North Shore Literary Tour
Discover the towns and sites that inspired some of history’s greatest literary heroes.
Illustrations by Huan Tran
Salem, Ipswich, North Andover
Literary pioneer Anne Bradstreet is widely considered to be one of the most important early American poets. Interestingly, she did not fancy herself much of a writer, according to Carol J. Majahad, executive director of the North Andover Historical Society. “She was kind of embarrassed when her brother-in-law, unbeknownst to her, took her work to be published. She never felt her stuff was good enough. But her domestic poems were incredible; they are much less formulaic than any of the other poets of her time—perhaps because she never thought anybody would read them but herself and her children.”
Bradstreet was the first woman to be recognized as a New World poet.
From London, she and her family sailed the Atlantic, docking in Salem on July 22, 1630, where they lived a “spartan” existence. In time, having relocated to Ipswich, the wife of a public servant and mother of eight found herself struggling with the “tribulations of early settlement life.” It was then that she began to write. One of her early poems, “A Letter to Her Husband, Absent upon Public Employment” includes the line: “If two be one, as surely thou and I, / How stayest there, whilst I in Ipswich lie?”
She would put pen to paper in that bucolic hamlet for 10 years, composing many of the poems that appeared in the first edition of The Tenth Muse.
In 1645, the family moved to North Andover (then called Andover). The exact location of their residence remains unclear, though it’s generally thought that they lived on property by the Phillips Manse, a yellow mansion at 168 Osgood Street. The mystery can be attributed to a 1666 fire—a particularly tragic event, notes Majahad, given the lengths to which the family would have gone to ship their belongings from England. Out of the ashes came one of the poet’s most well-known works, “Verses upon the Burning of our House.” The poem is good insight into some of the things they would’ve owned and the thought process of what it was like to have lost [them]…. “She would never have been able to replace those things.”
After a relatively short battle with tuberculosis, Bradstreet died on September 16, 1672. The location of her remains is another enigma. The tradition of her time was to bury a wife beside her husband, which would put her among the maze of 17th-century headstones in Salem’s North Point Burying Ground. The North Andover Historical Society, however, claims that she rests in the Old Burying Ground on Academy Road. On a stone marker, in that location, the poet is commemorated with the inscription: “Mirror of Her Age, Glory of her Sex, whose Heaven-born-Soul leaving its earthly Shrine, chose its native home, and was taken to its Rest.”
Born in 1804, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Salem’s most famous author, held a kind of contempt for his birthplace, though it served as the setting for many of his works.
Said to have led something of a solitary life, Hawthorne called a number of Salem addresses home over the years, including 27 Union Street, 26 Dearborn Street, 10 1/2 Herbert Street (which he referred to as “Castle Dismal”), 18 Chestnut Street, and 14 Mall Street—the last of his Salem residences. Among the many local historic sites that were known to be privy to his presence are The Custom House, where he worked as a surveyor, and the Lyceum, where he served as manager and hosted lectures by Emerson and Thoreau.
It was while living in Salem that Hawthorne began the novel that was to become The Scarlet Letter, described as “a dark, brooding novel of hidden sin and expiation.” For the first chapter, he drew on his experience at the Custom House, which ended unpleasantly with a charging of the guards. His words evoked criticism because of their “unflattering portrayal of Salem and its residents.”
In addition to the The Scarlet Letter (1850), Hawthorne penned The Blithedale Romance (1852) and, perhaps his most locally loved work, The House of the Seven Gables (1851), a fictional story inspired by his cousin Susannah Ingersoll’s home in Salem, which still stands in the heart of the city’s historic district.
“The House of the Seven Gables, antique as it now looks, was not the first habitation erected by civilized man on precisely the same spot of ground. Pyncheon-street formerly bore the humbler appellation of Maule’s-lane, from the name of the original occupant of the soil, before whose cottage-door it was a cow-path. A natural spring of soft and pleasant water—a rare treasure on the sea-girt peninsula, where the Puritan settlement was made—had early induced Matthew Maule to build a hut, shaggy with thatch, at this point, although somewhat too remote from what was then the centre of the village.” –Excerpt from The House of the Seven Gables, Chapter 1
Harriet Beecher Stowe
Harriet Beecher Stowe believed from a young age that writing was her life’s purpose. Spanning 51 years, her career resulted in more than 30 works on varied subjects, including children’s textbooks, homemaking and childrearing advice books, biographies, and religious studies. In addition to writing novels, Stowe was a poet, an essayist, and a hymn composer.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin, published in 1852, is, of course, her defining work. Originally released in installments for The National Era, an anti-slavery weekly newspaper, the story was intended to “paint a word picture of slavery.” Stowe’s revolutionary depiction of the subject forever changed the national dialogue.
Stowe lived in Andover from 1853 to 1864, during which time she wrote The Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a book intended as a defense against widespread criticism from pro-slavery advocates who claimed her depiction of slavery in Uncle Tom’s Cabin was utterly false. During those years, her husband, Reverend Calvin Stowe, was a professor of sacred literature at Andover Theological Seminary.
The house in which the Stowes lived has as storied a history as the writer herself. The “stone shell of a building” at 80 Bartlet Street was secured with her first royalty check from Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Thus commenced the first remodeling of the Federal-style home, christened “Stowe Cabin.” The long building was separated into rooms, fireplaces and window seats were added, the walls were painted, and an Italianate piazza was built at the entrance.
The house has since changed hands—and function—many times. The Stowes passed it to a relative who ran it as a dormitory. In time, it served as an inn as well as an open-to-the-public “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” In 1908, the house was named The Phillips Inn. A redesign of the Phillips Academy campus in 1929 resulted in the Stowe House being lifted off its foundation and moved to the current site on Bartlet Street. Today, The Trustees of Phillips Academy own the property; it serves as faculty housing and, once again, dormitory space. (The present-day Andover Inn was built on the original site of the Stowe House.)
“It’s a matter of taking the side of the weak against the strong, something the best people have always done.” –Harriet Beecher Stowe
John Greenleaf Whittier
Born on December 17, 1807, John Greenleaf Whittier is Haverhill’s own native son. Raised on a farm, he developed an affinity for the rural working poor that would stay with him throughout his life. In fact, the son of Quakers made the antislavery movement his first priority; literary life was always secondary.
Although Whittier received little early education, he published his first poem, “The Exile’s Departure,” in 1826, in the Newburyport Free Press. Shortly afterward, he enrolled in the Haverhill Academy, where he studied from 1827 to 1828, working as a shoemaker and a schoolteacher to support himself; he completed high school in just two terms.
In addition to writing poetry, Whittier worked for a number of abolitionist newspapers and magazines, including the American Manufacturer, Essex Gazette, and New England Weekly Review, though it was the 1866 publishing of his poem “Snow-Bound” that secured his financial well-being.
“Telling the Bees,” first published in the Atlantic Monthly, features his Haverhill homestead as the setting. The poem describes a rural New England custom whereby a family member’s death is reported to the bees, “and their hives dressed in mourning.” The ceremony was performed to prevent bees from abandoning their hives.
Whittier’s poetry addressed themes of religion, nature, and rural life; he was arguably the most popular of the “Fireside Poets,” a band of American poets thought to rival their British counterparts. He composed poems from 1865 until his death in 1892.
There is the house, with the gate red-barred,
And the poplars tall;
And the barn’s brown length, and the cattle-yard,
And the white horns tossing above the wall.
There are the beehives ranged in the sun;
And down by the brink
Of the brook are her poor flowers, weed-o’errun,
Pansy and daffodil, rose and pink. –From “Telling the Bees” (1858)
Educator, poet (1874–1963)
Lawrence and Derry, New Hampshire
Robert Frost was born in San Francisco, where he lived until the age of 11, when he moved to Lawrence, Massachusetts—the poet’s “ancestral home.” Frost’s paternal grandfather, William Prescott Frost, Sr., had been an overseer at Pacific Mill, a late-19th-century textile factory. His son, Will Frost, though a Harvard-trained lawyer, opted for an adventurous life. He traveled out West, where the poet was born. Upon his father’s death in 1885, Frost returned with his mother and sister to Lawrence, where his father was buried. Without money to return to San Francisco, the family stayed put.
The first of Frost’s poems was written while he was a student at Lawrence High School, from which he graduated as co-valedictorian of his class in 1892. After a year at Dartmouth College, he returned to Lawrence, where he took on odd jobs that included delivering newspapers and changing light bulbs in the Arlington Mill. His first poem, “My Butterfly: An Elegy,” sold in 1894 to The Independent, a New York magazine. A year later, he married his high school sweetheart, Elinor White. They would have six children.
In 1898, after a nearly two-year stint studying at Harvard College, Frost returned, once again, to Lawrence, where, for much of his young adult life, he assumed an assortment of roles—teacher, cobbler, and editor of the Lawrence Sentinel.
The Frost family moved to a farm in Derry, New Hampshire, in 1900; it was there that he wrote many of the poems that would go into his first published volumes. (Frost was to purchase many New England farms during the course of his life; his failed attempts at the role of “farmer” are well documented.)
A full-length collection of poems titled North of Boston was published in 1914. In it are two of his most famous poems, “After Apple Picking” and “Mending Wall.”
Frost, a four-time Pulitzer Prize winner, lived and taught for many years in Massachusetts and Vermont. He died in Boston on January 29, 1963, at the age of 88.
Of apple-picking: I am overtired
Of the great harvest I myself desired.
There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch,
Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall.
That struck the earth,
No matter if not bruised or spiked with stubble,
Went surely to the cider-apple heap
As of no worth. –From “After Apple Picking” (1914)
Ipswich, Georgetown, Beverly Farms
John Updike, celebrated for his prolific work as a novelist, poet, short story writer, art critic, and literary critic, moved to Ipswich in the late 1950s. The sleepy seaside setting proved the ideal place to publish at the rate he had set for himself as a young writer: a book a year. It also fed a recurring theme: “American, Protestant, small-town, middle-class life.” The years between 1957 and 1970 yielded The Poorhouse Fair, Rabbit Run, Pigeon Feathers, and Bech: A Book. His novels Couples (1968) and Marry Me (1976) expose “the sexual politics of East Coast suburbia.”
Among Updike’s Ipswich homes are Little Violet, a wood-framed cottage located at Essex and Heartbreak Roads, which he rented with his first wife; the 17th-century Polly Dole House at 26 East Street, his home from 1958 to 1970; and 50 Labor-in-Vain Road, which housed the Updikes and their four children until 1974, when the couple separated. Updike took up residence at 58 Main Street in Georgetown in 1976 to be closer to his children.
By 1982, Updike was married to his second wife, Martha, and living in Beverly Farms, where his work addressed contemporary themes, such as “increasingly secular, movie-mad America” in Beauty of the Lilies (1996). A longtime contributor to The New Yorker, Updike kept his pen on the pulse of politics, tackling topics like post–nuclear war New England and radicalized Islam. The Widows of Eastwick (2008), a sequel to his 1984 novel The Witches of Eastwick, was the last of his books to be published before the Pulitzer Prize–winning author died of lung cancer in 2009.
“The decade was the sixties, my wife and I were youngish, and the house suited us just fine. It was Puritan; it was back-to-nature; it was less is more. A seventeenth-century house tends to be short on frills like hallways and closets; you must improvise…. The straightforward, hearth-centered architecture of our house must have strengthened our family sense. Once we moved, the fact is, things fell apart….” –From Couples (1968), in reference to 26 East Street, Ipswich