A Small Cottage Near Campus, Once Home to Edgar Allen Poe


Edgar Allen Poe's past residence lies just a few minutes from Fordham's campus. It is rumoed that much of his work was inspired by Fordham's campus. Hal Dick/ Flickr

Edgar Allen Poe's past residence lies just a few minutes from Fordham's campus. It is rumoed that much of his work was inspired by Fordham's campus. Hal Dick/ Flickr
Edgar Allen Poe’s past residence lies just a few minutes from Fordham’s campus. It is rumoed that much of his work was inspired by Fordham’s campus. Hal Dick/ Flickr

By Joe Vitale

Though many students may have encountered his writing ­— “The Raven” and “The Cask of Amontillado” still find their way onto many college reading lists — few at Fordham know much about Edgar Allen Poe himself, or that his former home lies within walking distance of the Rose Hill campus.

The poet and short-story pioneer’s former residence, aptly named Poe’s Cottage, was built around 1800 and is the last remaining building of what was then Fordham Village. Nestled between Kingsbridge Road and Grand Concourse, the landmark is part of the Historic House Trust and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Today, the cottage sits about 500 feet north of the original location after being moved following a fight for its preservation in 1913. Administered by the Bronx County Historical Society, Poe’s Cottage underwent a half-million dollar renovation in 2011 and is open to the public.

The landmark is one of several locations along the East coast where Poe, born in 1809, spent much of his life. He bounced around various apartments in Manhattan but leased the Bronx cottage for $100 a year when his wife, Virginia, fell ill in 1844. He hoped the country air of the area would restore her health and so he decided to head outside the city’s center.
Despite living in many cities throughout his life (Baltimore and Philadelphia among them), Poe’s landmarked home near Fordham remains one of the most interesting and telling of Poe’s life.

It is filled with loss, being where his wife died of illness, serving as inspiration to the poem “Annabel Lee.” It is also filled with loneliness, being a place where Poe spent hours sitting alone with the family cat perched on his shoulder. The cottage not only served as a historical source of inspiration for Poe, but has served a source of inspiration to many others because of him.

Sparsely furnished, the cottage contains a main floor and an attic bedroom with a ceiling about six feet in height. When Poe lived there, much of the Bronx was yet to be developed, granting him unobstructed views of the city.

“The cottage had an air of taste and gentility,” a friend of Poe’s later wrote of the cottage. “So neat, so poor, so unfurnished, and yet so charming a dwelling I never saw.”

The shores of Long Island were visible from the cottage, as was the grounds of Fordham’s campus (then St. John’s University), where he spent time wandering the bucolic grounds and befriending the Jesuits who were living and teaching there.

Still, the cottage is where he wrote some of his most important works, including “The Bells,” “Annabel Lee” and “Eureka.” It is also credited with the inspiration of his last short story, “Landor’s Cottage.”

Though it is debated, some scholars believe that Poe drew inspiration from the campus for some of his most famous works. Some, for example, credit the inspiration for “The Bells” to Fordham’s campus bells. Tradition has it that Poe was speaking with a woman named Marie Louise Shew when he said he no longer had any inspiration. Sitting in the cottage, Shew suggested he listen to the bell chiming in the distance — the bell ringing from Fordham’s campus.

The campus not only served as inspiration but provided Poe with much-needed companionship. Some of Poe’s time on campus is recalled in Fordham: A History and Memoir by Fr. Ray Schroth, S.J. Poe, Scroth writes, thought St. John’s University was a “most congenial place.” Poe often found great solace in long walks near his home and they often led him to the gates of campus.

His time on campus brought him close to one Jesuit in particular, named Edward Doucet, who was in his 20’s when he met the poet, according to Schroth. The two often strolled around campus as Poe consulted Doucet about his works.

The Jesuits would allow Poe to peruse their library, where he would often stay for hours. While Poe was not wealthy or widely -known, the Jesuits knew of his literary brilliance and welcomed him with open arms.

The gesture was not unrequited. Of the Jesuits, Poe once said they were “highly cultivated gentlemen and scholars.”
“They smoked and they drank and played cards,” Poe said, “and never said a word about religion.”