The Old Stone House located at 1914 East Main Street, near Shockoe Bottom, is Richmond’s oldest known structure. It was built around 1750. Perhaps much more significant than that to the rest of the world is the fact that it is also home to the memorabilia and artifacts of the gifted poet, horror short story writer, and Richmond resident, Edgar Allan Poe. The Poe Museum was established in 1922 to honor Poe’s life in Richmond and as a tribute to his literary contribution to the world.
Richmond lays claim to quite a few literary notables, including Ellen Glasgow, Tom Wolfe, and Patricia Cornwell. However, no one else creates such a thoughtful pause as Edgar Allan Poe. Through much of his work, Poe’s writing gifts demonstrated his mastery of effectively illustrating the macabre, suspense, and terror with intelligence, wit, and the use of beauty in language. He is an inspiration to many writers within the genre to date.
Poe was born in Baltimore in 1809 and raised in Richmond by the Allan family following his mother’s death in 1811. John Allan was an owner of Ellis & Allan, a mercantile shop in downtown Richmond. As a young man,
Poe attended Monumental Episcopal Church (now known as Monumental Church) with the Allans. It is believed that Poe’s strained relationship with Allan may have served as the muse for his works.Many of his stories mirror the intellectual and psychological experience of his youth and are carried through calculating and unhinged characters. He was reared in a large downtown Richmond home called Moldavia, which is also believed to have served as a form of inspiration, as many of his tales feature a mansion filled with gloom, madness, and events of a mentally spiraling nature.
The opposite of his maniacal expressions through prose was pronounced hopeless romanticism in verse. Three of his most beloved poems, including “Annabel Lee” and even “The Raven” are presumed to have been inspired by women of Richmond with whom he was known to have been involved.
The plan to use The Old Stone House as a museum was supported and funded by local historians, Mr. and Mrs. Archer Jones. The house possesses its own interesting piece of history. Poe’s connection to it may have been stemmed from his duty, around 1824, as a color guard escort to France’s Marquis de Lafayette during a visit to the Ege family, the original owners of the house. During the Revolutionary War, approximately fifty years earlier, Lafayette had stayed there as he worked to help Washington defeat the British. Other than that, there is no other association known between Poe and the house. However, commemoration of his works and time spent in the city was desired.
Remarkable thought went into the development of the museum and grounds. The Old Stone House is a small portion. By incorporating various items connected to Poe’s life to the museum, the grounds were expanded as a unique, heartfelt, nostalgic dedication towards his work on his craft and his life in Richmond.
The Old Stone House, which features the gift shop, contains the original heart-of-pine floors and a uniquely designed fireplace. The first leg of the self-directed tour in the House introduces the visitor to Poe and his family. The short walk to the Model Building reveals a stunning model of an early-to-mid 19th-century Richmond, complete with painstakingly created miniature houses and labels as they pertained to Poe’s lifetime. The minutest details of the model are so convincing, they constructively pull the visitor into the past. Featured are models of many of Richmond’s landmarks along with homes that are significant to Poe’s life, such as Elmira Shelton’s home – the woman to whom he was once engaged.
The Enchanted Garden – a peaceful courtyard with an engaging fountain – was designed in 1921 to resemble the garden in his poem, “To One in Paradise”. At the north end of the garden is the Poe Shrine, where a copy of Poe’s bust from the Bronx Historical Society sits. Bricks and granite rescued from the demolition of the Southern Literary Messenger, a local magazine where Poe had worked and practiced his craft prior to his fame, are used in the shrine and throughout the garden.
In the Elizabeth Arnold Poe Memorial Building, named in honor of his mother, many dynamic aspects of his literary self are displayed, including his desk from the Southern Literary Messenger. Also safely stored and displayed is the staircase from the first Allan home in which he lived. Several of Poe’s wares displayed in this building demonstrate his fine aesthetic tastes.
The last stop of the self-directed tour is the Exhibits Building. Most of those artifacts bring a more modern-day connection to Poe with the exhibit of film adaptations to his work. Included is an impressive letter displayed on behalf of Universal Pictures’ president, Carl Laemmle, asking that photo stills from the 1932 hit, Murders in the Rue Morgue, be added to the Poe Collection.
In 1849, at the age of forty, Poe died in Baltimore about two weeks after leaving Richmond for a brief stay. Even though he is buried in Baltimore, his life remains immortal here in Richmond with each piece that represents him, his contribution to the world he provided, and his life as a Richmonder in that charming Old Stone House and its grounds.
The museum features special events throughout the year, most notably in October, since Poe is usually synonymous with Halloween. Any time would make a great family outing to learn more about Poe’s era in the city. Make your plans to visit soon. Ticket prices range from $6 to $8.
Sunday 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Tuesday 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Wednesday 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Thursday 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Friday 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Saturday 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Reposted from my blog, "Front Porch, Sweet Tea, and A Pile of Books".