To be very honest with you, my feelings regarding classic American literature weren’t great, but I’d never actually been made to read any works by the Transcendentalists of Concord for school so I thought they might have a fighting chance to turn my opinion around. I decided to give them a go with a literary tour of Concord, Massachusetts and Walden Pond. After spending a couple days visiting the neighborhood and pond where writers Thoreau, Emerson, Hawthorne, and the Alcotts lived and wrote, I can safely say that while I am still struggling to get through some of their books (Walden in particular), the hesitation to attempt their writings is gone. Instead, after walking through their houses, learning about the authors, and seeing facsimiles of their handwriting on their actual writing desks, the feelings have been replaced with a curiosity to read what these great American authors penned on those surfaces! If you too have mixed feelings towards American authors, I highly suggest taking a tour of Concord, although it will take some pre-planning, so let me help you out.
To visit all the literary destinations in Concord, MA you will need two days. This is due to several factors. All the sights are separately owned and therefore differ on the days they’re open and their group tour times. The historic houses can only be visited by group tours. Tours of the houses are also limited to 15 people per group. Walden Pond Park also closes when visitor count reaches capacity. Finally, there is no shuttle between the sights, so travel time must be accounted for as well.
This is the itinerary I was able to put together based on tour times and open hours, however the hours change based on seasons, and I cannot guarantee the tours you aim for won’t fill up, so you’ll have to do a bit of game-planning before visiting Concord, but hopefully this post will help make that a little easier.
For reference, my schedule looked like this:
Breakfast (Haute Coffee)
11am Orchard House
1pm Ralph Waldo Emerson’s House
4:45pm The Old Manse
10am Walden Pond
Lunch (Helen’s, again)
Explore Concord’s Bookshops
4:30pm The Wayside
6pm Sleepy Hollow Cemetery
Dinner (Colonial Inn)
To Be Read
- Little Women by Louisa May Alcott Purchase via IndieBound | Amazon | Audible
- Walden, Or Life in the Woods by Henry David Thoreau Purchase via IndieBound | Amazon | Audible
- Nature by Ralph Waldo Emerson Purchase via IndieBound | Amazon | Audible
- Mosses from an Old Manse by Nathaniel Hawthorne Purchase via IndieBound | Amazon | Audible
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Orchard House was home to the family of Louisa May Alcott, and is the house on which she based her book Little Women. During the tour you will see items once belonging to the members of Louisa’s real family members who appear in the book, some of whom have been renamed. Louisa’s sister May (Amy in her book), was an artist and her sketches are visible on walls throughout the house. Louisa’s real sister Elizabeth (Beth in her book) passed away before the family moved into this house, but her instrument and photograph can be seen during the tour. And Louisa’s writing desks with copies of her handwritten pages are on view in her bedroom.
Open: Orchard House sells tickets for each day on a first-come basis until sold out and tours are limited to 15 people, so I chose to make this the first house to visit. I showed up just before opening time for the day and was able to just get into the first tour of the day. Check the open hours before you visit.
Entrance: $10, Discount coupon for $.50
Ralph Waldo Emerson’s House
This is the house where Ralph Waldo Emerson lived as an adult and held meetings in his study with the other local Transcendentalist writers, which included Henry David Thoreau and Bronson Alcott. Although the original furniture from the study now resides at the Concord Museum, during the tour you’ll be able to see the dining room table that can enlarge to fit 17 dinner guests, Emerson’s tall and heavy wool coat he would wear to write in on cold mornings, and other artifacts from Emerson’s life in Concord.
Open: Mid April-October, Thursday-Sunday 10:00am to 4:30pm; Sunday 1:00pm to 4:30pm. Tours limited to 15.
This house is a 9 minute walk from Orchard house (see map at bottom of post) and on Sunday opens after Orchard House. I visited on a Sunday so I made this the second stop of the day after Orchard House because I figured I could make it here before the 1pm open time and get in on the first tour of the day.
The Old Manse
The Old Manse was at one time home to Ralph Waldo Emerson’s grandparents. Emerson wrote his essay, Nature, which became the founding document of the Transcendentalist movement in this house. You’ll see a replica of his writing desk during the tour. Emerson also made the bridge in the backyard famous as the location of the “shot heard round the world”, an incident that started the American Revolutionary War and was immortalized by Emerson’s poem, Concord Hymn. Later the home was bought by author Nathaniel Hawthorne. He wrote several short stories while living in this house and those have been compiled into a book called Mosses from an Old Manse. He wrote in the same room Emerson had, and his actual desk can also be seen there.
Open: This site provides different types and lengths of tours throughout the open hours of each day. Check the open hours and fees here (click on Plan Your Visit) and the available tours here. Tours limited to 15 people.
By the time I had finished with the first two houses, found lunch, and walked to the Old Manse we were able to get tickets for the last tour of the day which happened to be the “full” tour which included information about all the authors that had lived in the house. You’ll want to also take a walk behind the house to the famous bridge, so if you arrive too early for a tour, you’ll be able to fill your time by walking the grounds.
Walden Pond & Thoreau’s Home Site
While Thoreau’s original cabin was removed long ago, at Walden Pond you can visit a replica, as well as the marked site of the original one. The replica is next to the parking lot and across from the new visitor center, and both are on the other side of the road from the pond. To find the original site you’ll have to find the lower trail that circles the lake. Unfortunately, biking and running are not allowed on this trail, so you’ll have to do it on foot at a walking pace. As the park is often filled with people and the trails are not very wide, it is understandable that they want you to slow down. The way to the cabin site is not marked very well so you may have to do some guessing, but I can tell you we passed two small beaches filled with families.
The Park: Monday – Friday: Open at 5am. Weekends: Open at 7am. (Closures due to capacity occur.)
Visitor Center & Shop: Daily 10am-7:30pm
Walden Pond is no longer the quiet retreat it was for Thoreau. These days the pond is thronged by so many visitors each day that the park will close both driving and walking access to the park when capacity is reached. You can check the Twitter account @waldenpondstate for closure notices. This is why I decided to make this the first place to visit on our second day. The earlier you go, the less crowded it will be.
Although Emerson and Thoreau walked the approximate two miles between Concord and Walden Pond all the time, these days there is not really a good way to walk to Walden Pond from Concord city center. Trails through the woods may have ticks and there are no sidewalks along the roads outside of the city center. I would suggest biking or taking a car/Uber instead. Just keep in mind that bikes cannot be used on any of the lake trails.
The Concord Museum is currently undergoing renovation through October of 2019, so much of the collection is currently in storage. When not under construction, the museum usually has on display furniture from Thoreau’s original cabin as well as the original furniture from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s study. These will return to display eventually. Right now you can still sit at a replica of Thoreau’s writing desk and view Paul Revere’s lantern.
Open: Seasonal summer hours: June 15 through September 2, Seven Days a Week 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
The museum is next door to the Ralph Waldo Emerson House and does not require group tours to visit (there are optional guided tours, free with your admission fee), so I left this for when we had spare time between other tours.
The Wayside was home to several different authors, the most famous three are Louisa May Alcott, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Harriet Lothrop who went by the pen name Margaret Sidney. This was the childhood home of the Alcott girls and the staircase where the real girls played Pilgrim’s Progress, like the sisters in Little Women, can be seen during the tour. The next owner of the house was Nathaniel Hawthorne, and he had a three-story tower addition built onto the house. The tour will take you up a steep, skinny stairway to his writing nook. It is the final family that owned the house, the Lathrops, that we have to be thankful for preserving both this and the other Alcott house down the street.
Open: Tours offered Thursday – Monday, May 25 – October 31, 2019, 10:00 and 11:00 a.m., 1:00, 2:00, 3:00 and 4:30 p.m. Tours limited to 15 people
Entry: $7.00 for Adults, $5.00 for Seniors and Students 17 & over with ID, and free for children 16 and under.
This house is located directly across the street from the Hawthorne Inn where we stayed so I left this for our last house tour because we could then return to our Inn. We actually made it just in time for the second to last tour of the day, but they had reached the 15 person limit for the tour already. Lucky for us, we then decided to return for the last tour of the day instead and ended up with a personal tour!
Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Author’s Ridge
The final resting place of the Alcott, Thoreau, Emerson, and Hawthorne families is in Concord’s Sleepy Hollow Cemetery on a hill named Author’s Ridge. Enter through the second cemetery gate and you’ll find well-placed signage leading you along the path to where the author’s lie surrounded by their family members and each other. Visiting the cemetery and paying your respects, by way of a pencil left at each author’s grave, as the last thing you do in Concord brings perfect closure to this literary tour.
After spending two days walking through their houses, it was this final stop in Concord that I personally suddenly felt how close I was to these American literary greats. This stop should not be missed.
Open: accessible daily during daylight hours.
Where to Stay
The Hawthorne Inn
The Hawthorne Inn is a delightful bed and breakfast. Half the rooms are named for Concord’s literary connections, such as Alcott and Walden and the other half for the town’s equally famous Revolutionary War history. The rooms are modern, clean, and include bookish decor. Downstairs is a library full of books by the historic local authors and couches that make you want to pick up a book and forget touring the town. The breakfasts are a buffet of healthy foods that will start your touring days off right. The Inn is located within easy walking distance of half the literary houses you’ll want to tour, and not too far from the center of town.
How to Get Around
While we walked everywhere, and that is definitely an option, if I were to do this trip again, I would either rent bikes, or a car, or take an Uber to Walden Pond from Concord. The Wayside, Orchard House, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s House, and the Concord Museum are all within easy walking distance from one another. The Old Manse and the cemetery are a little farther of a walk, but still within the city enough to have good sidewalks. I would not suggest walking to Walden Pond.
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Have you been to Concord? Do you want to go? Are you a fan of any of these authors? Are you intimidated by classic American literature? Let’s discuss in the comments below!
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