On a gray, rainy June day that would have made the perfect setting for an Edgar Allen Poe novel, die-hard fans from across the country descended on the intersection of Grand Concourse and West Kingsbridge Road to help rebuild a house that once belonged to their favorite author.
The six fans were the winners of a contest held by the by the New York City Historic House Trust, which is collaborating with the Bronx County Historical Society on renovating the Poe Cottage.
Hundreds of Poe fans submitted art pieces inspired by the legendary 19th-century author. Winning pieces included drawings, poems, short stories and a choreographed modern dance routine.
On Thursday, June 23, contest winners had their items placed in a time capsule in the walls of Poe Cottage where Poe lived from 1846 to 1849. They also plastered the interior walls of the cottage.
“This is really wonderful,” said contest winner Ben Miller, of Manhattan. “It’s easy to get to on the subway and it really highlights the cultural richness of the Bronx that a lot of people don’t really know about.”
Angel Hernandez of Norwood has been overseeing the renovation of Poe Cottage for the Bronx Historical Society.
“The Bronx is a working-class borough and that’s what Poe represented,” Hernandez said. “This is a working class house. It resonates with the Bronx because it’s humble. His work has been translated into so many different languages. It resonates with everyone, regardless of the language barrier.”
Poe lived in the Bronx with his wife and mother-in-law from 1846 through 1849, when most of the borough was farmland and forest. He moved to the northwest part of the borough from Manhattan because his wife had tuberculosis and the day’s common wisdom held that fresh air could cure the disease, but Virginia Poe died within a year.
The house sat on an isolated parcel of farmland owned by a wealthy farmer named John Valentine. The depression surrounding the death of his wife motivated Poe to write prolifically until he died in 1849.
The house itself was built in 1812. Its cramped rooms and low ceilings were designed to hold heat. It was purchased by the city in 1902 and The Bronx Historical Society startted caring for the house in 1965.
Poe Cottage’s current renovation is a result of a $638,000 allocation from Councilman Joel Rivera and a $446,600 grant from the National Parks Service.
The renovation began in August, 2010 and is expected to be completed in late July. Poe Park, which surrounds Poe Cottage also got a brand new visitors center that is excepted to open once the house renovations are complete.
In addition to the house being fully renovated, the area in front of it will get new landscaping treatment.
“We want to make this a tourism center for the Bronx,” Hernandez said. “It’s amazing how people from all over the world come to the Bronx to see this house.”
A few Poe fanatics just moved the process ahead a little bit.