The rich literary history of the Town of Amherst is now more visible and interactive with the recent completion of the Amherst Writers Walk and associated website. The Writers Walk consists of 12 informational signs located at the residences of notable writers in Amherst’s history, which together form a walking tour, allowing people to engage with and learn more about the lives of these writers.
Originating as part of a Public History course taught by Professor Jon Olsen at UMass, the self-directed walking tour was realized by the Amherst Historical Commission, financed with 2009 Community Preservation Act funds, designed by Seth Gregory, and installed by the Town’s Department of Public Works. Crucial support along the way for the program was initially provided by Professor of History Laura L. Lovett and more recently, since 2015, by Professor of Art History and Historical Commission member, Janet Marquardt.
The people featured are: journalist Ray Stannard Baker (118 Sunset Ave), who wrote under the pseudonym David Grayson; poet and Amherst College professor, Robert Frost (43 Sunset Ave); and two other writers living around the corner, at 219 Amity Street, the author Eugene Field and feminist and journalist Mary Heaton Vorse. Also represented is Amherst’s own children’s’ book author of ‘Phantom Tollbooth’ fame, Norton Juster (259 Lincoln Ave); American dictionary founder, Noah Webster (46 Main St); our poetry ‘belle’ of Amherst, Emily Dickinson (280 Main St); editor, Mabel Loomis Todd (90 Spring St); and children’s book authors, Howard and Lilian Garis (97 Spring St). Two other writers featured in the downtown area are playwright and UMass professor Shirley Graham Du Bois (30 Boltwood Ave--now known as The Boltwood Inn); and novelist and poet, Helen Hunt Jackson (249 South Pleasant St).
Three of the writers being recognized lived at properties outside downtown. “Fort Juniper” at 170 Market Hill Road in North Amherst is where Robert Francis composed his poetry and the little house continues to be used by writers; while at “The Lodestone,” 850 Belchertown Road, Elaine Goodale and Charles Eastman wrote on social justice for Native Americans. The Writers Walk sign for this property is thoughtfully located on Harkness Road, away from the traffic on Route 9.
Jon Olsen, Associate Professor of History at UMass-Amherst, taught the Public History course, in which the Writers Walk project originated. Olsen added, “A core element of our teaching in the UMass Public History program is creating partnerships with local organizations to provide students with some hands-on experience in the field of historic interpretation. The Amherst Writer’s Walk project was a perfect fit for our students to both contribute to a local project and experiment with some new technology for assisting self-guided tours using smartphones. We are very thankful for the opportunity provided to our students through this partnership.”
Marquardt hopes that at least two more walks will be planned: one honoring more of the plethora of children’s book writers/illustrators who have lived in Amherst, and another on more contemporary writers. The Historical Commission and Planning Department will continue to pursue similar important projects which celebrate and highlight the important contributions Amherst residents of old have made to the world in an engaging and fun way.
A launch event and walking tour is planned for Friday, October 22nd at 4:30 PM meeting outside 97 Spring Street, to celebrate the opening of the Writers Walk. Informational cards for the Writers Walk can be found at Town Hall, the BID/Chamber Visitor Center, Jones Library, and Amherst Books. More information on the Writers Walk and the writers’ biographies can be found at www.amherstma.gov/writerswalk
Questions? Contact Amherst Planner Ben Breger at firstname.lastname@example.org