New York has more than its fair share of literary heroes. Manhattan (Langston Hughes, Edith Wharton) and Brooklyn (Hart Crane, Walt Whitman, Truman Capote) get the lion's share of the press and adulation, which is why you'd be forgiven for not knowing that one of America's greatest writers—Edgar Allan Poe—wrote some of his finest work in a small, unassuming house in the Bronx. The Poe Cottage still stands today as a small testament to the proto-horror author's life and work.
Edgar Allan Poe lived in the Bronx before it was the Bronx. He and his wife, Virginia (who was also his cousin—yeah, you read that right) moved to the area in 1846, when it was still known as the village of Fordham, New York, in what was then Westchester. Virginia had consumption, the deadliest disease of its day, and Poe thought the fresh country air would do her some good. (Alas, she died a year later.) The couple rented a cottage for $100 a year from the Valentine family, whose name you may recognize from nearby Valentine Avenue, which briefly overlaps with Grand Concourse and extends down from the southeast corner of Poe Park. Although now the D train deposits people directly across from the Poe Cottage, the author himself used to get to Manhattan on foot, by walking the recently reopened High Bridge, decades before subways came to the city.
The poem that Edgar wrote for Virginia in the Bronx cottage, "Annabel Lee," remains one of his most beloved and widely taught works. (It doesn't seem likely that Fordham, which is in the central Bronx, was the model for Annabel's "kingdom by the sea.") And if the country life wasn't good for Virginia's health, it was at least good for Poe's writing: during the three-year period between his move to Fordham and his death, he wrote "The Cask of Amontillado," "Eureka," and "The Bells," the last of which was inspired in part by the carillon at Fordham University.
If not for Poe, nothing would remain of Fordham Village but its name, which was given to a road and a university. The cottages comprising the village were torn down to make way for more profitable apartment blocks, but thanks to Poe’s popularity—by the time of his death, he was finally a literary celebrity, although he didn’t live to enjoy much of his success—fans were able to preserve his house, which was moved from its original location and settled into a nearby park that was promptly renamed Poe Park, on the corner of Kingsbridge Road and Grand Concourse, in 1913. Former President Teddy Roosevelt, himself a New Yorker, personally stepped in to prevent the roads from expanding until the Poe Cottage was safely spirited away via a group of rolling logs.
The house went through a careful renovation five years ago, and although there was once a handsome bust of Poe (sculpted by Edmond T. Quinn) in the park, it was moved inside to protect it from the elements. The famous Matthew Brady daguerreotype of Poe, which most of us recognize as the author photo from the back of whichever paperback we read in school, hangs modestly on a side wall, easy to miss if you go up the stairs too quickly. (It could have easily served as a model for the :\ emoji.) Upstairs, you can sit and watch a video about Poe’s life in and significance to the Bronx; plus, there’s a roughly life-size cardboard cutout of the author all ready to pose in your selfies.
There are only a few items of Poe’s original furnishings inside the cottage—a mirror, a rocking chair, and the bed that Virginia died in—but there’s still no running water (in other words, no bathrooms) or, to the chagrin of most visitors, the ability to run a wire for a credit card machine. Although Poe is best known for his short stories and poems, he had a bit of a passion for interior design and wrote an essay, "The Philosophy of Furniture", in 1840. Except for the folding chairs upstairs, many of the items in the house adhere to Poe’s beliefs about the functionality of furniture—for example, the desk has legs that can be folded up for easier portability, while the bookshelves hang from a hook so that they require less installation. Poe probably would have appreciated the fact that his house sits crookedly on the ground: "Straight lines are too prevalent, too uninterruptedly continued, or clumsily interrupted at right angles. If curved lines occur, they are repeated into unpleasant uniformity. Undue precision spoils the appearance of many a room."
For the full Poe-fan experience, try to time your visit to the Cottage with the Fordham University Church bells.
What a world of merriment their melody foretells!
How they tinkle, tinkle, tinkle,
In the icy air of night!
While the stars that oversprinkle
All the heavens, seem to twinkle
With a crystalline delight
- All Bronx Week coverage [Curbed]