Somebody once told me, with considerable authority, that The Whitehouse is the most visited residential property in the USA. I have also heard, however, that the most popular private home in America is Gracelands. Oh, and then I read, that it’s Mount Vernon…
So which is the most exalted residence in America? And what makes an often otherwise regular home, into a tourist attraction? Well, it goes without saying, that the public appeal of a property almost always has something to do with its residents, past or present.
Okay, so The Whitehouse isn’t exactly an average house. It was specifically built for the job of housing successive Presidents, and it seems that the actual significance of the building itself, is its main attraction. As opposed to who’s living in it, at any one time. Many ex-presidents’ private houses though, have considerable appeal to visitors, as do those even once visited by significant elected leaders. And while The Whitehouse does indeed have its fair share of onlookers, George Washington’s plantation home Mount Vernon, in Virginia, attracts hundreds of thousands of history-hungry tourists. It should come as no surprise that Abraham Lincoln’s home, in Springfield, Illinois, also draws the crowds, and has done so since it opened to the public, way back in 1887.
The private lives of celebrities have long held a fascination for the general public, too. The glamorous domiciles of the stars have been enticing sightseers since the golden days of Hollywood. Busloads of vacationers converge on Beverly Hills daily, hoping to catch a glimpse of life beyond the gates and manicured shrubbery of the rich and famous. Of course, with people actually residing in these fine homes, all the public ever sees, in essence, is rather expensive real estate. However, for the opportunity to see inside the home of true megastar, a trip to Memphis is a must. Elvis Presley’s Gracelands home receives in the region of 650,000 visitors a year. The public areas of the house are preserved exactly as they were the day Presley died, in 1977, and a large collection of outfits, gold records, memorabilia and vehicles are on show. This relatively modest southern mansion was bought by Elvis in 1957, for around $100,000.
Literary figures also have plenty of allure for the well-read tourist, and the former homes of regarded scribes continue to tempt visitors in large numbers. Both the The Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum in Hannibal, Missouri, and the The Mark Twain House and Museum in Hartford, Connecticut, are highly popular and provide fascinating insights into the life of the great author. Vacationers to Florida’s Key West, can’t resist the chance to view Ernest Hemingway’s colonial style house, where he famously worked on the final draft of ‘A Farewell To Arms’. The popular Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst, Massachusetts, incorporates The Homestead, the house where the reclusive poet was born, and spent the majority of her life.
And of course, one cannot consider such residential treasures without thinking of some of the architects themselves. And who better sums up contemporary American architecture, than Frank Lloyd Wright. His stunning 1934 Pennsylvania creation, Fallingwater, is probably his most revered piece of work, although countless other residential accomplishments such as The Rosenbaum House and The Robie House, certainly warrant the attention they receive. Rare cases of the houses themselves being the star attractions, rather than their one-time occupants.
Many people will have their favorite American homes, and thousands of visitors continue to flock to such amazing properties as William Randolph Hearst’s Californian castle, Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, and the extravagant Biltmore estate, year after year.
It seems that the American love-affair with dream homes, is far from waning. And one thing’s for sure, millions of day trippers from around the world, seem more than happy to pay handsomely for the privilege of peering at some of the most valued, and valuable, real estate on US soil.