Visit these homes of great writers in New England, and you’ll grasp how passion and place shaped phrases that still stir hearts and minds.
By Kim Knox Beckius
Oct 19 2015
The Mount: Edith Wharton’s Home, Lenox, MassachusettsPhoto Credit : John Seakwood
How many high-schoolers turn to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Mosses from an Old Manse for their yearbook quote? Kim Knox Beckius did, and “dreams have condensed their misty substance into tangible realities” since the author of books like New England’s Historic Homes & Gardens (Union Park Press, 2011) began producing About.com’s New England Travel site in 1998. Even if literary luminaries failed to inspire your teenage dreams, visit these homes of great writers where Kim strongly senses their presence, and you’ll grasp how passion and place shaped phrases that still stir hearts and minds.
Edith Wharton’s Berkshires estate, where she lived and wrote from 1902 to 1911, is New England’s most autobiographical home, the embodiment of all that she and coauthor Ogden Codman Jr. preached in her first book, The Decoration of Houses. This nonfiction treatise on design railed against Victorian fluff in favor of more balanced, harmonious interiors. How conducive to creativity was this thoughtfully conceived mansion and its manicured gardens and grounds? Wharton wrote some of the most celebrated of her more than 40 novels here, including The House of Mirth. Readings and themed tours ensure that the property is perpetually inspiring. Lenox, MA. 413-551-5111; edithwharton.org
Inside the family homestead where Emily Dickinson was born in 1830, died in 1886, and, notoriously, holed up for most of her adult life, she’s less enigmatic. Yes, mysteries remain, and the headless form at the top of the stairs may startle you. But look closely: This replica of the poet’s famed all-white attire isn’t ghostly garb but a sweet, lace-trimmed housedress. Strict parents, the ravages of disease and the Civil War, a secret love, family scandal … Dickinson’s tiny desk was her refuge; her 1,800 poems, therapy. You’ll leave having “met” a woman who chose to “dwell in possibility”—rather than in a judgmental world not yet ready for her rule-breaking verse. Amherst, MA. 413-542-8161; emilydickinsonmuseum.org
Samuel Clemens became the Mark Twain we cherish during 17 happy, productive years in Hartford. Within this 1874 brick Victorian, Twain isn’t merely the witty, quotable satirist who dreamed up Tom Sawyer’s and Huckleberry Finn’s adventures in the third-floor billiards room. He’s a local guy with neighbors like Harriet Beecher Stowe (tour her house, too) and a family he loved. Tales you’ll hear of Twain’s financial and personal losses will tug at your heart. Hartford, CT. 860-247-0998; marktwainhouse.org
SEE MORE:Tour the Mark Twain House in Hartford, Connecticut
If Nathaniel and Sophia Hawthorne had owned smartphones, their endearments would have been lost to us. Luckily for romantics, they’re etched into the window glass at the Georgian clapboard house that the newlyweds rented from the Emersons in 1842. Concord, Massachusetts, is rife with writers’ homes, but none is more iconic than the Old Manse, overlooking the North Bridge, where the “shot heard ’round the world” plunged local militiamen into a battle with long-lasting reverberations. The upstairs study is ground zero for America’s second revolution: the Transcendentalist shift in thought. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote his landmark essay, “Nature,” while gazing out at the Concord River. Hawthorne installed a desk, condemning himself to stare, undistracted by nature, at the opposite wall. Says site manager Tom Beardsley, “It’s the room people come from all over the world to see.” Concord, MA. 978-369-3909; thetrustees.org/places-to-visit/greater-boston/old-manse.html
How did a California boy become the beloved, melodic voice of rural New England? Answer: Robert Frost’s grandfather bought him a farm. Although there are other Frost houses to visit in New England, here in Derry, New Hampshire, a young man scratching out a living became a keen observer of the wisdom that lies in nature’s first green or a snowy evening. As you stroll the path through a landscape that appears even in poems Frost wrote long after selling the farm in 1911, you’ll spy the “Mending Wall” and “Hyla Brook,” which, says site manager Bill Gleed, “does exactly what Frost says it does in the poem—every year.” Derry, NH. 603-432-3091; robertfrostfarm.org