As one of the world’s greatest literary centers, there’s enough history in Boston to befuddle anybody’s mind. So, in this weekend itinerary, I’m only focusing on three particular areas. These are the Western suburb of Concord, the north shore location of Salem, and downtown Boston. I also include one more bonus road-trip.
I would suggest finding a place to stay in or around Concord, MA. It’s relatively central to 4 major highways that serve Boston. And it’s a more calm and relaxed place to spend an evening than either of the other places covered here.
Even if you don’t stay there, you should start off the weekend in Concord. There’s so much to see there that you might find you’d like to spend the whole time in just this one town. You’ll be amazed by the density of the history there. Many internationally famous authors were neighbors—many literally next door—in this small town.
Despite the title, your first stop should really be Walden Pond. It almost goes without saying. The parking lot is usually busy, especially in summer. So much so that you’d do well to consider bringing along a bicycle and navigating the back roads to get there (This is actually true of many Concord sites).
However you arrive, start your visit by checking out the replica of Thoreau’s cabin. Then, when you’re ready, cross the road and follow the sidewalk to the pond itself. Expect your first glance of this storied body of water to be . . . underwhelming. It’s a state park, after all. Shocking as it may be to our literary minds, people regularly swim at the small beach.
Don’t get distracted. Follow lakeside path to the right lake to get to the Thoreau site quickly or left to take a longer, quieter, and less crowded walk. Enjoy the calm scenery (while realizing a train will come through, much closer than you expect, at some point during your visit). Follow the signs to the spot where HDT spent his time.
After that, head back down route 2 to Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. (Yes, that’s its name—and actually, it’s not the one made famous by the headless horseman). Follow the signs to Author’s Ridge. As I mentioned about literary density, quite a staggering number of well-known authors are buried together on this one hillside.
Near the bottom of the hill are the graves of Louisa May Alcott and her father Bronson. The Orchard House, where Louisa wrote Little Women is just down the street. Through a small woods is the historic home known as The Wayside, where multiple well-known authors have lived.
From here, proceed just a few streets over to find Concord Museum, and just across the street you’ll find Ralph Waldo Emerson’s home. His complete study was moved to the museum in the 1930s, because the still-inhabited Emerson home was being inundated with “pilgrims”.
Time for a drive! Head North on Rt. 95/128 to Salem, MA.
In the same spirit of “hitting the high points” that took you to Walden, your first stop in Salem should be the House of the Seven Gables. In truth, this structure is known as the ‘1668 Turner/Ingersoll Mansion’ . Visits to his Ingersoll cousins inspired the setting for Hawthorne’s novel. This complex not only includes that famous house, but also his birthplace. You’ll find that Hawthorne is the link that ties Salem and Concord together.
I’ll assume that at this point you’d like to get some dinner, and head back to wherever it is that you’re staying. Lots of great restaurants in this city, but perhaps a better idea is to visit Salem Willows, a historic park surrounded by water that features arcades with many old video games, carnival-type food including fried Oreos, and a pier jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean.
Now we head for downtown Boston. The first place you should go is Mount Auburn Cemetery. It is the final resting place of many authors and other significant people, but with the beautiful views and interesting buildings, you could be forgiven for thinking you’re in a park. Might I also note you’ll be in Cambridge, MA, home of both Harvard University and MIT. You can be sure plenty of writing has happened nearby. Mount Auburn contains the grave of poet e.e. cummings, and too many others to name here.
From here, you should proceed to Forest Hills Cemetery.
But perhaps you’ve seen enough of graveyards for now, and would like to see Boston while taking in a few more “authorly” sites? See the location of Edgar Allan Poe’s Birthplace. And pass by the Omni Parker hotel, which once hosted the drably named, but immensely influential gathering known as The Saturday Club.
I promised you further road trip options. It’s a different genre, but Archie comics fans should be sure to visit Haverhill, MA, the setting for the eternally teenage comic hero’s adventures with Jughead, Veronica, Betty, and the rest of the gang invented by Haverhill’s Bob Montana.
Boston is a truly historic and beautiful place. I hope in guiding you through some of its literary locations, I’ve not just shown you these spots, but helped you experience part of the reason these authors were so inspired by New England.