The October 1862 visit to the old Howe Tavern by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and his publisher, James Fields, would have a far reaching impact on the literary and artistic significance of America's oldest hostelry. Longfellow made the defunct Sudbury tavern the gathering place for the characters in his 1863 book Tales of a Wayside Inn, and because of the poet’s immense popularity, generations of readers, poets, and artists would seek out the colonial landmark for decades to come.
After the death of the last Howe innkeeper in 1861, the homestead operated as a boarding house for itinerate farmers and other temporary guests. But Longfellow penned such a vivid portrayal of the Howe tavern and its innkeeper—the Landlord of the Tales—he captured the public's imagination. The day-trippers who visited the tumble-down structure were only shown a few scantly furnished rooms, but that did not slow the near-daily rush of tourists.
The first printing of his Tales sold out in a single day, and curious literati flocked to the once great inn and tavern just to catch a glimpse of the poet's muse. For over 30 years the old Howe Tavern would subsist as a homestead and boarding house but simultaneously known as the place made famous by Longfellow. Years before the Inn's name was actually changed, people began referring to the old Howe property as Longfellow's Wayside Inn. While local apothecaries and general stores sold souvenirs bearing images of the veritable landmark with its new nickname, it wasn't until 1897 that the Inn's cultural and commercial relevance was fully recognized.
Edward Rivers Lemon was a wealthy antiquarian and wool merchant from Medford, Massachusetts. His purchase of the Howe property in 1896 was newsworthy, as Boston papers announced his intention of making his new business venture a "mecca for literary pilgrims." Lemon's wanted to attract people to South Sudbury as a summer retreat, emphasizing its age-old traditions as well as its artistic and literary history. It was Edward Lemon who officially renamed the Howe Tavern Longfellow's Wayside Inn and went as far as to arrange for the Society of Colonial Wars to gather at the inn in 1897, where historian and orator Samuel Arthur Bent gave his speech "The Wayside Inn—Its History and Literature."