Creating "Concord:" making a literary tourist town, 1825 -1910
Martin, Kristi Lynn
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This dissertation examines how Concord, Massachusetts became a heritage town in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Concord-based authors (including Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry David Thoreau, and Louisa May Alcott) at once contributed to Concord’s attractiveness as a location and took advantage of the growing reputation and popularity of the town as a tourist site. Their writings, rooted in Concord, drew attention to the town and to themselves as authors within it, while also elevating the stature of American literature. Linking literature and site-building, Concordians encouraged contemporaneous sightseeing in a curated landscape. This sets the origins of tourism and site-building in Concord earlier than standard academic narratives of Progressive Era preservation in New England. The primary contribution of this interdisciplinary study is to trace the ways in which collective memory was fashioned for an audience of literary “arm-chair travellers” and then employed to endow private houses with literary and historical importance to national heritage, as public locations to be visited and preserved in Concord’s landscape. This work traces the development of spiritualized “places” in Concord from Revolutionary War monument-building to Emerson’s literary community investing the landscape with poetic associations, Hawthorne’s engagement of tourism as an appeal to readers, and George William Curtis’s efforts to market Concord as a national literary retreat. It further examines Thoreau’s literary career in relation to his interest in local history, tourism, and museum-building in his hometown. Finally, the popularity of Alcott’s Little Women boosted tourism in Concord, and the increase of visitors coincided with projects to memorialize Thoreau, Hawthorne, and the Transcendentalist movement in the landscape. These efforts culminated in the development of guide books and organized tours for visitors, and the emergence of a local souvenir industry. The study concludes with the institutionalization of historic house museums in the early twentieth century.