6 Literary Landmarks to Visit in Pennsylvania

Pearl S. Buck House, Perkasie, Bucks County (Photo: Pearl S. Buck House)

By Kalena Thomhave

March 15, 2023

From their birthplaces to the homes where these Pennsylvania authors completed their most influential works, you can visit a series of literary landmarks throughout the state that may inspire you to view their work in a whole new light.

Pennsylvania has produced some of the best American writers, and many sites across the state celebrate that fact. 

Whether these writers were known for nonfiction, novels, or plays, their words have resonated with readers for decades, prompting the creation of museums and historical sites here in the commonwealth.

From their birthplaces to the homes where these authors completed their most influential works, you can visit a series of Pennsylvania literary landmarks that may inspire you to view their work in a whole new light. 

Rachel Carson Homestead, Springdale

Writer and conservationist Rachel Carson was born on her family’s farm, just northeast of Pittsburgh in Springdale, in 1907. Carson gained notoriety for her nonfiction writing on nature, work that was published in magazines, newspapers, and books.

Carson’s most famous and most influential written work, the book “Silent Spring,” played a role in advancing the burgeoning environmental movement in the United States. The book was about the harmful effects of pesticides, which were then subject to little regulation by the US government. The title, “Silent Spring,” suggests a future where no birds sing.

Today, you can visit the farm where Rachel Carson grew up and first explored the natural world, now known as the Rachel Carson Homestead. Currently, the homestead is closed for construction, but is expected to re-open in April. Check the website for updates, but know that previously tours of the home were booked by appointment. Admission is a minimum suggested donation of $10 for adults and $5 for children.

Rachel Carson Homestead (Photo: ccbarr/Creative Commons)

Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site, Philadelphia

Edgar Allan Poe’s stories and poems are often regarded as standard bearers of the grisly and macabre. Poe lived in several cities in the US and Europe during his short lifespan, including six years spent in Philadelphia. 

While Poe stayed in multiple houses in Philly, only one remains, and today that building is the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site. Poe lived here between 1843 and 1844, years that were in part “his happiest and most productive,” as the National Park Service writes, though Poe still wrestled with the “personal demons” that likely helped bring him to an early grave in 1849.

You can learn more about Poe’s life and work by touring the national historic site, which is open Friday, Saturday, and Sunday between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Admission is free.

Edgar Allan Poe House, Philadelphia (Photo: National Park Service)

John Updike Childhood Home, Shillington

American writer John Updike lived in this Berks County home from his birth in 1932 until he was 13. He said that the Philadelphia Avenue house in Shillington was where, as he put it, his “artistic eggs were hatched.” Updike grew up to become one of the most celebrated authors of the 20th century due to his stories, novels, and poems largely about the middle class in American small towns. It’s clear that his childhood in Shillington inspired much of this work.

In one of Updike’s poems written about Shillington, he wrote, “[M]arketable goods / On all sides crowd the good remembered town… / …We have one home, the first, and leave that one/The having and the leaving go on together.”

In 2021, the John Updike Society opened the Philadelphia Avenue home as a museum of Updike’s life with a special focus on how Berks County influenced his writing. You can visit the John Updike Childhood Home between 12 and 2 pm on Saturdays, though visits during June and July are by appointment only. Admission is $5 for anyone age 16 or older.

John Updike Childhood Home in Shillington, Berks County (Photo: John Updike Society)

August Wilson House, Pittsburgh

Playwright August Wilson was born in Pittsburgh, and the influence of the city is readily apparent in his work. Most prominently, Wilson’s “Pittsburgh Cycle” is a series of 10 plays exploring the Black experience in the US through that of life in Pittsburgh. 

Wilson was born in the Hill District, a historically Black neighborhood that was partly destroyed to build the Civic Arena, once home of the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Hill District is featured in several Wilson plays, like the famous “Fences,” later made into a film by Denzel Washington. Wilson once said that “Pittsburgh has provided the fuel and the father for all of my work. And wherever I travel, I carry Pittsburgh, in the vibrant life and experiences of the Hill, with me.”

Wilson’s Hill District childhood home still stands, and recently opened as a community arts center known as August Wilson House, which hosts community events. Also in Pittsburgh is the August Wilson African American Cultural Center, a large arts center in the city’s downtown that showcases African American art exhibits as well as a permanent exhibit on Wilson’s life and work. The center’s gallery is open Thursday through Sunday (hours vary) and admission is free.

PITTSBURGH – AUGUST 26: August Wilson historical marker sits outside his childhood home which is being restored in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on August 26, 2016. (Photo By Raymond Boyd/Getty Images)

Pearl S. Buck House, Perkasie

Pearl S. Buck was a writer and humanitarian who lived in Bucks County following many years of work in China. Her most famous work was “The Good Earth,” a 1931 family novel set in China, for which she won the Pulitzer Prize.

Buck’s Pennsylvania home, known as the Pearl S. Buck House, is a national historic landmark in Perkasie. The site offers tours of both the home and the gardens, as well as events such as writing workshops. Visitors can choose between a tour that focuses on Buck’s advocacy efforts or a traditional tour about the historic home and its role in Buck’s life. The house is open every day of the week (hours vary). Reservations are required for tours, which are $15 for adults (or $25 for both tours).

Gertrude Stein Birthplace Historical Marker (Photo: Thomas Alan/Creative Commons)

Gertrude Stein House, Pittsburgh

The birthplace of Gertrude Stein is not well known in Pittsburgh, for it is still a residential home. After all, while Stein was born in Pittsburgh, she was not raised there and spent most of her life in France. However, a historical marker does signify the home’s importance for those who pass it. 

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