New England: A Literary Pilgrimage

The Mark Twain House in Hartford, Connecticut

I’ve had New England on the brain lately, missing my East Coast childhood trips to see cousins, family friends and historic sites.

Aside from a wedding near Connecticut’s Mystic Seaport, we’ve never traveled to the region together. It’s long been on our to-go list, under the vague heading of autumn leaves, pumpkins and scenic drives.

But why wait until Fall? When I heard that the Mark Twain House & Museum (a well-loved stop along one of those trips from my youth) designed a 6-day itinerary that takes you from one literary landmark to another, I just had to share. It sounds like a wonderful way to get out of the office and inspire yourself to do some traveling…and some reading.

Day 1: NYC to West Hills, New York

West Hills, New York is a 45-minute drive from New York City, but in case the prospect of driving in the city doesn’t thrill you, consider taking a train from New York City’s Penn Station to Huntington, New York (the closest station to West Hills) and renting a car there. However you choose to get there, here are directions to your first stop.

Walt Whitman Birthplace & Interpretive Center. Walt Whitman was born at this farmhouse in West Hills, New York in 1819. Newly restored, the home is a New York State Historic Site, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Interpretive Center exhibits: 130 Whitman portraits, original letters, manuscripts, artifacts, recordings of his voice on tape and more. On the site you can find guided tours, an audio-visual show, the museum shop and bookstore, and a picnic area, allowing you to make a big ol’ day of it.

Walt Whitman's Birthplace, West Hills, New York

Day 2: Hartford, Connecticut

Mark Twain House & Museum. This is the birthplace of Mark Twain’s most famous characters, Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer. From the infamous billiard room where Twain did all his writing (and cigar smoking), to unique exhibits, educational programs and community events, Twain’s Hartford home is a unique destination for readers and history buffs of all ages. Don’t miss a chance to loll together on the round velvet settee — it’s very Showboat meets New England high society.

Harriet Beecher Stowe House. Mark Twain’s famous next door neighbor and the author of the best-selling anti-slavery book, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe believed (quite correctly) that her words could make a difference. The Harriet Beecher Stowe Center connects Stowe’s issues to the contemporary face of race relations, class and gender issues, economic justice and education equality. A Gothic Revival home built in 1871, the house includes Victorian-style gardens, the Katharine Seymour Day House (a grand mansion adjacent to the Stowe House) and a visitor center with changing exhibitions and a museum store.

Harriet Beecher Stowe House, Hartford, Connecticut

Day 3: Lenox and Pittsfield, Massachusetts

The Mount Estate & Gardens.  The Mount is both a historic site and a center for culture inspired by the passions of Edith Wharton (one of my all-time favorite writers). Best known for The House of Mirth and The Age of Innocence, Wharton described the lives of New York’s upper class (and the disappearance of their world in the early 20th century) with both humor and empathy. This gorgeous property includes three acres of formal gardens designed by Wharton, who, in addition to being deeply fabulous, also happened to be an authority on European landscape design. The Mount is a stunning reflection of Wharton’s love of the literary arts, interior design and decoration, garden and landscape design.

The Mount Estate and Gardens in Lenox, Massachusetts - photo by Kevin Sprague

Herman Melville’s Arrowhead. Arrowhead is a National Historic Landmark located in western Massachusetts. Melville purchased this historic farmhouse in 1850, and it remained the home of Herman’s large, chaotic family for more than 13 years. Herman found refuge in the second-floor library, where he wrote his most famous novel, Moby Dick, three additional novels and many short stories.

Day 4: Amherst, MA and Concord, Massachusetts

Emily Dickinson Museum: The Homestead and the Evergreens. The Homestead, where poet Emily Dickinson was born and lived most of her life, and The Evergreens, home of the poet’s brother and his family, share three absolutely beautiful acres of the original Dickinson property in the center of Amherst, Massachusetts. The Museum offers guided tours of the houses as well as a self-guided audio tour of the outdoor grounds.

Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst, Massachusetts

The Wayside: Home to Hawthorne and the Alcott Family. The only home owned by Nathaniel Hawthorne, author of The Scarlet Letter, The House of the Seven Gables, and Twice-Told Tales, The Wayside is now a historic landmark. Before Hawthorne lived here, the house belonged to the Alcott family, who had named it Hillside. Here, Louisa May Alcott and her sisters lived much of the childhood described in Little Women.

Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House. Just minutes from Wayside, this circa-1690 house was a later home to the Alcott family; this is where Louisa May Alcott wrote and set her classic novel, Little Women, in 1868.

Louisa May Alcott's Orchard House in Concord, Massachusetts

Authors Ridge at Sleepy Hollow. Perched on the uppermost glacial hill in the cemetery, Authors Ridge features the graves of Henry Thoreau (1862), Nathaniel Hawthorne (1864), Ralph Waldo Emerson (1882), Louisa May Alcott (1888) and her father, Bronson Alcott (1888). This popular spot proves that the company you keep does in fact matter, even after you’re gone.

Day 5: Concord, Massachusetts

Ralph Waldo Emerson House. Though open to the public, the Emerson House is still furnished with the writer’s memorabilia and keepsakes. Here, Emerson lived most of his adult life, wrote his famous essays “The American Scholar” and “Self Reliance,” and died in 1882.

Walden Pond. Set on 400 acres, Walden Pond – where Henry David Thoreau lived from 1845 to 1847 – is a State Reservation and National Historic Site. Thoreau’s experience here inspired his book Walden, credited with helping to inspire awareness of and a deeper respect for nature. Today, visitors can enjoy hiking, meandering, swimming and guided tours.

Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts

Longfellow House – Washington’s Headquarters. This National Historic Site preserves the home of Henry W. Longfellow, one of the world’s foremost poets. By the by, the house also served as headquarters for General George Washington during the Siege of Boston (July 1775 – April 1776). In addition to its rich history, the site offers unique opportunities to explore 19th century literature and arts. (Oh, and it’s very, very pretty.)

Day 6: Boston, Massachusetts

Boston by Foot. Take a walking tour of the homes and haunts of Emerson, Hawthorne, Thoreau, Alcott, Longfellow, Henry James, Charles Dickens and more. (1 ½ hours, $12 US per adult)

Boston...by foot

And by all means, take us with you.

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See also
TWT Travel Binder: New York
TWT Travel Binder: Connecticut
TWT Travel Binder: Massachusetts

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