Claremont Historian Brushes the Dust From City’s Literary Legacy

  • Novelist Constance Fenimore Woolson, born in Claremont, N.H., in an undated photograph.

Valley News Correspondent
Published: 7/14/2016 10:02:02 PM
Modified: 7/14/2016 10:02:08 PM

Claremont — For more than 20 years, local historian Colin Sanborn has been researching and compiling information on authors who have a connection to Claremont.

At last count, Sanborn, the circulation director at the Fiske Free Library and former president of the Claremont Historical Society, has discovered about 75 writers from the 19th and 20th centuries who have ties to the city.

On Thursday, Sanborn will lead an “Armchair Walking and Driving Tour of the Homes and Lives of Claremont Authors,” a study of writers who were born here and others who lived and worked in Claremont. The program begins at 7 p.m. in the Fiske Free Library.

“It is just the idea of recognizing Claremont authors so people know who they are,” Sanborn said about his research and his reason for the program. “Hopefully, this will give them some recognition and bring those who have fallen by the wayside back to light.”

The slide presentation will include a map showing where the authors were born, or lived and worked while in Claremont.

Among the authors profiled is Constance Fenimore Woolson, a prolific late-19th century writer of poems, novels, short stories and nonfiction. Born in Claremont in 1840, Woolson, the grandniece of James Fenimore Cooper, lived only a brief time here before her family moved to Cleveland after the death of her three sisters. Her extensive travel experiences in the Midwest and Northeast during her youth provided material for her early works of fiction and essays that were published in The Atlantic Monthly and Harpers.

Woolson also lived in Florida with her mother during winters and eventually made her way to Europe to write. She met the novelist Henry James in Florence, Italy in 1880 and they became close friends.  

In all, Woolson wrote six novels, several short stories and numerous poems and nonfiction and travel articles. She died in Italy in 1894 and is buried in Rome.

Though fame eluded most authors with Claremont ties, they nonetheless became part of the city’s literary history and Sanborn thinks more Claremont residents should be conversant with the writers and their works.

Authors with Claremont ties wrote in nearly every genre. James Costa wrote about his experiences as a paratrooper in the Korean War in Diamond in the Rough. And Manfred Lee, one of the two authors of the fictional detective, Ellery Queen, married a woman from Claremont and visited here, Sanborn said.

“What I found out about these people, I want to impart some of that information and elicit a little more interest in Claremont authors and our literary heritage,” Sanborn said.

Also on the list are poet Wesley McNair, a Stevens High School graduate, who is Poet Laureate of Maine, and a recipient of Newport’s Sarah Josepha Hale Award; Nelson Bryant, an editor with the Claremont Daily Eagle in the 1950s and ’60s, who became the outdoors columnist for The New York Times; and Barbara Cochran, who was born in Claremont and won an Olympic gold medal in skiing. In 1989, Cochran wrote Teach Your Child to Ski, a book that continued her long career in skiing.

Sanborn said the map and booklet that will be available at the talk can be used for a self-guided walking and driving tour.

Thursday evening’s program is free, and refreshments will be served.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at

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