In my travels, I’ve often been awed and excited when visiting the homes of those I admire—particularly the homes of famous writers. Whether it’s a museum housing the artifacts of a well-known author, a writer’s home that’s now preserved and open to the public, or the grave of a literary giant, I find these places moving, inspiring, and unique.
New England is chock full of possibilities for such trips, but perhaps no one destination has as many options as Concord, Massachusetts. Concord isn’t just an important historical site. It’s also a mecca for bookworms. Once the home of Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau, Concord allows visitors to see where these figures lived, wrote, and were laid to rest.
Couple these possibilities with the region’s natural beauty (particularly during fall foliage season), American history sites, and easy accessibility, and Concord makes for a great weekend getaway. Here are some literary-focused possibilities for your upcoming trip.
Start your visit at the Concord Museum, which gives you a good orientation to the history of the town, its layout, and major attractions. Visitors can also see Emerson’s study, recreated here with its original furnishings; several of Thoreau’s possessions, including the desk he used to write “Civil Disobedience” and Walden; and a lantern hung in the Old North Church during Paul Revere’s ride, as depicted in Longfellow’s poem of the same name. The museum also takes part in several events celebrating the written word, including the Concord Festival of Authors and “Family Trees: A Celebration of Children’s Literature.”
As a little girl, Little Women was one of my favorite books. I idolized Jo, acted out scenes from the book with my younger sisters, and watched (and watched again) the Katharine Hepburn film adaptation. So I could barely contain my excitement when visiting Orchard House, the Alcott family home where Louisa lived and wrote Little Women and her subsequent novels.
Orchard House is undergoing extensive renovations, but is still open to the public. Here, you can see Louisa’s bedroom (complete with writing desk), May Alcott’s artwork, and many of the family’s original furnishings. The gift shop also has extensive offerings of Alcott’s works, including little-known gems such as her lost novel, A Long Fatal Love Chase (undiscovered for years, and first published in 1995); DVDs of the many Little Women films; and modern criticism texts focusing on Alcott’s extensive catalog.
The Wayside, known as the “home of authors,” housed the Alcotts, the Hawthornes, and the Lothrops between the years of 1845 and 1965. A tour here gave me an overview of each family, the personalized changes each made to the home, as well as the pioneering efforts of Margaret Sidney (the pen name of Harriett Lothrop, author of Five Little Peppers and How they Grew) to preserve the home and other Concord literary residences. Most striking is Hawthorne’s severe top-floor study, replete with gables, a small library, and a writing desk. While he rarely used this room, it nonetheless shows the character of the man behind The Scarlet Letter and other masterpieces.
Ralph Waldo Emerson’s home, still owned by his descendants, offers visitors a glimpse of his daily life and family. While the original furnishings of his study are in the Concord Museum, I sat in the room where he finished his influential essay, “Nature” (considered the foundation of the Transcendentalist movement), saw his lecture and preacher gowns up close, and heard lively stories about his interactions with Thoreau and other influential thinkers of the era.
The beautiful Old Manse, set adjacent to Minute Man National Historical Park, was originally the home of William Emerson, Ralph Waldo’s grandfather. Here, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote the first draft of “Nature.” The home was also rented to Nathaniel Hawthorne and his wife, Sophia, for the first three years of their marriage. I was bowled over by several small, barely visible window etchings, carved by Nathaniel and Sophia during their residency, as well as the recreated vegetable garden (originally planted by Thoreau as a gift to the newlyweds).
Transcendentalists believed all living things were bound together, and drew a lot of inspiration from nature. As such, no visit to Concord would be complete without a visit to Walden Pond, where Thoreau lived from mid-1845 to 1847 and which inspired his masterpiece Walden. I like to hike the walking trail in the woods surrounding the pond, taking in the water from different vantage points; you can also go fishing and swimming here.
Beyond the pond lies a replica of Thoreau’s house. Upon entering, I was greeted by “Thoreau” himself, an actor who answered all questions in character. The Walden Pond State Reservation staff also offers guided tours and educational programs for those wanting a more interactive visit.
Additionally, be sure to make time to visit Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, particularly Authors’ Ridge. Nestled on a hilltop in this lovely cemetery lie the family plots of the Alcotts, Emersons, Hawthornes, and Thoreaus, all within a few feet of each other. Many of the authors have little offerings on their graves, such as pine cones and stones, keeping with the “back to nature” transcendentalist ideals. It’s a contemplative, serene spot. (Just make sure you look at a good map before you go—I got lost after entering the cemetery through the wrong gate.)
And while not a literary getaway per se, the beauty of Minute Man National Historical Park is not to be missed. Stroll over the North Bridge, visit the Minute Man Statue, and bear witness to where a nation of farmers rose up to meet the British.
Planning your Concord getaway
Before you can see Concord’s literary and historic spots in person, you have to make arrangements to get there. Less than 20 miles outside of Boston, Concord is easily accessible by car or commuter rail. If you want to save on fuel costs, leave your car behind and take the train in—many of the town’s historic and literary attractions are accessible on foot, and the Concord Chamber of Commerce has an easy-to-follow walking map to all major sites.
Once in town, you can stay at a hotel that appreciates all things literary. The Hawthorne Inn, located across the street from the Wayside, features landscaped grounds, plentiful breakfasts, and antique furnishings in a quintessential New England setting. Rates range from $125 to $285 per night. Several of the guest rooms are named after authors; books and desks are prominently placed in rooms and common areas. And there’s not a television to be found, so you’ll have to rely on reading, writing, and socializing with your fellow guests to fill your weekend.
Regardless of when you go, there are a variety of resources to help you put together your trip. Visit the websites of the Concord Chamber of Commerce or the Greater Merrimack Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau to start planning your getaway.