Maybe I am biased because I have spent the better part of my life living in and wandering around New England and the rest of the northeast, but I think it is the most beautiful part of America; especially Maine, where I was born and now happily live. Not only is it gorgeous, it’s a hotbed for brilliant, literary minds. If you are a nerd like me, pack up the car and embark on the great American road trip to discover the great American novel!
I’ve loved poetry since I was a little girl, maybe because I was such a dreamer and I liked the idea of romanticizing every single thing that has ever happened, or maybe I was just dramatic. Either way, I am not alone. Mainers are in love with poetry and trip into Portland will prove that. Head down Congress Street past the giant statue of our beloved Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and you will soon find yourself at the poet’s former home. The house was built by his grandfather, Peleg Wadsworth, (a General in the Revolutionary War), between 1785 and 1786. Along with his wife Elizabeth, he raised ten children in the house, which would later become Henry’s childhood home. Longfellow House isn’t just for poetry lovers; architecture and history buffs will also enjoy the visit. It was the first home in a city famous for its beautiful brick work to be built entirely of the material, and it is also one of the oldest standing structures in historic Portland. Plus, the gardens are gorgeous!
About a half an hour up the coast you will find the home that Harriett Beecher Stowe lived in after her husband accepted a position at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. The couple only inhabited the home for two years, but it was during those years that Stowe penned Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The controversial story became one of the most widely read novels in the world, and it is even reported that President Lincoln referred to Stowe as, “The little lady who started this great war.”
Hopping back on the poetry train, you will find yourself in Derry, New Hampshire where one of America’s most beloved poets made his home. Robert Frost worked hard to maintain his farm there for eleven years until moving his family to England to focus on his writing. Upon his return to the States, he moved back to New England and was granted not one, but four Pulitzer Prizes. Today people from all over the world travel to Derry for a tour of the farm. You can even take home a piece of the tree that inspired, “Tree at My Window.”
If you have yet to get your fill of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Cambridge, Massachusetts offers a glimpse at the home he where he spent almost fifty years with his family. All of the items in the home belonged to the Longfellow family, and the collection includes over ten-thousand books that were owned by the poet. As a bonus for history lovers, the house was also once inhabited by George Washington.
In Springfield, MA you will find a wonderful tribute to everyone’s favorite children’s author, Dr. Seuss. The sculpture garden is located outside the museum in the author’s hometown. His step-daughter, Lark Grey Dimond-Cates, is the artist behind the bronze tribute which features a giant story book, an enormous likeness of Horton the Elephant, the Lorax (my favorite!), the Cat in the Hat, the Grinch and his dog Max, and of course, Theodor Seuss Geisel.
If you find yourself in Lowell, Massachusetts, you will want to stop by the National Historical Park visitor center. There you can pick up three different maps that allow you to follow the haunts of legendary beat Jack Kerouac. Explore downtown Lowell, Pawtucketville, Centralville, or all three and see where Kerouac lived, went to school, was baptized, and all of the places that inspired and worked their way into his novels and poems. Downtown is home to the Jack Kerouac Commemorative which is made up of a series of granite columns inscribed with passages from some of the writer’s most famous works, including the seminal On the Road. You can also pay your respects, as Kerouac is buried in the city’s Edson Cemetery.
Concord, Massachusetts was once the most popular places for progressive literary minds to convene. For me, one of the most exciting places on this trip is the Walden Pond State Reservation where Henry David Thoreau lived off the land and penned Walden; Or, Life in the Woods. For two years Thoreau lived in a one room cabin he had built on land owned by his friend, Ralph Waldo Emerson. Nathaniel Hawthorne, Amos Bronson Alcott and Margaret Fuller were frequent guests during these years. Thoreau’s original cabin no longer stands, but you can pay visit to a replica where you will be greeted by a statue of the man himself.
Speaking of Bronson Alcott, he raised his family close by. This includes his daughter, and another one of my all time favorite authors, Louisa May Alcott. The Orchard House in Concord is where she wrote and set the classic Little Women. The characters in the story are based on her family, Louisa herself as the protagonist, Jo March. Much like her character, Louisa was a headstrong tom boy who paid frequent visits to Ralph Waldo Emerson and delighted in walks through the woods with Henry David Thoreau. Eighty percent of the furnishings at the Orchard House belonged to the Alcotts, and the home appears much as it did when they lived there. Of all the places on this tour, Orchard House is the most like actually stepping into a story.
Before you stray too far from Concord, take a stroll through the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, where Thoreau, Hawthorne, Emerson and the Alcotts are all buried.
Next stop: Connecticut, Hartford to be exact. In Hartford you can visit another of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s homes, or if you are like me, you will be far too busy geeking out over the Mark Twain House and Museum. Twain, whose real name was Samuel Clemens, moved to Hartford with his wife Olivia in 1871. Construction on their home began in 1873, and they moved in before it was finished in 1874. While living in their creation, Clemens wrote The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Life on the Mississippi, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthurs Court, and worldwide favorite, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The Clemens family continued to build their home in Hartford until hard times forced them to move to Europe during 1891. Twain’s daughter, Susy Clemens, passed away while visiting their beloved house in 1896, after which the Clemens’ never lived in Hartford again. The Mark Twain House and Museum is filled with interesting artifacts from the writer’s life and has a great gift shop where you can buy books and more. My favorite item is a button that reads, “Experience Freedom. Read a banned book.”
There are so many other amazing places to visit in the northeast, like the Edward Gorey House in Massachusetts, HP Lovecraft’s grave at the Swan Point Cemetery in Rhode Island, and the Robert Frost Museum in Vermont. Amherst, Massachusetts is home to the Emily Dickinson Museum, where the poet was born and spent a majority of her life, and in Lenox you will find the home of The Age of Innocence and Ethan Frome author Edith Wharton. Stephen King fans flock to Bangor, Maine to see the town that so many bone-chilling stories have been set in. But if I keep going, I will have written a novel of my own, and I don’t want a bunch of people showing up at my house!
Happy reading and safe travels!
Melissa Rae Cohen is a travel writer for Auto Europe working out of Portland, Maine. In her spare time she likes to read books. Lots and lots of books!