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Houses Turned Museums Bank on Famous Former Residents

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When people build an elaborate home, there usually isn't much thought given to what its use will be once the owner passes. But, when the owner is a gifted artist, a literary talent, or some fabulously rich guy, certain houses tend to become—for better or for worse—museums, either in honor of their former owners or as a testament to the styles of a different age. From the hundreds of preserved personal residences, we've picked four of our favorites. First up is the Cornish, N.H. summer home and studio of 19th-century sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, the famed designer of Boston's Shaw Memorial, a $20 Gold Coin, and countless painstakingly-produced bronzes. When Saint-Gaudens purchased the property in 1885, the house was a shell of its future self. Over the next 22 years, the sculptor commissioned broad columned porches and extensive gardens to augment the existing structures (above). One of the outbuildings, equipped with expansive windows, served as his studio. So renowned was Saint-Gaudens that his taking up summer residence in Cornish led to the creation of a popular artist's colony in town, where luminaries like President Woodrow Wilson and literary recluse J.D. Salinger would later seek reprieve. Now the federal government has taken over, ensuring this rural getaway won't be soon forgotten.

? When Samuel Clemens moved his family into this painted brick Victorian in Hartford, Conn. in 1874, he had not yet produced the works that have made his pen name—Mark Twain—so famous. In fact, it was his wife's inheritance that paid for the construction in what was then America's wealthiest city per-capita. In the upstairs billiards room, Twain is said to have written some of his most enduring classics, including The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, and, fittingly, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. If the home was ornate when the family moved in, after the success of Tom Sawyer it became even more so. Twain commissioned Louis Comfort Tiffany to renovate the interiors. Soon, that sort of spending caught up with the author, who was forced to sell the property in 1891. Curiously, the museum has also recently run into financial difficulties after hiring Robert A.M. Stern to design a $16.3M visitors center. They really are doing what Twain would have done.

? Another famous literary mastermind has also had his home opened as a museum, but it is much less ornate than Twain's and is located 1,500 miles south on the island of Key West, Fla. The home of Ernest Hemingway is among the most popular tourist destinations on the island. Hemingway discovered the sleepy tropical paradise while enroute from Cuba to pick up a fancy new Ford Roadster, but by 1930 was living on the island full time. In 1931, he and his wife, Pauline, were given this 1851 limestone house by Pauline's uncle as a wedding present. The spoiling of this literary master continued with a $20K pool, but by 1935 his presence in town was well known and the inclusion of his address on tourist maps led to the building of a high wall around the property. Today, much controversy surrounds the property—which was sold empty following Hemingway's death—as the present owners have taken to making claims regarding the provenance of the books, belongings, and even cats found on the grounds. Despite the fakery, it's hard to argue with the beautiful bones of this house.

? One of the leading industrialists of the 20th-century, Henry Clay Frick, commissioned this home as his private NYC residence, according to a design drafted by Thomas Hastings of the famed Beaux-Arts firm Carrère and Hastings. Set on a block-long Fifth Avenue lot, the mansion enjoys views to the park as well as it's own fenced-in front yard, and reportedly cost $5M to construct in 1913—over $110M in today's dollars. But it is Frick's stunning collection of Old Master paintings, now exhibited in the house, that somehow manages to overshadow this impressive piece of real estate. Works by Vermeer, Rembrandt, Renoir, El Greco, and Goya now hang on the walls in much the same way they did 100 years ago for Frick himself. Kinda puts this $90M townhouse to shame, doesn't it?
· Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site (official site)
· The Mark Twain House and Museum (official site)
· Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum [official site]
· The Frick Collection [official site]
· Inside Manhattan's $90 Million Mansion [Curbed NY]