Best Historic Home Tour (2015)


Ever wondered how George Vanderbilt spent his holidays or what a Gilded Age Christmas tree might have looked like? These 10 historic houses – voted on by USA TODAY 10Best readers – pull out all the stops for their holiday tours.

  • Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens

    Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens
    Akron, Ohio

    Stan Hywet Hall, Akron, Ohio's first and largest National Historic Landmark, is the nation's sixth largest historic home open to the public. The Tudor mansion was built by Goodyear Tire & Rubber co-founder F.A. Seiberling between 1912 and 1915. In 1957 the Seiberling children gifted Stan Hywet to Akron. On select days throughout the holiday season, "Deck the Hall" showcases one of Ohio's most popular holiday traditions with Santa visits, music, hot cocoa and other treats included in the festivities.
    Photo courtesy of Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens

  • Houmas House Plantation and Gardens

    Houmas House Plantation and Gardens
    Darrow, La.

    Known as the "Crown Jewel of Louisiana's River Road," Darrow's Houmas House Plantation was the largest producer of sugar in the country in the 19th century. Today, the restored mansion and grounds reflect the opulent lifestyle of the sugar barons who once lived there. For the holidays the mansion will be decked with natural garlands, lights and multiple Christmas trees. Music lovers can enjoy a Christmas Concert conducted by the Baton Rouge Symphony Orchestra.
    Photo courtesy of Houmas House Plantation and Gardens

  • Cairnwood

    Bryn Athyn, Penn.

    Built for Pittsburgh Plate Glass co-founder John Pitcairn in 1895, Cairnwood Estate in Bryn Athyn, Penn. wasn't intended as just a family home but as a venue for entertaining and hosting church, school and community events. It was gifted to the Academy of the New Church in 1980, restored in 1994 and opened to the public in 1995 as a Designer Show House. The majestic estate comes alive in December with holiday events such as "Trim a Tree" workshop and "Cairnwood by Candlelight" tour.
    Photo courtesy of Candid Moments Photography.

  • Biltmore

    Asheville, N.C.

    On Christmas Eve of 1895, George Vanderbilt officially opened his 250-room French Renaissance chateau in Asheville to family and friends. Vanderbilt passed away in 1914 at the age of 51, but the Biltmore is still owned by his descendants and is the largest privately owned home in the U.S. A variety of tours offer a glimpse into America's Golden Age, with special emphasis this time of year on Biltmore Christmas traditions. The "Candlelight Christmas Evenings" and "Christmas at the Biltmore Daytime Celebration" take place through the new year.
    Photo courtesy of The Biltmore Company

  • Meadow Brook Hall

    Meadow Brook Hall
    Rochester, Mich.

    A National Historic Landmark, Meadow Brook was built by Matilda Dodge Wilson, widow of auto pioneer John Dodge. Constructed in Rochester, Mich. between 1926 and 1929, the 110-room Tudor mansion houses original family art and furnishings. This year's "Holiday Walk" will feature seasonal décor, special exhibits and treats for children. Throughout December there will be ongoing events including breakfast or dinner with Santa, teas and a "Starlight Stroll" with dinner, entertainment and live music.
    Photo courtesy of Meadow Brook Hall

  • Oak Alley Plantation

    Oak Alley Plantation
    Vacherie, La.

    One of the most photographed plantations in Louisiana, Oak Alley Plantation is located in Vacherie, La. Built in 1839, the antebellum mansion features a quarter-mile avenue of 28 giant live oaks leading up to the house. Historical interpreters lead guests through the gracious home on the west ban of the Mississippi River. In December the house will be dressed in greenery and seasonal décor for the 40th annual "Christmas Bonfire Party," featuring a Cajun/Creole buffet, dance and good cheer.
    Photo courtesy of Oak Alley Plantation

  • Hearst Castle

    Hearst Castle
    San Simeon, Calif.

    By 1947, William Randolph Hearst created his 165-room "La Cuesta Encantada" (Enchanted Hill) with 127 acres of gardens, terraces, walkways and pools in San Simeon, Calif.. Visitors can explore the opulent Hearst Castle with its celebrated art collection and antiques. The 75-minute Holiday Twilight Tour showcases traditional decorations and numerous trees, including a one-of-a-kind poinsettia tree. Docents dressed in 1930s period garb will bring the Castle to life with Hearst lore.
    Photo courtesy of Hearst Castle/CA State Parks/V. Garagliano. All Rights Reserved.

  • Ca' d'Zan

    Ca' d'Zan
    Sarasota, Fla.

    Sarasota's opulent Ca'd'Zan, built for John and Mable Ringling in 1926 for $1.5 million, was drawn from their European travels acquiring circus acts and art over a period of 25 years. After their deaths, the mansion fell into disrepair until a $15 million refurbishment in 2002 restored it to its former glory. Holiday tours of Ca' d'Zan offer visitors a peek into a long-gone lifestyle with festive décor, including a 10-foot Christmas, during extended holiday hours on three nights in December.
    Photo courtesy of The Ringling

  • The Breakers

    The Breakers
    Newport, R.I.

    Nothing showcases the "Gilded Age" like The Breakers. This National Historic Landmark has been dubbed the "grandest" of the summer cottages located in Newport, R.I. The 70-room Italian Renaissance- style palazzo was inspired by the 16th century palaces of Genoa and Turin and commissioned by Cornelius Vanderbilt II in 1885. During the holiday months, The Breakers is the most elaborate of the three "Christmas at the Newport Mansions" and will be adorned with a village of gingerbread houses and mantelpiece decorations designed by area garden clubs.
    Photo courtesy of John Corbett / The Preservation Society of Newport County

  • Lyndhurst

    Tarrytown, N.Y.

    Overlooking the Hudson River in Tarrytown, N.Y., Lyndhurst sits in a 67-acre park. Designed in 1838, it is considered one of America’s finest Gothic Revival mansions. The annual "Mr. Dickens Tells a Christmas Carol" invites visitors to follow Mr. Dickens and his imagined helper, Mrs. Wiggins, on a journey through the mansion. Using Dickens’ actual scripts, a costumed actor leads visitors on a journey through the mansion, where they encounter various characters from the classic story.
    Photo courtesy of Lyndhurst

The top 10 winners in the category Best Historic Home Tour are as follows:

  1. Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens - Akron, Ohio
  2. Houmas House Plantation and Gardens - Darrow, La.
  3. Cairnwood - Bryn Athyn, Penn.
  4. Biltmore - Asheville, N.C.
  5. Meadow Brook Hall - Rochester, Mich.
  6. Oak Alley Plantation - Vacherie, La.
  7. Hearst Castle - San Simeon, Calif.
  8. Ca’ d’Zan - Sarasota, Fla.
  9. The Breakers - Newport, R.I.
  10. Lyndhurst - Tarrytown, N.Y.

10Best Local Experts and Editors picked the initial 20 nominees, and the top 10 winners were determined by popular vote. Additional estates nominated for Best Historic Home Tour included Boone Hall Plantation, Castle Hill, Edison & Ford Winter Estates, Filoli, Fonthill Castle, George Washington's Mount Vernon, Monticello, Pittock Mansion, Vizcaya Museum & Gardens and Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library.

Congratulations to all ten winners!

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