Travel Journal: Emily Dickinson’s Home Sweet Home

On the main street in the town of Amherst in the western Massachusetts, there’s a house painted in ocher ( deep yellow to somewhat light brown) with a lovely big yard. The house with number 280 known as the Homestead, was Emily Dickinson’s home sweet home. Emily spent her adult life here writing poem upon poem  and between 1858 – 1865 were her productive years. She is my favorite female poet and who inspired me plenty through her works. The Dickinson family has been an important member of Amherst community for a long time. Emily’s paternal grandfather, Samuel Fowler Dickinson, had an advanced way of thinking regarding the education equality for men and women during that era. He was among the founder of Amherst College that was opened in 1821. Emily was born on December 10, 1830, at the Homestead. She had an older brother, Austin, and younger sister, Lavinia.

The Homestead was one of the main interest I wanted to visit in Amherst. I had that chance when I accompanied my daughter who had her first campus orientation as a freshman at UMass Amherst. It was my solo adventure and I loved it. The weather was perfect with blue sky and abundant sunshines. The visitors who visit Emily Dickinson’s Homestead have to come from the part of the house that used to be a kitchen. The old stove and chimney are still visible there. In the room that also function as the gift shop were poem books, books about Amherst history and its famous people, some postcards etc. In the room next to it was where they displayed several things used to belong to Austin Dickinson and his wife, Lavinia Dickinson and their close family friends. I looked around at the things being displayed while we waited for our tour to start.

Our tour guide was a pretty young lady who was an English major student at Amherst College. Her specialty was Emily Dickinson’s poems and her life. The visitors weren’t allowed to take pictures inside the home, so as we were guided from room to room, I tried to remember the lay-out of the rooms and their senses. The first room we entered was the spacious parlor. There were paintings of the Dickinson’s children when they were younger, a beautiful fireplace and some furnitures. Then we were lead to Edward Dickinson’s study which had a more subdued and serious ambiance than the parlor that was painted in a cheery yellow. The study had tall book shelves with some books shown relating to Edward’s profession who was a prominent lawyer in Amherst. After that, we went up to the 2nd floor where the bedrooms are located.

Emily Dickinson’s bedroom was neat and immaculate. It was after 10 AM when we entered her room and the sun was shining through the windows making the room lighted up with such energy. I could imagine Emily sat on her writing desk and wrote the letters she sent to her sister in law and closest friends. Her many poems must have written in that room too. The house surrounding was an ideal place for a poet like Emily with its wonderful yard with small garden and so many trees, it was a marvel to enjoy. However, I wouldn’t sure if what I saw during my visit to the Homestead was what Emily saw, for the big trees standing now must have been young ones back then and not as big and grand. But I saw several robins like the one she mentioned on her poem:

The robin is the one

That interrupts the morn

With hurried, few, express reports

When March is scarcely on

After the Homestead, we visited the Evergreens which was the home of Austin and Susan Dickinson. Emily’s brother, sister in law and their three children lived just next door reflected the closeness of the Dickinson’s. The house exuded high class and the family’s important status in Amherst. Inside, there were beautiful paintings and other artworks, a grand piano, and many things that showed how preserved and intact the Evergreens is. After I finished my visit to the Homestead, I walked several blocks away to pay respect to Emily and her family. Their graves located close to Amherst Center or the downtown area. Emily’s family used to live in another house on Pleasant Street which located next to the graveyard. Little Emily has witnessed so many funerals because of it that impacted her in her works. When I visited the graveyard, it was very quiet and peaceful, even though less than 1/4 miles from it is Amherst’s main street that’s always busy. People left souvenirs on Emily’s headstone to honor her. A lot of them were pens to memorialize her as a poet whose words are still loved and enjoy until today.

The Homestead
The Homestead
The yard of the Homestead
Emily Dickinson’s Museum in Amherst, Massachusetts
The Homestead yard and garden
People left souvenirs on Emily Dickinson’s headstone.
Emily Dickinson’s headstone
The Evergreens
The gate to the Evergreens.
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Snaps from A Road Trip: Northampton

    I get to know Northampton, a small city in western Massachusetts, as my daughter started her college last year. She goes to University of Massachusetts (UMass) in Amherst, a neighboring city of Northampton and we always pass by Northampton before reaching Amherst by car or train. My first encounter of Noho, the city’s nickname, was an eye-opening. The city is so charming with rows of 19th century buildings along its main streets. The downtown area especially, oozes that charm. For someone who has never come here, let alone heard about Northampton, I was in awe and felt dumbfounded. Every time we come to Amherst either dropping-off or picking-up our daughter from her dorm , or me having a solo trip to attend UMass Symphony Orchestra concerts (our daughter plays violin with them), I’d make sure I’ll visit Northampton and strolling down its beautiful downtown area. My love for old buildings, history and architecture find its way in this city. Thomas Cole, my favorite landscape painter who established the Hudson River School, painted the Oxbow in 1836 depicting a romantic panorama of Connecticut River Valley after the thunderstorm as viewed from Mount Holyoke in Northampton. It showed how he loved Northampton and its environment. 

    The city was called “Norwottuck” or “Nonotuck” by the native inhabitants of the area which was the Pocumtuc. The name means “the midst of the river” and Northampton is situated by Connecticut River. Its splendid surrounding has attracted many, including the “Swedish Nightingale” – Jenny Lind, a famous opera singer, who thought Northampton as “Paradise of America”. That’s how this city’s other nickname is the Paradise City. Noho is known as the city with cultural, arts, educational and historical background where Christian revival, slave abolitionist, artists and people with eclectic lifestyle thrive. Clarke School for Hearings and Speech was established here in 1867 which was United State’s first oral school for the deaf. Alexander Graham Bell was one of their school leaders. Other educational establishment founded in Northampton is Smith College, a private liberal art college for women, founded in 1871. Their famous alumni are Julia Child, Barbara Bush, Nancy Reagan – both were US first ladies, and also American poet and writer, Sylvia Plath.