Visiting the homes and places where America’s literary luminaries lived and worked can give new insight into a favorite author’s work –or just deepen your understanding of another culture and another time. Here are several places that honor U.S. authors’ literary heritage.
Emily Dickinson Museum–Amherst, Massachusetts
280 Main Street
The museum includes two historic homes and gardens where this reclusive poet spent most of her days: the Homestead where she was born and lived most of her life and the neighboring Evergreens, home to her brother and his family.
The Homestead, probably the first brick house in Amherst, remained in the family until 1916. While many of the poet’s belongings and family furnishings are lost, the museum has faithfully recreated rooms so visitors can sense the environment in which the poet found her voice. The Evergreens is one of the earliest and best-preserved examples of Italianate domestic architecture in Amherst. The house is complete with Dickinson family furniture, household items, and decor selected and displayed by the family during the 19th Century.
A path described by Emily as “just wide enough for two who love” links the two houses. The landscaped grounds give further insight into this poet who assured us “Success is counted sweetest by those who n’er succeed.”
Robert Frost Stone House Museum–Shaftsbury, Vermont
121 Historic Route 7A
Open on Wednesday through Sunday in June through October from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Robert Frost’s 1769 Stone House Museum was his home for nine years during which he wrote his first Pulitzer Prize-winning collection of poetry. He composed “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” at the dining room table on a hot, summer day. Situated on seven acres, visitors can see diverging paths and yellow woods that inspired him. Rugged, stone fences are still standing. But which neighbor inspired the line “Good fences make good neighbors?”
Walking trails around the property spark the imaginations of would-be poets. For those looking for a healthy snack, Frost’s apple trees still yield fruit. There are apple trees throughout the property as frost planned to be an apple farmer, not a poet.
The museum expects to have poetry readings at the house and bluegrass concerts on the grounds, so check before you go if you would like your visit to be enhanced by a performance.
The Steinbeck House–Salinas, California
132 Central Avenue
The birthplace and boyhood home of John Steinbeck is a Queen Anne style Victorian house built in 1897 and occupied by the Steinbeck family in 1900. It opened to the public as a restaurant in 1974 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The menu makes a few nods to Steinbeck’s novels such as East of Eden pasta, and Steinbeck photos and memorabilia cover the walls. It is open for lunch Tuesday through Saturday.
The National Steinbeck Center is just a two-block walk from the home and houses the largest archive of the writer’s work. The museum, divided into sections, tells the story and the history of his most famous novels. The visuals help visitors picture key fictional scenes and historical eras in the author’s life. Using his words as the narrative, the exhibit navigates guests through theatrical sets and displays so they can step into Cannery Row, the Depression, the Dust Bowl, and more.
Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum–Key West, Florida,
907 Whitehead Street
Open every day including holidays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Hemingway called Key West the “San Tropez of the Poor,” and lived for ten years in the heart of the city’s old town. His French Colonial house, built in 1851, has many of Hemingway’s furnishings and artworks. Visitors can see where he wrote To Have and Have Not, The Green Hills of Africa, and other important works. The lush grounds are home to more than 40 cats, some descendants of the six-toed cats the novelist nurtured. A urinal Hemingway yanked from Sloppy Joes, a favorite bar, still waters the cats.
Sloppy Joes is the bar made famous by the hard-working, hard-drinking writer. There is a long curving bar inside with scars from generations of visitors and Hemingway fans. Open 365 days a year, Sloppy Joe’s offers food, drinks, live music and dancing, all with that offbeat, Key West ambiance. Each summer, the bar hosts a Hemingway look-alike contest where more than 100 men grow beards and do their best to dress like the Nobel winning author.
Key West’s Hemingway Days Festival coincide with his birthday in July and is a moveable feast of hard-driving activities including a mock bullfight. Sloppy Joes is the epicenter of the festival.
Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home & Museum–Mansfield, Missouri
Rocky Ridge Farm, 3060 Highway A
Open March 1 to November 15: Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The author of the beloved “Little House” books did most of her writing as an adult reflecting on her childhood in a pioneering family. She and her husband Almanzo lived in a one-room cabin on the 200-acre Rocky Ridge Farm until the completion of their farmhouse in 1913. Today the farmhouse is a museum and visitors can tour her home, see her study and writing desk, and view many of Laura’s treasures that remain exactly how she left them.
The museum contains the most comprehensive Ingalls and Wilder family collections in the world. It includes Pa’s fiddle that accompanied the Ingalls family on their homesteading adventures and set Laura off on her married life with the song “These Happy Golden Years.”
Christmas at Laura’s is a favorite tradition. The house is festive with vintage decorations and Kids can have their photos taken with Santa by Laura’s fireplace. Guests can taste a sample of Laura’s recipes and take a copy of the recipe home. The bookstore in the house museum is a good place to find a quaint, unusual holiday gift. This is the only time the museum is open in winter.
It is wise to check the website of these literary homes before you make plans. Most are ran by small groups of volunteers, so times can change.