Entering an author’s home is akin to entering the world of their books. The choices made in the home decor, from whose portrait to hang where to what tea set to display, speak to their personality.
Thanks to the efforts of curators, directors and guides, your feet can tread today where literary giants walked 100 years ago. So step back in time and visit the following 10 homes previously owned by American authors:
1. Edith Wharton and The Mount
Location: Lenox, Massachusetts
History & Highlights: Walking through the gardens of this estate feels like stepping directly into a page of one of Wharton’s novels. Eventually, the trees in the garden open like a curtain and reveal the stately house. The home, where the author wrote Ethan Frome and House of Mirth, emanates with her style and presence.
Wharton wrote The Decoration of Houses in 1897 together with architect Ogden Codman, Jr. This book became the interior decorating book of the Gilded Age, and to this day it is still referenced. Wharton designed The Mount house with Codman, putting into action the ideas in their book.
2. The Mark Twain House & Museum
Location: Hartford, Connecticut
History & Highlights: The laughter of the Clemens family resonates in this opulent, yet warm and hospitable, home. One of the most vibrant sections is the nook where Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain) told his girls stories every night. But the author describes his home best: To us, our house was not insentient matter—it had a heart, and a soul, and eyes to see us with; and approvals, and solicitudes, and deep sympathies; it was of us, and we were in the peace of its benediction. We never came home from an absence that its face did not light up and speak out its eloquent welcome—and we could not enter it unmoved.
3. The Harriet Beecher Stowe Center
Location: Hartford, Connecticut
History & Highlights: Stowe had a simple lifestyle until her break as a bestselling author when she wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin. She used the royalties from the book to buy this happy home for her family, and she lived here until the end of her life. Stowe’s home is also a testament to her DIY homemaking skills, shown in her original design of her own tea set. She even wrote a book with her sister, House and Home Papers, about how to efficiently run a home so that a lady has time to pursue other endeavors. The house is reputedly haunted and has been featured on SyFy’s Ghost Hunters.
Photo courtesy of the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center.
4. The Emily Dickinson Museum and The Homestead
Location: Amherst, Massachusetts
History & Highlights: Dickinson spent much of her life at home, not often leaving the grounds of her estate. Many of the 1,800 poems she wrote were penned at The Homestead, yet she shared very few of them, and less than twelve were published in her lifetime. After Dickinson’s death in 1886, her sister Lavinia discovered Dickinson’s poems and published them in 1890.
5. The Eudora Welty House
Location: Jackson, Mississippi
History & Highlights: Welty moved into the Tudor Revival style house with her family at the age of 16, and it became her home for the rest of her life. With its stunning garden and charming house, Welty’s presence is still felt in the house, especially in her workspace, where her manuscripts and books reside. When she passed away, she gave the home to the State of Mississippi, wishing it to be a house honoring literature.
6. William Faulkner and Rowan Oak
Location: Oxford, Mississippi
History & Highlights: Faulkner purchased Rowan Oak, a Greek Revival style home, in the 1930s. The house was in shambles when he moved in, and he did many of the renovations himself. Many of Faulkner’s novels published after 1930 were written in this house, including As I lay Dying and Light in August. Die-hard Faulkner enthusiasts can even step into his study and find the outline of his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, A Fable, inscribed directly onto the walls.
7. Frances Parkinson Keyes and the Beauregard-Keyes House
Location: New Orleans, Louisiana
History & Highlights: Keyes’ home has remained more famous than her writing, but what a home it is. Confederate P.G.T. Beauregard lived in the house before Keyes, and the author wrote a book, Madame Castel’s Lodger, featuring Beauregard and the home. Set in the French Quarter of New Orleans, the house is an incredibly elegant and stylized Victorian estate. And for those who love tea pots, Keyes has a rare collection of porcelain veilleuses on display.
Photo courtesy of Sarah Becker Lillard Photography.
8. Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home and Museum
Location: Mansfield, Missouri
History & Highlights: It was in this country home that Laura Ingalls Wilder began writing her popular Little House on the Prairie series at age 65. Fans of the series can visit the room where she penned her stories and admire some of her original manuscripts.
9. Edgar Allen Poe and the Poe Cottage
Location: The Bronx, New York
History & Highlights: The Poe Cottage may be the least luxurious home on this list, but it’s by no means the least interesting. The charming cottage was home to Poe and his beloved wife, Virginia, who passed away in the house in 1847. The bed where she died still remains in the cottage, as does the chair where Poe wrote “Annabel Lee,” published posthumously in 1849.
10. The Old Manse, Home to Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Sophia Peabody Hawthorne
Location: Concord, Massachusetts
History & Highlights: The Old Manse was home to literary figures like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Nathaniel Hawthorne as well as the American Transcendentalist movement. Emerson wrote the first draft of “Nature” in the study, catalyzing the movement, while Nathaniel Hawthorne and his wife, painter and writer Sophia Peabody Hawthorne, later rented the home. As a wedding gift, Henry David Thoreau even landscaped their garden (Thoreau’s famous Walden Pond is only three miles away).
Photo of Sophia Peabody Hawthorne’s writing scratched on a windowpane courtesy of The Trustees of Reservations.
A special thanks to the curators, directors, and guides of these historical households for taking the time to share their passion for and knowledge of these homes.
Madina Papadopoulos is a New York-based freelance writer, author and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow her on Twitter.