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5 Breathtaking Historic Homes You Should Visit ASAP
As many places begin to reopen in the wake of updated state guidelines in regards to COVID-19, we know where we’ll be headed first: historic house museums. Slowly but surely, many former homes-turned-museums are open to visit again, including several Newport mansions, the Biltmore Estate (which owns the official trademark America’s Largest Home®, in case you didn’t know), the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum, and the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens. Of course, visitors have to wear face coverings and practice proper social distancing, but being able to see these incredible works of architecture, interior design, and landscaping right before your eyes makes it all worth it. Learn more about these famed houses below, and by visiting them in person.
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1) The Breakers, Newport, RI
The Breakers was built in 1895 for Cornelius Vanderbilt II, and it is currently the most visited site in all of Rhode Island, garnering nearly half a million visitors in 2017. This iconic Newport mansion is a work of Italian Renaissance Revival architecture designed by Richard Morris Hunt, who also helped design the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s entrance and Great Hall, as well as the base of the Statue of Liberty. The interior design was done by Ogden Codman Jr. (who co-authored Edith Wharton’s The Decoration of Houses) and Jules Allard and Sons. One of the many design elements of The Breakers includes marble that was imported from Africa and Italy.
Visitors to the Breakers will be required to wear face coverings, practice social distancing, and make online reservations in advance. Tours will be accompanied by either a self-guided audio (from the Newport Mansions app, which is free) with your own earbuds, or a paper copy of the tour script.
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2) The Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum, Key West, FL
Ernest Hemingway lived in many places during his life, including the Chicago suburbs, Toronto, Paris, Spain, Cuba, Key West, and Idaho, but only a few of his former homes are now museums. Originally built in 1851 by Asa Tift, the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum in Key West is a Spanish Colonial-style house where stories like “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” (which later became a film starring Gregory Peck, Susan Hayward, and Ava Gardner) were written. This home is known for the many polydactyl cats that live here, which are related to Hemingway’s own cats who also had more than the usual amount of toes on their paws.
Face coverings must be worn at all times during visits and the Museum has also made tour groups smaller to ensure social distancing.
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3) Biltmore Estate, Asheville, NC
The Gilded Age brought about many remarkable mansions, but none as impressive as the Biltmore Estate, which is the largest home in America with a grand total of over 178,000 square feet worth of floor space. Built between 1889 and 1895, the Biltmore is a Châteauesque creation built for George Washington Vanderbilt II by architect Richard Morris Hunt, with landscape designs by Frederick Law Olmsted, best known for his work on Central Park. Because George Washington Vanderbilt II was an acquaintance of Thomas Edison, the Biltmore House has had electricity since it was built over 125 years ago.
Guests must wear face coverings at all times when indoors, and they also have to social distance. The Biltmore is now cashless and only accepts credit and debit cards, in addition to Biltmore Gift Cards.
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4) The Elms, Newport, RI
Another château-inspired Gilded Age mansion is The Elms, a Classical Revival structure built in 1901 by architect Horace Trumbauer. It was built for Edward Julius Berwind, who founded the Berwind-White Coal Mining Company, where he served as president for 40 years. Since both Edward and his closest sibling, Julia, had no children, he left the estate to her, who in turn tried to give it to her nephew, who did not want it. The Berwind family ultimately ended up selling the property, and just a few weeks before its planned demolition, the Preservation Society of Newport County purchased it for $116,000. Talk about perfect timing!
Visitors to the Elms will be required to wear face coverings, practice social distancing, and make online reservations in advance. Tours will be accompanied by either a self-guided audio (from the Newport Mansions app, which is free) with your own earbuds, or a paper copy of the tour script.
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5) Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, Miami, FL
The Vizcaya Museum and Gardens features a Mediterranean Revival-style house that was built between 1914 and 1923. Businessman James Deering lived at Vizcaya, where architect F. Burrall Hoffman, design director Paul Chalfin, and landscape architect Diego Suarez brought this home and its gardens to life. Interior decorator Elsie de Wolfe actually introduced Chalfin and Deering to each other, which led to their collaboration on this house. After she passed on Deering’s request to design his Chicago apartment, de Wolfe recommended Chalfin take the job instead. The furnishings of Vizcaya originate from Asia, Europe, and America, and the artwork and antiques cover a time span of over 2,000 years.
While the Vizcaya gardens are fully open, the main house is partially open. In accordance with Miami-Dade County restrictions, there are no programs or rentals allowed at the house yet, but Charlotte Donn, the marketing and communications director of Vizcaya, says, "we are hoping the next phase of lifted restrictions will allow us to fully open the house, and begin tours and programs."
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