Making the pilgrimage to famous writers' homes almost feels like being transported to the same streets of cherished fictional characters. Take a tour of Louisa May Alcott's Orchard House, the setting for the iconic American novel "Little Women," and you may feel as though you're visiting the March family. Or explore The Mount, a Georgian Revival estate in the Berkshires, in Massachusetts, and you may feel like you're stepping inside Edith Wharton's "The House of Mirth." These noteworthy homes-turned-museums provide fascinating tributes and insights into writers and their works. In fact, many of them have been designated as National Historic Landmarks. If you're itching to visit your favorite authors' historic homes, read on for seven trip ideas for literature lovers.
Louisa May Alcott wrote "Little Women" at the Orchard House, a storied abode in Concord, Massachusetts that still looks much like the home she depicted it in her 1868 autobiographical classic about the March family. Inside, you'll find most of the Alcott's original furnishings, like the small, semi-circular desk Louisa May's father Bronson built in her bedroom. After the success of "Little Women," Alcott bought a small, ornate writing desk for her bedroom, which features a bookcase with works by her favorite authors including Harriet Beecher Stowe, Jane Austen and Charles Dickens along with personal artifacts like a velvet bag for letters. The formal parlor even contains a sofa with Louisa's "mood pillow" that she turned sideways when in a bad mood, a Chickering piano and family portraits and watercolors painted by her sister May, the inspiration for the beloved character Amy March. It includes two adjoining houses, dating back to the 17th century, amid an apple orchard.
Acclaimed writer Edith Wharton, the author of "The House of Mirth," designed and built her own house, The Mount, in 1902 in the Berkshires just south of Lenox, Massachusetts. Wharton based her highly influential book, "The Decoration of Houses," on The Mount's resplendent interior design, with elaborate molding and marble fireplaces in every room. At The Mount, Wharton entertained illustrious guests like author Henry James, who read poetry aloud to "The Lady of Lenox" on her terrace overlooking expansive sculptured gardens and more than 100 acres. And though Wharton occupied the estate for only a decade, its setting inspired her for the rest of her life. She became the first woman to win a Pulitzer Prize for "The Age of Innocence" in 1921.
Long before Emily Dickinson became renowned as "The Belle of Amherst," she was known locally as "the Myth" on Main Street. Only ten of her poems were published during her lifetime, all anonymously. After her death in 1886, her sister Lavinia found almost 50 booklets of Emily's poems in her bureau. During her years at The Homestead, Dickinson wrote all her works at a small desk in her bedroom, whose restoration was recently completed in August 2015, two years after The Homestead's 200th anniversary. Her former bedroom's rose-covered wallpaper is based on fragments of 19th-century wallpaper found during the restoration, but the narrow bed inside the property is the one she slept on, and Dickinson's paisley shawl remains draped over her rocking chair. In 1963, the home was named a National Historic Landmark and in 1965, the home was acquired by the Trustees of Amherst College. Today, The Homestead is part of the Emily Dickinson Museum and guided tours are available for a small fee.
The 14-room, 4,500-square-foot former residence of Harriet Beecher Stowe bears no resemblance at all to "Uncle Tom's Cabin." But the book's phenomenal success paid for the Gothic Revival-style house in 1873, now part of the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center. President Lincoln termed her "the little lady whose book started this big war." In this big house, Stowe wrote the last six of her 33 books, working until her death in 1896. The house is filled with her own watercolors and oils as well as her manuscripts, memorabilia and 18th-century family heirlooms. And her home is ideally situated next to Mark Twain's house in the Nook Farm neighborhood, a center of writers, making it an ideal springboard for an extended literary tour.
Flannery O'Connor, whose style epitomized Southern Gothic literature, became one of the most famous 20th-century American short story writers in her short 39-year life. She is best known for her short story "A Good Man is Hard to Find." Today, fans can tour her well-maintained 1850s Andalusia farmhouse, which showcases her former bedroom, where she wrote every morning until noon. The bedroom still has her original typewriter and writing desk, her crutches, a bottle of prescription medicine and an engraving of the Sacred Heart. And the scenic estate boasts a large screened-in front porch with white wicker rockers overlooking almost 550 acres. In this peaceful setting, she completed "Wise Blood," the first of her two novels.
Eudora Welty, another of America's greatest 20th-century writers, created almost all of her novels, short stories and essays in the Tudor-Revival style house her father built in 1925 in Jackson, Mississippi. She wrote in her bedroom for 75 years, on a Smith Corona electric typewriter, with manuscript pages beside it. She would cut up her typewritten drafts, save the passages she wanted to use and attach them with straight pins. Her most recognizable works are "Delta Wedding" and "The Optimist's Daughter," which won the 1972 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. In the Eudora Welty House's living room, piles of books remain scattered around the flower-print Queen Anne chair where she loved to read. And her copy of "Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable" lays atop a nearby TV tray. A secretary cabinet holds special editions of her works and copies of her novels inscribed to her mother, Chestina.
Red Cloud, Nebraska
Pulitzer Prize-winner Willa Cather is most widely known for life on the prairie novels "O Pioneers!" and "My Antonia," based on her early 20th-century childhood years in Red Cloud, Nebraska. Today, in the town she fictionalized in several novels and short stories, you can explore two of her houses. In the Cather Second Home, a guest house now available for rent and described in her final short story "The Best Years," guests can reserve her antique-filled green bedroom. Nearby, her childhood home still showcases her family furniture, photographs, artworks and original rose-embellished wallpaper. Cather's highly praised novel "My Antonia" was nominated for the first-ever Pulitzer Prize for literature, but Cather didn't win it until 1923, with "One of Ours." Cather once said, "Let your fiction grow out of the land beneath your feet." So, if you're a literary fan, let your love of fiction grow deeper by visiting the beloved homes of these inspiring writers.
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