Home Connecticut The Harriet Beecher Stowe Center

The Harriet Beecher Stowe Center

Not your usual house museum

by
0 comment

Harriet Beecher Stowe forced people to think about the evil and immorality of slavery with the publication of her novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin; or, Life Among the Lowly. Today, the Stowe Center in Hartford aims to keep people thinking.

Until the book shot up to the top of the bestseller list, abolitionists were considered radicals on the fringe of political beliefs.

Harriet Beecher Stowe

Stowe, born in Litchfield, Conn., and her husband Calvin Ellis Stowe, from Natick, Mass., were ardent abolitionists. They supported the Underground Railroad. When Congress in 1850 passed the Fugitive Slave act, states had to help return escaped slaves to southern slave-owners. Officials who didn’t arrest suspected runaways were subject to fines, as were citizens helping the escapees. Special commissioners were empowered to police the law, and due process was eliminated for slaves captured in the North.

The act aimed to stop the flow of escaped slaves into Canada, a safe haven for slaves following the American Revolution. The British helped relocate slaves who fought for them in Canada rather than let them face re-enslavement after the war.

Harriet Beecher Stowe before she moved to Hartford.

The law only further stoked the anger of abolitionists, and it prompted Stowe to pick up her pen. She began writing Uncle Tom’s Cabin at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Me., where her husband taught. It started as a serial in a magazine, but soon John P. Jewett of Boston approached Stowe about publishing it as a book. Initially doubtful about its potential, Stowe nevertheless agreed to publication. Following its release on March 20, 1852, sales skyrocketed both in the U.S. and Britain.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Uncle Tom’s Cabin brought the fringe issue of abolition into the mainstream. More than 300,000 copies of the book sold in its first year in the U.S., with even greater sales in Britain. After several years it went out of print. But it found a new audience during the Civil War, when the publisher reprinted it.

The story most often associated with the book today is that Abraham Lincoln, when introduced to Stowe in Washington, D.C., in 1862 said, “So this is the little lady who started this Great War.”

He probably didn’t say that, but the book unquestionably inflamed sentiment against slavery.

 

Harriet Beecher Stowe Center

Stowe spend the last 23 years of her life in the Nook Farm neighborhood of Hartford. She didn’t start out there, though. When her husband, the Rev. Calvin Stowe, resigned from teaching at Andover Theological Seminary supervised the construction of a mansion she called Oakholm.

Oakholm, however, got too expensive to maintain. In 1873, the Stowes moved to the 5,000-square-foot Victorian cottage at Nook Farm. There she wrote more books, supported the Wadsworth Athenaeum and worked to establish the Hartford Art School.

writers-houses-twain

The Mark Twain House

She was at the end of her career, and a young upstart with the pen name of Mark Twain was building a fabulous house next door. The Clemens and Stowe families became friends as well as neighbors.

Stowe died in 1896 in her upstairs bedroom surrounded by family. The family sold the house, but her grandniece, Katharine Seymour Day, bought it back in 1924. Day also bought the Twain house and restored both. She bequeathed both to a foundation aimed at preserving Stowe’s legacy of work toward social justice.

Today, the Mark Twain House ranks as the Number One tourist attraction in Hartford. The Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, unlike its neighbor, won’t wow visitors with its extravagant visitors. Rather, it aims to provoke thought and discussion of social justice in the context of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s life and work.

Five Things You’ll Remember About the Stowe Center

Stowe lived here for 23 years.

Not your usual house museum.

The Stowe Center doesn’t focus on the contents of the house or historical facts; rather, the tour guides seek to provoke discussions about social justice. Some people find that approach unnecessarily political and offputting, while other love it.

The Kitchen

Harriet and her sister Catherine Beecher published a book in 1869 called The American Woman’s Home. It included their pioneering – and influential – ideas about kitchen design. The kitchen at the Stowe Center reflects those ideas: a coal stove at one end, a kitchen table in the center and shelves along the wall.

Period Furnishings

The house includes some original Victorian and late 18th century furniture owned by Harriet Beecher Stowe. It includes a mahagony drop-leaf table on which she wrote the beginnings of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Don’t expect the Stowe Center guides to make a big deal about the furniture, though.

Artwork

Who knew? Harriet Beecher Stowe also painted in her spare time. Along the walls of the house are her paintings, many of which have religious subjects.

Messy desk

You would never mistake Harriet Beecher Stowe for a neatnik, and the Stowe Center has kept her original desk as messy as she died.

Nook Farm and the Stowe Center

The Stowe Center and the Twain house belong to the historic Nook Farm neighborhood in the Asylum Hill section on the western side of Hartford. The original developers divided up an old farm and sold parcels to friends and family. It evolved into a tight-knit community of reformers, authors and intellectuals.

Katharine Day House at Nook Farm

Some of the houses have been demolished, but some big old architecturally stylish houses survive. They include the Katharine Day House (a museum open to the public).

If you visit the Stowe Center…

Many people go to see the Mark Twain House and then visit the Stowe Center as an add-on. There is a small discount for visiting both houses.

Tours are required for the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center and are recommended in advance via their website. They run about 45 minutes and are intended to be participatory. You won’t have time to go back through the house on your own.

Ample parking is available near the house, though the house itself isn’t good for people with mobility issues.

There is a gift shop, but be forewarned: it has been described as a social justice library,

The Stowe Center opens to the public year-round, Wednesday through Saturdays. Hartford residents can get in free.

Images: Harriet Beecher Stowe House (featured) By Midnightdreary – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5846038; Unclo Tom’s Cabin book cover, By Sarah Wyman Whitman (1842-1904), artist, binding designer. (Uploaded on Flickr by Boston Public Library) – Sarah Wyman Whitman Bindings, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=38738126. By Sage Ross – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7722445. Harriet Beecher Stowe House By Todd Van Hoosear – originally posted to Flickr as Harriet Beecher Stowe Home, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11322573.

 

 

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive the latest artciles from the New England Historical Society

Thanks for Signing Up!

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join Now and Get The Latest Articles. 

It's Free!

You have Successfully Subscribed!