The Senator Justin S. Morrill State Historic Site was the home of Justin Smith Morrill, the longest-serving member of Congress in the first 160 years of its history. During his tenure in Congress, Morrill advocated for higher education and reinforced a knowledge-based democracy. The Senator was recognized for sponsoring landmark legislation that helped establish public universities (Land Grant Acts) and for framing of the Fourteenth Amendment that granted equal protection and rights to freed slaves.
Justin Morrill was essentially self-taught, amassing an impressive personal library and studying architecture on his own. He was responsible for the design of his family home in Strafford, Vermont. Constructed in 1851 and enlarged seven years later, the house is an outstanding example of the Gothic Revival style of architecture popularized by Andrew Jackson Downing and Alexander Jackson Davis in the early 19th century. Senator Morrill used their architectural handbooks to design his dream house, adapting the forms and details to suit his own vision. Morrill also planned the surrounding gardens, studying the romantic landscape movement with its formal yet picturesque plantings. He selected only those plants that would survive the wintry Vermont climate and annually monitored their success again the harsh elements. Today, the homestead that Justin Morrill created in Strafford included a horse barn, carriage barn, ice house, blacksmith shop, and summer gazebo (no longer standing), which reflected Morrill’s diversified interests in farming, as well as the needs of 19th century rural living. The buildings were tightly grouped in a neat row along a farm road that lead back to a manmade ice pond on the hill at the back of the property. The pond was the source for an extensive water system that fed the house, barns, and gardens and was a source for harvesting ice. Additions and alterations to the property in 1901 by James Morrill, Justin’s only child, included the shuffle board court, hot house (razed 2016), cow barn, sheep barn, and relocated/joined the carriage barn and horse barn. In 1960, the property was recognized as a National Historic Landmark, the first such honorary designation in Vermont.
The Senator Justin S. Morrill State Historic Site was created in 1969, when the property was conveyed to the State of Vermont by the Justin Smith Morrill Foundation, Inc. The 1851 house is dressed in furnishings from Morrill’s 1871 home that once stood at One Thomas Circle in Washington, D.C. In 2007, the horse barn relocated by James Morrill in 1901 was reconstructed in its original location to serve as an education center and library.