Pieter Roos, the new executive director of the Mark Twain House in Hartford, Conn. Roos starts his new job July 5 after 18 years as executive director of Newport Restoration Foundation in Rhode Island. (AP Photo/Dave Collins)
HARTFORD, Conn. — Mark Twain once said his large Connecticut home was “combination Mississippi River steamboat and cuckoo clock.”
That’s not exactly how Pieter Roos views the historic Gothic-style home today. For the new executive director of the Mark Twain House & Museum in Hartford, it’s “the primary public steward” of the legendary author and humorist’s legacy and “one of the finest historical house museums in the country.”
Roos, 57, will take the helm of the landmark property July 5, after recently finishing an 18-year stint as executive director of the Newport Restoration Foundation in Rhode Island. He said the museum has one of the most important things aspiring executive directors look for — “great subject material.”
“There are not a lot of places that are up to the subject level of Mark Twain,” Roos said. “He was not only a legendary writer, but a legendary character.”
MARK TWAIN AND HIS HARTFORD HOME
Twain, whose real name was Samuel Clemens, grew up in Hannibal, Missouri, along the Mississippi River. He and his wife, Olivia, moved in 1871 to Hartford, which at the time was one of the wealthiest cities in the country.
Construction on the home began in August 1873 on land next door to author Harriet Beecher Stowe’s house, which also is a museum today.
Twain wrote his most popular books over the next 17 years while living in Hartford and retreating to his summer home in Elmira, New York, including “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” ”The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.”
Twain and his family moved to Europe in 1891 and never returned to the Hartford home after their daughter, Susy, died during a visit there in 1896.
Twain died at age 74 in Redding, Connecticut, in 1910.
From 1999 to February, Roos led the Newport Restoration Foundation that’s restored or preserved 83 buildings in Newport and owns 80 historic buildings.
The foundation also owns and runs three museum properties.
Roos is credited with turning the foundation into a nationally respected organization and creating a national conference on the impact of climate change on historic preservation.
“Pieter’s leadership transformed the NRF from a sleepy preservation entity with few staff whose main focus was as a rental agency of historic residences, into a museum and preservation organization that has earned recognition and respect on a regional and national scale,” said Roger Mandle, the foundation’s board chairman.
PAST AND PRESENT
Roos grew up in Nyack, New York, and graduated from Drew University in New Jersey with an anthropology degree. After a stint working for a historic landmarks group in the Hudson Valley, New York, he went on to earn his master’s in museum studies and later administered historic sites in New Jersey.
He then headed to Newport in 1993 to become education director for the Newport Historical Society.
Roos said the Twain museum is doing well after surviving financial problems several years ago and a mold problem that tainted nearly a third of the museum’s 16,000 artifacts.
“I see this place as a nexus for American writers and thoughtful humorists,” he said.
Joel Freedman, president of the museum’s board of trustees, said Roos was chosen for his “wealth of knowledge, experience and enthusiasm to the position.”