Harriet Beecher Stowe house wins national historic designation

Washington — The home of abolitionist author Harriet Beecher Stowe has joined the Hartford homes of Mark Twain and gun maker Samuel Colt on an exclusive list — it has been designated a National Historic Landmark by the Interior Department.

But the home of the author of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” is not being honored for that national and international best-selling novel. Instead, the designation is tied to Stowe’s progressive work on women’s issues and specifically her campaign against polygamy.

The designation opens the door for federal funding and places Stowe’s home among the nation’s most important historic sites.

Katherine Kane, executive director of the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, said national recognition will help the “credibility” of the work done at the home, which is also a museum and center for lectures and discussions.

“We will be better able to carry out our mission,” she said.

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Harriet Beecher Stowe House, in Hartford.

The Stowe house was one of 13 sites designated as landmarks Monday. Others include a Civil War battlefield in Oklahoma, a distillery in Kentucky and an artist’s retreat in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

“These national historic landmark designations span more than two centuries of our country’s history, from 17th century architecture to a Civil War battlefield to a 19th century-Kentucky whiskey distillery that continued to operate through the Prohibition era,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said.

Harriet Beecher Stowe came to national and international prominence in 1852 with the publication of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”

But it was Beecher’s later work concerning the role of women in society, and her campaign against polygamy, that won over the National Park Service. The National Park Service said it wanted to honor “a little known aspect of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s activism.

“Stowe’s deep religious convictions, Victorian notions of female purity and the sacred nature of motherhood shaped her opposition to polygamy. Because these same beliefs shaped her opposition to slavery, understanding Stowe’s role in opposing polygamy provides insights into not only her role as a social reformer above and beyond the issue of slavery but also her opposition to slavery,” the park service said in an executive summary of the nomination.

Stowe’s  19th-century home, which is next to the Mark Twain House, drew others to what was then the nation’s pre-eminent literary community, known as Nook Farm.

The Mark Twain House was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1962. The Stowe house was restored in 1964, a project that took nearly four years to return the home to what it looked like nearly a hundred years earlier. Kane said designation as a landmark is long overdue.

“In some ways, it was an oversight that it wasn’t done in 1968,” she said.

The designation places the Stowe house on a list of about 2,500 National Historic Landmarks. (A list by state of National Historic Landmarks is available here.)

The Colt house and factory, in an area of Hartford known as Coltsville, is also on that exclusive list, having won National Historic Landmark designation in 2008.

“These are sort of the cream of the crop of historic sites in American,” said Mike Litterst, spokesman for the National Park Service.

The designation allows the Stowe house to apply for special federal grants, “but it’s largely a honorary designation,” Litterst said.