You’re invited to explore the historic neighborhoods of Gardiner, Maine and discover the world of famed poet Edwin Arlington Robinson, author Laura E. Richards, and their circle of literary friends who defined Gardiner’s cultural life at the end of the 19th century.
Throughout the twenty-eight volumes of Robinson’s poetry, the inhabitants of “Tilbury Town” appear, characters widely believed to be based on people he encountered during the long-remembered years he lived and worked in Gardiner.
Listen to a detailed history of Robinson’s world and the Gardiner he loved as you stroll through the historic streets of our town. Narrated by local historian Dorothy Washburn, this guided tour takes you on a journey through the life and work of our native Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, and provides rich insights into the works that brought Robinson international acclaim.
Please be aware that all of the homes on this tour are privately owned and we ask that you respect the owners privacy.
A constant stream of visitors to Gardiner inquire at the Gardiner Public Library about the places in the city associated with Edwin Arlington Robinson. Accordingly, the purpose of this walking tour is to give basic information about the poet Robinson and the principal places in this community where such visitors can glimpse the Tilbury Town of Robinson’s life and poetry.
This granite table was erected in 1936 as a tribute to Gardiner’s famous poet. After Robinson’s death, Laura E. Richards, E.A.R.’s friend, mentor and a Pulitzer Prize winner herself, launched a campaign to erect this memorial. She was in her eighties, but through her persistence, sums of money came in from all across the country. The tablet was designed by Boston architect, Henry R. Shepley. Laura Richards wrote the inscription and Herman Hagedorn, Robinson’s biographer, was the keynote speaker.
The Robinson house, a National Historic Landmark, was built prior to 1856 by S. W. Bates. In 1870, Edward Robinson with his wife, Mary, and sons Dean, Herman, and infant “Win” settled into the house. It was cheerful and cultivated with a good library. Young Win was fascinated by sounds and rhythms of words. He would recite memorized verses to the astonishment of his family. His destiny was established at a very early age. He had a normal boyhood, swimming in the river. playing ice hockey, picking apples, and sneaking cigarettes. However, the decade of the 1890s was decidedly painful. In 1892 his father died. In the recession of 1893 the Robinson family lost most of its money, and his brother Herman began drinking heavily. In 1896 his beloved mother died. At age twenty-seven he left Gardiner and moved to New York in 1897. He returned for visits with friends and family, but he never again lived in the Lincoln Avenue house.
Edwin Arlington Robinson died of pancreatic cancer at New York Hospital on April 6, 1935. His body was cremated, and his ashes are buried here with the other members of the Robinson family.
Edward Robinson sent Win to private school when he was about five or six. He made friends with the Swanton brothers and Mrs. Morrell’s son, Harry. Harry Morrell’s death from diphtheria at the age of twelve had a profound effect on the budding poet. He stayed at Mrs. Morrell’s until he was eleven. About the time he began to write poetry, his father decided it was time for him to attend public school. Unfortunately, a teacher, annoyed by his “dreaminess,” hit him with the edge of her hand beneath his ear. He suffered intense earaches for the rest of his life.
This was the home of Captain Israel Jordan and his wife, Lydia Farnsworth Jordan, and their two children, Augustus (Gus) and Alice, both older than Win. According to Robinson’s biographer, Hermann Hagedorn, the Jordan home was a refuge for the future poet. The three children enjoyed a “word hunting” game of sharing newly discovered words. ln 1885 when Win was about sixteen, Captain Jordan and the crew of the ship Washington were drowned at sea. Robinson’s poem, “Pasa Thalassa Thalassa” (“The sea is everywhere the sea.”) is associated with the drowned captain.
For all its busy-ness, Gardiner was a boy’s town, half country almost to its centre, with the woods just outside the front door. … With Herbert Longfellow, he roamed Deane’s Grove in the spring for the first sight of boxberry or trailing arbutus, or collected butterflies and tiger beetles. He slipped off to a shack in Deane’s Grove with Herbert Longfellow to smoke ‘Sweet Caporal’ cigarettes.
At the time Robinson sneaked cigarettes with his buddies in Deane’s Grove, the land was privately held. At the conclusion of World War I, Robert Hallowell Gardiner III, Josiah S. Maxey, Frank E. Boston, and Robert Hazzard conveyed the land to the “Inhabitants of the City of Gardiner … for the use of the people of Gardiner and vicinity, and as a Memorial to the citizens of Gardiner and vicinity who made the supreme sacrifice in the late war; and it is understood and agreed between said grantors and said grantee, that the said grantee will not sell or encumber the same or use it for commercial purposes, or for any purpose not in harmony with its use as a public park or place of recreation for the people of Gardiner and vicinity and the grantee will use responsible care and precaution to preserve, protect and care for the oaks now on said real estate herein conveyed.”
This ltalianate house was the home of Alanson Tucker Schumann, a homeopathic physician and bachelor whose passion was writing poetry. The doctor, in spite of the twenty-three-year age difference, became a friend and mentor to the aspiring poet. Schumann introduced the teenager to Caroline Swain’s Gardiner Poetry Group.
Letitia Kate Vannah, was about fifteen when the Robinsons moved to Gardiner. Educated at St. Joseph’s College in Emmitsburg, Maryland, she spent two years living in London after graduation. She was the organist at Sr. Joseph’s Catholic Church on School Street, and performed at many public concerts. Dozens of her musical compositions were published, including one played at the 1893 World’s Fair. Dr. Gemude Heath of Farmingdale and Kate composed a song “The Flag.” The framed manuscript is on view in the Community Archives Room of the Gardiner Public Library. By 1897, Win became despondent following the departure of old friends and the death of his parents. According to Hagerdorn’s biography of E.A.R., Kate wrote to a friend: “Win Robinson marched bravely in the other evening about 7:45 and by 10:40 his shyness had thawed consibble and he got on with us very well. He longs to be away from Gardiner and I can understand how he is at war with his surroundings…I pity Win.” She died in Boston in 1933.
Robinson entered high school when he was thirteen. The school stood on the eastern side of the Gardiner Common, adjoining the elm-shaded Episcopal graveyard where the Gardiners and Richardses waited patiently for Gabriel’s trump. In this cheerless structure of red brick with mansard roof line in its “most beefy and truculent form,” Robinson took the scientific course because it absolved him from Greek, a subject necessary for admission to college. His father had no intention of sending him to college and after Dean’s failed life said that college did no one any good. Chemistry amused him to the point that he made miniature bombs. In high school he stood out when his interest in Virgil’s Aeneas became apparent. Math did not excite him until he developed a crush on the algebra teacher, Lizzie Austin.
This gracious, federal style home built by Edward Swan in 1803 was the home of Miss Caroline Swan, a teacher who wrote essays and poetry. She formed the Gardiner Poetry Group consisting of Dr. Schumann, Judge Henry Sewall Webster, and eventually Win. Caroline became acquainted with William Henry Thorne who published a quarterly review, The Globe, where Caroline’s works were printed. Two of Robinson’s early poems were first published in the September 1894 issue. “The House on the Hill” and “The Miracle.” Thorne left a wife and five children behind in New York. According to Henry Richards, a neighbor, Robinson’s poem “Flammonde” was a ‘”photographic likeness” of Thorne. Eventually The Globe failed, and Thorne fled Gardiner, leaving Caroline in debt. She left Gardiner around 1905 and died in South Portland, Maine, on April 4, 1938 at age age of ninety-six.
This federaI style house built in 1814 for John Hazeltine was the home of Laura and Henry Richards and their six children. Laura, daughter of Julia Ward Howe and Samuel Gridley Howe, married Henry on June 17, 1871 in Boston. After settling in Gardiner, Laura wrote children’s books and rhymes to support her family. In 1917, she received the first Pulitzer Prize for Biography for Julia Ward Howe. When Laura read The Torrent and the Night Before, she invited Robinson to the Yellow House. Thus began a friendship that lasted throughout his life. Both Laura and her husband’s cousin, John Hays Gardiner, supported Robinson both morally and financially until he achieved recognition. Laura’s son, Hal, a teacher at Groton, read some poems from Children of the Night to his students, one of whom was Kermit Roosevelt, son of President Theodore Roosevelt. The President was impressed by the book and arranged a position in the New York Custom House for Robinson to support himself. lt is interesting how the friendship of this mother of six and the young poet led to other friendships that played such an important part in E.A.R.’s life. Both Laura and John Hays Gardiner continued to exchange letters with Robinson – Hays until his death in 1913 and Laura until the poet died in 1935.
This was the home of the widow, Mary Olivia Swanton, her three sons, and her aunt, Dorcas Gay. The Swantons had a happy household into which Win Robinson was readily accepted. The five-acre farm had a front yard that extended down to the Kennebec River, where the boys loved to swim or build rafts and drift on the current. In 1894, Mary moved to Massachusetts. Win sent a copy of The Torrent and the Night Before to Mary. She read the book of this boy who had lived in her house almost as one of her own sons, and wrote Robinson, “regretting that his book was so “gloomy’ and ‘pessimistic’.” According to Hagerdorn, Robinson responded. “He, gloomy? He, pessimistic? Could people not read?'”
Here, Win and the four Barstow brothers roasted apples and onions on the furnace in the cellar. After high school, Win and Joe Barstow remained friends, reading books together under the pines on Iron Mine Hill. In the fall of 1895, Joe became engaged, and they drifted apart. After 1897 Robinson finally made New York his home. The youngest Barstow brother, Jamie, and Win met again and spent many evenings together, eating, drinking, and probably talking of boyhood days around the Barstows’ furnace.
This was the home of Charles Smith, his wife, Sarah Hildreth Smith and their only child, Harry. Win and Harry met at Gardiner High School. The young friends spent hours at the Smith farm under the rail pines on Iron Mine Hill, smoking, reading books, discussing philosophy, and dreaming of their futures. Harry graduated from Bowdoin College and became a teacher in Rockland, Maine. In 1896, he earned an M.A. from Harvard and went to Germany to study at the University of Berlin, while Robinson remained in Gardiner. Win visited Harry’s parents frequently. Harry secured a post at Amherst in 1899, reciting as Professor Emeritus of Greek in 1939. He died in February 1943.
Around 1900, Dr. Schumann decided to marry Emma Hatch of Farmingdale. Their new home, the Century House, was impressive with thirteen Italian marble fireplaces. He continued to write poetry until his death in 1918. His friend Robinson wrote a tribute to him in the Boston Transcript, saying in part, “By profession a physician in Gardiner, Me. he still found time to live what was the best part of his life in the land of fancy–a land where he saw much that others might not have seen.'”
Emma Shepherd, the poet’s sister-in-law as well as the object of his unrequited love, grew up in this house. After keeping all three Robinson brothers in suspense, Emma married Herman because his prospects for success in business seemed brightest. However, Herman’s failed business ventures in the mid-West drove him and Emma home to Maine in 1893. Soon he became an alcoholic. After a distress sale of the Robinson family residence on Lincoln Avenue in 1903 left Herman and Emma homeless, they stayed at the Shepherd house in Farmingdale until Emma’s sister forced Herman to leave. Herman’s health declined rapidly, and he died in a public hospital ward in Boston in 1909. In the past forty years, the standard interpretation of Robinson’s poetry is predicated upon the love triangle of Win, his brother Herman, and Emma.
ln 1897 Robinson and friends Seth Ellis Pope, Linville Robbins, and Arthur Blair rented a room on the back of the third floor of the Barker Block above Brown’s Dry Goods store. They met almost nightly, called themselves The Quadruped, and talked of books and their futures. Robinson would read his poetry. Here he wrote the first draft of “Aunt Imogene,” a thinly veiled account of his relationship with his three nieces, Ruth, Marie, and Barbara, daughters of Emma and Herman.
Johnson Hall was built in 1864 by Benjamin Johnson who owned a hotel next door. Mr. Johnson decided Gardiner needed a place to accommodate large gatherings for a variety of entertainment. The two upper floors contained the great hall, stage, balcony, and a banquet room with a stable on the ground floor. In 1884 the stable was replaced by a storefront. Entertainment included operas, trained animal acts, and dramatic productions. ln 1929 “talkies” came to Gardiner. The hall was retrofitted to a movie theatre that accommodated six hundred people. Johnson Hall Opera House continued as a movie theatre until the late 1950s. After the theatre closed, it was used as a storage facility. In the late 1980s a nonprofit organization, Johnson Hall, Inc., acquired the building and reopened it as a Performing Arts Center. Plans are underway to restore this beautiful theater.
Robinson’s eldest brother, Horace Dean, was a physician who practiced in Camden where he developed severe neuralgia and began taking morphine to ease his pain. He became dependent on the narcotic, eventually suffering from hallucinations. He retuned to Gardiner and got a job as a weigher with an ice company. ln 1897, trying to save bis brothers, Robinson bought an interest in the F. M. Noyes Apothecary. It did not succeed. Dean Robinson died in 1899 at the age of forty-two from a drug overdose. The poem, “How Annandale Went Out” is a thinly-veiled account of Dean’s death.
The Gardiner Public Library opened in April 1882 and was the second public library in the state. It was designed in the Jacobean Revival style by architect Henry Richards, Laura E. Richards’ husband. The building cost $13,000. Win would have been twelve when the library opened. There have been additions and renovations done over the 135+ years. The Community Archives Room opened in 1985 and contains historical and genealogical resources. The Gardiner Library Association owns the building and is responsible for its maintenance.
Learn more at earobinson.com