Emily Dickinson Museum

  • Posted on: 16 June 2015
  • By: apiuser

The Emily Dickinson Museum is a historic house museum consisting of two houses: the Dickinson Homestead (also known as Emily Dickinson Home or Emily Dickinson House) and the Evergreens. The Dickinson Homestead was the birthplace and home from 1855?1886 of 19th-century American poet Emily Dickinson (1830?1886), whose poems were discovered in her bedroom there after her death. The house next door, called the Evergreens, was built by the poet's father, Edward Dickinson, in 1856 as a wedding present for her brother Austin. Located in Amherst, Massachusetts, the houses are preserved as a single museum and are open to the public on guided tours. The Emily Dickinson Home is a US National Historic Landmark, and properties contribute to the Dickinson Historic District, listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

-- From Wikipedia

History: 

The Dickinson family had a long record of residency in the Connecticut River valley, dating back to the early days of English colonial settlement of the area. Nathan Dickinson moved to the relatively new town of Amherst, Massachusetts in 1742. By the early 19th century, the Dickinson family had accumulated some 14 acres (5.7 ha) land on the east side of town. In 1813, Samuel Fowler Dickinson (1775?1838), built the Dickinson Homestead on Main Street, its grandeur reflecting his prominence then as a lawyer. However, his financial affairs were less secure, and by 1817, he had mortgaged the house for $2,500; in 1825, he mortgaged the Homestead again, along with other properties, to Oliver Smith for $6,000. In 1828, when Samuel Fowler Dickinson went bankrupt, Smith sold the mortgaged properties to John Leland and Nathan Dickinson, Samuel's nephew.

Edward Dickinson's residency

Edward Dickinson, Emily's father

In March 1830, Samuel Fowler Dickinson's eldest son Edward purchased the western half of the Homestead for $1,500, and moved in with his wife and young son Austin. Nine months later, on December 10, their second child, Emily Dickinson, was born there. Lavinia was born there three years later.

Portrait of the Edward Dickinson's children, c. 1840

In 1833, persistent money troubles forced Edward to sell the Homestead back to Leland and Nathan, who in turn gave the entire property to General David Mack, Jr. Mack's family occupied the western half of the Homestead, while Edward and his family moved into the eastern half. They remained there until 1840, when they moved to a nearby house on West Street (now North Pleasant), overlooking Amherst's West Cemetery. By 1855, fifteen years later, Edward had risen to prominence and wealth, and was able to purchase the entire Homestead and surrounding land for $6,000 after Mack's death. The family moved back to the Homestead in 1856. That same year, Edward began construction of The Evergreens just west of the Homestead, presenting it as a wedding gift to his son Austin and new wife Susan.

The property included a 1.5-acre (0.61 ha) garden, which was tended by Emily, Lavinia, and their mother, and Emily often sent flowers along with notes to her acquaintances. A large barn stood directly behind the house to shelter the family's horses, cow, and chickens and provide rooms for the groundskeeper. Linking the two Dickinson houses was a path described by Emily Dickinson as "just wide enough for two who love," crossing the lawn from the back door of the Homestead to the east piazza of The Evergreens.

In the 1860s, Edward and Austin Dickinson planted a low hemlock hedge that spanned the street frontage of both houses. Edward Dickinson died in 1874; his funeral service was held in the Homestead. His wife died, after years of chronic illness and a stroke, in 1882.

Emily Dickinson's residency

Emily Dickinson occupied the Homestead for much of her life. The longest absence was between 1840 and 1855, when the family's finances necessitated a move. Beginning in the 1850s she became increasingly secluded from outside contact, although the reasons for this are not entirely clear. She took to interacting with visitors through closed doors, and did not travel unless necessary. In 1868 she wrote to Thomas Henry Higginson, a regular correspondent, that "I do not cross my Father's ground to any House or town" in response to his suggestion that she come to Boston so they might meet. She did, however, tend the flower garden, which was locally appreciated, and visited her brother's family next door. She died in 1886, and her funeral service was held in the Homestead's library.

Pursuant to Emily's wishes, her sister Lavinia destroyed her correspondence. She found the bulk of Emily's poetry in a locked chest in Emily's room, and immediately recognized the collection's significance. The complete works were first published in 1955.

Later history

Restored
daguerreotype of Emily Dickinson, c. 1848

The longest-lived member of the family was Lavinia, who occupied the Homestead until her death in 1899. At that time, the Homestead was inherited by Austin's daughter, Martha Dickinson Bianchi. She leased the house to tenants until 1916, when she sold it to the Parke family. In 1963 the house was designated a National Historic Landmark. In 1965, the Parke family sold the house to the Trustees of Amherst College. The college used the house for faculty housing, but opened portions of the house, including Emily's room, for public tours.

Next door, Austin and Susan Dickinson lived at The Evergreens until their respective deaths in 1895 and 1913. Martha Dickinson Bianchi, their only surviving child, continued to live in the house, and preserved it, without change, until her own death in 1943. Her heirs ? co-editor Alfred Leete Hampson, and later his widow, Mary Landis Hampson ? continued to preserve the house as a "time capsule" of a prosperous nineteenth-century household in a New England town, recognizing the tremendous historical and literary significance of a site left completely intact. In 1991, The Evergreens passed to a private testamentary trust, the Martha Dickinson Bianchi Trust, which began developing the house as a museum.

The trust's work led to discussions with the college over collaboration between the two on administration of their respective properties. These culminated in the merger of the two efforts in 2003, when the trust transferred ownership of The Evergreens to Amherst College, and the Emily Dickinson Museum was formally established to manage the recombined properties.

-- From Wikipedia

Location

main Amherst , Massachusetts
United States
42° 22' 33.3804" N, 72° 30' 52.1388" W
Museum Genre: 
Historic house