New England Author Homes Tour
New England Author Homes Tour
Unique historical stops to add to your RV travels in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and beyond!
By: Sue Ann Jaffarian
New England is known for many things—beautiful fall foliage, excellent seafood (especially lobster), a rugged coastline, lighthouses, and historical sites. And let’s not forget the Bruins, Celtics, Patriots, and the Red Sox. It was also the home of many notable authors.
I am originally from New England and return every year to visit my family for anywhere from four to eight weeks, which is very easy to do when you are a full-time RVer and bring along your own bed and bathroom.
Planning a New England Author Homes Tour
For quite a while, I have been wanting to visit the homes of some of my favorite authors and a few others who once called New England home. This summer I did just that. Some of the homes are modest and some quite stately. Many are open to the public for tours.
Tip: Before visiting any of these homes, always check their websites. Many are only open on weekends, and some close for private guided tours and events. Some may be temporarily closed to visitors but allow the public on the grounds to take photos. Also, before snapping photos inside the homes, make sure it is permitted. It is not in most of them.
I divided my tour into three main regions. The first region was Concord, Massachusetts. This charming historical town was home to Louisa May Alcott, Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Nathaniel Hawthorne, and contains many important historical sites.
The next region was Hartford, Connecticut, where I visited Mark Twain’s beautiful home. Across the way from his house is the home of Harriet Beecher Stowe. The last region I visited was the Berkshires, where I visited Herman Melville‘s house in Pittsfield. The stately mansion of Edith Wharton is also in nearby Lenox.
Concord Author Homes: Alcott, Thoreau, Emerson & Hawthorne
Before I visited any of the homes in Concord, I visited Authors Ridge in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. This is a large cemetery that is the final resting place for Alcott, Thoreau, Hawthorne and Emerson. It is well worth a visit. There is a map for the cemetery online that will direct you to notable graves.
Authors Ridge is in an older part of the cemetery and up on a hill. After parking at the base, visitors walk up a paved slope. The family plots of Thoreau, Hawthorne, and Alcott are very close to each other, with the Emerson plot a short walk away. In real life these authors were contemporaries and close friends, and in death they are still together. Visitors often bring pens and pencils to stick into the ground by the graves. Once up on the ridge, take a few moments to sit on one of the stone benches and enjoy the peaceful beauty of the lovely cemetery.
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s home Wayside was closed to the public during my visit, but I did snap a photo of the house. Across the street from it is a parking lot that serves both the Hawthorne home and Orchard House, the Alcott home, which is a short walk away. There is parking in front of the Alcott home, but it is very limited.
Orchard House was one of my favorite tours. It began by viewing a short but very well-produced video of Louisa May Alcott’s life. After the video, visitors are given a thorough guided tour of both the upstairs and downstairs of the home by knowledgeable guides. The house also contains an excellent gift and book shop.
On my second visit to Concord, I visited the Emerson and Thoreau homes, as well as some of the historical sites. First up was the Thoreau Farm. Thoreau had only lived there as an infant, but it was a wonderful tour. The guide talked about the history of the home and of Thoreau’s life, including the time he spent at nearby Walden Pond.
The home has been restored to reflect the period of the time, but unlike some of the other homes, this one is not staged with period furniture and artifacts. The room where Thoreau was born is now a nice study that can be rented for about $150 a day by those looking for quiet inspiration. It is filled with books by Thoreau and his contemporaries, as well as photos of Thoreau’s family and colleagues. It is in this room that the guide talks about Thoreau’s life.
The day I toured there were only two of us on the early tour. The other guest was an engineer for the Army Corps of Engineers. After I thanked him for the wonderful campsites they provide, we discovered we had a lot in common in our interests in books, history, and travel. He and I, along with the guide, had a wonderful impromptu discussion in the study that lasted well past our tour time that made the tour very special.
The Emerson home is located across the street from the excellent Concord Museum, which is well worth a visit. The grounds and home of Ralph Waldo Emerson are beautiful and the tour was excellent. Still owned by the Emerson family, this house and everything in it is exactly as it was when Emerson and his family lived there, right down to every book, fixture, and even his dressing gown. You half expect the noted writer and philosopher to walk through the door and invite you to tea.
While in Concord, do visit the charming town with its restaurants and shops and make sure you get to Minute Man National Historical Park. Concord and neighboring Lexington were the locations of some of the first battles in the American Revolutionary War. Minute Man National Historical Park is quite large and divided into two sections. I visited the smaller section off of Monument Street. At this parking lot you will find the Robbins House, a very modest cabin that was inhabited by Caesar Robbins and the first generation of freed African Americans in Concord.
Across the street from the parking lot is a short wide path that will lead to the famous Minute Man Statue by Daniel Chester French, who is most known for creating the massive statue of Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Before reaching the statue, you will cross over the Old North Bridge, the scene of the first official battle of the Revolutionary War. Again, take time to sit on one of the benches and enjoy the Concord River and absorb the importance of the area. There is also an easy hiking path past the statue, and many others in the larger part of the park.
Hartford Author Homes: Mark Twain & Harriet Beecher Stowe
The Mark Twain House and Museum in Hartford, Connecticut, was impressive. There is a smaller parking lot above by the Harriet Beecher Stowe Home, but it appeared quite small. From the lower parking lot, take the steps to the museum to check in and buy tickets.
In the museum, there is a video of Twain’s life and some interesting exhibits. The tour of the house begins at the carriage house and includes both floors of the magnificent home, which was restored after passing through various hands after Twain sold it. The home was very modern for its time, containing a security system, two telephones, and even central heating. My favorite room was the solarium.
TIP: If you haven’t been to Hannibal, Missouri, Twain’s boyhood home, do go if you are ever in the area. It was great to have seen both and get a sense of the man as a boy and as a successful author.
Across a small meadow from Twain’s home is the Harriet Beecher Stowe Home and Information Center. Unfortunately, I missed the beginning of the tour of the Stowe house. Stowe and Twain were not just neighbors but friends. During that period, the publishing center of the United States was in Hartford and many authors moved there. When it moved to New York, so did many authors.
TIP: If you are driving along Interstate 84 between Connecticut and Massachusetts, try to stop at The Traveler Restaurant in tiny Union, Connecticut just below the state line. The restaurant has good food and is also a used book store and gift shop. With every meal, customers can choose three free books.
Berkshires Author Homes: Melville, Wharton & Millay
Unfortunately, I never made it to the tour of the The Mount, but if you are in the area, do try to see it. It is a huge place with a very large parking lot. The ticket office is on the edge of the parking lot. The home itself is about a quarter mile from the parking lot through beautiful grounds. The tours of this home can be booked solid, especially on weekends, but there are many each day. You can even book tours online.
I really enjoyed my tour of Arrowhead, the home of Herman Melville. There is a large parking lot at the end of the drive, and the barn is the ticket office and gift shop. The tour was very interesting with the guide talking about the property in addition to Melville’s fascinating life and journey as an author. The property is lovely and park-like with hiking trails and benches to sit and enjoy the peaceful surroundings.
Other Author Homes & Museums in New England
Another home I visited in the Berkshires was Steepletop, the home of Edna St. Vincent Millay. Her home is not open to the public, but since I was so close I looked it up. It is on a hill above a narrow hard-packed dirt road.
I was very disappointed that Emily Dickinson’s home in Amherst, Massachusetts, was not open to the public during my visit. Generally it is, but currently the home is undergoing renovations. I could not get close enough to even grab a photo. If you want to visit it, check the website to see when it reopens.
My disappointment was lightened by a visit to the nearby Eric Carle Museum of Picture Books. Eric Carle wrote the classic The Very Hungry Caterpillar. I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to this wonderful museum that has changing exhibits. If you love children’s classics, do not miss a visit to the Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum in nearby Springfield, Massachusetts.
There are many other author homes in New England that I did not get to visit because they are not open to the public or were out of the way. Stephen King no longer lives in Bangor, Maine, but still owns his home there and intends to turn it into a writer’s retreat. Rudyard Kipling’s home Naulakha in Dummerston, Vermont, is not open to the public but is a rental property. His beautiful four-bedroom, three-bath home can be leased for $470-$545 a night.
Last but not least, there is Novella, the 2016K Winnebago Travato that is home to Massachusetts-born writer and novelist Sue Ann Jaffarian. You don’t even need to travel to New England to see Novella. Just flag Sue Ann down on the road to see this not-so-historical author home.