On a street corner in the Bronx is a little cottage where Edgar Allan Poe used to live.
But wait! says you. Didn’t he live in Philadelphia?
Indeed, he did. The house in Philadelphia was probably his favorite home, and the best years of his tragically short marriage were lived there. It was that tragically short marriage that brought him to New York.
In the 19th century, the Bronx was the boonies. I mean, it was way out there. New York City existed only in the lower part of Manhattan, and Central Park was nowhere near being central just yet. At this point, they were still grazing sheep on the Sheep Meadow.
The 19th-century Bronx was largely meadow and farmland. In fact, the area was so idyllic that the Jesuits thought it would make a great pastoral setting for their new university – close enough to the city that their students could get there, but far enough away that there would be few distractions. Fordham University was founded in 1841, and shortly thereafter a rail line was laid between the city and the Bronx (the Jesuits have pull like that).
Anyone who was required to read “Annabelle Lee” in high school remembers that Poe’s wife, Virginia, died of tuberculosis at a very young age. Tuberculosis is a disease of the lungs, which eventually weakens the rest of the body. To an observer, it looks like the disease is consuming its victim. Thus, the name it was given in the 19th century: consumption.
The one treatment for consumption that existed in those days was fresh air. Certainly, it’s easier for someone with lung disease to breath in the fresh air than in the polluted air of the city, but it’s no cure. It simply eases the symptoms for a bit. But, that being the best he could do, in 1846 Poe moved his little family – Virginia and her mother, Maria Clemm – out to the countryside, where his wife might get some respite.
At first, it looked like everything would be fine. They found a little cottage that was cheap (Poe’s literary ambitions were bearing fruit but not earning much money). Virginia’s symptoms eased up a bit. Poe had plenty of open space for his long, rambling walks, and he enjoyed playing cards with the Jesuits down the street.
It was here that Poe wrote some of his most famous poems. “The Bells” was inspired by the tolling of the church bells at nearby Fordham University. Another poem he penned here was “Annabelle Lee.” As you can guess from the poem, Virginia’s symptoms didn’t abate for very long. She passed away in January of 1847, less than a year after Poe moved the whole kit and caboodle out to the Bronx to try and save her.
After Virginia’s death, Poe turned into much more of a rambler, bouncing from place to place and never staying very long. The cottage in the Bronx, though, remained standing.
As early as 1879 the cottage was recognized as an important location for Poe scholars, and in 1889 it was purchased by the man who would write the first American biography of Poe. It changed hands a few times, but always with the understanding that it was no longer to live in, but to serve as a monument to Poe and his family.
In 1910, the decision was made to move the house in order to save it from urban development. A small park was created, and the house was placed there. Today, Poe Park is home to the Poe Cottage, a community center, and some greenery, right in the middle of the city that threatened to swallow it up over a century ago.
Visiting the Poe Cottage in the Bronx:
Getting there: The address is 2640 Grand Concourse, The Bronx, NY 10458. The easiest way to get there is by public transit. Take the subway to the Kingsbridge Road station. When you exit the station, by the Grand Concourse. It’ll be right on the corner.
Admission: Entry is $5 for adults or $3 for children.
- Thursday and Friday: 10 AM to 3 PM
- Saturday: 10 AM to 4 PM
- Sunday: 1 PM to 5 PM
Website: You can visit the Poe Cottage website here.
Good to know:
- Be sure to get your money’s worth by talking to the keeper! He’s very knowledgeable and passionate about the place.
- As of June 2019, the place is undergoing massive landscaping work. Fret not! The cottage is still open to visitors, even if it doesn’t necessarily look like it. Follow the path through the construction fencing and knock on the door.
- The cottage is not handicap accessible, and there are some pretty steep steps to go up.
- Make a roadtrip of it! Be sure to visit the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site in Philadelphia, The Horse You Came In On Saloon in Baltimore, and the Edgar Allan Poe Grave (also in Baltimore) while you’re out east.