As part of the Poe Museum’s 2019 Birthday Bash, RVA on Wheels offered a trolley tour of Poe sites in Richmond, Virginia. I was enthralled for the tour and ever grateful to the outstanding guide from the museum.
I’d like to recreate the tour for you, using my own photos from inside the trolley (sorry for blurs and glares), as well as screenshots from Google Earth.
For more about the museum’s Birthday Bash, please see my previous post, Celebrating 210 Years of Poe.
Except for about four years in England, Poe grew up in Richmond and considered it his home. His English mother, who was acting at the Richmond Theatre, died of consumption when he was not yet three. Edgar was taken in by a Scottish tobacco merchant and his wife, John and Frances Allan, who lived in the city.
At age 17, Edgar spent eight months at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville and returned briefly to his home town before moving to Boston and enlisting in the U.S. Army.
At 26 years old, Poe was hired at the Southern Literary Messenger in Richmond, and he married his cousin, Virginia Clemm, here the next year. Poe moved on to Philadelphia and New York, but he returned to the City on the James after Virginia died and before his own death in 1849.
The trolley left the museum (1914–16 E. Main Street) in Shockoe Bottom, the area of Richmond along the James River. We kept west on Main Street, our first landmark being the site of the Southern Literary Messenger and Ellis & Allan Company (Edgar’s foster father’s office), both of which had been razed.
The low building in front was where the Messenger stood, and Ellis & Allan is now the home of a “ladies and gentlemen’s” club. The neighboring structure gives us an idea what these buildings would look like today if they still existed.
The slave auction historical marker is also at the intersection, where I-95 crosses over Main Street.
The next image shows the location of where Edgar lived with the Allans in 1825, when he was a teenager. The original structure was a rather grand home called Moldavia, which was sadly demolished.
Next, the trolley took us to Richmond’s Fan District, via Belvidere Street. The Belvidere estate is long gone, but young Edgar dragged his friend Tom Ellis onto the grounds one Saturday for shooting practice. According to Tom, no one at home knew where they had gotten off to all day, and the domestic fowl that belonged to Belvidere were the unfortunate targets of said practice.
The next landmark is the Talavera farmhouse, the home of the Talley family, which has been relocated to Grace Street. This is where Poe gave his last public reading of “The Raven.” In fact, he did it in the room inside the lower righthand window.
Our tour guide had visited Talavera, and said the owners have kept the parlor as it would have been in 1849, when Poe visited two weeks before his death. Even the original mantlepiece survives.
We drove by the area where Edgar’s sister, Rosalie, lived with her foster family. Duncan Lodge, home of the Mackenzies, was, at the time, in the country on Broad Street Extended. Today, the site is a Lowe’s Home Improvement center. Edgar would have visited his sister at Duncan Lodge, as well as her foster brother Jack Mackenzie, who was his friend.
Young Poe was fond of romancing girls in the Enchanted Garden, which was a flowered courtyard near the Ellises’ home. The garden is gone, but visitors to Richmond can stay at the Linden Row Inn, which stands where Poe once wooed and waxed poetic amongst the roses.
When the Allans returned from England in 1820, they lived at this location with John Allan’s business partner, Charles Ellis. Edgar was good friends with Mr. Ellis’s young son Tom, the very same who shot birds at Belvidere with him.
We rode by Monumental Church, which is significant for two reasons: (1) Edgar attended church here with his foster mother, Frances Allan (pew no. 80); (2) the church is the site of the Richmond Theatre, which burned to the ground days after Edgar’s actress mother died of disease. Seventy-two people died in the tragedy, and the church memorializes the lives lost.
The trolley rolled by the Virginia State Capitol, which would have been a prominent landmark in Poe’s day. We drove to Capitol Square afterwards on our own for a better look. A statue of Poe is situated in the northwest corner of the park.
If you stand on the steps of the state capitol and look across the street, you will see the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth District. We believe the house belonging to Jane Stanard stood about here (Capitol Square & 9th Street). Mrs. Stanard, whose son Rob was friends with Edgar, was the inspiration for the poem “To Helen.” Poe always said she was his first love.
Exploring on our own, we visited the home of another of Poe’s loves, Elmira Shelton. As adolescents, Edgar and “Myra” were an item. But when he returned from university, she was engaged to marry Alexander Shelton.
When he returned to Richmond years later, as a widower, Poe was planning to marry Mrs. Shelton, who was also widowed. In fact, the wedding was scheduled when Mr. Poe left his home town for the last time, never to return.
Across the street from the Shelton house, we found the historic St. John’s Church, where Patrick Henry famously delivered his “give me liberty or give me death” speech. Mrs. Shelton attended this church regularly, but it is notably the burial site of Elizabeth Arnold Poe, Edgar’s mother. (The exact location of the grave is unknown.)
You can find most of Poe’s loved ones buried at the Shockoe Hill Cemetery on Hospital Street.
That’s it for the tour, folks. But don’t hop off the trolley yet. If you haven’t already, please check out my pictures from the birthday bash—Celebrating 210 Years of Poe—or last year’s Poe post, You Don’t Know Poe. Thanks for coming along!