How Historic House Museums Helped Me Get Through the Pandemic

Mary Elizabeth Andriotis
·3 min read
Photo credit: Mary Elizabeth Andriotis
Photo credit: Mary Elizabeth Andriotis

Over a year into a pandemic that has completely altered our lives (and our homes), many of us feel more appreciation towards people, places, and things we may have taken for granted before 2020. For me, one of these things is historic house museums.

I've long been an enthusiastic admirer of historic homes, but over the past year they have become an invaluable source of solace and inspiration. As a longtime Long Island resident, I’m fortunate to live near a pretty spectacular range of celebrated dwellings, including the Westbury House at Old Westbury Gardens, the Walt Whitman Birthplace State Historic Site, the Sands Point Preserve, and the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum, to name a few.

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When countless sites (and stores, like my beloved local HomeGoods) were closed for at least several months last year—mainly in the spring and into the summer—I spent much of my free time visiting nearby historic houses, many of which are part of state parks, meaning that these sites never closed during the pandemic, much to my enjoyment.

Following a spring in which I didn’t leave my own home for over a month, planning out which historic house I would visit next gave me something to look forward to and get dressed up for, two things that felt completely foreign after months of not doing either. Sure, all of these sites have looked a little different than usual in the past year, given mask mandates and social distancing protocols, but having homes to go to other than my own provided me with a much-needed visual tonic that helped put things into perspective—and provided me with some decor inspiration, of course.

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When there was nowhere else to go, when I felt overwhelmed with anxiety and worry, and when everything in the world seemed so uncertain, I could still experience the joy of visiting a preserved piece of history. I even went to a few sites I had never been to before (despite living not too far from them for most of my life), like the Bayard Cutting Arboretum State Park, the aforementioned Walt Whitman Birthplace, and Coindre Hall.

Some sites, I visited several times, like Coe Hall—a Tudor Revival-style mansion built between 1918 and 1921, located at the Planting Fields Arboretum State Historic Park in Oyster Bay—and the Caumsett State Historic Park Preserve in Lloyd Harbor, which was home to a designer show house this past fall, in a Colonial Revival-style summer cottage that was built in 1939 for department store heir Marshall Field III. Some sites I could only see from the outside, given COVID-induced holds on indoor tours.

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In all the cases, though, surrounding myself with sites other than the walls of my own house showed me that there really is no place like. It reminded me that "home," whether it’s the lavish dwelling of an illustrious family, or the familiar one I grew up in, is more of a feeling than a place.

I realized, too, that from the time I was a toddler touring Minnie Mouse’s house at Walt Disney World—which I’d like to believe marked the true onset of my love for culturally significant dwellings—to touring more esteemed properties in recent years, one thing remained clear: No matter the state of the world, no matter my age, and no matter whether the abode in question is home to an anthropomorphic mouse or a Gilded Age scion, I can always rely on them to replenish my soul and leave me feeling, well, at home.

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