Apr 30, 2013
04:32 PM
Connecticut Today

The Harriet Beecher Stowe House: Connecticut's Newest National Historic Landmark

Harriet Beecher Stowe once wrote, "When you get into a tight place and everything goes against you until it seems that you cannot hold on for a minute longer, never give up then, for that is just the place and time when the tide will turn." After 45 years as a public historic attraction, Stowe's cottage-style Hartford home — the heart of the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, where the author lived from 1873 until her death in 1896 — has finally won federal recognition as a National Historic Landmark (NHL), a designation jointly awarded and announced by the U.S. Department of the Interior and the National Park Service on March 11.

What took so long? After all, no one would dispute that Stowe herself — author not only of the influential 1852 antislavery masterwork Uncle Tom's Cabin, but more than 30 other books that addressed such controversial topics as religious reform and gender roles — fails to live up to the standard of "historic significance" set for recipients of NHL recognition. The current list of honorees includes 2,500 buildings, sites, structures and objects nationwide (61 of these in Connecticut). The Hartford home of Stowe's next-door neighbor Mark Twain won NHL status in 1962, just two years after the National Historic Landmark program's creation.

It turns out that the delay was due to a technicality. Says Stowe Center Director of Marketing Mary Ellen White, "There had been a rule that only one historic home per writer could win NHL designation." There are currently three existing historic houses that Stowe lived in, including those in Cincinnati, Ohio, and Brunswick, Maine. The latter — located on the campus of Bowdoin College where Stowe's husband, Calvin, taught theology, and the home where she wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin — had already won NHL recognition in 1962. That home is not open to the public. "We decided our exemption from consideration just wasn't right," says White. "With the leadership of Connecticut's Historic Preservation Office, we got the NHL powers-that-be to say, 'You're right, this should not be.'"

Upon winning that acknowledgement, the Stowe Center still had to submit to the rigorous process required for NHL consideration. A formal application had to be prepared by an outside consultant justifying the architectural and historic significance of Stowe's Hartford house, and that application verified by architectural historians. The National Historic Landmark Advisory Committee then paid a site visit to the center and combed through its records about the house, and Stowe Center Executive Director Katherine D. Kane testified before this committee in Washington, D.C. "We got tremendous support from our federal delegation," says White — U.S. Sens. Joe Lieberman and Richard Blumenthal, and U.S. Rep. John Larsen. Ultimately, the NHL made its recommendation to Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, who was responsible for the final decision.

"As a public statement of the importance of our site, this has great prestige value for the Stowe Center," says White. "It's something we can tout to our funders, donors and members, and celebrate at our next annual meeting May 14. I know that in this round, the NHL committee wanted to award sites that represent the full span of our historic past. We like to think we've been in the forefront of museums that stress the connection between past and present." Visitors to the center can tour not only the author's home, but also its historic gardens and the home of Katharine Seymour Day (Stowe's grandniece and the founder of the Stowe Center), which now houses the center's research library. For now, however, no one will see any physical evidence of the Stowe home's change in status. Says White, "We're hopeful that once the federal government straightens out its financial issues, there will be funding for a plaque we can display on the house."

Visit this site for more info on the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center.

 

Other key National Historic Landmarks in Connecticut:

 (Dates of designation are in parentheses.)

Captain Nathaniel B. Palmer House, Stonington (1996): Home to the pioneering 19th-century Antarctic explorer and seal hunter. Open Thurs.-Sun. 1-5, May through October; tickets include admission to the neighboring Old Lighthouse Museum. Learn more here.

Charles W. Morgan, Mystic (1966): Only surviving wooden ship from the 19th-century American whaling fleet. One of four NHLs at Mystic Seaport. On July 21, after nearly five years of restoration, the Morgan will be rechristened and lowered into the Mystic River; next spring, she'll embark on a sailing tour of historic New England ports. Learn more here; for Mystic Seaport hours, check here.

Connecticut Audubon Society Birdcraft Museum and Sanctuary, Fairfield (1993): Oldest private songbird sanctuary in the United States; established in 1914 by Mabel Osgood Wright. More than 120 bird species have been recorded on its grounds. It is also a federally-licensed bird-banding station. Open Tues.-Fri 9-1, year-round. Learn more here.

First Church of Christ, Congregational, 1652, Farmington (1975): A hub of the Underground Railroad, First Church housed the slaves of La Amistad revolt during their U.S. Supreme Court trial in 1841, and educated them in Christianity after their release. Learn more here.

Florence Griswold House, Old Lyme (1993): Miss Florence's boarding house, the hub of creativity for the American Impressionists of the Lyme Art Colony such as Henry Ward Ranger, Childe Hassam, and Willard Metcalf, is just one part of the current museum experience, which includes the grounds overlooking the Lieutenant River and state-of-the-art Krieble Gallery. Open Tues.-Sat. 10-5 and Sun. 1-5; Café Flo Tues.-Sat. 11:30-3 and Sun. 1-4, June 1 through Oct. 27. Learn more here.

Grove Street Cemetery, New Haven (2000): Established in 1797 as the first chartered burial ground in the United States. Inventor Eli Whitney, lexicographer Noah Webster, "Father of American football" Walter Camp and founding father Roger Sherman (the only person to have signed all four documents of American sovereignty, including the Declaration of Independence and Constitution) are just some of the noteworthies interred here. Guided tours offered Sat. at 11 and the first and third Sun. monthly at noon, May through Nov. Learn more here.

 

Henry Whitfield House, Guilford (1997): Built in 1639 for one of Guilford's founders and first minister; oldest house in Connecticut and oldest stone house in New England. Open Wed.-Sun. 10-4:30, May 1 through Dec. 15. Learn more here.

Henry C. Bowen House, Woodstock (1992): Built in 1846 for influential businessman Henry C. Bowen; a striking Gothic Revival-style manse better known as Roseland Cottage due to its coral pink exterior. Special features include a carriage house with bowling alley (in which, legend has it, President Ulysses S. Grant once bowled a strike), a boxwood-bordered parterre garden with more than 4,000 annuals and, inside the house, the original Gothic furnishings and Lincrusta Walton wall decorations. Open for tours Wed.-Sun. 11-5, June 1 through Oct. 15; upcoming special events include the Roseland Cottage Plant Sale (May 11), Connecticut Historic Gardens Day (June 23) and the Roseland Fine Arts & Crafts Festival (Oct. 19 & 20). Learn more here.

Hill-Stead Museum, Farmington (1991): Country estate designed at the turn of the 20th century for wealthy industrialist Alfred Atmore Pope by his daughter Theodate, and built by the renowned architectural firm of McKim, Mead & White. Houses distinguished collection of major works by artists such as Mary Cassatt, Claude Monet, Edgar Degas and Albrecht Durer. Open Tues.-Sun. 10-4, year-round, with tours every half-hour. Summer events include the Sunken Garden Poetry Festival, Wed. evenings June through Aug, and the Hill-Stead Farmers Market, Sun. 11-2, July 7 through Oct. 20. Learn more here.

Ida Tarbell House, Easton (1993): Still privately owned; former farmhouse home of "muckraker" journalist Tarbell (from 1906 to 1944), author of The History of the Standard Oil Company. Learn more here.

Monte Cristo Cottage, New London (1971): Summer family home of Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Eugene O'Neill; setting for his plays Ah! Wilderness and Long Day's Journey into Night. Open Thurs.-Sat. noon-4 and Sun. 1-3, late May through Labor Day. Learn more here.

 

Noah Webster Birthplace, West Hartford (1962): Childhood home of the man who created the first American dictionary and Blue-Backed Speller; one of the first Connecticut locations (along with the Mark Twain House and Joseph Webb House in Hartford) to earn NHL designation. Privately occupied until 1962, it became a museum in 1966. Hours Thurs.-Mon. 1-4, year-round. Learn more here.

Philip Johnson Glass House, New Canaan (1997): Designed and built by the renowned architect in 1949 as a weekend retreat; modeled after Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's famed Farnsworth House in Plano, Ill. Tours Thurs.-Mon., May 2 through Nov. Learn more here.

Prudence Crandall House, Canterbury (1991): Home to abolitionist and educator Prudence Crandall, Connecticut's official state heroine, who ran her School for "Little Misses of Color" here from 1832-34, when it was closed by mob violence. Open Wed.-Sun. 10-4, May 1 through Nov. 3. Learn more here.

Tapping Reeve House & Law School, Litchfield (1965): Established in 1784, Reeve's law school was the second in the United States after William & Mary School of Law in Virginia. In its 50 years of operation, it graduated roughly 1,100 students, including two future U.S. vice presidents, three Supreme court justices, 101 members of the House of Representatives and 28 members of the Senate. Open Tues.-Sat 11-5 and Sun. 1-5 through Nov., fee includes admission to the neighboring Litchfield History Museum. Learn more here.

Yale Bowl, New Haven (1987): Home to the Yale Bulldogs football team. Completed in 1914; served as model for the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. Upon completion, it officially accommodated just over 70,000 spectators (after renovations in 1996 that number dropped to 61,000), yet the largest crowd ever admitted was 80,000 for the Yale-Army game in 1923. Learn more here.

For a comprehensive list of Connecticut's historic landmarks, see here.

The Harriet Beecher Stowe House: Connecticut's Newest National Historic Landmark

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