Hill-Stead House

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Perhaps the original lady of the estate is residing in spirit form and is pleased with all the activity.

Perhaps the spirits of family members are keeping her company as well.



Hill-Stead House is described on their website as being a 152-acre, 10-building museum and a National Historic Landmark.

WOW! Tom and I were quite impressed by this grand estate on Mountain Road. A beautiful, expansive, Colonial Revival-style mansion, it features a classic veranda and columns overlooking green fields, the nearby river, and a glorious view of Farmington Valley. Author Sharon Dunlap Smith, in her book, Theodate Pope Riddle: Her Life and Architecture (Chapter 4), gives a great sketch of the home itself, built up on a knoll, not far from Theodate’s own home, on High Street.

“The facade imposes a sense of authority with its centered porch. The main block is flanked by two wings with porches, effectively concealing the service rooms and barn area behind. Two dormers, each backed by a chimney, light the attic. Two dormers again pierce the long overhanging roofs of each porch. That Theodate pushed the left or northwest wing forward to give ample space to her father’s office and recessed the right or southwest wing, which contained the ell continuation of the living room, negated the frontal symmetry that the house might otherwise have had. Yet a charming sense of rambling informality was gained, the effect being quite unlike that of the more symmetrically planned houses by McKim, Mead & White. Clearly it was the floor plan that determined the exterior frame; the rooms were not stuffed into a preconceived format.”

This country estate home has been beautifully restored, and kept in good shape. Tours are given of the Pope-Riddle Home, where visitors can admire the elegant decor and the Family’s’ collections of French Impressionist Paintings, furnishings and “decorative arts”. They should enjoy this peek at the artifacts of the Pope family and Theodate and her husband, especially Theodate’s grand collection of books on the paranormal and Spiritualism.

The gardens are also for walks and activities. The landscaping is quite impressive, thanks to Warren Manning, who also designed George W. Vanderbilt’s Biltmore estate in North Carolina. Theodate was wise in hiring him to design the grounds, which were originally 250 acres, of which 152 acres remain today.

Hill-Stead had the advantage of having only one family occupy it through its history. They gave a lot to the surrounding community. The community of Farmington didn’t forget, and has long been involved in the support of Hill-Stead House and Museum. One can see why.

Community organizations hold their meetings here. Classes are held, and there are many programs offered, from gardening for all ages, to programs that explore various areas of interest.



From 1899-1901, up and coming architect Theodate Pope, who was only 30, designed and built this huge country estate which included a mansion, support buildings, a working farm, as well as acres of gardens, and other features. Using working drawings by Edgerton Swartout of McKim, Mead & White, and inspired by the Colonial Revival Movement and scientific farming methods, she created an expansive property, where her parents spent the rest of their lives.

Theodate eventually lived at Hill-Stead as well, with her foster boys and husband. The whole undertaking was funded by her father, Alfred Pope, who commissioned his daughter to build it. Her parents moved in on June 16th, 1901. The property included the main New England country estate home, the farmhouse, a shepherd’s cottage, stables and garages, hay and dairy barns, a pump house, a sunken garden, a wild garden, a vegetable garden, tennis courts, a six-hole golf grounds, orchards, meadows and woodlands.

Other additions were built. In 1902, Theodate added the Mount Vernon inspired veranda, a greenhouse, and garage. In 1904, she added another library, and a study for her father. After a fire in 1908, she rebuilt the destroyed buildings.

In 1917, Theodate built a theater on the property, furnished it, and showed movies on a silver screen. She sponsored community meetings and parties in this theater for many years. When her mother Ada died in 1920, Theodate commissioned Beatrix Jones Farrand to design a planting plan to update the one-acre Sunken Garden, changing it from a strict neoclassical style to one less formal.

In the coming years, up to Theodate’s death in 1946, many well-known and popular people were guests at Hill-Stead: “authors, artists, poets, academics and presidents.” The Popes and the Riddles also reached out with warm hospitality to the people in the town, and were a big source of employment for many workers in the community. Hill-Stead and all its acreage were left in Theodate’s will as a museum, to the community. The Museum opened in 1947. It has been treasured and well-managed through the years. It never suffered from neglect.

Improvements have been made. In the 1980s, Beatrix Farrand’s plan to design the old neoclassical sunken garden were made a reality as a result of the hard work of volunteers, staff, and garden clubs. In 2001, Hill-Stead was named an official project of the Save America’s Treasures organization, which provided assistance in repairs and restoration, not only because Hill-Stead is one of the few Colonial Revival structures left in America, but also perhaps because Save America’s Treeasures knew that there was a huge support group who would use the money wisely.

About Theodate Pope Riddle (February 2, 1867- August 30, 1946)

Theodate was a well-known architect at a time when women were not encouraged to become professionals. She is best known for her design and work in creating the Avon Old Farms School in Avon, Connecticut, the Westover School, and the reconstruction in 1920 of Teddy Roosevelt’s birthplace in New York City.

Her other driving interest was the field of spirit communication. Her library at Hill-Stead is full of books on the subject. She was good friends with para-psychologist William James, and invited William and his brother, Henry, to Hill-Stead several times as guests. Theodate was an enthusiastic supporter, and partially funded research led by William James at Harvard, who explored the mediumship skills of Leonora Piper, who was quite accomplished and gifted in this area.

Theodate loved to go to New York and attend the American Society for Psychical Research, hoping to someday start such a society in the Hartford, Connecticut area.

One planned trip to visit a European Psychical Society ended in disaster, and nearly death for Theodate. With her maid, Miss Emily Robinson and her friend, Professor Edwin W. Friend, Theodate boarded the ill-fated Lusitania with the goal of sailing to England to attend the British Society for Psychical Research. When the Germans torpedoed the ship on May 7th, 1915, her companions died, but by the grace of God she survived.

Soon after this near-death experience, she found the love of her life at the age of 49, and married career-diplomat John Wallace Riddle. They became parents soon after, and took in a preschooler, who died at age four. Undaunted, they took in two more foster boys and enjoyed being parents.

Through the years, Theodate invited mediums to come to Hill-Stead, and lead seances, either out her love of the paranormal, or because she might have had some unseen company that she wanted to communicate with herself.



There are a few possible explanations for why spirits may be at Hill-Stead House.

In many places where seances and spiritualism have been practiced, entities remain after the initial contact, perhaps encouraged by the attention. Spirits could also have been in her mansion for years when she lived here, such as her little four-year-old foster son who unfortunately died. Her parents, who must have died at Hill-Stead, may have stuck around as well. This may also have been another explanation why she had mediums conduct seances.

Theodate Pope Riddle wanted to introduce “Psychical Research” to Connecticut, but she died before she could accomplish this. The spirits of people who expire before they can accomplish an important goal can be restless, and not ready to go to the light and pass over. They stay in this world, still trying to finish their tasks.

Theodate had many happy memories raising her foster boys and living with her husband, in the house that she designed and built. Sometimes people who love their homes like to stay and enjoy their memories. They like to check that the living are doing a good job with the responsibility of taking care of their cherished home, their projects, and/or fulfilling the requests of the now passed donor of the property.


Seen or unseen, the presence of Theodate Pope Riddle is very “much evident” in her large estate, which is now used for many activities.

The Presence of Theodate Pope Riddle

I couldn’t find any documentation about any occurrences of paranormal activity as such, but mediums report that Theodate Pope Riddle’s kind, encouraging, peaceful presence is felt by the living (staff, visitors and mediums), throughout the mansion.

She is perhaps very pleased that the organizations managing her home museum and estate have made good use of the buildings and grounds for activities that engage the community.

Still Feeling At Home

While there are no public reports of her spirit trying to help the living, she is given credit by some for providing a peaceful, welcoming aura in the mansion.

As the house museum is closed at night, this entity can still enjoy her home without interruption. All her books and things are still on display. Perhaps she is still working on a plan to bring paranormal research to Connecticut.


Perhaps– but not known for sure. While it is hinted at, not much in personal experiences, let alone findings from seances, mediums, or investigations, have been shared publicly. According to Spiritualist medium Elaine Kusmeskus, the results of seances held here during the time period when Theodate Pope Riddle lived here have mostly been lost – so there is not much evidence, detailing if other spirits have been contacted here.

Kusmeskus reports in her book, Connecticut Ghosts, though, that the spirit of Theodate Pope Riddle is “very much evident” at Hill-Stead House. The author may have been asked not to give details of paranormal occurrences because the Hill-Stead Museum folks weren’t ready to share, afraid of the possible onslaught of ghost hunters and the like, which would perhaps interfere with their wonderful activities.

However, if you look on the official website, the “Fall Theme” of one of their 2010 programs features an after-hours program about Spiritualism, beginning on September 24th, a subject near and dear to Theodate’s heart. The ad promises that “Tour-goers will see letters and other primary documents from the museum’s archives, [and] hear about séances Theodate attended,” which may mean that Theodate wrote about a seance or two at Hill-Stead. Perhaps these seances did contact spirits in this house.

It could be interpreted that the ad also hints or suggests that Theodate’s may indeed be there, as it shows the translucent picture of a woman, who could be presumed to be Theodate as a spirit. Perhaps she may indeed show herself to selected staff members.

Perhaps the museum was just trying to pique interest in the program. Perhaps they were trying to find a roundabout way of coming out of the paranormal closet, using Theodate’s own writings to suggest that spirits were contacted, and reveal in a subtle manner that Theodate is still there, literally in spirit.



35 Mountain Road
Farmington, Connecticut 06032
(860) 677-4787

Hill-Stead House and Museum can be found on Mountain Road, in the outskirts of Farmington. Take Farmington Avenue to Maine Street to Mountain Road.



    By Elaine Kusmeskus
    Schiffer Publishing LTD
  • hillstead.org/building
  • Theodate Pope Riddle Wikipedia Page
  • valinet.com/~smithash/theodate/Ch04.html – Theodate Pope Riddle: Her Life and Architecture; (Chapter 4)

Our Haunted Paranormal Stories are Written by Julie Carr

Haunts in Connecticut