Touring the Homes of Southern Authors
Touring the Homes of Southern Authors
Tips for other literature loving RVers.
By: Sue Ann Jaffarian
If you read my earlier article on New England author homes, then you know that I love checking out where famous authors lived and worked. I guess as a professional writer, it is an occupational hazard. This time I was in search of author homes in the South.
Unlike the New England author homes, the homes of the famous Southern writers are scattered over a large area, so I collected them as I traveled.
My first pilgrimage to any author’s home was to Ernest Hemingway’s in Key West, Florida, in 2019. Many do not consider Florida “The South,” but geographically you can’t get much more south in the continental U.S. than Florida. So, I included two authors in this category.
Hemmingway’s home was the one that set me on my path of visiting these places. Visiting Key West was already on my bucket list, but there was no way I was going to miss visiting Hemingway’s home with its community of about sixty polydactyl (six-toed) cats. Me being a big cat lover made the visit all the sweeter.
The tour of the home and museum is excellent and operates 365 days a year. The cost is $18 and is cash only. The tour will take you through the home, including the upper level, as well as around the grounds.
It was exciting to walk where Hemingway walked and to see where he ate, slept, and wrote. I rejoiced silently when I stood in his kitchen and saw where he made his morning coffee.
The home is beautifully maintained. Cats are everywhere and these animals are accustomed to strangers and well cared for by a trust.
While I was there, a young man proposed to his girlfriend in the parlor during the tour. He told the group that he did it there because Hemingway was her favorite author. (She said yes.)
Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
Another of my favorite authors also lived in Florida and I found myself camping close to her home when I was in Ocala for an author event of my own. Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings wrote the classic The Yearling at her home in Cross Creek, Florida, in the 1930s.
The home and its property are now the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park, and you can tour her home Thursday through Sunday. The home is only open by guided tour, but the grounds are open daily. There is a small fee for parking, but none for the tour.
Unfortunately, I arrived just after a tour began and another wasn’t for more than an hour, so I did not go into the house. I did spend a great deal of time walking the grounds and the outbuildings. It was very exciting for me to see the porch where she spent many hours writing. If you want to know more about Rawlings’s life at Cross Creek, check out her memoir by the same name or the movie, which is based on the book.
If you are hungry, a few miles down the road is The Yearling Restaurant. They have been around since the 1950s and serve excellent Southern fare. They also have a gallery of photos on display from when the movie The Yearling was shot in Cross Creek.
While in the area, I stayed at the lovely Silver Springs State Park Campground. I also took the Silver Springs Glass Bottomed Boat tour with friends. I highly recommend both.
This past year, I resumed my visits to the homes of Southern authors, kicking it off with a visit to William Faulkner’s home in Oxford, Mississippi.
In the style of Greek Revival, the home is stately but simple. It was Faulkner’s home from 1930, when he bought it and named it Rowan Oak, until he passed in 1962. His daughter sold it to the University of Mississippi in 1972.
The home is open to the public year-round, Tuesday through Saturday, except for major holidays. Note: There is very limited parking on the road in front of the home, but visitors can park for free at the University of Mississippi Museum and walk the short trail to the home.
I loved this house. The furnishings in the home are as they were when Faulkner lived there. Hallways have displays of his books and other memorabilia, as well as the history of his work.
As with Hemingway’s home, you easily get a clear sense of the author working in this setting, penning most of his classics and award-winning projects. The house and outbuildings are located on heavily wooded property.
On either side of the path to the front door, tall trees stand like sentries. I was there in fall, and while it was pretty, I’m sure the gardens are spectacular in spring and summer.
From Oxford, I drove to Columbus, Mississippi, to visit the birthplace of Tennessee Williams. It is now a welcome center.
Williams was born in the home but only lived there a short time as a child. The home was once the parsonage of a nearby church where his grandfather was pastor. Later the home was moved to its current location, just a few blocks from the church, when the church needed to expand.
The home is not decorated in the period of Williams’s time there but does house many artifacts and furnishings from the history of this charming antebellum town. Carol, who was the guide while I was there, was a wealth of information, and you can pick up many brochures of places to visit in the area.
F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald
The next home I wanted to visit was that of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald in Montgomery, Alabama. This proved tricky. The first time I was in the area, it was closed for a private event. Then it was Thanksgiving and they closed for the entire week.
Fortunately, there are many other things to see in Montgomery. (Check out my article on visiting central Alabama.)
I didn’t give up on seeing the Fitzgerald home. When I found myself back in Wetumpka in February, I was able to take a tour of the home. The downstairs rooms are not furnished as when the Fitzgeralds lived there. It is more of a museum where each room has a different theme regarding the couple.
One room held Scott’s early years in the military, another his books, including rare editions. One room was devoted to The Great Gatsby and the movies made from the book. A pink room held memorabilia regarding their daughter Scottie, and a green room was Zelda’s studio and contained original paintings by her. It was all fascinating.
I particularly learned a lot more about Zelda Fitzgerald than I had known before. She was not only a writer but a talented painter and dancer. The house did contain some furniture from their time at the house and many period articles of clothing.
By the way, you can stay in the Fitzgerald home. There are two full suites on the second floor. My guide told me they book way in advance, so it’s best to plan ahead if you want to stay there. You can find more information on the home’s website.
Booker T. Washington
Another home that I really wanted to see but couldn’t was Oaks, the home of Booker T. Washington in Tuskegee, Alabama. It was closed for renovations, but the grounds were open. I had heard it would be reopening soon, but each time I found myself in the area I would check and had no luck.
I hope to see it another time. Once reopened, free tours of Oaks are available Tuesday through Saturday.
There are several other things to see in Tuskegee. The Tuskegee Airmen Museum, the George Washington Carver Museum, and the campus of Tuskegee University, one of the top Historically Black Colleges and Universities in the country, which was founded by Booker T. Washington.
This is my great white whale of an author home. Eudora Welty’s home is one of the most popular author homes in the South, if not the country. It is located in Jackson, Mississippi. The gardens are renowned.
However, every time I tried to see this home, forces were against me doing so. On one trip, I planned to stay at LeFleur’s Bluff State Park campground in Jackson, which was just a few minutes from the Welty home. But, the area had received a lot of rain and I could not get reservations because it was closed due to flooding. Maybe next time!
Harper Lee/Truman Capote
Harper Lee lived all her life in Monroeville, Alabama. As a boy, Truman Capote spent every summer there in the home next to hers, which is how they developed a life-long friendship.
Harper Lee’s home has been demolished and is now a soft-serve ice cream stand. Capote’s childhood home is designated by a historical marker and the remains of the foundation. But if you are a fan of To Kill a Mockingbird, Monroeville is still a place well-worth visiting.
I visited Lee’s gravesite, as well as the town square where there are murals depicting scenes from the book/movie. The Old County Courthouse, which figured prominently in To Kill a Mockingbird, is now a museum with exhibits on both Lee and Capote. While in the area, I stayed in the Issac Creek Army Corps of Engineers campground not too far away.
Other Southern Author Homes
There are many other author homes in the South that I did not visit. Below are some of them in Georgia. There is also a list and map of Southern Authors at southernliterarytrail.org.
- Carson McCuller. I am a big fan of Carson McCuller’s work, my favorite being The Member of the Wedding. Her home is operated by the Columbia State University in Columbus, Georgia. A tour of the home is available to the public by appointment only, with 24-hour advance notice.
- Margaret Mitchell. Located in Atlanta’s History Center Midtown area, Mitchell and her second husband lived in an apartment on the first floor of this house. Now the building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The website had conflicting information on open and closed dates, so if you plan on visiting, make sure you call to check.
- Flannery O’Connor. Andalusia, the home of Flannery O’Connor, is located in Milledgeville, Georgia. I was not able to see this home during this trip but do plan on going there sometime. The museum is under the ownership and care of Georgia College, O’Connor’s alma mater. O’Connor completed the bulk of her work at Andalusia. Tours are available Tuesday through Sunday, except for major holidays. Check the website for times. This home has been designated as a National Historic Landmark.
I hope as you travel the South you will get a chance to visit some of these wonderful homes. Before I visit each, I like to read some of their work, if I haven’t already. Each home is such a wealth of American history and culture, and it is a great way to bring the authors we learned about in school to life.
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