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The National Park Service plays a part in helping to preserve literary history, from Longfellow’s pedigreed abode in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to Eugene O’Neill’s imaginative Tao House near Danville, California. A perk for bibliophiles visiting these storied sites: there is no admission fee.

 

FREDERICK DOUGLASS NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE

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The abolitionist, orator, and presidential advisor wrote his final autobiography, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, in the library at Cedar Hill, his home in Washington, D.C. (Look for the Victorian Renaissance carved oak armchair originally made for the U.S. House of Representatives, sitting next to his roll top desk.) The house is less than a hundred miles from where Douglass had been born into slavery on a farm on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Open year-round. Note: There is a $1.50 fee to reserve advance tickets online. www.nps.gov/frdo

 

TAO HOUSE AT THE EUGENE O’NEILL NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE

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Itinerant playwright Eugene O’Neill lived in more than 35 places before settling outside Danville, California, in a residence he and his wife had built from the ground up. Dubbed Tao House, it’s furnished with Chinese antiques like the couple’s teak bed, formerly an opium couch, and incorporates architectural features that reflect principles of Taoism. O’Neill was greatly inspired here, penning Long Day’s Journey Into Night and other critically acclaimed plays. Open year-round. www.nps.gov/euon

 

LONGFELLOW HOUSE—WASHINGTON’S HEADQUARTERS NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE

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Plenty of famous figures have crossed the threshold at this yellow-hued house in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Before it was home to 19th-century American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, it was General George Washington’s headquarters during the Siege of Boston in 1775–76. Charles Dickens once came to call here on Longfellow, along with scores of other writers, artists, and politicians. The house and its contents remain largely unchanged since the poet’s day. Open late May through October. www.nps.gov/long

 

EDGAR ALLAN POE NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE

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This minimalist house-museum—Poe’s last residence during a six-year stint living in Philadelphia—contains no furnishings but plenty of atmosphere. Bare walls, peeling paint, and creaking floors provide the perfect backdrop to contem­plate Poe’s spine-chilling tales. Tours conclude with a descent into the shadowy basement (above) that inspired the setting for the eerie short story “The Black Cat.” Open year-round. www.nps.gov/edal

 

Honorable Mention

CARL SANDBURG HOME NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE / CONNEMARA FARM

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Carl Sandburg moved from the shores of Lake Michigan to a secluded, sprawling farm in Flat Rock, North Carolina, seeking solitude, space for his large family (not to mention a 15,000-volume book collection), and greener pastures and longer grazing seasons for his wife’s goat-breeding operation—which is still going strong today. Note: There is no charge to access the grounds, which include a series of hiking trails, or to visit the Connemara Farms Goat Dairy. Admission to the house, shown by guided tour, is $5.00. www.nps.gov/carl

Photo credits: Tao House and Poe Basement, National Park Service; Douglass Library, Longfellow House and Connemara Farm, NovelDestinations.com

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow had quite the life, at least judging by the Cambridge, Massachusetts, home where he lived for 40 years in the 1800s. Marble busts, chandeliers, and oil paintings in gilded frames adorn the house, along with 10,000 books that belonged to the poet.

Among the illustrious visitors to cross the threshold were Charles Dickens, invited for breakfast during his first tour of America, and playwright Oscar Wilde, who said of his host, “Longfellow was himself a beautiful poem.”

The house remains much as it did in Longfellow’s day, now maintained by the National Park Service, and it’s one of the more elegant author homes I’ve seen in my literary travels—more along the lines of Edith Wharton’s The Mount, albeit with a city setting, than the stark residences in Baltimore and New York City where Edgar Allan Poe lived a hardscrabble life. Hardship did find Longfellow here, though, when his wife, Fanny, died after her dress caught fire.

Longfellow wasn’t the only famous figure who lived at 105 Brattle Street. Less than a century before the poet took up residence, the house served as the headquarters of General George Washington during the Siege of Boston in 1775. When strangers knocked, asking to see “Washington’s headquarters,” Longfellow graciously showed them around.

Further north in the seaport town of Portland, Maine, is the Wadsworth-Longfellow House, where the writer lived for the first fourteen years of his life. Three generations of his family resided in the abode, the oldest standing structure on the Portland peninsula. Among the mementos on display is evidence of Longfellow’s wanderlust: a leather traveling trunk he took with him during a European grand tour in the late 1820s. –Shannon McKenna Schmidt