"STORMFIELD", MARK TWAIN'S NEW COUNTRY HOME - How the humorist built a house without seeing it - an Italian Villa in the Connecticut Hills.
|"Stormfield" from the pergola, looking across the fountain, flanked by nature planted cedars. This is Mr. Clemns's favorite view of his new home.|
|***"It is charmingly quiet here. The house stands alone, with nothing in sight but woodsy hills and rolling country.” - Samuel L. Clemens letter to Dorothy Quick dated June 19, 1908. ***|
|***Rear View - "Stormfield"***|
WE HAD known Mr. Clemens in various European cities, where he was the feted guest of emperors, kings, and men of mark; in England, where he was lionized and given a degree at Oxford with almost mediaeval pomp and ceremony; in New York, where one function after another crowded his engagmement calendar throughout the winter. Now it seems strange to find him living the life of a country gentleman on a remote Connecticut farm.
" How did you happen to settle here?" everyone asks him.
A two-hour railroad journey from New York and a four-mile drive from the station and village through a sparsely settled region, deeply impress one with the idea of his remoteness.
"I did not need a farm," the gray-haired philosopher admits, "but Albert Bigelow Paine said he had examined this one and found it beautiful. He was of the opinion that I ought to buy it, and so I did, for Paine knows about these things."
When the people of the countryside about Redding heard that Mr. Clemens had actually bought the land, they were overjoyed, of course, and tremendously excited, but still just a little incredulous. "He's only bought it on speculation. He'll never live on it. What does he want of two hundred acres of woods and rocks and bayberry bushes and cedars?" said the village croaker. Not a few city friends looked on the purchase in the same way.
Presently the news spread that an architect had been seen on the hilltop actually staking out the site for a house, with the help of Miss Clara Clemens, the squire's older daughter, and Miss Lyon, his versatile, gifted secretary. Everyone admitted that the high location commanded the lovliest view of grassy, rocky fields, semi-encircling woods, and hills rolling away toward the Berkshires, that were to be seen in the whole region.
|The terraces leading down to the pergola add to the Italian atmosphere of the villa.|
Cedars abound on Mr. Clemens's property as cypresses do on the Alban Hills; and so it happens that a low, broad, green-roofed Italian villa of gray concrete, set among the pointed shafts of evergreen on a Connecticut hilltop, does not seem in the least incongruous, but, on the contrary, gives the instant impression of fitting its natural environment. It is a satisfying piece of architecture.
|***View from the terrace***|
|Natural wildness surrounds "Stormfield" "I like weeds" said Mr Clemens.|
But no landscape architect has tamed this place. Except immediately around the house, the land is all beautifully wild. Mr. Clemens prefers it so. Indeed, he is not only saving all the wild growth on his land from the axe and scythe and mowing-machine, but is trying to naturalize the wild flowers of other lands on his rocky acres. Twenty-four pounds of gorse seed from England are ready for spring planting.
"What do I raise on my farm?" echoes the owner of "Stormfield". "Really nothing but sunsets and scenery."
Th joy of country life has entered deep into the soul of the man. He loves the seclusion that his fame will not permit in the city; but he loves people, too, and draws about him from the outside world friends of his own choosing. He loves the house itself.
"Did it?" I asked.
"Well, half of it did," the philosopher admitted, smiling. Anyone who has ever superintended the building of a home from a distance will appreciate some of the difficulties experienced by Miss Lyon, whose duties were divided between New York, Redding, and Bermuda! The workmen, mostly natives, and representing twenty trades, had to be kept up to unwontedly high standards, but they were not slow in learning that the little woman who was likely to appear suddenly in their midst almost any day, had knowledge, sympathy, tact, taste, and executive ability of a high order. Under her leadership they worked amazingly.
Prosperity came in her train. Mortgages began to melt in Redding. Apparently the men would do anything in the world for her except finish the house and be out of it on the day Mr. Clemens had been promised to find it ready and furnished, with the dinner on the table and the cat on the doormat. When Miss Lyon went to Redding to place the furniture a few days before Mr. Clemens was expected, she was horrified to find the room still filled with workers in the midst of chaos. Calling the men she explained the absolute necessity of keeping the prormse to the owner, and asked for volunteers to stay till midnight, every night if necessary, until the house should be in complete readiness. Then, under her leadership, how the tools and brooms flew! When the men had swept up the shavings, hustled the last piece of furniture into place, hung the last curtain, and laid the last rug the night before Mr. Clemens was due to arrive Miss Lyon called her assistants into the kitchen for a midnight supper and to drink the health of the owner in old Scotch. Then, seating them in the beautiful big library, she played to them awhile on the orchestrelle.
|***Final Prep for Sam's Arrival***|
|***Fit for a 'King'***|
The next day Mr. Clemens drove up to the door and came into possession of his own. ***Click HERE for a recount of Mr. Clemens arrival June 18th, 1908.***
|***First week at new home***|
|***Mark Twain at "Stormfield"***|
"And so I did not see the house until it was finished and the furniture in it" he says. "Most people have to endure a year of trouble and worry and solicitude when they are building, but I escaped all that. I never had a pang. I was unconscious of the house all through the 362 days consumed in its construction. If it has faults, I have not discovered them. S0 far as my taste goes, it has none. Its outside is severely simple - even austerely simple - and I like that. Inside it is not cramped and stingy, but roomy, and every room gets the breeze and the sunshine.
|The main entrance, whose hospitality welcomes many visitors - especially children and billiard enthusiast.|
There are no frenzies of color, no flamboyances on walls or floors or chairs or anywhere. The colors are all soft and subdued and harmonious. The serene, unvexed, spirit contenting home note pervades the house like an atrmophere. I think it is an ideal home."
Certainly it is an unusually beautiful one. Lustrous copper-colored grass-cloth on the hall and library walls, with silk curtains of a paler tint at the windows, and Khiva, Bokhara, and Persian rugs in which dull red, copper, and dark Oriental blue and tan prevail, with some rare and beautiful pieces of Russian copper and dull brass on the low bookcases, couches, deep-seated easy chairs, cushions, books, and flowers greet the eye with a glow of color and an invitation to comfort as one enters the house. Fumed cypress woodwork on the ground floor and the old Italian oak and walnut furniture tone harmoniously with the rich, mellow, color scherme and gently subdue it.
|"Throughout the house there is the charm of color at every turn ... The Furnishings represent careful selection."|
|***Living Room - "Stormfield"***|
|***Twain in his living-room at "Stormfield"***|
|***Living Room - "Stormfield"***|
Throughout the house there is the charm of color at every turn. Books are everywhere. Unusually beautiful Oriental rugs and Russian copper abound, for the collecting of them was a passion with Mrs. Clemens for thirty-five years. Furniture from the home of the author's boyhood, from the old home in Hartford, antiques that were selected by Mr. and Mrs. Clemens on their travels years ago, have been carefully restored, and each has found its proper setting. Almost every new house has a bald, new look, as if the owners possessed nothing worthy before it was built; but Mr. Clemens's house appears to have been lived in for years, so skilfully has much good old furniture been introduced into a modern home by a sympathetic taste and given the look of being native to the place. The furnishings represent careful selection, not haphazard accumulation. For a winter station-carriage Mr. Clemens uses the one in which he and his bride started on their honeymoon in 1870.
|The view that mark Twin sees from his window. The camera was placed on his pillow to take the picture.|
|***Twain in bed at "Stormfield"***|
From every room in the house there are lovely views of rolling hills and woodland, but it is in the loggia that the veteran philosopher dreams away the summer hours. "It is breezy and pleasant there even in the warmest days," he explains and really that is the picture-gallery. The tall arches divide up the hills and the woods and the dreamy distances into charming pictures, each arch strongly framing a dainty landscape of its own; and so if there were pictures on the library walls (there aren't any, and there are not going to be any) they would stand no chance against this majestic competition. They would look cheap and mean and embarrassed, and you would go back to the arches and stay there - just as we do.
Paintings remain monotonously the same, and I tired of them; but the arch picture are always changing, always new; they get new charm out of ever change of the sun's position and the moon's, and they are always beautiful through the gradations, step by step from the white noonday glare to the indigo blue that storm steeps them in. And think of the pictures the arches frame in the moonlight when winter brings the snow, and all the landscape lies white and still from the horizon!
"A porch is a good thing, but a loggia is worth many dozens of it. These arches are glazed for winter and the loggia is warmed by one of those stately German stoves that is coated with porcelain and looks like a monument - the only really perfect stove that exists on the planet. So the loggia will still remain the common sitting and breakfast room and card-room and reading-room and writting-room, Just as now; and when there is a snowstorm, it will bluster around all sides of us but one - the side that opens into the library. This is high ground; it is a summit; there is nothing so high in its near neighborhood. When the snow and the hail and the great winds come, it is like being at sea; the elements roar and boom and storm around this place unobstructed."
" 'Stormfield' - what an appropriate name for this place," said I.
"Is n't it a good name?" exclaimed my host. "But you can scarcely guess how approprite it is. You have noticed that the loggia really is the most valuable feature of the house. I will add that it has had its share in the naming of it. Originally the idea was not to add it to the house until this year or next, because it would be expensive and it seemed judicious to put it off until business should recover from the devasting panic. Still, I greatly desired that loggia and suite of rooms over it; so I concluded to make Captain Stormfield pay for. He could afford it, but I couldn't."
"And who, forsooth, may the obliging captain be?" I asked.
"Oh , an old sea-going friend of mine of long, long ago.
I knew him at sea, fort-one years ago. He was always spinning prodigious yarns and I wrote out one of them and entitled it 'Captain Stormfield's Visit to Heaven'. That was just a little over forty ago. But I didn't publish it. I was afraid it was a little too free spoken, and indeed it was in that old conservative day. Now and then, as the years drifted by, I went over the manuscript and modified it a little, but still didn't print it. But at last, when I wanted the loggia, I got that rusty little batch of paper and counted the words and saw that there was enough of them to build the loggia; so I sent the 'Visit' to Harper's Monthly and collected the money and built the loggia with it. Forty years ago I didn't know I was going to build an annex to a house with that sketch some day. As you perceive, the loggia cost me nothing. Stormfield built it; Stormfield paid for it. Isn't it only fair to name the house after him? I think so - and so "Stormfield" it is."
To this delightful home come many friends who are invited in a never-ending succession, among them a number of little girls, of whom Mr. Clemens is particularly fond. Around the walls of the billiard-room, the most personal corner of his house, are pictures of these "foster grandchildren"(Angelfish Girls).
|***Twain in his billiard-room at "Stormfield"***|
|***Angelfish Card Game***|
From Hawaii, friends are sending a mantel for this room which contains trophies of many travels and many friends.
***The "Stormfield" Christmas Elephant***
Last summer there came to "Stormfield," at midnight, two unbidden visitors who left no trophies behind them, but, on the contrary, took quite a number away. They carried dark lanterns and revolvers. Their pursuit and capture make the most thrilling tale heard at the firesides in all the region around about. In his guest-book Mr. Clemens has recorded, after their names and the date of their visit, the fact that one is now serving four years, and the other nine years, in the State penitentiary; and over the mantel in his billiard-room hangs the sign reproduced ***below***.
|After the burglars had visited "Stormfield" Mr.Clemens composed this threatening warning.|
One of Mr. Clemens's first acts, after taking possession of his new home, was to hold a reception for the people of Redding, to which the proud wives, mothers, and sweethearts of the men who had built the house were all invited. It was noted on this occasion by a discerning one who had seen their famous host in the most brilliant gatherings of European capitals that he was far more gracious to the timid little farmer's wife, shrinking from the crowd of curious neighbors, than he had ever been to the blase society woman of great cities.
|***Thanking the workers for a job well done.***|
Into the life of the country people about Redding, Conn. - his new neighbors - Mark Twain has brought vitality, communtty of interest, and good fellowship such as probably have not been known in the region since Englishmen first settled it two hundred years ago.
Once a month through the winter Mr. Clemens gives an author's reading or some other entertainment in his house for the benefit of the village library. Good books, old and new, much read and discussed, abound in his own home. He knows their special value to other country dwellers.
Mr. Clemens is fond of putting up signs about his house. In each of the numerous guest rooms, on the desk, bureau or table, is to be found a copy of the following notice:
TO MY GUESTS
GREETTING AND SALUTATION AND PROSPERITY! AND THEREWITH, LENGTH Of DAYS. LISTEN:
My fellow farmers of this vicinity have gathered together some hundreds of books and instituted a public library and given it my name. Large contributions of books have been sent to it by Robert Collier, of Collier's Weekly, by Colonel Harvey, of Harper & Brothers, and by Doubleday, Page & Company - all these without coercion; indeed, upon the merest hint. The other great publishers will do the like as soon as they hear about this enterprise. The Harper periodicals, Collier's Weekly, World's Work, Country Life in America and other magazines are sent gratis to the library - this also without coercion, merely upon hint. The hint will in due time be extended to the other magazines. And so, we have a library. Also, my fellow farmers have arranged for the librarian's salary and the other running expenses, and will furnish the necessary money themselves. There is yet one detail lacking: a building for the library. Mr. Theodore Adams gives the ground for it. Mr. Sunderland furnishes, gratis, the plans and specifications, and will let the contracts and superintend the erection of the house. The library building will cost about two thousand dollars. Everybody will have a chance to contribute to this fund. Everybody, including my guests - I mean guests from a distance. It seems best to use coercion in this case. Therefore I have levied a tax - a GUEST'S MARK TWAIN LIBRARY BUILDING TAX, of one dollar, not upon the valuable sex, but only upon the other one. Guests of the valuable sex are tax free, and shall so remain; but guests of the other sex must pay, whether they are willing or not. I desire that the money be paid to me, personally: this is the safest way. If it were paid to my secretary a record would have to be made of it, and the record could get lost.
The peace of the house be upon thee and abide with thee! "Stormfield" Redding, Conn., October 7, 1908.
No one who sees his perfect content at "Stormfield" can wonder why Mark Twain fled from city life. It is the port after storm, the haven of a good American who has earned his right to peace.
***The above article was the second in a series of articles on country homes of notable Americans.***
Samuel Clemens died in his home on April 21st 1910.
"Stormfield" was emptied and put up for sale for $50,000. In 1923, "Stormfield" was purchased by Margaret Given and her husband. NYTimes - March 23, 1923 Mark Twain Estate Sold. The trustees of the Samuel L. Clemens estate have sold "Stormfield," near Redding, Conn., to Mrs. Margaret E. Given. The property contains abut 200 acres, with a stucco residence of Italian architecture, containing eighteen rooms and five baths built in 1907 and occupied by Mr. Clemens (Mark Twain, the world famous humorist) until his death in 1910.
|Fire destroys Stormfield in 1923.|
While renovations were being carried out, fire broke out among the paints, and the house burned to the ground.
|The new "Stormfield" under construction circa 1925|
|The new "Stormfield" under construction circa 1925|
|The new "Stormfield" circa 1953|
In 1924, Miss Mary Millett and her mother bought the property and rebuilt the house on the same floor plan, but a little smaller. The property remains in private hands to this day.
"Stormfield" at wikimapia.org. Mark Twain Library at wikimapia.org. Original stables, chicken coop and other outbuildings survive. Bing view.
Click HERE for a descriptive "virtual tour" of "Stormfield".
HERE for a historical timeline of the property.
HERE for further insight into Redding, CT. and Mark Twain's home. Website has numerous additional links.