Where literary greats once trod
The Boston area is known for its history Paul Revere, the shot heard 'round the world, and that famous tea party, for starters.Skip to next paragraph
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But Boston also has more than 200 years of literary history to tell. Founded in 1630, the city became a hub of creativity to which authors, poets, and philosophers were drawn.
To learn about it, tie on a comfortable pair of shoes and follow the Literary Trail through Boston, Cambridge, and Concord. This self-guided, 20-mile tour, developed by the Boston History Collaborative, takes you where some of America's best-loved authors Emerson, Longfellow, Thoreau, Hawthorne, and Alcott met, wrote, and lived.
The trail can be done on foot around Boston and Cambridge, but a car is necessary to reach Concord.
The Literary Trail begins at Tremont and School Streets in the Omni Parker House Hotel, America's oldest continuously operated hotel, home of Parker House rolls and Boston cream pie.
It was here that Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Nathaniel Hawthorne started the Saturday Club: On the last Saturday of each month, they would meet for readings, political discussions, fun, and food. Other members included John Greenleaf Whittier, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and Atlantic Monthly editor James Russell Lowell. Charles Dickens was an honorary member who attended when he visited Boston.
However, when Henry David Thoreau was invited to become a member, he declined, saying: "I would rather sit on a horsehair couch with my peers than on a velvet one."
It was at the Parker House that Longfellow drafted "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere" and where Dickens gave his first reading of "A Christmas Carol." In the upstairs hall are the mirror and mantel Dickens used while practicing his speaking techniques.
Nearby on School Street, the publishing firm of Ticknor & Fields was housed in what is now the Globe Corner Bookstore. Ticknor & Fields was the publishing agent for the members of the Saturday Club as well as for Louisa May Alcott, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Julia Ward Howe.
From the Omni Parker House, cross Tremont Street and walk up Beacon Street to the Boston Athenaeum, a National Historic Landmark. With 700,000 books and manuscripts, the Athenaeum is the second-largest private membership library in North America (the Library of Congress is the largest). It is currently closed for restoration, but is worth a walk-by to admire its classic Italian Renaissance architecture.
The next stop isthe venerable Boston Public Library. It opened in Copley Square in 1852 with a gift of 50 books from the city of Paris. The Dartmouth Street entrance brings you into the Italian marble lobby. Inscribed on the ceiling tiles are the names of Boston's literary greats. On the second floor is the 218-foot long Bates Hall, where Emerson, Alcott, et al. did their research and writing. Look on the library walls for original artworks by Edwin Austin, Puvis de Chavannes, and John Singer Sargent.
Your next stop on the tour is Harvard Square in Cambridge, easily reached via subway (called the "T" in Boston) by taking the Red Line from the Park Street station.The city of Cambridge was settled a few months after Boston. Six years later, Harvard College was founded, named for its benefactor, John Harvard, who bequeathed his library of 300 books to the school. Emerson, Lowell, Holmes, and Thoreau graduated from Harvard, and Longfellow was a professor there.