Maintaining historic homes is a crucial aspect of preserving a city’s cultural heritage and history. From a legal standpoint, cities can create regulations for property owners to ensure the preservation of historic structures. Zoning laws can also be enacted to protect designated historic homes from demolition or inappropriate alterations. Financial incentives can encourage property owners to invest in the maintenance and restoration of their historic homes.
Below are five foundational examples of historic homes that benefited from a proactive approach to maintenance and an appreciation of how these homes serve to establish a positive identity for their surrounding communities.
Monticello isn’t quite big enough to see from space, but you can see it from almost anywhere in the world. This is because it is featured on the reverse side of the nickel. This construction of the historic home of Thomas Jefferson was started in 1768 and wasn’t completely finished until 1809. Monticello was mostly done in 1784 when Jefferson left to go to France for five years. Jefferson was inspired by the Neoclassical and ancient Roman architecture he saw in France, which influenced him to draw up plans for alterations to Monticello. The new Monticello was constructed from 1796 to 1809 and Jefferson lived there until his death in 1826.
The house is considered an architectural masterpiece and the surrounding land features a vast array of flowers, vegetables, fruits, plants, and trees. Jefferson considered botany to be the most valuable of the sciences and kept a “Garden Book” that contained a log of all the flora featured at Monticello along with any insects or diseases that affected them. The amount of research and work Jefferson put into the design of his house and the gardens, groves, orchards, and vineyards featured on his land is apparent.
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This UNESCO World Heritage Site attracts around 400,000 visitors every year. The most recent economic impact study was done in 2001 and found that Monticello generated $47.2 million of economic impact in the area.
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In 1945, a man named Alex Jordan began constructing his home on top of a formation of rocks called Deer Shelter Rock. The rock is a 60-foot-tall chimney of sandstone that rises out of the forest and offers a beautiful view of the surrounding area. Alex had originally only rented the rock and part of the surrounding land from a local farmer. He built a small studio at the top of the rock, but after buying the full 240-acre property, he started to build his dream home. Much of the original house was built by Alex, who somehow got the materials up the 60-foot rock. After word got out about what Alex had built on the rock, people started to come by and ask to see the house. Alex was irritated by the visitors, so he decided to start charging 50 cents to anyone who wanted to visit. However, people were undeterred by the fee. In 1960, after several years of visitors, Alex decided to open the House on the Rock to the public.
Today, the House on the Rock features much more than the house. Other features include the “Infinity Room,” the World’s Largest Carousel, a model of a sea creature that is longer than the Statue of Liberty is tall, a Japanese garden, and much more. The Infinity Room was opened in 1985 and was an engineering marvel at the time. It is a 218-foot hallway with 3,264 windows that extends away from the rock, unsupported, for 140 feet. It is counterbalanced by 105 yards of concrete and allows visitors to get an even better view of the forest that extends out of Deer Shelter Rock.
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In 1998 and 1999 The House on the Rock Inn and The House on the Rock Resort were opened to accommodate the high number of visitors to the attraction. The House on the Rock attracts over a million visitors every year to Spring Green, which has a population of 1,533 people per U.S Census data.
Did you know that Thomas Edison and Henry Ford were best friends? Because they were. They met at the Detroit Edison Illuminating Company in the 1890s while Ford was employed there. Edison had purchased a winter home in Fort Myers, Florida in 1885. In 1914, Ford took his family to visit Edison at his Fort Myers home and two years later in 1916, Ford bought the house next door to Edison. Every year after, Ford made sure to be in Fort Myers for one day in particular, February 11th, Thomas Edison’s birthday.
Both houses have been restored to look just as they did when Edison and Ford were alive. The Edison and Ford Winter Estates tour offers guests the chance to walk through Edison’s family house, guest house, botanic research lab, moonlight garden, caretaker’s house, little office, pool complex, machine shop, garage, and part of the original Edison pier along with Ford’s house and caretaker’s cottage.
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The Edison and Ford Winter Estates and all the accompanying buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places. The estates attract over 225,000 visitors every year which puts them among the top 10 most visited national historic homes in America.
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The Winchester Mystery House has been shrouded by mystery, legend, and ghost stories for 100 years. But the home is actually just an architectural wonder created by a driven and innovative woman with a passion for architecture and design. Sarah Winchester was the heiress of a large portion of the Winchester Repeating Arms fortune who had lost her first and only child and then her husband in just a matter of years. After her husband’s death, Sarah moved from their home in Connecticut to San Jose, California. She bought an eight-room farmhouse and began building the house of her dreams. The ghost stories used to market the house state that Winchester was told by a psychic that her family was being haunted by the ghosts of people killed by Winchester rifles. To appease those who were killed, she had to build a house for the ghosts to stay in and she had to continue building it until she died. But these ghost stories are nothing more than stories fabricated to make the house more interesting.
Sarah Winchester and her husband developed an interest in architecture and design while building their home in Connecticut. When Sarah moved to California, she hired two architects to help her build her dream home, but later fired both and decided to design the house herself.
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After nearly 36 years of construction and an earthquake in 1906 that took out much of the house, the Winchester Mystery House today is 24,000 square feet and features 10,000 windows, 2,000 doors, 160 rooms, 52 skylights, 47 stairways, 47 fireplaces, 17 chimneys, 13 bathrooms, and 6 kitchens. Because there was little construction done after the earthquake, there are several areas of the house in which doors lead to nowhere or staircases end at the ceiling. These oddities are part of the reason why the ghost stories were created and why the house is considered to be so mysterious. But the ghost stories and mysteries have also helped the house attract over 12 million visitors since it was opened to the public on June 30th, 1923.
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Last, but certainly not least, is America’s largest home, the Biltmore Estate. George Vanderbilt, the grandson of the shipping entrepreneur and industrialist Cornelius “the Commodore” Vanderbilt, began building the Biltmore Estate in 1889. He hired Richard Morris Hunt, who designed the pedestal that the Statue of Liberty stands on, to be the architect. After six years of work done by a community of craftsmen, the Biltmore Estate was finally finished on Christmas Eve in 1895. The home contained 250 rooms, 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, and 65 fireplaces. The beautiful architecture of the home is complimented by the 75 acres of gardens surrounding the estate that were designed by the renowned landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted, who co-designed New York’s Central Park.
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The Biltmore Estate became open to the public as a tourist attraction in 1930 to increase tourism in the area during the Depression. Today, the estate is still family owned and operated with George Vanderbilt’s great-grandson acting as the President and CEO of The Biltmore Company. Visitors can enjoy tours of the estate and its many gardens, taste some of the wines grown on the property, or stay in the Biltmore Estate Inn or the Village Hotel on the estate. It continues to attract tourism to the area and was found to have brought in $620 million of economic impact in 2019.
These historic homes offer a unique opportunity to explore the past and learn about some of the people who shaped our world. From presidential residences to grand estates that showcase the opulence of the past, these homes provide a glimpse into a different era. Visitors can experience the architecture, furniture, and art of previous generations and soak in the atmosphere of previous eras. They also provide an opportunity to learn about the people who lived in these homes and their contributions to society. Whether you are a history buff or simply looking for a fun way to spend an afternoon, a visit to a historic home can be an enriching and rewarding experience.
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