Few U.S. cities can boast as much literary significance as Boston. Especially during the 19th century, authors flocked to the New England destination looking to change the world with their novels, articles, treatises, poetry, and even cartoons. Today, the city recognizes so many of these literary landmarks that they've designated a true Literary District covering important gathering places, historic homes, sculptures and memorials, and much more that memorialize the lives and works of these notable literary icons.
Literary Boston makes for a great student destination and focus, coming ready-made for field trips and educational adventures. Even if you're not on a field trip, Boston's Literary District is a dream come true for anyone who loves books, reading, or has an affinity for history.
There are practically too many historic homes of literary greats to give due credit. Suffice it to say that there are more than enough to keep your group busy touring through your entire stay in Boston. You may know that Benjamin Franklin was born in Boston, and though the building in which he was born was destroyed in a fire in 1811, there remains a plaque and bust to commemorate the special site.
Other notable literary greats made their homes around Mount Vernon Street, Louisburg Square, Pinckney Street, and Beacon Street. Explore these blocks and find yourself walking the same streets as Henry James, Robert Frost, and Henry David Thoreau. Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes made their home at 9 Willow Street for a short time, while Little Women author Louisa May Alcott moved around this Boston district at least three times during her life, each one commemorated. Even authors like noted poet Khalil Gibran, Scarlet Letter author Nathaniel Hawthorne and The Giver author Lois Lowry made their homes here.
Old South Meeting House
Best known as its function as a historic church and meeting place for the American Revolution, the Old South Meeting House was also the home church of many notable authors and historic figures. Benjamin Franklin, William Dawes, Samuel Adams, and the first published African American female poet, Phillis Wheatley called the church their own. Now, the church is open as a museum and popular tourist attraction educating visitors on the lives, deeds, and vision of the people who utilized the church as a platform of ideas.
One of the oldest independent libraries in the country, the Boston Athenaeum was founded as an institution in 1807. Their rare book collection includes over 100,000 volumes as does their collection of artwork, and the Athenaeum is also the home of one of the world's most extensive and complete collections of historic primary source accounts and materials of the American Civil War. Special exhibits inside the Athenaeum showcase beautifully sculptured busts of authors and leaders including Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, paintings done by John Singer Sargent, and a first edition copy of an Audubon Birds of America. Subscribers to the Athenaeum include John F. Kennedy, John Quincy Adams, Louisa May Alcott, and Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Ralph Waldo Emerson among others. Art and Architecture Tours are open to the public while Building Orientation tours are only given to members of the Athenaeum.
Boston Public Garden
Though not technically a literary site in itself, the Public Garden is home to several lovely memorials and sculptures commemorating famous stories and authors. Here you'll find the Make Way for Ducklings sculpture, a tribute to the Robert McCloskey children's story, as well as the statues of Kipling's Jungle Book character Bagheera, the Edward Everett Hale statue (author of Man Without a Country), and the bridge from E.B. White's The Trumpet of the Swan.
Like much of Boston, many of the book stores in the Literary District double as historic landmarks. The Brattle Book Shop, for instance, is one of the United States' oldest and largest antiquarian book stores, established in 1825. On the store's first two floors you'll find your general used books but on the third, you'll encounter one of the largest collections of rare, antiquarian books for sale. They even have a collection of beautifully designed books for people to use in home decor projects. Other wonderful book stores include the Harvard Book Store, Calamus Bookstore, and Trident Booksellers and Cafe, one of the first bookstores to double as a coffeehouse.
This may seem morbid but the gravesites of America's favorite authors are a top destination for Boston visitors. Granary Burying Ground, situated along the Freedom Trail and the final resting place of many Revolutionary War-era individuals, is also the final resting place of Phillis Wheatley, members of Ben Franklin's family, and the woman many claims to be the original Mother Goose, Mary Goose. Charles Sprague noted as one of the first American born poets and a direct descendant of a Mayflower passenger, is buried in the Central Burying Ground along with a famous painter, war general, and politicians.