This weekend I was in Amherst, Massachusetts for a beautiful family wedding, and on my second day in town, I did some exploring with my husband, two brothers-in-law, my sister-in-law, and my bro-in-law’s girlfriend. She grew up in the town and was our unofficial tour guide. After taking us to a great little breakfast place (the vegan pancakes were so good), she took us down to Emily Dickinson’s house.
I was so excited.
I didn’t think we’d have time to see it before we headed home, so I was thrilled when we got there just in time for the start of a 90-minute tour of the house (which is now a museum) and her brother Austin’s house next door. To say it was fascinating and inspirational is a total understatement. I got to stand in Emily Dickinson’s room and look out the windows she looked out while writing her poems and letters. We saw the garden she used to walk through (with paper and pencil in her pocket, always). Then we went to her grave. It was amazing.
It got me thinking about other literary spots in New England that I’d like to see. I did some research and I’m sharing a few with you so you can plan your next visit to New England or get off your bum and travel around the region if you already live here. I’m planning on hitting these spots when I can for some more doses of history and writing inspiration.
- Emily Dickinson’s House and Museum. This is the only place on my list that I can talk about from a personal experience. Not only is Amherst a really beautiful town to visit, but the tour of Emily Dickinson’s house and her brother’s home next door are fascinating and, not going to lie, a little on the spooky side. Her home has clearly been restored. Her brother’s house, however, is eerie and dark and has not been touched. EVER. You’re stepping into the late 19th century when you walk through the doors of Austin Dickinson’s homestead. And in addition to the neat things you’ll see, you will learn a lot about Emily and her family’s, the interesting path to getting her poems published (she wasn’t famous until after she died), and all the scandals and tragedies surrounding the family.
- Mark Twain House & Museum. This is where Twain wrote Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Prince and The Pauper, and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. According to the website, “A stunning example of Picturesque Gothic architecture, the 25-room home features a dramatic grand hall with rare examples of Victorian decorative arts by Louis Comfort Tiffany’s design firm Associated Artists, a lush glass conservatory, a grand library and the handsome billiard room where Twain wrote his famous books.” And it’s in Hartford, CT for all you NY people or New Englanders who need a good weekend trip.
- The Robert Frost Museum. There are Robert Frost and Dickinson silhouette statues in a park right next to Emily Dickinson’s house in Amherst. But, for this museum, you’ll need to make a trip up to Shaftsbury, Vermont to see the place where Frost wrote some of his best poetry. From the website: “The museum features galleries in the house where Frost lived and in the very rooms were he wrote some of his finest poetry. His fourth book was published during this period and for it, he won his first Pulitzer Prize. The volume, entitled New Hampshire, contains one of our most beloved poems, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” Frost wrote the poem on a hot June morning in 1922 at the dining room table. The entire room is devoted to this great American classic.” His grave site is a short drive away in Bennington (always check out the graves when you can. So interesting. Plus if the zombie apocalypse happens while you’re there, you’ll be the first one to meet an undead famous writer).
- Herman Melville’s Arrowhead. I read Moby Dick in college and honestly, I really liked it (I did skip the entire middle section about whaling, though). This particular place isn’t strictly Melville, but it’s interesting either way: “Welcome to the home page of The Berkshire Historical Society, a non-profit corporation dedicated to collecting, preserving, and disseminating the history of Berkshire County in western Massachusetts. In addition, the Berkshire Historical Society is committed to the preservation and interpretation of Arrowhead, home of author Herman Melville, the first National Historic Landmark to be so designated in Berkshire County.” By the way, this is a stunning area in Massachusetts.
- Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House. Another MA landmark, this is where Louisa May Alcott wrote and set Little Women. Check the website’s calendar for regular special events, like living history tours. The site relays this interesting tidbit:“Fortunately, there have been no major structural changes to the house since the Alcotts’ time, and on-going preservation efforts adhere to the highest standards of authenticity. Since approximately 80% of the furnishings on display were owned by the Alcotts, the rooms look very much as they did when the family lived here, causing many modern-day visitors to comment that, “A visit to Orchard House is like a walk through Little Women!”
- The Grave of H.P. Lovecraft. Finally a Rhode Island mention, you can visit the grave of H.P. Lovecraft in Providence. While it’s not his home or the place where he wrote and was inspired, if you’re into sort of spooky literary jaunts, this might appeal to you: “Although it is nearby, Lovecraft’s body does not actually lie beneath his donated headstone, a fact that was evidently unknown to the person or persons who, on the night of October 13, 1997, apparently tried to dig him up.The hole was discovered on the morning of the 14th by a Swan Point security guard. It was about three feet deep and the dirt at the bottom appeared to be undisturbed. Did the diggers merely give up, or were they spooked? Other than the hole itself, the only evidence they left behind was a single footprint.”
There are a number of other literary spots around New England; have you been to any of them? Would you take a trip just to see the home of a writer you love? Share in the comments!