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About the Museum>History of the Museum

History of the Poe Museum

The Poe Museum began over a century ago when Edgar Allan Poe collector and researcher James Howard Whitty and a group of literary enthusiasts met in Poe’s hometown of Richmond, Virginia to create the state’s first monument to a writer.  The Museum has enjoyed a history as unique as the author it honors.

Poe Museum Founders at opening ceremonyEstablished in 1906 as the Poe Memorial Association, this organization failed to generate enough public support for their project. Ten years later, the surviving members regrouped to save the Southern Literary Messenger building in which Poe began his career in journalism as editor and to make the structure into the National Poe Museum. The city’s building inspector, however, decided to have the building demolished as part of a plan to widen Fifteenth Street (the city eventually widened Fourteenth Street instead.) 

Undeterred, Whitty salvaged the building materials to reconstruct them elsewhere. He met historic preservationists Archer and Annie Jones who were renting Richmond’s oldest house, the Old Stone House, for use as a colonial history museum. Mrs. Jones decided the empty lot behind the house would be a fitting location for a Poe memorial garden, and Whitty allowed her to use the bricks and granite from the Southern Literary Messenger building to pave the garden paths and to build a Poe Shrine. 

Poe's Enchanted Garden

Mrs. Jones brought Poe’s vision of paradise--as described in his poem “To One in Paradise”--to life with flowers mentioned in Poe’s poems and short stories as well as plants taken from Poe’s mother’s grave, his foster father’s garden, and a home of Sir Walter Scott. Rather than continue to use the house as a colonial history museum, the Joneses restored it with lumber, locks, doorknobs, and hinges taken from the Southern Literary Messenger building and repurposed the space to display Whitty’s Poe collection alongside pieces donated by Poe relatives and collectors.

A Shrine to Poe

Historic Image of Poe Shrine and GardenOn April 26, 1922, the Poe Shrine opened to the public with a weekend of activities in the Enchanted Garden. A highlight of the event was a talk by Edward Virginius Valentine who had once met Poe seventy-three years earlier. 

The Poe Shrine’s charter members included railroad magnate Henry Huntington, composer John Phillips Sousa, and several descendants of Edgar Allan Poe’s relatives and friends. Cultural figures from around the world flocked to the new memorial, which counted among its early visitors Gertrude Stein, H.P. Lovecraft, Henry Miller, and Salvador Dalí .

Gertrude Stein's visit to the Poe Museum

By the end of the decade, the museum had already outgrown its original building and expanded into three adjoining structures. The third of these, the Elizabeth Arnold Poe Memorial Building, was constructed using a staircase taken from one of Poe’s boyhood homes.

The Poe Memorial Association eventually reorganized as the Poe Foundation, which was tasked with operating the Poe Shrine. Among the Poe Foundation’s notable presidents was two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Douglas Southall Freeman, who guided the institution through the lean years of the Great Depression and was responsible for changing the name of the Poe Shrine to the Poe Museum. 

The Poe Museum’s collection is now the most comprehensive in the world and its programs reach thousands of scholars, students, teachers and literary enthusiasts every year.