Growing up, I always wondered about the white little cottage on Kingsbridge Road. It seemed very odd to me—, almost out of place. Such a small, peaceful looking house surrounded by the loud main road, and huge buildings. “Who lives there?” I would ask my mother as we rode past it on the bus on our way to Fordham Road. It wasn’t until my freshman year in college, while taking a writing class on detective and mystery fiction, that I learned who actually lived there. It was one of America’s greatest authors and poets, Edgar Allan Poe. He had once lived in our beloved borough of—The Bronx.
For the first historical piece on Bronx Narratives, and being that we are in the month of October, it only felt right that we start off with Poe (who was otherwise known as The “Master of the Macabre”) and his stay at the cottage. The Edgar Allan Poe Cottage was built in 1812 and owned by John Valentine, according to Lloyd Ultan and Shelley Olson’s The Bronx: The Ultimate to New York City’s Beautiful Borough
The cottage originally stood on Kingsbridge Road, east of Valentine Avenue, which was formerly known as Fordham Village. Poe, along with his young, ailing wife Virginia Clemm (who was also his cousin), and mother-in-law Maria (who was also his aunt), rented the cottage for $5 rent per month or $100 per year. Ultan and Olson state that he moved his family in the summer of 1846 in the hopes that the fresh county air would improve his wife’s condition who was struggling with tuberculosis.
The two-story cottage is quite small and simple. The first floor has a sitting room, bedroom, and kitchen. The second floor has another bedroom and study room. There is no heating or bathroom. However, even with the minimal furnishings, the family loved their time there. Besides taking care of his wife, Poe wrote some of his most celebrated poems in the house — including, “Annabel Lee” and “Ulalume.” According to Jimmy Stamp’s “When Edgar Allan Poe Needed to Get Away, He Went to the Bronx,” the house most likely also inspired Poe’s final short story, “Landor’s Cottage.”
The country life was going well for Poe until January 30th, 1847, when Virginia succumbed to her illness and died in the cottage’s first floor bedroom. Poe stayed in the cottage until his mysterious death in 1849 when he left on a lecture tour to raise money. He wanted to start a new literary magazine in Baltimore, Maryland.
It is uncertain on the immediate use of the cottage once the Poe family left. However, the cottage was in complete disrepair. In 1889, William Fearing Gill bought the cottage for $775 at an auction in the first step of preservation after the Parks Department considered it too expensive to restore. In 1895, the New York Shakespeare Society purchased the cottage for use as a headquarters with the intent to maintain it in the condition which Poe used it. However, with the widening of Kingsbridge Road, they lobbied the New York Sate Legislature to relocate the house across the street and to establish a public park surrounding it (—Poe Park). It wasn’t until 1913 that the cottage was moved and opened to the public, along with the park.
In 1962, Poe’s Cottage was designated a landmark in The Bronx and in 1966 it was recognized by the New York Landmarks Preservation Commission. Then, in 1975, the Bronx County Historical Society became its permanent custodian. Some of the furnishings such as Poe’s rocking chair and the bed in which Virginia died are still in the house today (anyone want to conduct a séance?). Other items in the cottage were not used by Poe himself, but arranged by Poe’s admirers that visited his home. Whether you are a Poe enthusiast or history buff, the cottage serves as a historical glimpse of The Bronx’s rural past and an intimate portrait of the life of one of America's most famous writers.