House Tour began in 1979 and continues to be an annual fundraising event. Private homes, the Mark Twain House, and sometimes public buildings are included in the tour.

In 1995 Kay Hoffman and Marty Flanders organized a fundraiser that is today the MTH&M Gala. It raised $40,000 that year. From 1999 through 2002 the Galas continued to raise over $100,000 annually for the operating expenses of The Mark Twain House.

When the Visitors and Education Center for the MTH was announced, the Friends contributed $30,000 to the capital campaign fund. It is astonishing to realize that since 1967 the Friends, in their fundraising efforts with the Holiday Galas and Holiday House Tours, have contributed more than $1,000,000 to the operating funds of The Mark Twain House.

While fundraising for The Mark Twain House & Museum is our mission, we enjoy all aspects of doing this with the creative and talented members we have had over many years of service to The Mark Twain House & Museum.

* Founded in 1967 as Mark Twain Memorial Women’s Committee: 1993 name changed to Friends of The Mark Twain Memorial: 1994 name change to Friends of The Mark Twain House.

The Friends develop and sponsor fundraising events and projects to support the preservation of Samuel Clemens’ Hartford home and his literary legacy, and we welcome your participation! Feel free to fill out our membership application.