America is full of historic sites from museums to battlefields and everything in between. If you’re interested in American history, you’ve probably been to places like Independence Hall in Philadelphia, the Alamo in San Antonio, and the Statue of Liberty in New York City.
If so, consider expanding your historic wanderlust to pay homage to some historic literary sites — the birthplaces, childhood homes, and personal estates of some of the biggest names in America’s literary canon. From coast to coast, these seven historic houses were once home to famous American writers, and each has something unique to offer lovers of literature.
Edith Wharton’s Home, “The Mount” — Lenox, Massachusetts
Edith Wharton (1862-1937) is an acclaimed writer and designer, who is renowned for being the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize in Literature. Born during the Civil War into a wealthy, upper-crust New York society family, Wharton broke societal norms and social barriers by becoming not only a writer, but a writer of novels — a profession unheard of for women in her social position.
Two of her most famous works, novel “The House of Mirth” (1905) and novella “Ethan Frome” (1911), were written in the Massachusetts Berkshires in a home Wharton designed herself called “The Mount.” Finished in 1902 with a price tag of nearly $60,000, the Mount sits on 113 acres and includes a large stable, greenhouse, and several acres of formal gardens and terraces overlooking Laurel Lake. The house itself is four stories and 16,850 square feet, all of which were painstakingly designed by Wharton herself as a work of art. She adopted elements of English, Italian, and French architecture adapted for an American landscape.
The house and grounds were declared a National Historic Landmark and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1971 and are open daily for tours and literary-themed events. The house has been restored to its original condition, and the library itself is home to 2,700 books, many of which were part of Wharton’s original personal collection.
Where To Stay: Club Wyndham Bentley Brook, a 30-minute drive
Herman Melville’s Home, “Arrowhead” — Pittsfield, Massachusetts
Herman Melville (1819-1891) is an American Renaissance writer who is best known for the acclaimed novel, “Moby-Dick.” Born into a wealthy family of Revolutionary War heroes, Melville struggled during his lifetime to make his living as a writer, and Moby-Dick didn’t achieve its status as an iconic American novel until after Melville’s death.
In 1850 he borrowed $3,000 from his father-in-law to buy “Arrowhead,” a 160-acre farm in the Massachusetts Berkshires with a simple 2 ½ story farmhouse originally built in the 1780s. Melville named the farm Arrowhead because during planting season, a myriad of Native American artifacts were unearthed in the fields, including an abundance of arrowheads. While residing at Arrowhead with his family, Melville wrote and published Moby-Dick, which is technically a work of fiction, although it has autobiographical elements to it.
The novel is based on Melville’s own experiences onboard an American whaling vessel in the South Pacific in the 1840s, sailing under an unpleasant captain after whom Moby Dick’s infamous Captain Ahab is thought to be based. Arrowhead has been meticulously restored to its 1850s condition and is now a public literary museum dedicated to Melville’s life and written works. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1962 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1966.
Where To Stay: Club Wyndham Bentley Brook, a 30-minute drive
Louisa May Alcott’s Home, “Orchard House” — Concord, Massachusetts
Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888) is a well-known American novelist and poet whose most enduring and beloved novel is the classic “Little Women.” Alcott was born and raised in New England to parents who were well known in intellectual circles and from whom she learned her staunch reform principles. She was both a feminist and an abolitionist, and she was active in women’s suffrage and the Underground Railroad. Alcott never married, but remained in her family home, “Orchard House
,” with her parents for the majority of her adult life.
Orchard House is a two-story clapboard farmhouse on a 12-acre apple orchard, originally built in the 1660s. Many known intellectuals and philosophers of the time were frequent visitors to Orchard House, including Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry David Thoreau, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Alcott’s “Little Women” was written from the comfort of a small desk built by her father at Orchard House, and she also used it as the home of the March family in the story. Orchard House became a National Historic Landmark in 1962 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1966.
It has been faithfully restored to its state at the time of the Alcott family’s residence, and over 80% of the furnishings in the home actually belonged to the Alcott family, including family portraits and paintings done by May, Alcott’s youngest sister. Orchard House is open to the public for guided tours and educational programs.
Where To Stay: Club Wyndham Crotched Mountain Resort
, a 90-minute drive
Ralph Waldo Emerson House — Concord, Massachusetts
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) was an American essayist, lecturer, philosopher, and poet who is widely considered to be the most influential writer of 19th-century America. Emerson was born in Boston, the second of eight children, and attended Harvard at the age of 14 to study divinity. Over time, as Emerson developed a name for himself in intellectual circles, he became famous for his essays and public lectures, of which he would deliver more than 1,500 in his lifetime.
After his marriage in 1835, Emerson purchased a home in Concord that he lived in for the remainder of his life. Called “Bush” by the Emerson family, the home was originally built in 1828 and is a square, two-story structure with a large barn situated on two acres. Over the years, the home became a central meeting place for philosophers, idealists, and poets — Henry David Thoreau (a young protégé of Emerson’s) even lived with the family there for more than two years. Emerson’s most famous lecture “The American Scholar” was written at Bush and delivered at Harvard in 1837.
Now known as “The Ralph Waldo Emerson House,” it became a National Historic Landmark in 1962 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1966. Today it operates as a private literary museum, open to the public on a seasonal basis, and still contains Emerson’s original furniture and objects much as he left it.
Where To Stay: Club Wyndham Crotched Mountain Resort, a 90-minute drive
Mark Twain House and Museum — Hartford, Connecticut
Mark Twain (1835-1910) is the pen name of Samuel Clemens, who was born into a large family in rural Missouri. Twain is considered by many to be the father of American literature, and his well-known novels “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” endure to this day. In his early years, Twain spent several years as a steamboat pilot earning a decent living wage and traveling up and down the Mississippi. He worked as a journalist during the Civil War, eventually settling down in New England and starting a family.
In 1873, Twain and his wife and children moved to Hartford, Connecticut where they constructed a large family home. Now known as “The Mark Twain House,” many of his most famous novels were written there. When finished, the home was 11,500 square feet and had 25 rooms on three floors. Famed author Harriet Beecher Stowe was the family’s next-door neighbor. The home is an unusual one, full of bright-colored bricks, geometric patterns, and elaborate trusses.
The Mark Twain House became a National Historic Landmark in 1962 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1966. It is now open to the public as a literary museum and regularly hosts literary-themed events. In 2012, National Geographic named it one of the top ten best historic homes in the world. It is home to more than 50,000 artifacts that belonged to the Clemens family, including Twain’s ornate Venetian bed.
Where To Stay: Club Wyndham Long Wharf, Club Wyndham Inn on Long Wharf, Club Wyndham Inn on the Harbor, Club Wyndham Newport Onshore, a 90-minute drive
Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home and Museum — Mansfield, Missouri
Laura Ingalls Wilder (1867-1957) is the well-known author of the beloved “Little House” series, based on her childhood in a pioneer family during the time of American westward expansion. Laura was the second of four daughters, and she meticulously documented the family’s journeys beginning in Pepin, Wisconsin and ending in De Smet, South Dakota, with brief residences in Kansas, Minnesota, and Iowa.
After her marriage in 1885, Wilder and her husband eventually homesteaded in Mansfield, Missouri, paying $100 as a down payment for a 40-acre farm in 1894. The farm had a one-room cabin on it, which they rebuilt into a farmhouse with two rooms over the first year. Further expansions over the next 17 years increased its size to ten rooms in total. The Wilders called the farm “Rocky Ridge Farm,” and Wilder would live there for more than 60 years. Her first book “Little House in the Big Woods” was published in 1932, and many more books followed.
The original Little House series was eight books, published between 1932 and 1943, but a ninth book, “The First Four Years,” was found after her death and published posthumously in 1971. The Wilder’s farmhouse, now “The Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home and Museum,” was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1970 and became a National Historic Landmark in 1991. Visitors to the historic museum can see famous artifacts like “Pa’s fiddle” and the original handwritten manuscripts for the Little House books.
Where To Stay: Club Wyndham Branson at The Meadows, Club Wyndham Branson at The Falls, Club Wyndham Mountain Vista, WorldMark Branson, a 90-minute drive
John Steinbeck House — Salinas, California
John Steinbeck (1902-1968) is an American novelist and Nobel Prize winner. He was born in rural California just after the turn of the century, growing up in an agricultural area with his three sisters. Throughout his teen years, Steinbeck spent his summers working as a ranch hand on local ranches and farms — an experience that would heavily influence his later writings.
His most famous works are the novels “Of Mice and Men” (1937), “The Grapes of Wrath” (1939), and “East of Eden” (1952), all of which were turned into Hollywood productions during Steinbeck’s life and which he was able to collaborate on. Steinbeck’s books are considered literary masterpieces and are full of compassion for the social and economic plight of the working class, especially farmers and migrant farm workers during the Dust Bowl and Great Depression. For his collective works, Steinbeck won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1962.
“The Steinbeck House” in Salinas, California is the birthplace and childhood home of Steinbeck. He lived there from the moment of his birth until 1919 and then episodically until 1935. The house was built in 1897 and is a Victorian home in the Queen Anne style, with all the elaborate trimmings and turrets of a turn-of-the-century home. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2000 and now operates as a private museum and restaurant, serving lunch and high tea through the summer months.
Where To Stay: WorldMark Marina Dunes, a 20-minute drive