Literary Travel in New England
While there are plenty of literary sites in New England, Concord is the Mother Lode for visiting the homes of authors…like Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House, the house described in Little Women. Within a couple of miles, you can also visit Henry David Thoreau at Walden Pond, and Ralph Waldo Emerson’s House. My favorite, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s home--the Wayside– was also inhabited by Alcott and others. It was the age of Transcendentalism and they all gathered here.
On a recent trip to Concord, I went to the Minute Man National Historic Park. Members of my family were visiting sites connected to our relatives, and we had several ancestors who fought in the Battles of Concord and other Revolutionary War battles. I wrote about Jeduthan Stone, Minute man, at my other site, Ancestors in Aprons and it was wonderful to walk the same road he had walked in 1775.
But the bookworm in me was most interested to realize that The Old Manse, a house with a strong literary history, stood on a knoll just above the Concord’s North Bridge. In fact, the inhabitants at the time–the family of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s grandfather– could have looked down and watched the battle from the second story window.
Much later, the house was home to Ralph Waldo Emerson for a while, and the beautiful wooded hills and meadows around helped inspire his thoughts in the book of essays that he composed at this desk, Nature (1836). Nature is called the foundation of Transcendentalism with its emphasis on using nature as a guide to living.
As newlyweds, Nathanial Hawthorne and his bride, Sophia Peabody Hawthorne, an artist, rented the Old Manse and lived there from 1842 to 1845. At the time, he was a struggling writer, seemingly unsuccessful and was supported by his wife’s painting. Thoreau, who lived nearby, dined with the Hawthornes.
While they lived there, he wrote a collection of short stories, Mosses from an Old Manse (1846) which is now waiting on my Kindle, and his wife etched a poem on the window of the room where Hawthorne’s small desk stands beside the fireplace.
There is something magical about seeing the actual desk on which masterpieces were composed–imagining the now famous master, bent over the paper, struggling to find the right word.
Amazingly, the house, built in 1769, retained its Colonial look and most of its original furniture. Among the things you can see on a guided tour is wallpaper restored to look identical to the original, and an enormous bookcase stuffed with antique books.
Also amazing to anyone who has ever stood on a busy street and tried to picture life 200 years ago, this corner of Massachusetts allows you to step back in time. It has been protected by the Minute Man Historic Park, State Park Reserves and other measures that allow you to appreciate the natural beauty that inspired the Transcendentalists and the landscape that saw colonists hiding behind trees to fire at formally arrayed British soldiers.
There are regular events at the Old Manse (see the website linked above.) My grandson and I followed a young man through the house. Since we were the only two on the tour, he tailored his remarks to our interests, and amazed us with his knowledge. At the beginning and end of the tour, you pass through the gift shop. This is no ordinary gift shop. Yes, you can buy postcards. But you can also choose from a large collection of writings by the great American writers who lived here.
Whether it is historic roots or literary roots you want to explore, I urge you to visit Concord. Don’t miss the Old Manse.
Note: I could not visit the only house Hawthorne ever owned, The Wayside, because it was under reconstruction. I had previously visited the home of Little Women, Orchard House, and the Ralph Waldo Emerson home. But what a feast for you when you visit. Seeing where these authors lived and worked really brings American literature alive.
Photos are all my own, and I would appreciate no reuse without permission. The photos of the writer’s desks were taken with special permission, because photography is not permitted inside the Old Manse.
The house stands within the Minute Man National Historic Park, however it is maintained by the Trustees of Reservations that protects 100 cultural, historic and environmental treasures in Massachusetts. Check the website for days of guided tours. Prices range from $5 for children to $9 for adults.
Note: There are links to Amazon in this post, because I want to make it easy for you to purchase copies of these books in either print or electronic editions. I am an Amazon affiliate, so any purchases you make through my links will help support A Travelers Library. Thank you.