Museum News


A Visit to the Hiram Haines Coffee House


The members of the Poe Museum recently took a trip to the building in which Poe is said to have spent his honeymoon in May 1836. The owner of the house, Jeff Abugel, author the recent book Edgar Allan Poe’s Petersburg, provided our group a private tour of the house. He has spent the last few years restoring the house and researching its history. In Poe’s day, the house would have belonged to his friend, the Petersburg, Virginia poet and magazine editor Hiram Haines. Poe, who grew up thirty miles to the north in Richmond, was a close childhood friend of Mary Ann Philpotts, who would eventually marry Haines.

The relationship between Hiram Haines is documented by two letters in the collection of the Poe Museum. These are the only remaining correspondence between the two editors. In the first, from August 19, 1836, Poe asks Haines to consider reviewing the Southern Literary Messenger (the Richmond magazine Poe was editing at the time) in Haines’s magazine The Constellation. In the next letter, dated April 24, 1840, Poe politely turns down Haines’s offer to send Poe’s wife a pet fawn. Poe writes that he cannot find a way to transport the animal from Petersburg to Philadelphia, where Poe was living at the time. Shortly before writing the letter, Poe praised Haines’s magazine The Virginia Star in Alexander’s Weekly Messenger, and, in the note, Poe extends his “very best wishes” to the Star. Poe closes the letter by suggesting he might visit Petersburg in “a month of two hence.” There is no evidence this trip ever took place, and Haines died the following year.

There has long been a tradition that Poe spent his honeymoon at Haines’s house in Petersburg, but Abugel believes Poe would have stayed next door at Haines’s coffee house, which was also a hotel. A description of Poe’s wedding by one of those present, also describes Poe and his bride leaving Richmond by train to their honeymoon in Petersburg, but Abugel states on page 103 of Edgar Allan Poe’s Petersburg that, though the Richmond and Petersburg Railroad was chartered in 1836, it did not begin service until 1838, so Poe and his wife could not have taken the train from Richmond to Petersburg in 1836. Some accounts say Poe spent as long as two weeks in Petersburg, but there exists a letter written by Poe in Richmond on May 23, 1836 — just one week after his wedding on May 16.

We do not have much verifiable information about Poe’s honeymoon. James Whitty states in Mary Phillips’s Edgar Allan Poe: The Man (pp. 532-33) that there once existed several letters between Poe and Haines concerning the subject but that Haines’s grandson had only saved the two mentioned above. Whitty also relates that Poe was entertained in Petersburg by the Haines family as well as by the editor Edward V. Sparhawk and the writer Dr. W.M. Robinson.

Haines operated his coffee house and hotel out of this house, which was adjacent to his own home (on the right in the above photo).

The first stop on our tour was the coffee house on the first floor. The mantel in this photo was one of the original mantels taken from the second floor rooms in which Poe would have stayed.

Now indoors, this wall once overlooked the alley behind the house, and Poe and his bride would have entered through this second floor door, which was connected to the alley by an exterior staircase. Now there is a roof covering this area, which is part of the present day coffee and ale house.

The door from the alley opened onto this landing. The room in which Abugel believes Poe would have stayed is at the end of the hall.

This is the room in which Poe would have slept. Very few changes were made to these rooms since Poe’s time, so Abugel believes this would have been the paint on the walls when the poet was there. The view out the window would have been different, because there would have been an empty lot across the street.

Here is the next room, which is connected to the last one. That is not a ghost by the window.

Our tour ended back downstairs in the coffee house where some of us purchased Hiram Haines Coffee and Ale House T-shirts with Poe’s face on them. Abugel informed us that the first floor is open not only for coffee but also the occasional concert or special event. You can find out more about the place on Facebook. Many thanks to Jeffrey Abugel for the great tour.

After the tour of the house, Poe Museum docent Alyson Taylor-White took the group on a walking tour of historic Petersburg.

The next program for Poe Museum members will be a tour of Monumental Church on Saturday, November 23 at noon.



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