Subject: Edgar Allan Poe Cottage
Location: 2640 Grand Concourse, Bronx
Mission: To find out what the writer was doing in NYC, how he wound up in the Bronx and how (and why) his last residence was moved across the street from its original location.
Who was Edgar Allan Poe?
The name should ring some bells (bells, bells, bells, bells, bells, bells). Poe was the creator of the modern detective story—a genre many trace to the 1841 tale “Murders in the Rue Morgue.” “The Telltale Heart” and “The Cask of Amontillado” are among his other macabre yarns. He was also a prolific poet, responsible most famously for that late-night phantasmagoria “The Raven.”
How did he get here?
Poe lived a peripatetic life, spending time in Boston, Richmond and Baltimore as well as New York City. He did two separate stints here, first in his early 20s and then again starting in 1844, when he was 35. During that latter phase, he moved from home to home, generally unable to keep up with rent (guess things haven't changed too much): stops included the East Village, West Village, Upper West Side and Lower East Side. In 1846, he decided to make a break for the country—hoping that the fresh air of the Bronx (modern-day Fordham) would help his wife, Virginia, who had tuberculosis. Along with Virginia’s mom, they found a cottage to rent for $100 a year.
How did his cottage get here?
“I am living out of town about 13 miles, at a village called Fordham, on the railroad leading north. We are in a snug little cottage, keeping house, and would be very comfortable, but that I have been for a long time dreadfully ill.” —Letter to Thomas Holley Chivers, July 22, 1846
The house, a plain white clapboard number built in 1812 by a farmer, John Wheeler, stood on Kingsbridge Road east of Valentine—close to its current location. Though little detail exists of exactly how the structure was physically transported to where it is now, it was no doubt moved intact thanks to its modest size; there were a variety of popular methods at the time by which the feat could have been accomplished.
When he moved in, Poe had just completed an unsuccessful stint as editor and publisher of the Broadway Journal (the publication went belly up after one year) and returned to writing short stories and poetry. Unfortunately, Virginia passed away after a year at the cottage, sending Poe into a deep depression. He did manage to write some lovely, haunting works after her death, none more enduring than “Annabel Lee.”
Poe died two years later in Baltimore, under rather mysterious circumstances, at the age of 40; the cottage, meanwhile, passed between various hands over the next five decades. But as sections of the Bronx became part of New York City, development in the area picked up—and with it, plans that threatened the house’s existence. Indeed, even before it made its way across the street, an owner had moved the house to spare it from danger in a road project. Various motivated groups had tried to save it or sell it to the City, but nothing really came of that movement until the beginning of the 20th century. First, the City built Poe Park in 1902; seven years later, the Bronx Society of Arts and Sciences donated a bronze bust of Poe by Edmond Thomas Quinn, which was placed in the park. Finally, in 1913, the City purchased the house, relocated it roughly 450 feet north to the park and gave the author his proper due.
Perhaps it shouldn’t have been a surprise that it took a while for people to notice. Poe was somewhat unheralded in his lifetime—part of the literary world but never commercially successful. His best score was winning a contest in the Philadelphia Dollar Newspaper for his story “The Gold-Bug,” which netted him $100; he sold “The Raven” for a mere $9.
Thanks to extensive restorations to the house—and the building of an accompanying visitor center, designed by Toshiko Mori, with a butterfly roof supposedly taking its inspiration from a raven’s wings—Poe Park offers an understated memorial to the author. A few original pieces of furniture remain; you’ll see the bed in which Virginia died, a cracked mirror and a rocking chair. Everything else, such as the kitchen stove and parlor furniture, are period items. The scale and simplicity of the place give you a feel for how people of somewhat limited means lived a few centuries ago.
• Other former Poe residences in NYC honor the poet as well. West 84th Street between Broadway and Riverside Drive has been renamed “Edgar Allan Poe Street” (the author lived for a while at Patrick and Mary Brennan’s farmhouse at no. 206). Columbia University’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library holds a mantel from that house with Poe’s name scratched into it. And there’s a Poe Room in a Greenwich Village NYU Law School building, which also preserves the facade from a former address of Poe’s.
• Works that Poe wrote or finished while living in NYC include “The Raven,” “The Bells,” “Annabel Lee” and “The Cask of Amontillado,” whose cellar is reputedly modeled on that of the building Il Buco currently occupies—which is yet another place Poe briefly lived. The Morgan Library & Museum has a few original Poe manuscripts in its holdings, too.
• The bronze bust of Poe that once sat in Poe Park is now tucked away inside the cottage. Find another likeness in the Bronx’s Hall of Fame for Great Americans—one sculpted by Daniel Chester French, better known for his seated statue of Abraham Lincoln in DC’s Lincoln Memorial.