A rocky West Side knoll inspires Edgar Allan Poe


PoedaguerreotypeIn 1844, Edgar Allan Poe had a lot on his mind.

Though he’d already published some short stories and newspaper pieces, Poe was still a struggling writer working on a poem called The Raven and editing articles for the Evening Mirror.

He also had his young wife to worry about. Virginia Clemm was sick with tuberculosis.

Instead of living downtown or in Greenwich Village, as the couple had in 1837, they moved to a country farmhouse roughly at today’s Broadway and 84th Street.

 At the time, this was part of the bucolic village of Bloomingdale. Fresh air, the thinking was, might help ease Virginia’s illness.


When Poe needed to get away from the farmhouse (above, in 1879) and seek inspiration, he went to a rocky knoll of Manhattan schist in the woods overlooking the Hudson River, on the border of the not-yet-created Riverside Park.

He named it Mount Tom, after young Thomas Brennan, the son of the farmhouse’s owner. This outcropping still exists at the end of West 83rd Street (below).


“It was Poe’s custom to wander away from the house in pleasant weather to ‘Mount Tom,’ an immense rock, which may still be seen in Riverside Park, where he would sit alone for hours, gazing at the Hudson,” states this 1903 Poe biography.

“Poe and Virginia enjoyed sitting on [Mount Tom] and gazing across the then-rural riverland north of the city,” according to this collection of Poe’s work.

Poemounttom2016Poe himself wrote about Manhattan’s rocky topography in an 1844 dispatch to a Pennsylvania newspaper, finding the city’s “certain air of rocky sterility” to be “sublime.”

In the same dispatch, he bemoaned Manhattan’s development and the end of its rural, spacious charm.

“The spirit of Improvement has withered [old picturesque mansions] with its acrid breath,” he wrote.

“Streets are already ‘mapped’ through them. . . . In some 30 years every noble cliff will be a pier, and the whole island will be densely desecrated by buildings of brick, with portentous facades of brown-stone, or brown-stonn, as the Gothamites have it.”

PoestreetnamePoe didn’t last long on West 84th Street. After The Raven was published in 1845 and turned him into a literary sensation, he and Virginia moved to a cottage in the Fordham section of the Bronx.

Tuberculosis took Virginia in 1847; Poe left the Bronx and found himself in Baltimore, where he died, perhaps from alcoholism, in 1849.

I wonder what he would think of contemporary West 84th Street bearing his name?

[Second image: MCNY.org Greatest Grid exhibit]

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15 Responses to “A rocky West Side knoll inspires Edgar Allan Poe”

  1. wack60585 Says:

    Reblogged this on wack60585.

  2. sweetsound Says:

    Very interesting history about Edgar Allen Poe! I love new york as it is now, but it’s nice to think about how if must have been then, too. It does sound lovely.

  3. Adrienne Morris Says:

    Reblogged this on Nothing Gilded, Nothing Gained–Where Past Meets Present at Middlemay Farm.

  4. carlamcgill Says:

    Have always been fond of Poe for many reasons. Thanks for the lovely photos and history!

  5. Audrey Burtrum-Stanley Says:

    I so enjoyed reading this information on the talented man. Knowing his fate, that photograph of Poe’s expressive face breaks your heart.
    The New York City homeplaces of Poe all seem spacious compared to the tiny, brick Baltimore dwelling he had at the end of his life.

    On a lighter note, one of my favorite NEW YORKER Magazines was a full page illustration of a large, dark library-like room. A lone man was gazing at a Raven atop a bust ore’ the doorframe. The caption read: “OCCASIONALLY.”

  6. Robert S Johnson Says:

    Reblogged this on The Quotidian Hudson and commented:
    Always love “Ephemeral New York”‘s New York History.

  7. Sherry Lynn Felix Says:

    Love History. Nice post.

  8. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    You’re welcome! It’s actually a pretty nice spot for relaxing on a late spring day; I can see why Poe enjoyed it.

  9. Book Club Mom Says:

    Great post! I always think about Philadelphia when I think of Poe. I did not realize he spent time in NY. These pictures are great – I love to imagine what things were like for writers from long ago.

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  14. Philip Giovannelli Says:

    I am a direct descendant of Patrick and Mary Brennan. many people mistakenly believe that Poe was a drinker and abuser but the many memories of my great, great grand mother attest to his never ending devotion to his wife and her health. He was distraught when she died and only then sunk into drink….Mary Brennan remembered him as a dear, loving, loyal man who babysat for my great grand father (Tom Brennan) many times and was always reliable. I wish we still had the farm of 215 Manhattan acres!!!!!!

  15. The long search for a site to build Manhattan’s most glorious war memorial | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] 1899, officials were also seriously considering Mount Tom, a rocky outcropping off 83rd Street in Riverside Park made famous by Edgar Allan Poe, who liked to sit there with the […]

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