The last years in Edgar Allan Poe’s Bronx cottage

Like so many people who come to New York with literary dreams but no money, Edgar Allan Poe was always moving from one low-rent place to another.

In the late 1830s and early 1840s, the struggling writer (with his young wife, Virginia, and his mother-in-law, Maria, in tow) bounced around Greenwich Village, Turtle Bay, East Broadway, back the the Village on West Third Street, then to a farmhouse in today’s Upper West Side.

In 1846, with Virginia sick with tuberculosis, the little family made one final move.

Hoping that fresh country air would help his ailing wife, Poe paid $100 a year to rent this small cottage (above) in Fordham, then a bucolic hamlet in Westchester but today firmly within city boundaries in the Bronx.

That rustic, “Dutch” cottage, as it was described in 19th century books—where Virginia (below right) succumbed to TB and Poe wrote some of his best-known poems—is still in the Bronx. (Above, in 2007)

Moved about 500 feet from its original location on Kingsbridge Road to the then-new Poe Park in 1913 (the site of an apple orchard when Poe lived nearby), the cottage is open to the public.

While the preserved home sits at the edge of an urban park surrounded by gritty apartment buildings and the 24-hour noise and traffic of the Grand Concourse, imagine the place as it was in Poe’s day.

Outside the front porch were trees, flowers, and songbirds—quite a different feel from the haunting romance and gloom of many of Poe’s writings.

“In Poe’s time the cottage was pleasantly situated on a little elevation in a large open space, with cherry trees about it,” James Albert Harrison quotes one historian in his 1903 Poe biography.

One visitor, a fellow American writer, described it as “half buried in fruit-trees, and having a thick grove of pines in its immediate neighborhood,” wrote Harrison.

“Round an old cherry-tree, near the door, was a broad bank of greenest turf,” the writer said. “The neighboring beds of mignonette and heliotrope, and the pleasant shade above, made this a favorite seat” where Poe was often found.

Poe kept tropical birds in cages on his front porch, “which he cherished and petted with assiduous care,” the writer noted.

Inside, the cottage—just a kitchen, a sitting room with Poe’s desk, a small bedroom for Virginia, and then steep stairs leading to a second floor with a low ceiling—was described as tidy and warm. (Below, in 1894)

“The cottage had an air of taste and gentility that must have been lent to it by the presence of its inmates,” wrote writer and friend Mary Gove Nichols. “So neat, so poor, so unfurnished, and yet so charming a dwelling I never saw.”

“The floor of the kitchen was white as wheaten flour. A table, a chair and a little stove that it contained, seemed to furnish it completely. The sitting-room floor was laid with check matting; four chairs, a light-stand, and a hanging book-shelf composed its furniture.”

By autumn, Virginia was close to death.

In her bedroom, “everything here was so neat, so purely clean, so scant and poverty-stricken, that I saw the poor sufferer with such heartache.”

Virginia “lay on the straw-bed, wrapped in her husband’s great-coat, with a large tortoise-shell cat in her bosom….The coat and the cat were the sufferer’s only means of warmth; except as her husband held her hands, and her mother her feet.”

After Virginia died and was buried in the Valentine family vault at a nearby Dutch cemetery, grief-stricken Poe began his “lonesome latter years.”

On one hand, his output was excellent. He finished some of his most famous works; in addition to The Bells, he wrote Annabel Lee and Ulalume.

But he was despondent and began drinking heavily. Remaining at the cottage (above, in 1898) with Maria, he was known to take long walks through the pines and cedars of Fordham and into Manhattan across the High Bridge (below, in a 1930 lithograph.)

Poe died in 1849 in Baltimore, of course, leaving Maria as the cottage’s sole occupant.

She moved to Brooklyn (and lived another 22 years). As the 19th century continued, the cottage fell into disrepair. Meanwhile, Fordham and other Westchester villages were annexed to New York City and began to slowly urbanize (below, 1898)

With Poe’s literary genius finally recognized 50 or so years after his death, his uninhabited cottage, one of few original dwellings left from Fordham’s rural days, was moved to the new Poe Park and restored with state funds.

Poe’s house is now a very small museum. But for three years, it was his world.

“It was the sweetest little cottage imaginable. Oh how supremely happy we were in our dear cottage home,” Maria Clemm recounted in 1860 (at left).

[First, third, and fourth photos: Wikipedia; eighth photo: MCNY, 1894, x2010.11.671; eleventh photo: 1930 lithograph; twelfth photo: MCNY, 1898, x2010.11.6718; thirteenth photo: Wikipedia]

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18 Responses to “The last years in Edgar Allan Poe’s Bronx cottage”

  1. MarkMark Says:

    I wonder why it’s called a “Dutch cottage”. I am from the Netherlands and it isn’t even remotely like the small farms we have here (actually, the whole concept of cottages is foreign to these regions…).

    • Francine P.H. (fine art) Says:

      I’m not Dutch, but I did wonder what was in the architecture that made it Dutch 🙂

      • ephemeralnewyork Says:

        Good point; many of the books I used to research this describe the cottage as “Dutch.” I’m not sure why, it could be a reference to the background of the people who occupied them?

      • ephemeralnewyork Says:

        I’ve amended the reference to Dutch a bit to make this clear.

      • John Michel Says:

        As I thought more… this is a very good point for accuracy sake. Thanks t original poster on this facet

    • Greg Says:

      I would guess that one of two things is the case. Either the original inhabitants were farmers of Dutch descent, or New York newspapers in the 19th century indiscriminately described remnants of earlier rural New York City life as “Dutch.”

    • Eleanor M.Rudland Says:

      I suppose it’s because Dutch people settled here (my Mother’s family is Dutch) so that’s why it’s called that…just speculating.

  2. Ronald Lee Rice Says:

    Who is Mary & Maria?
    The names seemed to arrive unannounced without any thread of who they are.
    Very Poe-like?
    And the picture of the lady is also untitled- who is that please?
    An intriguing article- thank you for sharing!
    RR

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Thank you! “Maria” is Poe’s mother-in-law; that’s her in the last photo (see the reference in the text).

  3. John Michel Says:

    There has to be more comments on Poe than this ! His vision ignored. Philadelphia has a home wheee he lived (whatever the description of that) it is enriching to visit and bring the rare feelings of his inspired work

    • John Michel Says:

      …though it is helpful information to know that the an aspect of the description may be unintentionally misleading… good comment…thank you for that. I might have done same if the Philadelphia house were misrepresented 👍

  4. David Handelman Says:

    There’s a wonderful old MOTH story by someone who worked as a caretaker in the cottage. Link here: https://themoth.org/stories/poe-and-i

  5. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Thanks, love the MOTH!

  6. Daniel Rivera Says:

    A piece of history.

    • Daniel Rivera Says:

      I lived in the area over 40 years and pass through this house so many times, yet I never been inside. Perhaps one day.

  7. Eleanor M. Rudland Says:

    And on a Halloween note, my Mom used to tell me ( as we are Bronxites…born and raised here) that some people could hear a woman crying in the cottage…even though it is empty…

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