Literary signposts: Amherst Writers’ Walk takes big step forward

  • The Emily Dickinson Museum on Amherst’s Main Street.   STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 9/25/2019 1:30:17 PM

AMHERST — Prominent writers who have lived in Amherst — including poets Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost, “The Phantom Tollbooth” author Norton Juster and playwright Shirley Graham Du Bois — will soon be noted by markers recognizing the sites where they completed some of their works.

The Amherst Writers’ Walk, a project first funded by Town Meeting in 2009, is a step closer to happening after the Town Council approved the siting of a dozen signs Monday on streets and sidewalks, mostly in the town center.

The Historical Commission project is funded by a $30,000 appropriation from the Community Preservation Act account.

Assistant Town Manager David Ziomek said the signs will supplement the 14 hiking trails already named for people who have contributed to the town’s literary history. Seth Gregory Design of Northampton is designing and fabricating the signs, Ziomek said, each of which will provide a narrative of the honoree and a photo, as well as a map to the other sites and ways people can get more information, such as at the Visitor Information Center.

Among the sites where signs will be installed are The Homestead, at 280 Main St., where Dickinson composed her poetry, and The Dell, at 90 Spring St., also known as the Mabel Loomis Todd House. Todd was the editor of the first three collections of Dickinson’s poetry in the 1890s.

Du Bois taught at the University of Massachusetts in the 1970s, staying at the Inn at Boltwood at 30 Boltwood Ave. during her tenure, while Frost will be recognized at a home at 43 Sunset Ave. He lived there from 1931 to 1938 while teaching at Amherst College.

Juster, the prominent children’s book author, will see his former 259 Lincoln Ave. home get a sign as well.

Others being honored include famed children’s book authors Howard and Lilian Garis, who lived at 97 Spring St.; journalist and author Ray Stannard Baker, who wrote under the pseudonym David Grayson at 118 Sunset Ave.; feminist and radical journalist Mary Heaton Vorse and author Eugene Field, who both lived at 219 Amity St., though in different eras; Noah Webster, who published the first American dictionary from a home since destroyed at 46 Main St.; and novelist and poet Helen Hunt Jackson, who resided at 249 South Pleasant St.

Only two of those being recognized lived at properties outside the downtown. Those properties that will get signs are Fort Juniper at 170 Market Hill Road, where Robert Francis composed his poetry and which continues to be used by writers; and The Lodestone, or Charles Eastman House, at 850 Belchertown Road, where Eastman and wife, Elaine Goodale Eastman, wrote books, some of which focused on social justice for Native Americans.

For the Town Council, which approved the signs’ installation by a 13-0 vote, one concern was how other authors might be added, including those who continue to write, such as Juster. District 4 Councilor Stephen Schreiber said there is no shortage of amazing writers in Amherst who could be honored.

District 3 Councilor Dorothy Pam said she worries that the Writers’ Walk might already be missing people and that the feedback on who should be honored should be solicited, but District 2 Councilor Patricia DeAngelis said there could be a second round of recognition.

Ziomek said the Historical Commission feels some urgency to execute the project because it has struggled to get similar historical education projects completed, and this one has lingered for more than a decade.

“They wanted to get something done,” Ziomek said of the commission.

At-Large Councilor Alisa Brewer said the Town Council needs to make sure that money is available to maintain the signs once they are installed so they don’t fall into disrepair.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at
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