New England is justly famous for the art it has inspired, particularly the landscapes painted by Hudson River School artists such as Thomas Cole and his student Frederic Church, and the monuments carved by Augustus Saint-Gaudens and Daniel Chester French. Some of the artists who have memorably painted New England landscapes and seascapes include Winslow Homer (1836–1910), Fairfield Porter (1907–1975), John Marin (1870–1953), Neil Welliver (1929–2005), and Andrew Wyeth (1917–2009), he of the iconic Christina’s World, painted in a coastal Maine field. Illustrators Norman Rockwell (1894–1978) and Maxfield Parrish (1870–1966) famously captured the region’s faces and places. Art colonies that sprang up around the turn of the 20th century in Ogunquit, Maine, Cornish, New Hampshire, and Old Lyme, Connecticut, remain active arts hubs, thanks to a new, dynamic generation of creators.
There are a surprising number of excellent art museums and galleries throughout New England, even in some rather unlikely places as St. Johnsbury, Vermont; Rockland, Maine; and North Adams, Massachusetts, home to North America’s largest contemporary art museum. Consult individual chapters for more details on art offerings.
New Englanders have generated entire libraries, from the earliest days of hellfire-and-brimstone Puritan sermons to Stephen King's horror novels set in fictional Maine villages.
Among the more enduring writings from New England's earliest days are the poems of Massachusetts Bay Colony resident Anne Bradstreet (ca. 1612-72) and the sermons and essays of Increase Mather (1639-1723) and his son, Cotton Mather (1663-1728).
After the American Revolution, Hartford dictionary writer Noah Webster (1758-1843) issued a call to American writers: "America must be as independent in literature as she is in politics, as famous for arts as for arms." His decisions, such as removing the “u” common in British spellings like “labour” and “honour,” helped mold America’s distinct identity. The tales of Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-64) captivated a public eager for a native literature. His most famous story, The Scarlet Letter, is a narrative about morality set in 17th-century Boston, but he wrote numerous other books and stories (such as the House of the Seven Gables, the model for which you can tour in Salem, Massachusetts) that wrestled with themes of sin and guilt, often set in the emerging republic.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882), the Portland poet who settled in Cambridge, caught the attention of the public with evocative narrative poems focusing on distinctly American subjects. His popular works included “The Courtship of Miles Standish,” “Paul Revere’s Ride,” and “The Song of Hiawatha.” Poetry in the mid–19th century was the equivalent of Hollywood movies today—Longfellow could be considered his generation’s Steven Spielberg (apologies to literary scholars). It’s possible to visit both his boyhood home, the Wadsworth-Longfellow House in Portland and his adult home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Longfellow House.
The zenith of New England literature occurred in the mid- and late 19th century with the Transcendentalist movement. These writers and thinkers included Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), Bronson Alcott (1799-1888), and Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862). They fashioned a way of viewing nature and society that was uniquely American. They rejected the rigid doctrines of the Puritans, and found sustenance in self-examination, the glories of nature, and a celebration of individualism. Perhaps the best-known work to emerge from this period was Thoreau's Walden. You can visit many sites associated with them in Concord, Massachusetts, where they lived and worked.
Although she was reclusive, another writer who left a lasting mark on American literature was Emily Dickinson (1830-86), a native of Amherst, Massachusetts, whose precise and enigmatic poems placed her in the front rank of American poets. James Russell Lowell (1819-91), of Cambridge, was an influential poet, critic, and editor, as was William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878), who hailed from rural Cummington, Massachusetts. Later poets were imagist Amy Lowell (1874-1925), from Brookline, Massachusetts, and Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950), from Camden, Maine.
The bestselling Uncle Tom's Cabin, the book Abraham Lincoln half-jokingly accused of starting the Civil War, was written by Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-86) in Brunswick, Maine. She lived much of her life as a neighbor of Mark Twain (himself an adopted New Englander) in Hartford, Connecticut. Another bestseller was the children's book Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott (1832-88), whose father, Bronson, was part of the Transcendentalist movement.
New England’s later role in the literary tradition may best be symbolized by the poet Robert Frost (1874–1963). Though born in California, he lived his life in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont. In the New England landscape and community, he found a lasting grace and rich metaphors for life. (Among his most famous lines: “The woods are lovely, dark, and deep/But I have promises to keep/And miles to go before I sleep/And miles to go before I sleep.”) You can visit his former home, Frost Place, in Franconia, New Hampshire; see his grave in Bennington, Vermont; or walk the Robert Frost Memorial Trail in Middlebury, Vermont.
New England continues to attract writers drawn to the noted educational institutions and the privacy of rural life. Prominent contemporary writers and poets who live in the region at least part of the year include Nicholson Baker, Christopher Buckley, Stephen King, P. J. O’Rourke, John Irving, Elizabeth Strout, Wally Lamb, Nathaniel Philbrick, David McCullough, and Alice Hoffman.
Film & TV
New England is frequently captured through the lens of Hollywood, thanks in equal parts to its natural beauty; its slightly spooky history; and the unusual number of star actors, actresses, and directors who were raised here and continue to push forward projects incorporating local storylines or landscapes.
Lillian Gish’s 1920 silent film Way Down East was perhaps the first movie to bring cinematic attention to the region. Films now regularly depict Boston’s grimy underbelly, in films such as The Departed (2006) and Mystic River (2003); local Red Sox–mania (Fever Pitch, 2005); working-class struggle and identity crises (Good Will Hunting, 1997, and Manchester by the Sea, 2016); and a host of horror films based on books by Maine’s Stephen King—from Carrie (1976), The Shining (1980), and It (2017), down through to a welter of TV miniseries—that make it sometimes seem like supernatural forces are at work in all small New England towns. However, King also penned the story upon which The Shawshank Redemption (1994), also set in Maine, was based. The delightful 2012 coming-of-age film Moonrise Kingdom seems to be set in Maine but was actually filmed in Rhode Island.
Several television series have been based in New England through the years, such as this wildly popular trifecta: Cheers (1982–1993), set in a chummy Boston bar (which is still there beside Boston Common); Newhart (1982–1990), in which actor Bob Newhart comically attempted to run a Vermont bed-and-breakfast inn (filmed at the Waybury Inn in East Middlebury); and Murder, She Wrote (1984–1996), which saw crime novelist Angela Lansbury stumbling across and solving real-life crimes, with seeming ease, from her perch in fictional Cabot Cove, Maine. Wings (1990–1997), set at a small airstrip on Massachusetts’s Nantucket Island, propelled several actors (Tony Shalhoub, Tim Daly, Thomas Haden Church) on to further fame.
More recently, Ally McBeal, Boston Public, The Practice, and Boston Legal explored facets of public schools and legal practice in that city. Gilmore Girls earned fans who still make pilgrimages to Stars Hollow–like towns in Connecticut. North Woods Law has turned Maine and New Hampshire game wardens into celebrities; Wicked Tuna has done the same for Gloucester fishermen.
Talented New Englanders have contributed mightily to the American music scene. Keep these local treasures in mind as you’re building a playlist for road trips in the region.
Folk-pop singer James Taylor was born in Boston, long ensconced on Martha’s Vineyard, and now resides in his beloved Berkshires. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame band Aerosmith also has roots in Boston. The wildly popular ‘70s rock group Boston was fronted by residents of that city. The proto-punk-garage-folk musician Jonathan Richman, whose 1975 song “Roadrunner” immortalizes late-night driving around Boston, was born in Natick, MA.
Pop stars Michael Bolton and John Mayer were both born in Connecticut, while jam-band Phish was formed in Burlington, Vermont, by college friends. Jeffrey Osborne of the band L.T.D. hails from Providence. The hip-hop group Bell Biv DeVoe are from Boston. Nashville singer-songwriter Patty Griffin was born and raised in Maine. Taylor Swift is famously known for having a seaside house in Westerly, Rhode Island.
With its sizeable student population, Boston has long been an incubator for alternative rock, nurturing such bands such as The Pixies, J. Geils Band, The Cars, and The Lemonheads. Native sons the Dropkick Murphys, a Celtic punk band, sell out shows around St. Patrick’s Day. The ska punk band Mighty Mighty Bosstones host the annual Hometown Throwdown music festival in Boston between Christmas and New Year’s Day.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.