The William H Seward House Museum Illuminates the Life and Legacy of a Human Rights Advocate

The William Seward House with the sun shining on it

The William H. Seward House Museum, located in Auburn NY, is more than just a house—it’s a time capsule of American history. Built in 1816 and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1964, this extraordinary museum offers you an intimate glimpse into the life of William H. Seward, a political titan who wore many hats: New York state senator, governor, U.S. senator, and even Secretary of State under presidents Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson.

Do you enjoy going to house museums? Check out Boldt Castle, Olana and Sunnyside, other fabulous New York state house museums!

Architecture that Tells a Story

Take a walk down South Street, and you can’t miss the iconic two-story brick structure, topped with a gabled roof. But that’s just the beginning! Over the years, Seward expanded his home, adding a two-story tower in 1847, and even a porte-cochere and carriage house. Fast forward to 1866, and a second, narrower wing and three-story tower joined the architectural ensemble. With separate carriage houses peppering the property, this house is a living example of evolving 19th-century design.

While Seward’s accomplishments are well-documented, did you know the home’s original core was built by Judge Elijah Miller, Seward’s father-in-law? And here’s a surprising fact: a young Brigham Young, who later led the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, had a hand in the home’s construction as an apprentice carpenter.

Although Seward spent considerable time shaping the nation in Albany and Washington, D.C., he always considered this Auburn residence his true home. Known for orchestrating the purchase of Alaska in 1867—often dubbed “Seward’s Folly”—his family legacy and original furnishings remain preserved in the museum.

In 1951, the Seward lineage entrusted the property to the Fred L. Emerson Foundation, turning it into a living memorial. After meticulous preparation, the museum opened its doors in 1955 and has since become a must-visit destination for history buffs.

Trailblazing Politician and Advocate for Equality

William Henry Seward was a pivotal figure in 19th-century American politics, best known for his roles as Secretary of State under presidents Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson. Born in 1801, Seward embarked on a career that saw him serve as a New York state senator, the governor of New York, and a U.S. senator before stepping onto the national stage.

Notably, Seward negotiated the 1867 purchase of Alaska from Russia, a transaction initially mocked as “Seward’s Folly” but later hailed as a visionary move. He was also a staunch opponent of slavery, advocating for its abolition long before the Civil War made it a central issue in American politics.

Beyond his political achievements, Seward was an early supporter of women’s rights and suffrage, standing alongside pioneering feminists of his time. His advocacy for social equality extended to all, making him a forward-thinking leader whose impact reverberates to this day.

William Henry Seward was not just a politician but a progressive advocate for human rights and social change. His multi-faceted legacy—from key political decisions to human rights advocacy—makes him a little known but important figure in the tapestry of American history.

Know Before You Go

The Seward House Museum offers accessible parking in its main parking lot, directly behind the Museum. The accessible entrance is accessible from the main lot. A wheelchair ramp inside the entrance provides access to the reception area. Only the first floor of the Museum and its visitor bathroom are wheelchair accessible. Tour accommodations can be made for individuals unable to use stairs. American Sign Language Interpreters will be made available upon request and with sufficient notice. Check the website below for more information and to make arrangements.

On-site parking is extremely limited, with several spaces reserved for handicapped parking. Visitors should use the Auburn Parking Garage at 1 Lincoln Street, which offers free 2-hour parking on the upper level. 

You need to reserve tour tickets in advance.

Getting there: 33 South St, Auburn, NY
Hours: open Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.; tours run on the hour. June through September, the Museum is also open Sundays, 1 p.m. – 5 p.m.
Website: Seward House Museum

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