by Jane Howes

The New England Transcendentalists and a host of American literary lights shine in Massachusetts.

What do Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Louisa May Alcott and Robert Frost have in common? They were all residents of Massachusetts at one point during their literary careers. New York may still be the publishing capital of the world, but the roots of American literature are in Massachusetts. Travel along and take a literary tour of Massachusetts, where the country's top men and women writers were, once, practically neighbors.

Jo, Meg, Amy & Beth"

The recent release of the film, Little Women, has renewed interest in the life of the woman responsible for this marvelous work, Louisa May Alcott. For those in search of the ultimate Alcott experience, venture out to Orchard House (800-443-3332) where Little Women was written. The house is open all year round and is located at 399 Lexington Road in Concord. While in Concord visit the Wayside (800-443-3332), the residence once home to the Alcotts, Nathanial Hawthorne and Margaret Sidney, the 19th-century children's author. Upon reaching literary fame, Louisa May Alcott moved to one of Boston's most prestigious addresses, 10 Louisburg Square in the Beacon Hill section of Boston. The home is now privately owned and not open to the public.

The enry Wadsworth Longfellow National Historic Site (617-876-4491), is open to the public and located at 105 Brattle Street in Cambridge. Longfellow lived there from 1837 until 1882.

Photo by Annette Bignami


Louisa's father, Amos Bronson Alcott, and his fellow movement members established a "New Eden" called Fruitlands in 1843 where vegetarianism and a return to nature were practiced. Visit the Fruitlands Museums (508-456-3924) and see the farmhouse which has been transformed into a transcendentalist museum.

The final resting place of Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau and Nathaniel Hawthorne is the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery (508-371-6289), located off Route 62 in Concord. Once inside the cemetery, be sure to follow the signs to the Author's Ridge. Hawthorne's birthplace, House of Seven Gables (508-744-0991, is in Salem, and was the inspiration for the novel.

On Walden Pond

Concord boasts many literary attractions including the Thoreau Lyceum (800-443-3332), headquarters for the Thoreau Society Inc., an international organization dedicated to the recognition of naturalist-philosopher Henry David Thoreau. The Lyceum's centerpiece is a furnished replica of the house Thoreau built at Walden Pond. Just across the street the Walden Pond State Reservation (800-443-3332), the inspiration behind Thoreau's works, is on Route 126 in Concord, offering 304 acres of hiking trails, fishing, canoeing, sailing and swimming.

America's oldest operating inn is Longfellow's Wayside Inn (508-443-1776), in Sudbury. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once rote about it in Tales of the Wayside Inn. Be sure and visit the working grist mill, picturesque chapel and one-room school house which was originally in Sterling. It was later reconstructed and moved to Sudbury by Henry Ford. This is where Mary Sawyer once was a pupil. She had a pet lamb who inspired the nursery rhyme, Mary Had a Little Lamb. Mary Sawyer was born in Sterling in 1806. A statue commemorating the lamb stands on the Town Common. For further information call the Sterling Historical Society (508-422-6351).

"A Poet's Place"

Out in the western part of Massachusetts, many houses stand as living memorials to the talented writers who once inhabited them. On the campus of Amherst College in Amherst sits the Emily Dickinson Homestead (413-542-8161), birthplace of the accomplished poet. Today the house is owned by the college and serves as a student residence. Sections of the house are open year-round for tours.

"Call Me Ishmael"

Herman Melville, author of the literary epic Moby Dick, lived in Pittsfield (1850-1863), in a house known as Arrowhead (413-442-1793)). Melville actually wrote Moby Dick at Arrowhead, inspired by the beautiful scenery outside his window featuring Mount Greylock which was "looking like a great white whale in the winter." Today Arrowhead operates as a museum and is partially restored to the Melville era. The museum is a registered national landmark and is open Labor Day through October. Down in New Bedford is the Seaman's Bethel (508-992-3295), built in 1830. Melville used the bethel as a location for a chapter in Moby Dick.

North of Great Barrington in the Berkshires is Monument Mountain, a half-hour hike to the summit. The mountain is best known as the site of the historic literary encounter between Herman Melville and Nathanial Hawthorne in 1850. Along with Dr. Oliver Wendall Holmes, the two authors climbed the mountain, barely escaping a torrential rainstorm. This climb is commemorated the first Sunday in August. Contact the Berkshire County Historical Society at Arrowhead (413-442-1793). Pulitzer Prize-winning author Edith Wharton's summer residence, The Mount (413-637-1199), is located on Routes 7 and 7A in Lenox. Tour the house and gardens where the famous author wrote such works as Ethan Frome. Dramas based on Wharton's novels are performed in the salon, June through October.

Beloved Beatnik

Lowell, once a thriving city during the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century, was home to the late great Jack Kerouac. Kerouac, father of the Beatnik movement, and author of On the Road, is proudly remembered in Lowell today. Each October, Lowell Celebrates Kerouac (508-459-6150), featuring poetry readings, musical performances, "Beat Tours," and exhibits. Visit Kerouac Park located on Bridge Street in downtown Lowell, home to a serene sculpture garden, inscribed with quotations from Kerouac's works.

Creative Community

Thoughout the years Cambridge has been home to many well-known writers. Drive-by visits can be made to the former addresses of: e.e. cummings at 104 Irvings Street, T.S. Eliot at 14 Ash Street, Robert Frost at 35 Brewster Place, Henry James at 20 Quincy Street, and Vladimir Nabokov at 8 Craigie Circle. 

Green Eggs and Ham

Even today writers seem to choose Massachusetts as their home. Cape Cod is the summer home of novelist Kurt Vonnegut, and illustrator, Edward Gorey. The Thornton W. Burgress Museum (508-888-6870) in Sandwich is open to the public and is the home of the children's author best-known for Peter Rabbit and the Briar Patch. The most famous of all children's authors is Springfield-born Theodor Geisel, a/k/a Dr. Seuss. Dr. Seuss's spirit will live on forever through his classic stories enjoyed by children of all ages throughout the world. The Connecticut Valley Historical Museum at the Quadrangle in Springfield (413-739-3871) will host an exhibit, Dr. Seuss's Springfield, July 27 through December 1995, displaying sights and locations familiar to readers of Dr. Seuss books. Won't you put down your book for awhile, and come to Massachusetts, where your favorite writers have been coming for centuries? Literary Massachusetts is, after all, a tour for all seasons.

Massachusetts is a lovely place to live, find the latest information on Massachusetts home loans or maybe a mortgage refinance, and make yourself at home in Massachusetts.