New England is home to many famous authors. Today, many of their residences have become museums or National Historic Landmarks. Why not travel to some of their homes to see where they got their inspiration? Grant Olsen, a freelance writer and literary enthusiast who visited many of New England’s literary sites in 2012, voices the feelings of many travelers: “I love history and literature, so when they intersect it’s magical.” Here are some ideas about where to go and what to see on your tour of literary New England.
The American poet Emily Dickinson was born in Amherst, Massachusetts, and spent most of her life there. Dickinson withdrew from public life and lived in her house as a recluse until her death. You can visit her home, known as The Homestead, in Amherst, one of the most beautiful parts of Massachusetts. The Homestead is now a museum and includes The Evergreens, which is the former residence of Dickinson’s brother. The Evergreens houses a collection of more than 200 works of art. (The Emily Dickinson Museum is closed January–February.)
Henry David Thoreau
In a famous transcendentalist experiment, Henry David Thoreau built and lived in a rural cabin near Walden Pond for more than two years. His book Walden records these experiences. The pond, located in Concord, Massachusetts, spans more than 60 acres and reaches depths of more than 100 feet. Technically, it isn’t a pond; it’s a lake. But that simply means there’s more to see and do while you’re there. Take a hike around Walden Pond and discover the hundreds of acres of woods surrounding it. You can even go fishing or swimming in Walden Pond. If you’re looking for a more relaxing vacation activity, grab some lunch and have a picnic near the water’s edge, or rent a canoe and go for a ride. It’s easy to become distracted by the beauty of nature here, but don’t forget to also take a tour of Thoreau’s cabin.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Also in Concord is the home—and now museum—of Ralph Waldo Emerson, one of Thoreau’s good friends and a fellow transcendentalist. The only way to view Emerson’s house is by guided tour, which includes a wealth of information about Emerson’s life and literature. Nearby is the Concord Museum, where you can find even more information about Emerson, as well as other authors and topics.
Louisa May Alcott
Louisa May Alcott, author of Little Women, also lived in Concord. As with Emerson’s home, the only way to see Louisa May Alcott’s house (also called Orchard House) is by guided tour. In December, the Orchard House hosts an annual holiday program. If you visit in September, you can participate in the Annual 5K/10K Run or 5K Walk. This race follows a beautiful course through Concord, and the money raised goes toward supporting historical preservation.
Derry, New Hampshire
An hour north of Concord, stop in Derry, New Hampshire, where you can visit the farm where Robert Frost lived for 11 years. You can take a tour or attend a poetry reading. Also be sure to enjoy the local scenery—fall is especially beautiful in Derry. Frost describes it best in his poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay,” when he writes, “Nature’s first green is gold, / Her hardest hue to hold.” The Robert Frost Farm is open only from May to October, but if you go during the winter, you can still walk around the grounds and take pictures or even explore the nature trail nearby.
William Faulkner referred to Mark Twain as “the father of American literature.” Twain was living in Hartford, Connecticut, when he wrote The Adventures of Tom Sawyer—which some consider to be the great American novel. In addition to visiting Mark Twain’s home, which was designed by his wife and is known for its unique beauty, be sure to reserve enough time to enjoy the exhibits in the nearby Mark Twain Museum Center.
Harriet Beecher Stowe
While you’re in Hartford, you can also visit the house of Mark Twain’s neighbor, Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The Harriet Beecher Stowe Center and cottage will give you a greater appreciation of this author and her work. You can visit the museum store or enjoy one of the events the center often hosts. These events include guest speakers, book signings, and book readings. For example, on March 19, the center will host a 24-hour reading of Stowe’s novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Visit the website to see a calendar of other events happening at or near the Stowe Center.