Beyond Kenya’s beautiful topography and charming people is rich history that begs to be explored. Kenya is blessed with numerous historical houses that are still standing today. The history associated with these magnificent houses goes back to hundreds of years ago. Historical houses in Kenya play a major role in defining Kenya’s history and cultural landscape. In addition, visiting these houses enables you to obtain key information such as why they were built, who built them, who lived there, and what shaped their lives.
Most of these houses have been transformed into museums, while some have been converted into commercial buildings. However, despite numerous restoration efforts to keep them standing, key historical artifacts haven’t been tampered with. Most of Kenya’s historical houses are commonly associated with Kenya’s pre-independence era, as well as the struggle to free the country from British colonialists.
For a glimpse of Kenya’s fascinating past, here is the list of famous Kenya historical houses that are still standing today:
Located about 15km from the Nairobi Central Business District in the affluent Karen neighborhood of Nairobi, lies the historical and majestic Karen Blixen. This property was first owned by famous Danish author Karen Bror and Baron Bror, her Swedish husband. Sitting at the foot of the famous Ngong Hills, this ancient farmhouse is now a national museum and has a history that spans over 100 years.
Karen Blixen was built in 1912 by a Swedish engineer named Ake Sjogren. Karen moved to Kenya in 1914, which was then a British colony, and married her half cousin. The initial plan was to pursue dairy farming, but Karen’s husband preferred coffee farming instead. In 1917, Karen and her husband purchased the farmhouse which sat on their 4,500 acre farm, 600 acres of which went into coffee farming. Unfortunately, their coffee farm faced one tragedy after another. Along with the struggling coffee farm, Karen and her husband got divorced after eight years of marriage. Baron left while Karen continued to manage the farm.
After divorcing her husband, Karen met and fell in love with an Englishman by the name of Denys Finch Hatton; however, the aftermath of his untimely death in Tsavo in 1930 and the failed farming business forced Karen to leave Africa. Karen remained at the property until 1931 when she returned to her home country of Denmark.
Karen Blixen was later purchased by Remy Marin, who further subdivided the land into 20 acre pieces. This action paved the way for the current Karen suburb. British Army Officer Lt. Col.G. Lloyd purchased the house in 1935 and lived there until he died in 1954. The property was then transferred to his daughters, Lavender Lloyd and Mrs. G Robersts. The house continued to change ownership until 1964 when the Danish government purchased it and offered it to the Kenyan government as a gift for Kenya’s independence.
After the Kenyan government received the house, it was initially used as a nutrition college and served as the Principal’s residence. In 1985, Karen Blixen became globally famous when the Oscar winning film “Out of Africa”, based on Karen’s autobiography, was filmed on the property. As a result of this new development, the National Museums of Kenya acquired the house and transformed it into a museum. The museum opened its doors to the public in 1986.
Today, Karen Blixen Museum is one of Kenya’s famous museums that receives many visitors. People visit the museum to see handicrafts, books, postcards, posters, ‘Out of Africa’ the movie, and a wide array of Kenyan souvenirs. Karen Blixen grounds are also famous for wedding receptions and corporate events.
Karen is known for her works such as Seven Gothic Tales, Out of Africa, which later became the Oscar award winning film, and Babette’s Feast. The Karen Blixen house also outlines historical significance of the trends of European settlement in East Africa. Karen was born on April 17th,1885 in Rungstedlund, Denmark and was the second-born in a family of five. She died at their family estate in 1962 at the age of 77.
The architecture of the house is a typical representation of 19th century bungalows that include spacious rooms, large verandas, and tiled roofs. This was a common system of buildings associated with European suburbs of Nairobi.
The historic Kipande House built in 1913 is located at the corner of Kenyatta Avenue and Loita Street in Nairobi’s Central Business District. ‘Kipande’ is a Swahili word that means ‘identification card’. Henry Belfield, who was Kenya’s governor between 1912 and 1917, ordered the building to be used for issuing identity cards only to Africans. Local Africans who wanted to be employed or do business in Nairobi had to first be registered and given identity cards.
Sitting amongst Nairobi’s modern tall skyscrapers, this ancient building was initially called Nayer building, named after famous Indian businessman Gurdit Singh Nayer. Interestingly enough, many people don’t know that the Kipande House was Nairobi’s tallest building until the city hall was completed in 1935.
Nayer Gurdit Singh, the Indian businessman who constructed Kipande house, had been sent to Kenya by Bank of India in 1889 to establish operations in Kenya. Upon seeing the numerous unexploited business opportunities in Kenya, he resigned from his job as a banker and ventured into business.
Kipande House was built by foreigners and was famous for its magnificent clock tower that was visible across the city. The building was designed near the old Uganda railway line by David Fialt, an English architect. During the First World War, the colonial government rented the building and used it as a warehouse.
In 1976, one of Kenya’s largest banks, Kenya Commercial Bank, bought Kipande House. It had been gazetted as a national monument at the time. To this day, the stone-built building houses one of the key branches of Kenya Commercial Bank in the city centre. The dome shaped building is one of the oldest structures in Nairobi, but it is extremely important in terms of reminding Kenyans of pre-colonial history.
Lord Egerton Castle
Lord Egerton Castle is located in Njoro, approximately 30 minutes drive from Nakuru, Kenya’s 4th largest city. The mansion with fascinating architecture and surrounded by numerous shrubs, canopy trees, and lush lawns was built by Lord Egerton between 1938 and 1952.
The story of this castle is one of both love and hate. Lord Maurice Egerton was born in 1874 into the Barons of Egerton, a royal family. Egerton had two siblings that later died, which left him as the sole heir of the family’s vast empire. He was employed in the Royal Navy until 1920 when he became the fourth baron of Egerton- following the demise of his father.
His love for travel enabled him to visit various African countries, and he eventually settled in Kenya to concentrate on large-scale agriculture. After purchasing 21,116 acres of land from the Lord Delamere family, he was of age and needed to marry a girl of the same status that royal lineage demanded.
Maurice Egerton fell in love with a young woman from Queen Elizabeth’s lineage and built a four roomed cottage to impress her. He invited her to come over and see the cottage, but to his disbelief, she wasn’t impressed with the house and called it a ‘bird’s nest’. Lord Egerton then decided to build a bigger house, a castle that epitomized his royal status. This time around, he was convinced the girl of his dreams would change her mind and reciprocate his love.
To ensure that his new castle was luxurious and top notch, he hired Albert Brown, an English architect, to implement the fancy design in 1938. The house was built by construction workers from Italy, as well as over 100 Red Indian laborers. Unfortunately, the woman he loved once again rejected the castle for its small size and referred to it as a ‘dog kernel’.
Heartbroken, Lord Egerton carried on with the construction while the love of his life married a wealthy British Lord in Australia. He gradually added more floors, blocks, rooms, alleyways, confinements, and barricades to the castle. Upon completion, the mega structure was breathtaking and shared the Neuro-classical mansion designs associated with powerful and famous English families.
Because of his stature, Lord Egerton felt humiliated by the woman who rejected him. For this reason, he forbade women to never set foot on the property. He even pinned notices on trees warning women of dire consequences if they came close to his large agricultural plantations.
The Lord Egerton Castle is no doubt an architectural masterpiece whose materials were all imported from abroad. Interior decorations came from China, fireplace marbles were imported from Italy, zinc tiles were imported, and the walls and stairways were covered using British oak.
The castle has a total of 52 rooms that consist of a guest lounge, library, kitchen, reading room, entertainment room, guesthouses, several bathrooms, and a dark room he used for photography- one of his passions.
The largest marvel of the property is the giant organ player. Standing the height of almost two storeys, it is complete with 411 massive sound pipes and a cabinet. Lord Egerton would invite a player from England thrice a year to come and play his favorite ballads for him.
Today, the castle is owned by Egerton University, a Kenyan public university, and attracts a huge number of visitors including women. Lord Egerton had threatened to kill any woman who comes to his property in a hail of bullets. Maurice Egerton, the last Baron of Egerton of Tatton died in 1958, ending the ban for women tourists to visit the castle that represents a sad love story.
Located in Nyeri, about a 3 hour drive from the capital Nairobi, Treetops lodge is famous both locally and internationally. The tree house lodge is located in Aberdare National Park, and it is in this house where Queen Elizabeth II was declared the queen at only 25 years old, following the demise of her father. She climbed up into the lodge as a princess and came down the next day a queen. This wooden-built house sits close to a waterhole and salt lick, allowing guests to see animals as they come to drink water and lick salt.
Treetops Lodge was built in 1932 and sits right in the middle of an ancient migration route for elephants between the Aberdare Ranges and Mt Kenya National Park. There is also an ancient fig tree locally known as ‘Mugumo’ tree that grows through the hotel. The lodge, known for its rustic design, was built in 1932 by Major Eric Sherbrooke for his spouse, Lady Bettie.
When Princess Elizabeth was pronounced Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in 1952, the lodge had 3 bedrooms with a total capacity of 8 beds. In 1954, tragedy struck as the Treetops lodge was closed and eventually burnt down during the 1950s Mau Mau uprising. It was during this time that Kenyan freedom fighters battled British colonialists to push for Kenya’s independence. The Mau Mau rebels razed the entire tree house in response to a shoot-to-kill order that had been issued against them. Three years later in 1957, the lodge was rebuilt and the bed capacity was increased from 8 to 14 beds.
The lodge’s ownership changed hands in 1961 when Sherbrooke Walker sold Treetops lodge to Sir Malin Sorsbie, who later sold it to Block Hotels Limited in 1966. Treetops Lodge continued to be expanded gradually, having a total of 40 rooms in 1983 and 50 rooms in 1996. Aberdare Safari Hotels Limited is the current owner of the lodge, and its capacity now stands at 36 ensuite rooms with thrilling, game-viewing experiences.
On November 13th 1983, 30 years after her first visit where she was declared queen, Queen Elizabeth II visited Treetops Lodge for the second time. She noticed the lodge was no longer surrounded by the thick forest cover from 30 years prior. As a result, Kenya Wildlife Services and Aberdare Safari Hotels have been working on a “Return the Bush” Programme. The aim of the initiative is to reclaim the forest cover in the area around the lodge, as well as the entire Aberdare National Park.
Kenyatta House located in Maralal, Samburu County in Northern Kenya is a simple house; yet, it holds a lot of historical significance to Kenya’s independence and governance. The three bedroom bungalow is where Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya’s founding father and first president, was partly held in detention by the British colonial government after being transferred from Lodwar prison.
Kenyatta had been detained in 1953 by the colonial government after being accused of associating himself with the Mau Mau movement, a group that was pressing for freedom from a ruthless colonial government. He served his first part of the sentence in Lodwar and Kapenguria, where he was put under lock and key. Even though the house is over 50 years old, it still stands firm and majestic to signify the sacrifice and challenges Kenya’s founding fathers had to go through in order for Kenya to gain independence.
What many people don’t know is that Kenya’s 4th and current president, Uhuru Kenyatta, is son to the country’s first president, and he admitted he was conceived in this house in 1961. The house sits on a hilly 28-acre piece of land, and it is considered to have been the transition between imprisonment and freedom because Jomo Kenyatta was allowed to receive visitors. Accompanied by his Somali bodyguard, he was also allowed to go out to the market, mingle with locals, and buy food using the little allowance he got from the colonial government. However, he was not allowed to address groups of more than of ten people for fear of incitement.
Kenyatta House is a typical example of British colonial architecture designs that were famous in those days. The house has a small verandah with distinct colonial designs, but lacks elaborate décor. Inside the 3 rooms in the house, Kenyatta’s photos are firmly hanged on the walls.
The house also has a small kitchen with a firewood oven and a flash toilet. Gazetted as a national monument in 1977, this laid back historical house holds the greatest secrets of agreements and meetings Kenyatta had with colonialists.These meetings paved the way for the country’s independence.
The sitting room is made up of a simple wooden couch with canvas pillows and a dining table. There is a black and white photo of Jomo Kenyatta placed in a huge frame among the photos on the walls, as well as a group photo with his friends.
The floor of the house is cemented and red in color, while the roof has been painted green. Kenyatta lived in this house from April 1961 to August 1961 after Michael Blundell, a white settler, negotiated for his transfer from Lodwar prison to Maralal.
Kenyatta House is now under the management of National Museums of Kenya and receives numerous visitors. All items in the house have been well preserved to maintain a similar 1961 look. To maintain the old furniture that holds great historical significance, visitors are not permitted to sit on any chairs or beds. Although the house has been repainted a couple of times, the original colors have been retained.