What: Art Museum / Colonial Revival Architecture
Where: 35 Mountain Road, Farmington, Connecticut (Map)
When: Open Tuesday-Sunday. Closed Mondays and major holidays. May-October: 10 am-5 pm; November-April: 11 am-4 pm. Last tour of the day begins one hour before closing.
Admission: $9 adults, $8 seniors, $7 students, $4 children ages 6-12, free to members and children under age six.
The Hill-Stead Museum, also known as Hill-Stead, is a Colonial Revival house and art museum in Farmington, Connecticut. It is best known for its French Impressionist masterpieces, architecture, and stately grounds.
Hill-Stead was created on 250 acres as a country estate for wealthy industrialist Alfred Atmore Pope, to the designs of his daughter Theodate Pope Riddle. Edgerton Swartout of the renowned architectural firm McKim, Mead, and White translated her design into a working site plan, and construction took place over the period of 1898 to 1901. Theodate inherited the house after her parents deaths, and prior to her own passing in 1946 willed Hill-Stead Museum as a memorial to her parents and “for the benefit and enjoyment of the public.” She directed that both the house and its contents remain intact, not to be moved, lent, or sold.
Currently Hill-Stead comprises 152 acres, the balance having been sold off during the first years of the museum’s operation. Buildings which remain part of the property include the Pope-Riddle House itself (a large 33,000-square-foot mansion built in the Colonial Revival style and once described as “a great new house on a hilltop” by novelist and occasional guest Henry James); an 18th-century farm house; a carriage garage with an Arts and Crafts theater; a barn and additional farm buildings.
Today, 19 rooms of the house are open to visitors. Remaining as it was at the time of Theodate’s death, the house is extensively furnished with paintings, prints, objets d’art, and fine furniture and rugs. Highlights of the collection include major paintings by Eugène Carrière, Mary Cassatt, Edgar Degas, Édouard Manet, Claude Monet, and James McNeill Whistler; prints including three engravings by Albrecht Dürer (Melencolia I, 1514), 17 copper plate etchings and lithographs by James McNeill Whistler, and Japanese woodblock prints by artists Katsushika Hokusai, Utagawa Hiroshige and Kitagawa Utamaro; eight bronze sculptures by Antoine-Louis Barye; about 13,000 letters and postcards including correspondence from Mary Cassatt, Henry James, and James McNeill Whistler; and about 2,500 photographs, including six of Gertrude Käsebier’s art photographs.
Hill-Stead’s grounds were originally designed in consultation with landscape architect Warren H. Manning and feature a broad lawn with ha-ha and slate walkway; artificial pond; and formal, octagonal flower garden. Around 1920 landscape gardener Beatrix Farrand redesigned the estate’s Sunken Garden (1 acre) at Theodate’s request. Due to the wartime labor shortage experienced during the 1940s, the garden grassed over leaving only the summerhouse in place. Though it was replanted in time, it was not until the 1980s that the Sunken Garden was restored to exhibit Farrand’s original plan.
Hill-Stead was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1991.
About Theodate Pope
Born Effie Brooks Pope in Salem, Ohio, she was the only child of industrialist and art collector Alfred Atmore Pope and his wife Ada Lunette Brooks. When Effie was 19, she changed her name to Theodate in honor of her grandmother Theodate Stackpole. She was a graduate of Miss Porter’s School in Farmington, Connecticut. In addition to designing the Hill-Stead Museum in Farmington, she designed and founded the famous Avon Old Farms School in Avon, as well as Westover School. Among her other well known architectural commissions was the 1920 reconstruction of the birthplace in New York City of former President Theodore Roosevelt. She was a first cousin to the mother of architect Philip Johnson.
Theodate Pope was a member of the Architectural League of New York, the Archaeological Institute of America, and the Mediaeval Academy of America.
On May 1, 1915, she boarded the British ocean liner Lusitania as a First Class passenger, together with her maid Miss Emily Robinson and Professor Edwin W. Friend, a fellow Farmington resident. When the ship was torpedoed by a German submarine on May 7, Theodate and Edwin were just going for a walk on the boat deck. They almost got into one of the lifeboats but before stepping inside, the couple watched the boat being thrown up into the air. They decided it was a better idea to jump off the deck. Theodate turned to her maid saying “Come, Robinson” and then jumped. When she rose to the surface, both Emily and Edwin had disappeared. Instead, she found herself caught in a mob of screaming, struggling people trying to keep themselves alive. She found herself “being washed and whirled up against wood.” Something hit her hard on the head, but, although half-stunned, she surfaced at last. “People all around me were fighting, striking and struggling,” she later recalled. Then a man “insane with fright” made “a sudden jump and landed clean on my shoulders, believing I could support him.” He had no life jacket, and his weight was pushing her back under. Somehow she found the strength to say “Oh, please don’t” before the waters closed over her. Feeling her sink, the man let go. Theodate surfaced again and looked around for Edwin Friend. Instead she saw close by her an elderly man, another man with a bloody gash in his forehead, and a third clasping a small tin tank as a float. Seeing an oar floating nearby, she pushed one end toward the old man and took hold of the other. Moments later she lost consciousness but was pulled in from the sea with boat hooks and laid among the dead “like a sack of cement.” One woman pleaded with the rescuers to give her artificial respiration. They cut off her fashionable clothing and went to work. To their amazement, she came around. Gazing confusedly around her, Theodate gradually realized she was lying on the floor wrapped in a blanket and staring into a small open-grate fire. Neither her maid nor Professor Friend had survived.
From this point on Theodate was terrified of traveling by ship. But since it was the only way to travel overseas at the time, she still forced herself to go.
On May 6, 1916 Theodate married 52-year-old John Wallace Riddle, who was a former American diplomat. She died on August 30, 1946 at her home in Farmington.