Many people know that Mark Twain lived in Connecticut; his one-time Hartford home has been turned into a museum honoring him. Far fewer know that he also lived — and died on April 21, 1910 — in Redding. That will undoubtedly change, however, when the third and final volume of Twain’s autobiography, covering from March 1907 to December 1909, is released from the Mark Twain Project at the University of California at Berkeley later this month.
Twain arrived in Redding by train — and with great fanfare; there was basically a parade from the train station to his new home — on June 18, 1908. The 18-room home was constructed for Twain during 1907 – 1908 in the style of an Italian Villa and sat on 235 acres, which were pretty much clear-cut in his time, and named Stormfield. It had a living room, billiard room, library, dining room, servants’ dining room, kitchen, seven master bedrooms, five bathrooms and bedrooms for the servants, as well as a large loggia and a covered porch off Twain’s bedroom.
From his window, Twain could look across the property to a smaller house occupied by Isabel Lyon, his secretary, who left his employ amid scandal. Many Twain scholars and fans are anxious to read the previously unpublished “[Ralph] Ashcroft-Lyon Manuscript” in volume 3, Twain’s indictment of his “putrescent pair” of secretaries.
The villa burned to the ground during renovations in the mid-1920s, and a new similarly styled house with stucco exterior and red clay tile roof was constructed on the same foundation in 1926. The tall chimney serves three fireplaces and is reminiscent of an Italian bell tower.
(Isabel’s former house burned in the mid-1950s and a home was rebuilt on that foundation as well.) Stormfield retains the original stone and concrete terrace, walls and steps that lead down into the backyard, and to the foundation of a former pergola that Twain frequently used for entertaining.
Country roads, take me home
At some point, 160 acres of the property were sold to the Town of Redding, which incorporated them into its extensive open space and trails system, and in the 1980s, the then-owners spun off about 40 acres, including Twain’s barn and other outbuildings, and constructed a new house, leaving Stormfield on 28.5 acres.
The current home is about 5,600 square feet, with four bedrooms, five full and one half baths, living room with library tucked into one side, dining room, and an open kitchen that is the width of the house with adjacent family room with windows on three sides. It also has a loggia, which has an open terrace above.
Erica and Jake purchased Stormfield in 2003. The house had been substantially renovated by the prior owners in the 1990s, giving it a contemporary feel, but retaining the painted coffered wooden ceiling in the living room. Erica and Jake have made it lighter and brighter, updated the mechanical systems, finished off the attic — which is the favorite hangout place of their teenage son — installed a gunite pool and renovated the three-car detached garage with guest space above to also serve as the pool house and party room.
The couple previously lived in Greenwich and Jake worked in Westport; he often rode bikes in the area with a coworker, which is how he discovered Redding. “I loved the feel of the town, all of the open spaces, so we started looking in the area and were shown Stormfield. Previously I knew nothing of Twain’s connection to the town, but we loved the property and the house, and I started digging into the history of the place, and exploring the library [which Mark Twain founded and made all of his guests pay a luggage fee to help support its launch],” Jake recalls.
Erika adds that with a mother who is a writer, she grew up reading Twain. “He was an early favorite of mine, and to live on this property where he lived… It is so gorgeous here; it is easy to understand why he loved it.”
Jake subsequently became a member of the library’s board of trustees, and its staff and volunteers have been delighted with couple’s willingness to share their home for library fund-raisers and other activities. “This space lends itself to entertaining,” Jake says. “The kitchen-family room areas can easily accommodate 35-50 people, and the house flows well.”
The couple has been generous in sharing their home for fund-raisers and gatherings for a number of local groups, and welcoming Mark Twain scholars and self-described “Twainiacs.” The centennials of Twain’s arrival in Redding and his death, and the publication of the volumes of the autobiography beginning in 2010, have each created increased activity.
Jake greatly enjoys meeting the scholars and Twainiacs. “I am always interested to talk to someone about what interests them; you learn things that way. And Twain was quite a character; every Twain person I’ve met has told me something new, different about the man.
“People like to be here,” he continues. “Those specifically interested in Twain want to go to the basement, touch the foundation; they want to see where he and his daughters [Jean and Clara] interacted in the only film of him that exists, and to have their picture taken standing on the terrace where Twain stood at Clara’s wedding. They also want to see the room that is believed to be where Twain’s room was, and step out onto the connecting terrace and see if they can see Isabel’s house, which is virtually impossible with all the trees that have grown up since, but they want to get a sense of the distance, which is between a quarter and a third of a mile.” It is a long driveway…For additional information about Twain’s time in Redding, visit http://historyofredding.com or James Nicoloro’s Mark Twain’s Redding project at https://jamesnicoloro.wordpress.com.