June 7, 2010

American authors and their homes

Though Washington Irving is strongly associated with Tarrytown in New York, he did not purchase a home there until June 7, 1835. He was 57 years old when he purchased the "neglected cottage" formerly known as Wolfert's Roost; he renamed it "Sunnyside" a few years later (technically in Irvington, named for the author years later). The home and the author are now inseparable in collective memory. Oliver Wendell Holmes said that Irving's house stood as "the best known and most cherished" of all American houses, second only to Mount Vernon (home of Irving's namesake).

Irving had spent most of his life moving from place to place. He complained that he was eager for a home he could call his own — so eager, in fact, he noted he was "willing to pay a little unreasonably for it." Sunnsyside cost him $1,800. He described it as a "beautiful spot, capable of being made a little paradise." He soon set to work expanding the home; it was in a state of renovation for the next 20 years. With costs piling up, he accepted a job as Minister to Spain in 1842, leaving Sunnyside behind. "The only drawback upon all this is the hard trial of tearing myself away from dear little Sunnyside," he wrote.

24 years after Irving purchased Sunnyside, another American writer began construction of a home which became part of his identity. On June 7, 1859, travel writer, novelist, and poet Bayard Taylor laid the cornerstone for "Cedarcroft," his mansion near Kennett Square, Pennsylvania (at right, seen from the side; today it is privately owned).

Taylor served as both architect and construction supervisor for Cedarcroft. He noted in his journal how he celebrated the beginning stages of his home.

To-day we placed the great corner-stone of the tower, with all due ceremony. Under it is a box of zinc, containing a copy of 'Views Afoot;' an original poem by me, to be read five hundred years hence by somebody who never heard of me; some coins; a poem by [Richard Henry Stoddard] in his own MS.; and various small things.

*The image of Cedarcroft is one I took personally after an arduous hunt on a cold November day in 2008. I was without a camera for my April 2009 trip to Sunnyside; the image above stolen borrowed from Brian Jay Jones, author of Washington Irving: An American Original (a book which I highly recommend).

1 comment:

  1. Interesting posting. I've visited "Sunnyside" and wouldn't mind seeing "Cedarcroft" from the outside, at least. I live near Kennett Square but have never come across it. Sounds as if, from the mention of your "arduous hunt" that it's not the sort of place one would just "come across."