Whether originally owned by eccentric millionaires or Gilded Age tycoons, throughout the United States amazing mansions have been preserved as museums. These former homes purvey cultural history while awing visitors with unusual and fascinating architecture and decor. You won't regret putting any of these destinations on your travel to-do list.
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Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens - Houston, Texas
Located in Houston's tony River Oaks neighborhood, Bayou Bend is the former home of philanthropist Ima Hogg, daughter of former Texas governor "Big Jim" Hogg. It is known as the Houston Museum of Fine Arts' "house museum" containing an impressive collection of antique furnishings and works of art. The grounds of this museum are as interesting as the home with immaculately kept gardens where visitors can stroll.
This destination is particularly beautiful during the holidays, as the museum hosts its Christmas Village at Bayou Bend. In addition to the garden decorated with twinkling lights, the home transforms with live actors and theatrical effects as well as hosting activities for families.
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Biltmore Estate - Asheville, North Carolina
No trip to North Carolina is complete without a visit to America's largest home. That's right, the Biltmore Estate has 250 rooms giving it a grand distinction above other mansions of the era. It was opened on a Victorian Christmas Eve in 1895 as a "country retreat" built by George Vanderbilt.
A self-guided tour of the Biltmore House is available to guests, as is access to the gardens deemed an "environmental wonderland." Guests can also visit Antler Hill Village for shopping, dining, outdoor activities and special events. Wine lovers enjoy complimentary tastings at the resident winery as well. Several hotels are located on the property to accommodate overnight guests.
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Bishop's Palace - Galveston, Texas
A number of historic homes line Broadway on Galveston Island, but none are as grand as the Bishop's Palace (also known as Gresham House) established in 1892. In fact, architectural historians list this as one of the most significant of Victorian residences in the country, according to the Galveston Historical Society's website.
Colonel Walter Gresham, a railroad tycoon and Texas legislator, commissioned this Chateausque home constructed of the finest of materials available at the time. It was so well built using steel and stone that it survived the infamous Great Storm of 1900 "virtually unscathed," and it has weathered many storms since then.
Now visitors can marvel at the architecture in monthly basement-to-attic treks and delightful full moon tours, in addition to the home's regular daily tours.
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Graceland - Memphis, Tennessee
They didn't call him "The King" for nothing. More than 40 years after his death, both fans and those curious about this pop culture phenom are still flocking to Elvis Presley's Graceland home. Yes, the Jungle Room always draws a crowd, but there's more to what is now deemed Elvis Presley's Memphis at Graceland than his former living quarters.
After touring the Graceland mansion, guests can also visit a number of adjacent museums, including those housing celebrity memorabilia from his career, favorite automobiles he owned and even his private jets named the "Lisa Marie" and "Hound Dog II." Guest quarters are also a part of the complex for those wanting an overnight experience.Continue to 5 of 10 below.
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Hearst Castle - San Luis Obispo, California
Gazing out over the Pacific from the hilltop grounds of Hearst Castle is a breathtaking experience. But if you think that's something, wait till you enter this landmark home.
William Randolph Hearst's vision for a home is massive. By the time he left the compound in 1947 due to failing health, the estate comprised 165 rooms and 123 acres of gardens. With impressive indoor and outdoor pools, a huge Gothic dining room, an elegantly appointed theater and guest quarters that once hosted the rich and famous, visitors of Hearst Castle find it hard to walk away unimpressed if not downright mesmerized by the property's opulence. Because there is so much to see, several different tours of the property are available.
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Monticello - Charlottesville, Virginia
Lovers of historic homes will relish a visit to Monticello to take in its architecture, while history buffs will see this as an "autobiographical masterpiece" that was built and rebuilt over 40 years by President Thomas Jefferson. If you can plan your visit in advance, a behind the scenes tour that includes the upstairs rooms is available several times a year.
And while the house, although not huge, is remarkable in a number of ways, the grounds are worth a look as well. Jefferson's interest in horticulture is evident in the gardens, as selected plants from the hundreds he collected and grew are on display there. Special treks devoted to the gardens and grounds are available in addition to other focused tours of the this plantation.
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Mount Vernon - Mount Vernon, Virginia
Another must-see in Virginia is President George Washington's home. Sure, you can explore Mount Vernon room by room online, but there's something really special about standing in the same spot where a preeminent founding father, our first president, lived and worked.
In addition to seeing the house which is furnished with period decor, there is also an adjacent museum holding artifacts that that George and Martha Washington owned and used. Guests can also venture out to the working gristmill on site to see it in action. Visit Pioneer Farm on the estate for more hands on demonstrations of what life was like on an American Colonial plantation.
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The Breakers - Newport, Rhode Island
Newport offers tours of many Gilded Age mansions, and they're all amazing. But if you have to pick just one to tour, make it The Breakers.
This ocean front "summer cottage" was commissioned by Cornelius Vanderbilt II to replace an earlier wood-framed house that was destroyed by fire. Architect Richard Morris Hunt directed "an international team of craftsmen and artisans to create a 70 room Italian Renaissance- style palazzo inspired by the 16th century palaces of Genoa and Turin," according to The Preservation Society of Newport County's website.
Today visitors are awed by the opulence of this estate which includes an impressive stable and carriage house nearby in addition to the mansion. And don't forget to take in the exceptional ocean view while you're milling around the grounds.Continue to 9 of 10 below.
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Winchester Mystery House - San Jose, California
While the sheer size of Winchester Mystery House qualifies it as a mansion, it will likely be one of the strangest homes you'll ever visit. With doors to nowhere and a number of rooms the size of closets, you'll marvel at the home Sarah Winchester concocted out of fear.
After the death of her family, this heiress became convinced that she was haunted by the souls of those killed by Winchester firearms. The advice of an oracle led her to believe the same ill fate would befall her if she ever stopped construction on her home.
Her superstitious nature saw her adding a séance room to the huge house, and many lucky symbols are incorporated into the architecture. While the entire home is rather underwhelming in the furnishings department, the room filled with decorative glass (including Tiffany stained glass) will delight visitors interested in decorative arts.
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Vizcaya - Miami, Florida
Built between 1914 and 1922, Vizcaya was the winter residence of industrial executive James Deering. The home boasts a design meant to look like a time-worn Italianate villa complete with grottos and bridges. The surrounding gardens are based on Italian and French examples incorporating flora suited for a subtropical setting.
Unlike many other historic mansions converted to museums, Vizcaya still has most of its original decor. Visitors enjoy perusing 34 decorated rooms showcasing more than 2,500 art objects collected by Deering, and furnishings that have been in the home for more than 100 years.