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Famous American Homes, Open to the Public

Celebrated houses, great and small, await your visit.

There's something enjoyable about walking through someone else's home, peering into rooms, evaluating the furniture, critiquing the color of the walls (but, you know, not in a creepy way). And that enjoyment is often heightened when the house is famous, or was the home of someone famous. Here are more than a dozen such places, open to the public. Pictured above: The Isaac Bell House in Newport, Rhode Island, a National Historic Landmark designed in 1883 by the celebrated firm of McKim, Mead and White.

House of the Seven Gables, Salem, Massachusetts Buyenlarge/Getty Images House of the Seven Gables, Salem, Massachusetts Built in 1668 by a sea captain named John Turner, The House of the Seven Gables was eventually sold to another family and deeded to a woman named Susanna Ingersoll — cousin of the celebrated New England writer Nathaniel Hawthorne. Hawthorne's visits to Susanna's home inspired the setting of his classic 1851 novel, "The House of the Seven Gables." Olana, Hudson, New York Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images Olana, Hudson, New York Built for, and in part designed by, the great American artist Frederick Edwin Church, the grand villa Olana — inspired by Middle Eastern styles, but with Victorian architectural elements, as well — sits atop a long slope, with 360-degree views of views of nearby hills, valleys, Catskill mountains, and the Hudson River.

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Gillette Castle, East Haddam, Connecticut Stephen Saks Gillette Castle, East Haddam, Connecticut Designed by William Gillette, an actor largely forgotten today but quite famous in his time for his stage depictions of Sherlock Holmes, the "castle" overlooking the Connecticut River was built in 1919. The house was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1986, and the land is now part of a state park. Kids, especially, love the curious additions Gillette included in the home — like a complex of artfully hidden mirrors that allow for watching the activities in the building's public rooms from the master bedroom. Rough Point, Newport, Rhode Island Stan Godlewski/Getty Images Rough Point, Newport, Rhode Island One of the numerous, storied Gilded Age mansions to be found along the coast in Newport, Rough Point is among the most dramatic: a granite-and-sandstone English Manorial style home begun in 1887 and completed in 1892, with original gardens designed by Frederick Law Olmsted’s firm. The home's views of the Atlantic Ocean are as sublime as any on the Rhode Island shore. Biltmore Estate, Asheville, North Carolina Danita Delimont Biltmore Estate, Asheville, North Carolina Calling the 7,000-acre Biltmore Estate or its 250-room mansion a "home" is a bit like calling "Moby-Dick" a book about fishing: it hardly begins to capture the grandeur of the place. Built by the Vanderbilts between 1889 and 1895, the house (the largest private home in the U.S.) has around 180,000 square feet of floor space, all of it polished to perfection, and the whole shebang is still owned by Vanderbilt descendants.
UNITED STATES - AUGUST 29: Veranda of the Biltmore Mansion, America largest home, Asheville, North Carolina (Photo by Carol M. Highsmith/Buyenlarge/Getty Images)
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Buyenlarge/Getty Images Carol M. Highsmith/Buyenlarge/Getty Images Johnny Cash's Boyhood Home, Dyess, Arkansas Wesley Hitt Johnny Cash's Boyhood Home, Dyess, Arkansas The Dyess Colony was established in 1934 as part of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in the midst of the Great Depression. Five hundred families, including the family of Ray and Carrie Cash, were recruited from all around Arkansas to be part of the federal agricultural resettlement community. Johnny Cash lived here with his parents and siblings from 1935 until he graduated high school, and songs like "Pickin' Time" and "Five Feet High and Rising" were inspired by his days in Dyess. Gaineswood, Demopolis, Alabama Buyenlarge/Getty Images Gaineswood, Demopolis, Alabama A National Historic Landmark and an astonishing sight amid the green, largely rural landscape of Marengo County, Alabama, the plantation house called Gaineswood took roughly 20 years to build and is a lovingly preserved example of Greek Revival architecture in the American South. Note: Much of the astonishing craftsmanship on display was executed by artisans who were also slaves. Fallingwater, Fayette County, Pennsylvania ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images Fallingwater, Fayette County, Pennsylvania A breathtaking example of Frank Lloyd Wright's philosophy of "organic design," the home known as Fallingwater — built over an active waterfall — was once cited by the American Institute of Architects as the "best all-time work of American architecture." Commissioned by the Pennsylvania businessman and philanthropist Edgar J. Kaufmann as a country home for his family, Fallingwater now greets more than 100,000 visitors a year. American Gothic House, Eldon, Iowa Joel Sartore/National Geographic/Getty Images American Gothic House, Eldon, Iowa The artist Grant Wood's 1930 painting, "American Gothic" — with its pair of seemingly dour Iowans, one holding a pitchfork, standing before this simple frame house — has become an American icon. The American Gothic House in Eldon, Iowa, meanwhile, has become famous in its own right: a destination for art lovers and for pop-culture aficionados from all over. Amelia Earhart's Birthplace, Atchison, Kansas Jordan McAlister/Flickr Vision Amelia Earhart's Birthplace, Atchison, Kansas Very few Americans have ever gained the sort of adoration and celebrity that the great aviator Amelia Earhart enjoyed in her too-brief lifetime. (She was only 39 when she disappeared over the Pacific Ocean during an attempted circumnavigation of the globe.) This wood-frame house at the heart of what is now the Amelia Earhart Historical District in Atchison, Kansas, is where the adventure began: Amelia was born here, in her maternal grandfather's home, on July 24, 1897. Pittock Mansion, Portland, Oregon John Elk Pittock Mansion, Portland, Oregon Built in 1909 for the publisher of the Oregonian newspaper, Henry Pittock, and his wife, Georgiana, the Pittock Mansion is an imposing, supremely balanced 46-room, French Renaissance-style house in the hills above Portland, with panoramic views of the city's downtown. The building, set on 46 acres, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. Winchester Mystery House, San Jose, California Richard T. Nowitz Winchester Mystery House, San Jose, California TThe Winchester Mystery House — once the home of Sarah Winchester, widow of William Wirt Winchester, the long-time treasurer of the Winchester gun company — is world-famous not only for its colossal size (24,000 square feet, 2,000 doors, 47 fireplaces, 40 staircases, etc.) but its architectural curiosities. The maze-like design is reportedly the result of an army of builders working on the house almost without interruption for decades. Sarah Winchester, it seems, was sure that the residence was haunted by the spirits of those killed by Winchester arms, and built a gorgeous but cockamamie Queen Anne mansion to "confuse" the ghosts.
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MCT/MCT via Getty Images; Kirk McKoy/Contour by Getty Images Russian Bishop's House, Sitka, Alaska John Elk Russian Bishop's House, Sitka, Alaska Built in 1843, this was for years home to the first Russian Orthodox Bishop of Alaska (later canonized as Innocent of Alaska), and was long the center of Russian cultural and spiritual life in this region of North America. In its heyday the at-once simple and elegant house, built by Finnish shipwrights, featured a formal reception hall, a chapel, a school, and a seminary. Today it's a unit of Sitka National Historical Park and is administered by the U.S. National Park Service. Shangri La, Honolulu, Hawaii Buyenlarge/Getty Images Shangri La, Honolulu, Hawaii Built in 1937 as the Hawaiian home of American heiress and philanthropist Doris Duke, Shangri La is now a center for the presentation and study of Islamic art and culture, with frequent programs designed to further and deepen understanding of the Islamic world. The estate was inspired by Duke's own travels — especially in North Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia — and includes architectural elements from countries as far-flung and diverse as Morocco, India, and Iran.

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