15 Old Houses That Are Now Museums

House museums are an intimate, at times breathtaking, way to experience history. If your next vacation takes you near any of these 15 architectural and historical gems, drop in for some amazing stories, beautiful treasures—and perhaps a few ghosts.

Nichols House Museum in Boston

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Nichols House Museum in Boston

Located in the historic Beacon Hill neighborhood of Boston, this large townhouse was constructed in 1804. It became the residence of Dr. Arthur Nichols and his family in 1885. His eldest daughter, Rose Standish Nichols, owned the house from 1934 until her death in 1960, when, through her bequest, it became a museum where priceless furnishings, artwork, and decorative accents re-create upper-class domestic life of the early 20th century. The house can be visited only by guided tour; check the website for hours and prices

istockphoto.com

Glessner House in Chicago

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Glessner House in Chicago

While Gilded Age moguls were building castles, John Glessner envisioned something different: a real home. With an elegant stone exterior and red-tiled roof, Glessner House resembles a romantic fortress, but on a charming, domestic scale. The home, part of the Prairie Avenue Historic District in Chicago, is open to the public for guided tours and offers free admission on Wednesdays. See the Glessner House website for times and prices.

Related: Love Old Houses? These Are the AirBnBs for You

Wikimedia Commons via Teemu008

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston

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Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum offers the perfect blend of art and culture, with more than 7,500 masterworks from around the world as well as a full calendar of concerts and lectures. Completed in 1901, the museum was constructed to house the wide-ranging collection of artwork Gardner and her husband had amassed. Today, the museum is an absorbing, idiosyncratic reflection of the unconventional Gardner, who maintained a private apartment on the fourth floor. Tickets can be purchased online.

Wikimedia Commons via Biruitorul

Georgia O’Keeffe Home and Museum near Santa Fe

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Georgia O’Keeffe Home and Museum near Santa Fe

One of America’s foremost artists, Georgia O’Keeffe felt drawn to, and ultimately made her home in, northern New Mexico. Her work expresses “the wideness and wonder” of the natural world that so captivated her. Visitors can tour O’Keeffe’s home and studio in Abiquiu, about 60 miles northwest of Santa Fe; advance reservations are required

istockphoto.com

Whitney Plantation in Louisiana

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Whitney Plantation in Louisiana

The Whitney Plantation, built in 1803 along the Mississippi River, documents the reality of life for slaves on a sprawling antebellum plantation. The restored property, which is about 50 miles west of New Orleans, encompasses slave cabins, the 1790 owner's house, outbuildings, and a Wall of Honor “engraved with the names of hundreds of slaves who lived, worked, and died there.” You can purchase tickets online up to 12 hours before the start of a tour.

Wikimedia Commons via Bill Leiser

Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst, Massachusetts

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Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst, Massachusetts

Dickinson is one of our nation's most beloved poets, and today her home is a museum dedicated to art and literature. The property includes two family estates, The Homestead, where Dickinson was born in 1830, and The Evergreens, where her older brother, Austin, lived with his family. Dickinson spent her entire life at The Homestead, which you can visit as part of a guided tour. It's the perfect place to explore during April, which is National Poetry Month.

Wikimedia Commons via Daderot

The Ringling—Ca’ d’Zan in Sarasota, Florida

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The Ringling—Ca’ d’Zan in Sarasota, Florida

It's not surprising that the Florida home of John Ringling, one of the five proprietors of The Ringling Circus, aka “The Greatest Show on Earth,” would be a fabulous, bigger-than-life Venetian-style palazzo. Upon its completion in 1926, Ringling commissioned a museum to display his significant art collection. Today, after a $15 million renovation in 2001, the house, museum, and gardens are a dazzling feast for the senses. A variety of tour packages are available.

Related: 35 Places in America That Look Like Foreign Countries

istockphoto.com

Fallingwater in Mill Run, Pennsylvania

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Fallingwater in Mill Run, Pennsylvania

This incomparable American architectural masterpiece also happens to be a home. Built by famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright for the Kaufmann family of Pittsburgh, the structure seems to spring organically from the rock and rushing water that surround it. To visit Fallingwater is to experience “energy and grace,” in the words of the Kaufmanns’ son, Edgar. Tours can be booked online.

Related: 15 Famous Houses You Can Rent for the Weekend

Wikimedia Commons via Apostoloff

Winterthur in Delaware

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Winterthur in Delaware

Winterthur (pronounced "winter-tour") is the home of Henry Francis du Pont, whose family founded the DuPont chemical company. Over 90,000 pieces of decorative art are on display in the museum, which had been Du Pont's childhood home. But don’t spend all your time indoors—Winterthur is surrounded by a 1,000-acre preserve of forests and meadows, which include 60 acres of gardens. Tickets to the house, gardens, and special exhibits are available online.

istockphoto.com

The Paul Revere House in Boston

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The Paul Revere House in Boston

We learn about his midnight ride in elementary school, but there's so much more to know about Paul Revere. At the Paul Revere House, you can get up close and personal with the Boston silversmith who who alerted the Revolutionary militia in 1775. In the self-guided tour, visitors learn about Revere and his family and experience everyday life in colonial Boston. The site also offers family-friendly events, including programs with actors who portray various members of the Revere circle. The museum has a cash-only admission policy.

Related: 13 Homes from the Original Colonies that Still Stand Today

Wikimedia Commons via j_m_d_imagery

Alden B. Dow Home & Studio in Midland, Michigan

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Alden B. Dow Home & Studio in Midland, Michigan

Architecture is the art of daily life, a tenet that's embodied by the Alden B. Dow Home & Studio. This man of “Big Ideas,” scion of the founder of the Dow Chemical Company, constructed his life and buildings around three values: honesty, humility, and enthusiasm. In keeping with his belief in architecture in which "gardens never end and buildings never begin," Dow's home in Midland, Michigan, seems to emerge from the surrounding lake. Inside, midcentury modern furnishings create balance and harmony. Tours must be reserved in advance. 

flickr.com via janelle 

Whaley House in San Diego

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Whaley House in San Diego

Are you a believer—in ghosts, that is? If so, a visit to Whaley House may get your spirit juices stirring. Built where a gallows once stood, this San Diego institution was the home of the colorful Whaley family, whose members included Revolutionary gunsmiths and West Coast merchants. Ghostly sightings have been rumored, and you can explore the century-old homestead during nighttime tours.

Related: The Most Haunted Places in America

Wikimedia Commons via Roman Eugeniusz

Monticello in Charlottesville, Virginia

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Monticello in Charlottesville, Virginia

In any ranking of presidents' homes, Thomas Jefferson's would be a winner. Designed by Jefferson, the stately Monticello (“little mountain” in Italian) stands as testament to our nation's journey toward freedom and our legacy of slavery. Tours can be booked online.

Wikimedia Commons via Moofpocket

Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California

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Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California

For palatial splendor on the West Coast, make a stop at Hearst Castle on your next road trip. This mansion overlooking the Pacific Ocean was built in the 1920s by William Randolph Hearst, a newspaper mogul and art collector. Today, the opulent property is a must-see destination with a range of tours that can be booked online.

Wikimedia Commons via Stan Shebs

Mount Vernon in Virginia

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Mount Vernon in Virginia

What better place for an American to visit than the residence of George Washington, our first president.? And while the interiors at Mount Vernon have been beautifully restored to their 1799 grandeur, there are also gardens, a working farm with heritage animals, two museums, and a restaurant on the property. Tickets can be purchased online.

Related: Winter Retreats of Presidents Past and Present

Wikimedia Commons via baldeaglebluff

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