Though the U.S. might not have the centuries-old cathedrals of our European cousins, our country's history does comprise a broad array of styles of architecture, which are exhibited all across the nation. From shingle-style vacation homes on the east coast to Renaissance Revival mansions down south, there's no shortage of architectural inspiration across the 50 states. The challenge? Picking the best. Here, we break down some of the best known—and downright best—homes in all 50 states, and explain just what makes them so special.
The only building in Alabama by the master architect Frank Lloyd Wright, the Rosenbaum house was commissioned by Wright fans Stanley and Mildred Rosenbaum in 1938. It's one of the best examples of Wright's Unonian houses, often modest-sized family homes built into and in harmony with their surrounding landscape. The structure was named to the the National Register of Historic Places in 1978 and the Rosenbaums gave it to the city—and sold its Wright-designed furniture to the city for $75,000—in 1999.
A National Historic Landmark in Sitka, Alaska, this was once the home and offices of Ivan Veniaminov, the first Bishop of Alaska. The two-story building was built by Finnish laborers between 1841 and 1843. Once Alaska became part of the U.S. in 1867, the structure served as housing for priests and an inn. In 1973, the National Park Service bought and restored the house, which now serves as a museum.
Frank Lloyd Wright once called his Scottsdale retreat and school "a look over the rim of the world." Its structure is exemplary of Wright's attention to natural detail, with structural elements that tie into the desert landscape. Wright and the students he taught here built the home down to the last detail, and the Taliesin Fellowship is still headquartered in the house, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Arguably Arkansas's most famous resident, Bill Clinton has left a mark on its architectural legacy, too: The modest, two-story clapboard home in Hope where he was born—which was owned by his grandparents, Edith Grisham and James Eldridge Cassidy—was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1994 and is available for tours through the Clinton Birthplace Foundation.
In 1865, George Hearst began buying up land along the California coast. Several decades later, between 1919 and 1947, his son, William Randolph Hearst collaborated with architect Julia Morgan (the first woman to study at the prestigious Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris) on what he called "the Ranch," an Italian Renaissance-style castle in San Simeon. "I love the ranch," Hearst said. "I would rather spend a month at the ranch than anyplace in the world."
"On Genesee Mountain I found a high point of land where I could stand and feel the great reaches of the Earth. I wanted the shape of it to sing an unencumbered song." So said architect Charles Deaton of the unconventional house he built on the Colorado mountain in 1963. A trained structural engineer, Deaton was best know for building athletic stadiums—he also designed board games. Though the house was planned as a retreat for the Deaton family, they ran out of money during construction so never lived in it. The home is now best known as a fixture in the Woody Allen film Sleeper.
Nestled into the hills of tony New Canaan, Connecticut is modernist architect Philip Johnson's personal passion project and most famous residence, the Glass House. Constructed in 1948 from glass and steel with a brick fireplace and concrete floors, the building is filled with modernist furniture. Though it's the main attraction, the glass house is hardly the only structure on the grounds of Johnson's estate, which was named a National Historic Landmark in 1997: Johnson constructed 8 structures on the property, including a bunker-like gallery inset into a hill and a neoclassical pavilion on the edge of a lake below the glass house.
Though the classical French style and adjacent jardin à la Francaise might delude you into thinking this home was across the Atlantic, it is, in fact, in Wilmington, Delaware. Built by Alfred I. du Pont as a gift for his (lucky) second wife, the home comprises 5 floors and 105 rooms. The home was constructed by venerable firm Carrère and Hastings (best known for the New York Public Library); perhaps unsurprisingly, both John Merven Carrère and Thomas Hastings studied at the prestigious École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris before devising this mansion in the neoclassical style popular at the time. It's surrounded by the largest French-style
Just a short drive from Miami's South Beach, surrounded by gardens on Biscayne Bay is this Italian Renaissance-style mansion, built by John Deering between 1914 and 1922 (its long building timeline was due in part to materials shortages during World War I). Today, the home and gardens, a national historic lankmark, are open to visitors throughout the year—don't miss the stunning Orchidarium, which features dozens of species of orchids.
Another listing on the National of Historic Places, this Romanesque revival mansion with period Victorian interiors was built between 1902 and 1904 by architect Willis F. Denny II for Amos Rhodes, founder of Rhodes Furniture. It sits on Atlanta's Peachtree Street, where it is, appropriately, the headquarters of the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation.
What does a wealthy heiress do when a whirlwind honeymoon through North Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia leaves her smitten with Arabic architecture? Why build an oceanfront estate to incorporate these themes, of course. Such is the origin story of Shangri-La, the beach home outside Honolulu that Doris Duke commissioned in 1937. It's now operated as the Shangri-La Museum of Islamic Art, Culture & Design.
Built in 1902 for Judge Drew and Emma Standrod in Pocatello, Idaho, this Renaissance revival-meets-Queen Anne home was designed by San Francisco architect Marcus Grundfor and built using almost all local materials, including stone from a quarry in McCammon, Idaho. The 16-room house is now on the National Register of Historic Places.
Arguably one of the most famous modern residences in the world, the Farnsworth House was commissioned by Chicago doctor Edith Farnsworth to serve as her weekend house. Though Farnsworth was game to create an envelope-pushing modern residence, she and van der Rohe had a public dispute—ending in a lawsuit—following the home's 1951 completion, when it came in some $15,000 over budget. Still, the home remains a modern icon and is now protected as a National Historic Landmark.
Another one of Frank Lloyd Wright's Usonian homes, this one is noteworthy for its pristine condition long after the architect's death. The original owner, John Christian, commissioned the home in 1950 along with his wife, Kay, on a piece of land close to Purdue University, where they worked. The couple worked closely with Wright to design the home, whose interiors incorporate the motif of the samara (commonly called whirlybird or helicopter) leaf for which it was named. John Christian lived in the home until his death in 2015.
In 1884, Caroline Sinclair, widow of industrialist T.M. Sinclair, commissioned this Queen Anne-style mansion in Cedar Rapids from Indianapolis-based architect Maximillian Allardt. Owned and preserved by the National Trust, the home still contains a 1925 sleeping porch, 1929 organ, and 1930s Tahitian theme room.
Another Midwestern state, another Frank Lloyd Wright home. In addition to being a prime example of the architect's Prairie Houses (and one of his last, built in 1915), this Witchita house had a famous inhabitant: Kansas Governor Henry Justin Allen and his wife, Elsie. Since Wright was working on the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo at the same time as this project, the interiors include several Japanese-influenced aspects.
The stately, redbrick home of American statesman Henry Clay, Ashland, in Lexington, Kentucky, is a dazzling mix of Federal, Victorian, and Italianate styles. But what stands today isn't the original: After architect Benjamin Latrobe's more strictly Federal building was damaged in an 1811 earthquake, Clay's son James enlisted architect Thomas Lewinski to rebuild the structure that remains today within the same footprint.
Built in 1834 for David Weeks, this Greek Revival mansion was home to a sugar plantation. It bears many of the trademarks—classical details, double story veranda—of southern plantation homes. In 1922, William Weeks Hall purchased the property and began preserving its original architecture. In 1958, the family donated the home to the National Trust, which continued renovations and now runs it as a house museum.
Shortly after the Revolutionary War, Philadelphia businessman William Bingham purchased a plot of land in Ellsworth, Maine and sold half of it to an English company. He sent his agent, David Cobb, to oversee the completion of a home there, while the English company sent John Black as agent. Black married Cobb's daughter, and Black built the resulting Federal-meets-Greek-Revival mansion between 1824 and 1827. Today, the home is run as the Woodlawn Museum.
Not to be confused with James Madison's home of the same name in Virginia, this Georgian-style mansion in Laurel, Maryland, was built between 1781 and 1785 for Major Thomas Snowden. Now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it has been preserved in its state during the life of their son, Nicholas.
In 1886, at the height of the Gilded Age, New York City lawyer—and Metropolitan Museum of Art cofounder—Joseph Hodges Choate enlisted the city's preeminent architecture firm, McKim, Mead & White (whose projects include the original New York Penn Station, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Boston Public Library) to build him a shingle-style country estate in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. The interiors were outfitted with furniture and decor from Europe and Asia and the home was surrounded by gardens designed by Nathan Barrett and Fletcher Steele. Now on the National Register of Historic Places, the home is open for tours.
In a neighborhood of Victorian homes, the president of MAy's Clothing Store, Meyer S. May, made a statement when he commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright to devise a Prairie-style house. The two-story structure features many Wright favorites, including stained glass and inset terraces built into the architecture. In 1985, furniture company Steelcase purchased the home and undertook a massive restoration job, reopening it for tours two years later with a mix of original and replica furnishings.
This Romanesque row house in Saint Paul, designed by William H. Willcox and Clarence H. Johnston, Sr., was home to F. Scott Fitzgerald's parents while the young writer was a student at Princeton. In the summer of 1919, Fitzgerald wrote This Side of Paradise while living in the home and continued writing stories there until moving to New Orleans in 1920.
Holding the odd record for the largest octagonal house in the country, this Natchez mansion, built in 1859, is a glorious mashup of architectural styles. Cotton planter Haller Hutt enlisted Philadelphia architect Samuel Sloan to devise an octagonal structure with traditional Southern verandas, a Byzantine-style dome, and neoclassical details which he named Longwood. The structure is now a historic house museum and was featured in the HBO series True Blood.
Kansas City architect Asa Beebe Cross was reportedly influenced by a trip to Normandy when he designed this Second Empire-style mansion in Independence, Missouri, for businessman Harvey M. Vaile in 1881. In the years since, the home has served as a sanatorium, bottling company, and nursing home, before it was purchased by Roger and Mary Mildred DeWitt who restored it and donated it to the city in 1983. It is now run as a historic house museum.
Though it's located in Billings, Montana, this red stone home of Preston Boyd Moss and Martha Ursula Woodson Moss has ties to a bigger city: It was designed for the Moss family in 1903 by Henry Janeway Hardenbergh, the architect behind New York's Plaza Hotel, Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, and The Dakota. It is now a historic house museum.
The name Scout's Rest might not mean much to you, but how about Buffalo Bill Historical Park? That's what this clapboard house is now called because—you guessed it—it was once home to the famous Buffalo Bill Cody. The legendary hunter purchased the ranch in North Platte, Nebraska in 1878, while he was touring with Buffalo Bill's wild West Show. It eventually grew to 7,000 acres and is now operated by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.
In the so-called ghost town of Rhyolite, Nevada sits this peculiar home, one of several constructed from glass bottles and cement. This particular home was completed in 1906 by Tom Kelly, who moved west during the gold rush. As timber was hard to come by in the desert, Kelly recycled medicine bottles for his abode, then allegedly raffled the home off at the price of $5 per ticket. The bottle house has fallen into disrepair many times since then, and has most recently been repaired by the Bureau of Land Management, the Rhyolite Preservation Society, and the Rhyolite Caretakers, according to the New Bedford Museum of Glass.
Built in 1664 by woodworker, farmer, and mariner Richard Jackson, this shingle-style home is the oldest in the State of New Hampshire. The original house comprised two rooms on each floor around a central fireplace; a lean-to style addition was added later. The home, which is now a historic house museum, is seen here in a 1923 photograph, and remains largely unchanged today.
This clapboard house in Camden, New Jersey, was the last residence of poet Walt Whitman. The two-story row house was built by Adam Hare, and Whitman purchased it in the early 1880s for $1,750. He lived there until his death, receiving visitors including Oscar Wilde in 1882.