April 10, 2023

8 Historic Sites With Beloved Pets

While we don't quite know when the first animal was domesticated, archeologists have been finding evidence of humans having pets dating back thousands of years. We asked National Trust Historic Sites and members of our Historic Artists' Homes and Studios program to share the tales of pets that once roamed the grounds and brought love and joy to those who lived with them.

Thomas Hart Benton Home & Studio State Historic Site (Kansas City, Missouri)

The residence of American Regionalist painter, muralist, sculptor, writer, and musician Thomas Hart Benton is a living time capsule. Visitors can see his painting tools, supplies, and stretched canvas in the studio right where he left them.

Between 1935 and 1946, Jake, a shepherd mix who found a home with the Bentons, made multiple appearances in his paintings, photographs, and even the cover of Benton’s 1942 album, Saturday Night at Tom’s.

photo by: Thomas Hart Benton Home & Studio State Historic Site

Benton's love for Jake shines in the lovely obituary that he wrote for the dog. It was printed in the "Kansas City Times" on August 28, 1946: "Jake had a laughing face. His mouth was so set that, active or in repose, he had a smile. Even when he was sad, as when he was not permitted to go with us in the car, this smile persisted."

photo by: Thomas Hart Benton Home & Studio State Historic Site

"T.P. & Jake" by Thomas Hart Benton is one of several paintings that includes Jake. Visitors can see a reproduction of this painting in the living room.

Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center (East Hampton, New York)

Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner, two of America’s foremost abstract painters, moved from New York City to East Hampton in 1945. Today, their home and studio is a National Historic Landmark, preserving the environment that inspired them.

A country boy at heart, Pollock grew up around farm animals, including a dog named Gyp. Soon after he and his wife moved, he adopted a stray border collie mix and named him after his childhood pet. Pollock and Krasner also had a goat and a tamed crow named Caw-Caw.

photo by: Helen A. Harrison

The property, which overlooks Accabonac Creek in the hamlet of Springs, was originally a fisherman’s homestead. Soon after arriving, the newly married artists had major breakthroughs, and both began to create, inspired in part by their rural surroundings.

photo by: Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center

After settling into their home, they invited city friends to visit. Pollock sent a postcard advising guests that he and Krasner "have a boat and a goat."

Florence Griswold Museum (Old Lyme, Connecticut)

The Florence Griswold Museum embodies the artistic spirit of its legacy as the home of the Lyme Art Colony. A memorable part of staying at Florence Griswold’s boardinghouse for artists was the clowder of cats that perched on laps, disrupted dinner, and chased country mice.

Griswold was a lifelong lover of felines. Her Late Georgian mansion was filled with dozens of stray cats and kittens causing joyful mayhem. They frequently make appearances in panels painted on the walls and doors by artist boarders.

photo by: Florence Griswold Museum

The dining room at Florence Griswold Museum includes painted panels by artists who stayed there.

photo by: Florence Griswold Museum

A panel in the dining room depicting kittens. "Kittens in the Snow" by Gregory Smith (1880-1961), Oil on wood panel.

Saint-Gaudens National Historical Park (Cornish, New Hampshire)

This 190-acre site features the home, studios, and gardens of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, one of America’s greatest sculptors. The Saint-Gaudens family loved animals and had many pets over the years.

Augustus Saint-Gaudens considered his Scottish deer hound, Dunrobin, the most beautiful dog and featured him in several of his artworks. While there are no known photographs of Dunrobin, he is forever memorialized in a portrait relief of Mortimer and Freida Schiff, the children of Jacob H. Schiff, a prominent banker.

Augustus’s son, Homer Saint-Gaudens, had a goat, Seasick. Homer enjoyed playing a headbutting game with Seasick. One day while playing in Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ studio, Homer dodged Seasick’s headbutt with unexpected results. Instead, the goat’s horn struck the pedestal that held up a wax model of a monument, damaging the model.

photo by: Saint-Gaudens NHP collection

Seasick on Aspet grounds.

photo by: National Park Service

Schiff Children by Augustus Saint-Gaudens.

Fonthill Castle (Doylestown, Pennsylvania)

Home of archaeologist, anthropologist, ceramist, scholar, and antiquarian Henry Chapman Mercer, Fonthill Castle was also a showplace for his collection of tiles and prints, not to mention home to many pets throughout the years.

A noted canine lover, Mercer had several dogs at the castle during his lifetime. His favorite was a Chesapeake Bay Retriever named Rollo, whose legacy at Mercer’s castles lives on in “Rollo’s Stairs,” two sets of steps found at both the Mercer Museum and Fonthill Castle. Mercer encouraged the dog to leave his paw prints during the construction of the stairs.

photo by: Bucks County Historical Society

Rollo with Frank Swain.

photo by: Bucks County Historical Society

“Rollo’s Stairs” inside Fonthill Castle.

Montpelier (Orange, Virginia)

Montpelier was the home of James Madison, fourth President of the United States. James and Dolley Madison's parrot Polly was the gift of a South American diplomat, and the bird learned to repeat French phrases from the White House chief steward, John Sioussat. Sioussat's fondness for the bird was apparent when he saved Polly’s life during the War of 1812, removing her from the White House before British troops burned the building in August 1814. After the Madisons retired to Montpelier in 1817, Polly was the “one pet brought with [Dolley] from Washington."

Although remembered as "a splendid bird," Polly was "the terror of visitors" at Montpelier. She had an unfortunate habit of attacking the humans around her and once bit James Madison's finger to the bone.

Today, visitors can see a life-sized model of Polly onsite at Montpelier. Each week the Collections Team helps Polly find her way to a new perch, offering returning guests a game of “Where’s Polly?” Learn more about Polly: Parroting Historical Research and Polly the Parrot.

photo by: The Montpelier Foundation

The model of Polly the Parrot perched at Montpelier likes to move throughout the mansion for visitors to find.

Brucemore (Cedar Rapids, Iowa)

A National Trust Historic Site, Brucemore is a living landmark that charts the history of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Perhaps the most famous Brucemore resident was Howard and Margaret Hall’s pet lion, Leo. Howard’s business took him to California where he developed numerous contacts in Hollywood, including Billy Richards, the vice-president of World Jungle Compound, a business which handled “Jackie” the famous MGM lion.

Howard and Margaret owned three lions in succession, all named Leo. The first Leo did not live long, He was related to Jackie, the MGM lion. The second Leo joined the Halls in 1937 and lived for 13 years until 1951. This is the lion that appears in many family photos and home movies; he is the only lion buried in the Pet Cemetery.

photo by: Brucemore, Inc.

Howard Hall with Leo the Lion.

photo by: Brucemore, Inc.

Sir Charles the Studio Cat at Brucemore.

If you’re visiting Brucemore today, you’ll find a feline friend living in the Artisan Studio; he goes by Charlie. You follow his various escapades on Instagram (@sircharlesstudiocat). He currently serves as the Studio Manager, greeting musicians working on artist development projects. When not with a current artist in residence, you will find him prowling the estate in search of the latest event, scoping out the crowd and the snacks, climbing trees to get a better view, or napping in his favorite spots in the sun.

Filoli (Woodside, California)

Hidden around the Georgian Revival-style mansion are several dog statues, placed as a fun scavenger hunt for the littlest visitors. Their purpose? To teach them the importance of preserving historic collections.

The statues are inspired by a real French bulldog named Toto who lived at Filoli in the 1920s. He was a pet of the Bourn family who built Filoli as a self-sustaining country estate.

photo by: Filoli

Toto with Billy Vincent, the Bourns' grandson, and Woods, the Bourns' Butler.

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Haley Somolinos is the manager of email marketing at the National Trust. She has a passion for places and the stories that they hold.

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