Turn the Page – Records in the National Register of Historic Places about American Authors

Today’s post is by John LeGloahec, Archivist in the Electronic Records Division at the National Archives in College Park, MD.

B&W Boston Bookstore
Old Corner Bookstore, Boston, Massachusetts (National Archives Identifier 155823517)

A popular gift around the holidays is the latest novel or book by a favorite author.  There are more than two hundred “bookstores” listed on the National Register of Historic Places as well as properties related to some of America’s more prominent authors.  In Boston, Massachusetts, one can start one’s reading journey at the Old Corner Bookstore, “located on the northwest corner of School and Washington Streets.”  “Historic Boston, Incorporated, a non-profit corporation, in 1960 purchased the “Old Corner” and the adjoining buildings with the purpose of demonstrating that historic buildings need not always be museums, but could attract modern tenant occupancy, pay taxes to the city, add value to their surroundings, as well as being tourist attractions.”

“The heyday of the Old Corner as a bookstore and publishing house began in 1833, when the partnership of William D. Ticknor and Company, later Ticknor and Fields, took over the building. A large part of the success of this firm was due to Ticknor’s younger partner, James T. Fields, whose innovations greatly altered the traditional relation of authors and publishers. Fields was convinced that there was a large market for fine literature and especially American literature. To insure that his firm got the best of manuscripts. Fields offered American authors royalties, some ranging as high as twenty percent. Instead of pirating the works of English authors, the general practice among American publishers since there was no international copyright protection, Fields either paid English authors a flat sum for their manuscripts or placed them on the same royalty basis as American authors . . . In 1859, Ticknor and Fields bought the Atlantic Monthly, the most literary American periodical of the day. With Fields as its editor, it also became the most famous. By 1864, the firm was ready to increase its interest in periodicals and acquired the North American Review, the oldest magazine in America. After the death of Ticknor in that same year. Fields moved his expanding business from the Old Corner to larger quarters.  Other booksellers and publishers followed Ticknor and Fields at the Old Corner until 1903. After that time the building fell to less distinguished use and gradually deteriorated until it was purchased by a non-profit corporation, Historic Boston, Inc., in 1964. The Old Corner was restored to its 1828 appearance and now serves as the in-town office of the Boston Globe.”

House of Seven Gables
Looking Southwest at House of Seven Gables at 54 Turner Street, Salem, Massachusetts (National Archives Identifier 135803161)

In New England, one of the more famous American authors is Nathaniel Hawthorne.  There are about 40 properties in the National Register records specific to Hawthorne, including the Massachusetts SP House of Seven Gables Historic District (National Archives Identifier 63794746),  is a “complex of eight buildings, [which] has been certified a Massachusetts Historic Landmark. It is significant both architecturally and historically. The House of Seven Gables, built in 1668 by John Turner and added to within the next 25 years, is architecturally significant as “the most ambitious frame dwelling of the 17th century now extant in the Commonwealth.” Turner was reputed to be the richest man in Salem. The house was later owned and inhabited by his son, followed by his grandson. After the latter’s death, the property was purchased by a wealthy mariner, Captain Samuel Ingersoll, and inherited in 1811 by his only child, Susannah. Though a recluse in her later years, she always welcomed her young kinsman, Nathaniel Hawthorne, a frequent visitor. It is believed that this house was the locale for Hawthorne’s famous novel, from which the house acquired its present name.”

“The nearby Retire Beckett House was built in 1655 by John Beckett, founder of the ship-building family who carried on this trade for five generations. However, the house bears the name of the family’s most famous member, whose ships included the Fame, the America and Cleopatra’s Barge. The latter was possibly the first yacht ever built in Salem. The Retire Beckett House was moved here from its original location, about one-quarter of a mile to the east, where it had stood facing the sea for 269 years. It is now maintained as a gift. Behind the Beckett House is the/Nathaniel Hawthorne Birthplace, moved here from about six blocks away in 1958. The house was built in 1692 by Benjamin Pickman. Most of the house frame dates back to 1725-1750. Mr. Pickman’s son sold the house to Hawthorne’s great-grandfather around 1745. Three generations of Hawthornes lived in this house, where Nathaniel was born on July 4, 1804. Both his father and grandfather were sea captains.”

Herman Melville
Herman Melville (National Archives Identifier 209202332)

There are also a number of properties concerning the author, Herman Melville, including Massachusetts NHL Arrowhead (Herman Melville House) (National Archives Identifier 63793641), which “stands on the western side of Holmes Road about one-half mile north of the line dividing Pittsfield and Lenox, Massachusetts. Though broken by suburban residential development, large portions of the immediate area retain their original rural character. When Herman Melville acquired “Arrowhead” in 1850, the house was the center of some 160 acres of farm land. However, sales during the late 19th and 20th centuries have reduced the property to its present 14.2 acres. The most recent sales, concluded in the 1960’s, involved 28.4 acres to the south of the house, now devoted to agricultural purposes, and 30.7 acres to the north, owned by the Berkshire Life Insurance Company and largely maintained as open land; both parcels, but particularly that to the north, contribute to the setting of the landmark property. “Arrowhead” and related outbuildings are located on that part of the property near Holmes Road; the remainder consists of open fields and woods.”

“The original “Arrowhead” (now the front portion of a much larger structure) was built during the 1780’s by Captain David Bush and is believed to have housed a public inn operated by Bush and his son. In 1844 the Bush family sold the property to Dr. John Brewster, a prominent Pittsfield physician, who in turn sold it to Melville on September 14, 1850 . . . Melville apparently had intended to build a new and more elaborate house on the property but limited profit s from his writing during the 1850’s forced him to abandon this plan. Instead, he made small repairs to the existing structure and built at its northern end a piazza, made famous in literature by his introductory essay in The Piazza Tales (1856). A low, narrow structure, the piazza took full advantage of a superb view north toward Mt. Greylock. Later owners enlarged the piazza but it was eventually removed; during the present century, a large window was cut into the north side of the house to take advantage of the same view. With this exception, little change has been made in the exterior of the main block of the house since the time of Melville’s residence.”

Orchard House, Louisa May Alcott home
Concord, Massachusetts “Orchard House”, Home of Louisa May Alcott (National Archives Identifier 155823631)

Massachusetts is a popular producer of American authors, as one can also visit Orchard House, the home of Louisa May Alcott, which was “constructed during the 18th century but the building owes most of its present appearance to alterations and additions made to it after 1857 when it was purchased by the Alcott family. No significant changes have been made in the building since that date . . . The School of Philosophy was constructed in 1879 under the direction of Bronson Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Frank Sanborn (journalist, philanthropist, and author of valuable biographies of Alcott, Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, and others), and served its original purpose until 1888. In accordance with Alcott’s theories on architecture, the building was never painted but allowed to weather and become a natural part of its environment.”

“Orchard House was for 25 years the home of Amos Bronson Alcott and his family, including his daughter Louisa May Alcott, who wrote a part of Little Women here. An author, educator, and Transcendental philosopher, Alcott established one of the first adult summer schools in the eastern United States, the Concord Summer School of Philosophy and Literature, which met in the building constructed for it near his home. Louisa May Alcott is well known for her children’s books, among them Little Women, An Old Fashioned Girl, Little Men, and Eight Cousins. Orchard House is an unpretentious, 2 1/2 story frame structure with a central chimney; it was begun during the 18th century and substantially altered and enlarged by the Alcotts about 1857. The house and the adjacent school are owned by the Louisa May Alcott Memorial Association.”

Walt Whitman Bridge with rush hour traffic
LEADS TO NEW JERSEY SUBURBS (National Archives Identifier 552709)
Walt Whitman
Walt Whitman (National Archives Identifier 525875)

One may travel via the Walt Whitman bridge from Philadelphia into New Jersey to visit the Walt Whitman House (National Archives Identifier 135813646) in New Jersey – Whitman, another prominent American writer lived in many spots around the country.  There are nearly 90 references to Whitman listed in the National Register.  However, he spent a fair bit of time in this house in Camden, New Jersey, which “is a simple, two story frame house, with a tin-covered gable roof. The gray, clapboarded house sits between two three story brick houses, one of which is inhabited and the other of which is owned by the state and is scheduled for demolition . . . The house was built in three sections, the first is two rooms deep and contains the parlour and study on the first floor, and Whitman’s bedroom on the second. There is a full, slightly raised cellar under this section. The second section is attached on the rear (south) wall and this contains a dining room on the first floor and Mrs. Stevens’ (Whitman’s fellow lodger) bedroom on the second floor . . . The first section only is maintained as a Whitman museum, with Whitman’s works, chairs, and deacon’s bench, among other pieces. The other rooms are used as the quarters of the curator. The house still has its original floorboards, although the clapboarding was replaced in 1955. Steam heat has replaced stoves, and electricity has replaced gas and candle lighting. In the rear of the house is a wooden privy, now used as a storage shed. The back yard is enclosed by a wooden fence. For the last eight years of his life, from 1884 until 1892, Walt Whitman occupied this plain frame house at 330 Mickle Street in Camden, New Jersey. Although the years of his greatest work were behind him when he resided here, it is the surviving structure most intimately associated with the Poet of Democracy. The small two-story house is currently maintained as a Whitman Museum by the State of New Jersey.”

Mark Twain Forest Entrance Sign
Photograph of Mark Twain Portal Sign (National Archives Identifier 2132546)

Mark Twain, another prominent American author has more than 200 properties on the National Register as well, including the Mark Twain National Forest (National Archives Identifier 63816924).  “The Mark Twain National Forest, Missouri’s only National Forest, is located in Southern Missouri in the state’s Ozark Mountains Region. The Forest consists of approximately 1.5 million acres within eight sites. Viewed as a “recovering forest, the Mark Twain was established in the early 1930s at a time of diminishing natural resources and the mounting economic constraints of the Great Depression. Administrative sites within the Forest were constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a federal program to aid both unemployment and natural resource protection. The architecture and design of these sites reflect the period’s emphasis on rustic designs intended to blend with their environment. They have continued to be significant centers in the Mark Twain National Forest, which has remained an important resource to the state.”

“The evolution of the forest system in the Missouri Ozarks spans a period of approximately 70 years. The history and development of the Mark Twain National Forest started in 1914 when Forest Service specialists advocated the purchase of acreage in the Ozarks. The purchase was stymied by the lack of an enabling act, which provided for intervention by the Federal government to acquire the land. In 1926, Charles F. Hatfield, General Manager of the St. Louis (Missouri) Convention, Publicity, and Tourist Bureau, lobbied to create two National Parks in the Missouri Ozarks. From Park Service and Forest Service officials Hatfield realized that it was necessary to have an enabling act in Missouri in order to benefit from the Weeks Acts. Upon his return to St. Louis, Hatfield set out to establish two National Forests by working with the Governor of Missouri and state legislators to pass an enabling act in Missouri. Edward A. Sherman, Assistant Chief Forester, also worked towards the act’s passage stressing the economic benefits of improved forestry. However, Missouri foresters such as Frederick Dunlap balked at the idea of Federal government involvement in the Missouri Park system much to the dismay of Chief Forester William B. Greeley.”

Hemingway Home in Key West, FL
Florida Keys Scenic Highway – The Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum (National Archives Identifier 7718437)

In Florida, the state where Ernest Hemingway maintained a home, one can visit the Ernest Hemingway House (National Archives Identifier 77841905) in Key West.  “Ernest Hemingway bought this Spanish style house in Key West, Florida in 1931. He lived there with his second wife, Pauline until 1940 when they separated. During this important period of his career he wrote many books, including Death in the Afternoon, Green Hills of Africa, Winner Take Nothing, and To Have and Have Not, which has a Key West setting, and he probably also worked on For Whom the Bells Tolls, which appeared in 1940. While living here Hemingway worked long hours, rising very early to write in the study above the pool house, but he also traveled extensively and cultivated the image of rugged Papa Hemingway. Owned by the Hemingway family until 1961, the house is now a museum, opened to the public.”

“Hemingway always wrote standing up, using the top of a bookcase for a desk. He rose with the sun in the morning and when in the process of writing a book he stuck strictly to schedule . . . The years spent at Key West were also important in the structuring of an image and in the making of myth of Hemingway as the two-fisted, hard-drinking, monosyllabic taker of big fishes. “The Key West period for Ernest,” wrote his brother Leicester, “begins in the public mind with a picture of a bronzed giant fighting huge fish, then heading Inshore for the roughest, toughest bar to celebrate the catch, possibly pausing somewhere to beat off a letter to Esquire, using words growled from one comer of the mouth . . .” Hemingway was a disciplined writer, and he labored faithfully at the makeshift desk in his bedroom. As a part of the divorce settlement in 1940, Pauline received 51 percent of the Key West property, and she continued to live in the house until her death in 1950. During the decade she lived alone, Pauline had the pool house enlarged and equipped with a kitchen. The addition was flat-roofed and provided space for a living room and bedroom. After her death, her sons did not want to live in the houses, so Ernest rented them. Hemingway apparently returned to the house to stay there only once, in 1955. Mary Hemingway, however, made repeated visits to Key West to spend time at the estate. Mr. and Mrs. Jack Daniels bought the Hemingway property in 1961, four months after Hemingway’s death.”

Bookstore entrance, Blytheville, AR
Great River Road – That Bookstore in Blytheville (National Archives Identifier 7718882)

In Blytheville, Arkansas, you can stop into “That Bookstore,” located within the Blytheville Commercial Historic District, in “the heart of Blytheville, Arkansas. The town is one of two county seats in Mississippi County, Arkansas, in the northeast corner of the state . . . The period of significance for this district is broad because development in Blytheville happened in three separate phases. The buildings in this district represent each of these periods which cover the years of 1890-1956. There are only nine buildings and three objects (16%) in the district built after 1956. The Blytheville Commercial Historic District is a strong continuous collection of late nineteenth century and early twentieth century commercial buildings.”

“In the 1950s Blytheville’s population exceeded 50,000 people. Local residents describe this as a time when all of Main Street was bustling with people and businesses. There were several department stores along Main Street, including Kress, J.C. Penney’s, and Graber’s. They described Saturday as a day when residents would always park their cars in the same spot and the entire community would be on Main Street shopping and socializing well into the evening. In addition, Main Street boasted every kind of business including an ice cream shop, bakeries, pool halls, banks, hardware, jewelry, clothing, grocery, theatres, and a radio station (KLCN). The citizens of Blytheville were privy to some world class entertainment during these prosperous years. KLCN in Blytheville is one of the oldest radio stations in Arkansas and broadcast the first radio performance of Mississippi County native Johnny Cash (from Dyess, Arkansas). The Ritz Theatre was played host to performances by Roy Rogers and Dale Evans. Dale Evans spent much of her teen years in

Mississippi County and often returned for performances. In addition to these entertainers, Elvis Presley performed on Main Street in the early days of his career.” 

So get out there are support your local bookstore and get the latest book from your favorite author, like President Obama did with his daughters. Be sure to also look through the National Register Properties for your favorite author.

Obama and daughters in bookstore
MT @petesouza: President Obama at @Politics_Prose bookstore in DC with daughters Sasha and Malia pic.twitter.com/pQFS92gTK3 (National Archives Identifier 231832155)

This post is part of an ongoing series featuring records from the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) and National Historic Landmarks Program Records, 2013 – 2017 (National Archives ID 20812721), a series within Record Group 79: Records of the National Park Service.