In our series Beyond the Village and Back, we take a look at some great landmarks throughout New York City outside of Greenwich Village, the East Village, and NoHo, celebrate their special histories, and reveal their (sometimes hidden) connections to the Village.
Richmond, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Boston all host memorials, museums, or plaques that mark Edgar Allan Poe. The prolific, macabre, and often down-on-his-luck poet spent his life wandering these cities. He was looking for stories, affordable housing, and paid writing work. New York City, however, is the place where Poe spent much of his time and wrote some of his best-known works. Poe’s cottage in the Bronk is located on Kingsbridge Road and the Grand Concourse. The cottage part of the Historic House Trust and listed on National Register of Historic Places, a New York City landmark, and is located in what’s been named Poe Park. Before we shed light upon the site and its connections to the Village, however, we start our story in Boston.
About Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe was born on January 19, 1809, in Boston. His parents were traveling actors – and so the traveling was in his genes. Orphaned at a very young age, Poe was taken in by a wealthy tobacco merchant named John Allan and his wife Frances Valentine Allan in Richmond, Virginia. Poe was considered one of the founders of Southern Gothic Literature, clearly rooted in his time in Virginia. Poe grew up and attended the University of Virginia. As came to be the case with many of his life’s pursuits, Poe had to drop out due to lack of tuition money. Poe joined the military and wrote and published his first book Tamerlane when he was eighteen.
West Point Academy was what first brought Poe to New York State, but less than a year later Poe was on the move again. From the Hudson Valley he went to Baltimore and Virginia, where he married his wife – also named Virginia. Poe kept wandering from there, keeping himself afloat by his incredible writing, which was unfortunately not as beloved while he was alive as it is now.
According to the Edgar Allan Poe Museum in Richmond:
This versatile writer’s oeuvre includes short stories, poetry, a novel, a textbook, a book of scientific theory, and hundreds of essays and book reviews. He is widely acknowledged as the inventor of the modern detective story and an innovator in the science fiction genre, but he made his living as America’s first great literary critic and theoretician. Poe’s reputation today rests primarily on his tales of terror as well as on his haunting lyric poetry.
There is a very helpful timeline of the itinerant writer’s time in New York, which was built by the Bronx Historical Society, which can be found here. It helps, as Poe spent only short periods of time in each of his residences.
Edgar Allan Poe’s Bronx Cottage
This lovely wood shingle and clapboard farmhouse was built in 1812 at the address 2640 Grand Concourse. Poe moved there in 1846, paying $100 per month in rent for himself, his ailing wife Virginia, who was suffering from tuberculosis, and her mother Mrs. Maria Clemm. This is the house where Virginia died, and Mrs. Clemm continued to live there even after Virginia’s death when Poe himself went to Baltimore. Poe died in Baltimore in 1849 before he could return to the Bronx, and so his mother in law had to move out. It was in this cottage where Poe wrote “Annabel Lee,” “The Bells,” and other writings.
This single-dwelling building was built by engineer John Wheeler. Read the house’s listing on the National Register Database and its page from the Historic House Trust. The house has additional historic importance as the last remaining structure from the nineteenth-century village of Fordham. In the 1880s, Arthur Stoughton, architect and the President of the Bronx Society of Arts and Sciences, was the first to preserve the Poe Cottage. Under his direction, the house was restored and turned into the museum that it continues to be today.
Once Poe’s mother in law moved out, following Poe’s death, the building changed owners and residents many times and fell into disrepair. According to the house’s website:
In 1895, the Shakespeare Society rented Poe’s Cottage to publicize its plight but was unable to raise $5,000 needed to buy it from Dr. Chauvet, who lived in it for a time – and used it for a dental office. He had difficulty finding renters due to the fact that so many came to see Poe’s home. It was Chauvet who persuaded New York City to buy the house, which it did in 1913. It was moved across the street into Poe Park and opened as a museum in 1913.
The Bronx County Historical Society has administered the Edgar Allan Poe Cottage as an historic house museum since 1975, in cooperation with the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation and the Historic House Trust of New York City.
Poe’s Greenwich Village
Of course, Poe himself is what connects his cottage in the Bronx to his other residences in the Village. Though I would argue that it could be said that his poetry connects all Poe’s residences. Poe was always editing and revising his work, and often worked on multiple writings while he was moving around. It’s quite possible that Poe finished some poems in the Bronx that had begun in the Village. For example, Poe may have written his first version of “The Raven” on the Upper West Side, but he revised and re-published the work while he was living at 85 West 3rd Street in the West Village.
When Poe first landed in New York City it was in the Village, where he moved in 1837. He arrived with his wife Virginia and mother-in-law Maria, though the trio stayed only for a few months. They lived on Sixth Avenue and Waverly Place and at 113 1/2 Carmine Street.
According to their records, Poe was treated for a head cold at the famous Northern Dispensary. The Northern Dispensary opened in 1831 and included a deed that it must be used for medical care for the “worthy poor.” The peculiar building sits in a triangle between Waverley Place, Christopher Street, and Grove Street. It is across the street from the Stonewall National Park, and it’s an incredible place to imagine Poe walking to when he didn’t feel well, and deemed a “worthy poor” person, as indeed he was struggling.
Poe also lived at 85 West Third Street in the South Village. At 85 West 3rd Street you will find a reconstructed façade of the house Edgar Allan Poe lived in from 1844 – 1846. It was during this time on 3rd Street (originally named Amity Street) that Poe wrote The Cask of Amontillado, and revised and re-published The Raven.
When NYU proposed construction of Furman Hall for the use of its Law School, planners proposed demolishing Poe’s residence as well as neighboring Judson House. The Judson House had been renovated by the noted architectural firm McKim, Mead & White when Judson Church was built on Washington Square South. In 2001, after a bitter fight with the community and preservation organizations, the university agreed to incorporate the facade of Poe’s previous residence into the new structure. All was dismantled except for a banister, which, according to urban legend, is haunted by the ghost of Edgar himself. Or at least that’s how the stories go. Though, it probably depends on whether he’s in the Village that day, or in the Bronx, or perhaps another place beyond the Village.