Poe Sites in Virginia
Poe visited Fort Monroe in Hampton Virginia on two different occasions. The first time was in 1828-1829, when Poe was stationed there while serving in the United States Army. While at the fort, he attained the rank of Regimental Sergeant-Major, the highest rank an enlisted man could achieve, but his dissatisfaction with military life led him to hire a substitute to serve the remainder of his term for him. The Casemate Museum, located on the base, features an exhibit about Poe’s time in the Army. Call (757) 788-3391 for museum information.
Poe returned to Fort Monroe twenty years later to give one of his last public readings in Norfolk and stayed at the Hygeia Hotel. One night during his stay, Poe gave a private reading for a few female admirers on the Hygeia’s veranda.
13181 Hanover Courthouse Road, Hanover, Virginia
Built in 1791, Hanover Tavern was located on the stagecoach route between Richmond and Washington D.C. Poe was one of several famous visitors to spend the night there. Other notable guests include Charles Dickens, John Marshall, and P.T. Barnum.
Tours of the building are available Tuesdays through Saturdays. For more information call (804) 537-5050.
Poe’s Dorm Room
13 West Range, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia
Poe was a member of the second class to enroll in the University of Virginia. He arrived at the University in February 1826 with only about a third of the money he needed for his tuition and room and board. By December, Poe had accumulated so much debt that he was unable to return.
The University was a dangerous place in Poe’s time. One professor described the students as “the worst that I ever knew.” Drinking, gambling, and fighting were common, and riots broke out from time to time. One of Poe’s letters home describes a fight outside his dorm room that ended with one student repeatedly biting the other on the arm. Another student horsewhipped a classmate for cheating at cards. Poe was never disciplined for any misconduct at the University, but he did engage in gambling and ran up a debt of about $2,000.
Located near the Rotunda, Poe’s dorm room has been preserved and is viewable through a glass door. A recording details the story of Poe’s life, and a historical marker provides additional information.
Hiram Haines House
12 Bank Street, Petersburg, Virginia
Poe spent his honeymoon in the Hiram Haines Coffee House. Haines, a newspaper editor and friend of Poe’s lived in the adjacent building at 16 Bank Street. An early admirer of Poe’s work, Haines became a lifelong friend of the poet’s. Haines once offered to give Poe’s wife a fawn as a gift, but Poe politely declined the present because he did not know a convenient way to ship a deer.
For years, the Coffee House was occupied by a used office furniture store, but a new owner more appreciative of the building’s history has recently purchased it and will convert it into a “literary tavern.”
Saint John’s Church
2401 East Broad Street, Richmond, Virginia
Built in 1741, this is the oldest church still standing in Richmond. During the Virginia Convention of 1775, Patrick Henry gave his “Liberty or Death” speech here. One observer was so impressed by Henry’s words that he asked to be buried at the place he was standing when he heard them. The man’s widow honored her husband’s request, and today Edward Carrington’s grave can be found under the window where he was standing. Among the members of the congregation was Poe’s twice-fiancé Elmira Royster Shelton. On a Sunday morning in July 1849. Poe visited Shelton at home after having not seen her in over a decade, and she told he would have to come back later because she was on her way to church.
The yard around the church contains some graves of interest to Poe. The most important is that of Poe’s mother, the traveling actress Elizabeth Arnold Poe. It is located along the east wall of the churchyard. By the time Mrs. Poe died in 1811, her husband had abandoned her, and she was dependant upon the society ladies who brought meals to their favorite actress. Ordinarily, such ladies did not associate with actresses since acting was still considered a dishonorable profession, but Mrs. Poe was especially popular. It was an honor that such a woman as Mrs. Poe was allowed to be buried in a church yard, and there is said to have been some protest mounted by some members of the church at the time. Her placement in an unmarked grave as close as possible to outside wall of the yard could be evidence of this. The marker you will find there today was placed in 1927 by the Raven Society and the Poe Foundation on the spot Poe Museum founder James H. Whitty had located by searching through the church’s burial records.
Another grave of interest is that of Thomas Willis White, Poe’s boss at the Southern Literary Messenger. The stone is located to the right of the brick path and in front of the Parish Hall. A plot containing the graves of MacKenzie family members is located near the entrance to the right of the path. The MacKenzies took care of Poe’s sister Rosalie after her mother died.
Elmira Shelton House
2407 East Grace Street, Richmond, Virginia
Built in 1844, this was the home of the woman to whom Poe was engaged both when he was seventeen and when he was forty. Their first engagement was broken off by her father while Poe was at college. Mr. Royster intercepted and destroyed Poe’s letters to her and convinced Elmira that Poe had forgotten about her. Elmira soon engaged herself to Alexander Barrett Shelton. After Shelton’s early death, Elmira rented this house on Church Hill across Grace Street from Saint John’s Church. Her brothers also lived nearby on Grace Street. When Poe returned to Richmond in 1849, he began to visit Shelton regularly, much to the disapproval of her brothers. Even her children apparently did not care for Poe and begged her not to marry him. By the end of September, Elmira had agreed to marry Poe, and he had set the date for October 17, after his return from a business trip to Philadelphia. Poe never reached Philadelphia but died in Baltimore ten days before the wedding would have taken place. Rumors soon began to circulate that Mrs. Shelton’s brothers had beaten Poe and that his injuries had caused his early death. Although a similar appeared in the United States Magazine in 1857, the theory was never widely accepted, and the cause of Poe’s death remains a mystery. The newspapers at the time attributed it to “congestion of the brain.”
The building was originally a rental property owned by the Van Lew family, whose mansion stood one block to the west. The Van Lews’ daughter Elizabeth was a Union spy during the Civil War. The Shelton House was once the headquarters of the Historic Richmond Foundation but has since been transferred to private ownership. In 2004 the 500-pound iron gate was stolen from the front yard. Within days the story of the missing gate had been reported in the local media, and the gate was returned in the middle of the night.
12th and College Streets, Richmond, Virginia
On this site once stood the Richmond Theatre, where Poe’s mother performed to enthusiastic audiences until within months of her death in December 1811. Two weeks and four days after her death, the theatre burned during a performance on the night after Christmas. Among the seventy-two victims of the fire were the Governor of Virginia and a former United States Senator. Newspapers as far away as Boston reported that the fire had been God’s punishment on the immoral world of the theatre. The city was plunged into a period of mourning, and theatrical performances were banned for six months. John Marshall, Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, was head of the committee charged with finding a suitable memorial for the victims of the fire. Monumental Church was the result. It was completed in 1814 with the help of donations made by those who would become members of the congregation. Poe’s foster father John Allan donated $230, and the Allans owned Pew #80. It was here that Poe sat with his foster mother Frances Allan for Sunday worship services. The pew is still marked with a brass plaque placed in memory of Mrs. Allan. One can imagine the many Biblical references in Poe’s works had their roots in Poe’s upbringing in this church.
Designed by Robert Mills (who also designed the Washington Monument in Washington D.C.) this church was designed to resemble an ancient tomb and is covered with symbols of mourning and death. Monumental Church not only resembles a tomb but also serves as the final resting place for the remains of the fire victims. They are located in a crypt beneath the front portico. The church no longer has an active congregation and is owned and maintained by the Historic Richmond Foundation. It is open for tours on weekends during the summer.
1807 East Franklin Street, Richmond, Virginia
Counting George Washington and John Marshall among its members, this is the oldest continuously used Masonic Lodge in the country. The structure was built in 1787. The tiny port city of Richmond became the capital of Virginia in 1780, and the Masonic Lodge was one of the largest buildings in town for the next few decades. The space was large enough that it could serve as a hospital during the War of 1812, and it was rented out at various times for acrobatic displays and concerts. Poe’s mother is said to have given two concerts here in October 1811, barely two months before her death. In 1824, the Revolutionary War hero Lafayette was entertained in the Masonic Lodge and made an honorary member. A fifteen-year-old Edgar Allan Poe was second-in-command of the honor guard that escorted Lafayette around Richmond and would have guarded the Lodge while the General was inside.
Old Stone House
1916 East Main Street, Richmond, Virginia
After escorting Lafayette to the Masonic Lodge, Poe and the honor guard took the General to the Old Stone House, the residence of the Ege family which had helped supply Lafayette’s troops during the Revolution. Lafayette is said to have picked up the Eges’ son and showed him so much attention that the family named the boy Lafayette. Poe would have been guarding the outside of the house. In the years to come, Poe would pass the house several times on his walks down Main Street to Rocket’s Landing. He would have known of it since the house was already appearing in guidebooks as a Richmond landmark during Poe’s lifetime. An 1843 book already refers to the century-old house as “the old Stone House” and calls it the oldest house in Richmond. There is no evidence that Poe ever entered the house, and any association it might have had with Poe was less important to the city than its association with Lafayette. In the last half of the nineteenth century, the house, then used as a curio shop, was called “Lafayette’s Headquarters” or “Washington’s Headquarters” even though neither had actually used it as their headquarters at any time. In fact, Washington had never even visited the house.
The Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities saved the building from destruction in 1913 and loaned it to the Poe Foundation for use as a Poe Museum, which opened in 1922. Beginning in 1927, the surrounding buildings were removed or cut back to reveal three sides of the house to the street. A 1970 restoration removed later additions like mantels and wood paneling and replaced the deteriorating floorboards in the west room, but the floorboards in the east room are believed to still be original or at least very old. Examination of the tree rings on the removed floorboards has dated them to 1754. The roof was restored in 2008.
A peculiar feature of the house is the insignia “IR” to the right of the east window on the south side of the house. One theory holds that the initials stand for “Jacobus Rex” meaning “King James” and that the house was built during the brief reign of James II from 1685 to 1688. Other theories tell that the stone was either found among the ballast stones thrown ashore from ships coming to load up with tobacco at the Port of Manchester or that the stone was left by Christopher Newport when he first reached the Falls of the James in 1607 during the reign of James I.
2315 West Grace Street, Richmond, Virginia
This farmhouse was built in 1838 by the Talley family. The daughter Susan Archer Talley, was a poet and friend of Poe’s sister Rosalie. Poe and his sister spent many evenings here during the summer of 1849. Susan Talley, writing under her married name Susan Weiss, described Poe’s final private reading, given here just two weeks before his death. The Sauer family, manufacturers of flavor extracts, owned the home in the early 1900’s and prevented it from being demolished while newer homes were being built all around it. Talavera remains a private residence and is not open to the public.
The Craig House
1812 East Grace Streets, Richmond, Virginia (historic marker on sidewalk)
Considered the oldest frame house in the original city limits, this house was constructed between 1784 and 1787 for Judge Adam Craig, whose daughter Jane Craig was born here and lived here until her marriage to Judge Robert Stanard. Poe did not meet her until 1824, when he was fifteen and she was the mother of his classmate Robert Craig Stanard.
He described his first meeting with her to his friend Sarah Helen Whitman who reported that Mrs. Stanard “afterwards became the confidant of all his boyish sorrows, and hers was the one redeeming influence that saved and guided him in the earlier days of his turbulent and passionate youth.” Shortly after she met Poe, Mrs. Stanard went insane and died. Poe wrote his lyric poem “To Helen” in her memory.
Virginia State Capitol Grounds, Richmond, Virginia (next to Bell Tower Visitor Center—close to 9th and East Franklin Streets)
This statue of Poe was placed in the Capitol grounds in close proximity to one of his boyhood homes and the house in which he was married (both now demolished). It was commissioned by Dr. George Edward Barksdale of Pennsylvania and sent to Richmond in 1956. This statue was not placed on the Capitol Grounds until 1958.