Hill-Stead Museum

Hill-Stead Museum is one of Connecticut’s best known historic house museums, and is visited by many for the renowned collection of impressionist art which includes original pieces by Monet, Degas, Manet, Whistler and Cassatt. The house was built at the turn of the 20th century by Alfred and Ada Pope, in the colonial revival style. Their daughter, Theodate Pope Riddle, fell in love with the area when she was attending Miss Porter’s School in Farmington, and convinced her parents to move from Cleveland and build their home here. An aspiring architect, she designed the 19-room home that her parents retired to, and she was later to inherit. The property includes several buildings, all designed and built by Theodate over the half century of her involvement. In addition to the house,  there is a stone garage that once served as a stable, a carriage barn, and an adjoining building known as the Makeshift Theater.

Hill-Stead Museum

Hill-Stead Museum is reminiscent of Washington’s home, Mount Vernon, from the front.

The house is set up on the highest point of the 250 fifty acre property, overlooking the Litchfield Hills to the west, surrounded by former farm fields to the north and meadows to the south. Immediately south of the home is a beautiful Sunken Garden nestled in a one-acre natural depression. This is a formal flower garden that was designed in 1920 by Beatrix Farrand, America’s first female landscape architect. Today it has been restored to its original grandeur, with formal beds full of perennials and annuals from spring through fall. The beauty begins with tulips in April and ends with a striking color scheme of blue, purple and white to complement the vivid colors of fall foliage.  This garden is a real gem, surrounded by hedges, eight foot high stone walls, and with a green and white summer house at its center.

What to Photograph

While you cannot use your camera inside the home, you are free to use it around the grounds to photograph the mansion and the other interesting buildings, as well as the Sunken Garden and the surrounding property.  There are numerous buildings from the early 20th century on the grounds to explore and photograph. The mansion itself with its tall white columns enclosing a porch with slatted rocking chairs is reminiscent of George Washington’s house at Mount Vernon.  The house itself has interesting lines, and in the early morning light it shines from the north side. The little caretaker’s cottage to the south sits quietly beside the meadow where the sheep meander from spring through fall. The stone garage, the carriage barn, the Makeshift Theater all surround the house, and provide many interesting nooks and crannies to explore and photograph.

The Sunken Garden is photogenic in all seasons, even in winter.

The Sunken Garden is photogenic in all seasons, even in winter.

You aren’t limited to photographing architecture here. The vista from the front porch of the house is beautiful, especially in the evening when the sun sets.  Watch for days with especially interesting skies for the best shots over the Litchfield Hills. If you love to shoot flowers and gardens, the Sunken Garden is a great place with multiple formal beds laid out in an octagonal pattern.  It is a good place to get close for macro shots of individual flowers, colorful tulips and forget-me-nots in spring, antique roses, fluffy peonies and lavender mixed with a variety of other blooms in the summer, and white mixed with various blues and purples in late summer and fall. There are also lots of possible angles to take overviews of the garden, or details with the summer house anchoring the garden, the sun dial at the south side, and the old fashioned white gate that leads out to the meadow where the sheep roam. With the surrounding stone walls and hedge as a backdrop (or foreground), the garden provides for a great shot even in the winter when the structures play an important role.

If you are prepared to walk a little, there are trails that meander through the wooded area to the east of the house just off the parking lot, where you might find some interesting birds and butterflies to photograph. A trail map is available in the gift shop.When to go

Spring through fall are the best seasons, but don’t ignore the winter when the snow covers the ground. It makes for a very interesting place to be with all the white structures with dark green trim against the white snow. As in almost all cases on sunny days, early morning or late evening is the best time to go, with bright overcast days being the next best time to get good shots of the buildings without a lot of shadow and burnt out whites.

The view of the Farmington hillside is spectacular in fall color.

The view of the Farmington hillside is spectacular in fall color.

Hill-Stead Museum

35 Mountain Road,

Farmington, CT 06032



GPS coordinates:  Latitude: 41.721367, Longitude: -72.82752

Parking  is available free of charge at the museum. Follow the long entry drive past the house and stone garage to the parking lot.

There is a charge for entry to the museum, but the grounds are free of charge.  The museum asks for a $5.00 fee pp for photography groups and artists who work on the grounds. Check in at the visitors center in the gift shop to inquire during open hours.

Hours:  Grounds are open sunrise to sunset daily. The museum is open Tuesday-Sunday 10 am–4 pm and closed Mondays and major holidays.

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