Plunge Into Summer With An Awesome Literary Road Trip
Exploring Edgar Allan Poe’s Richmond
Itching to hit the road this summer? Struggling to come up with a road trip idea that’s a bit more bookish than typical roadside attraction fare?
Why not take a literary road trip?
Every corner of the USA has hidden literary gems waiting to be explored. All it takes is a little research (which I know you book nerds don’t mind) and a full tank of gas.
So, pack your bags (with a book or two, of course), and hit the road!
Don’t have a car? No problem! Amtrak serves this literary destination!
Virginia is for Bookworms
This literary road trip takes you to beautiful and historic Richmond, Virginia. A treasure trove for book nerds and history buffs, Richmond is the state capital and home to a thriving artistic community.
Cultural highlights include Maymont, a magnificent historic estate situated on the bluffs of the James River. With extensive grounds that include Italian and Japanese Gardens, Maymont is an ideal spot for a relaxing afternoon. The best part? Most of Maymont’s attractions are free! The estate is now a Richmond City Park.
If you love street art, you’ll love Richmond. The city is renowned for its street art scene. Everywhere you go, you see fantastic (and often irreverent) art. My favorite is an artist’s rendition of the “Velveeta Rabbit” painted on the side of 105 East Main Street.
Richmond’s food scene has also been turning heads in recent years. Esquire magazine recognized Alewife as one of the Best New Restaurants in America in 2019, and in 2020 gave Restaurant Adarra the same honor.
Are you a beer connoisseur? Richmond’s got you covered. There are even local cideries!
If you forget to pack a book, Richmond has lovely independent booksellers happy to lend a hand. Fountain Bookstore in Shockoe Slip and Chop Suey Books in Carytown are unique browsing spots for any bookworm.
Richmond is a convenient destination for residents of the mid-Atlantic looking for a weekend getaway. Or take a day trip from Northern Virginia or Washington, DC!
But Richmond is of particular interest to travelers on a literary road trip. It is the hometown of the master of the macabre himself, Edgar Allan Poe.
How Long Did Edgar Allan Poe Live in Richmond?
Edgar Allan Poe spent most of his life in Richmond, arriving in the city as a child. Poe was traveling with his mother, well-known actress Elizabeth Arnold Poe. Sadly, Elizabeth Poe was dying of tuberculosis.
She succumbed to her illness in Richmond at the age of twenty-four. Since his father had deserted the family, young Edgar was taken in by prosperous local merchants, the Allans.
Edgar Allan Poe lived in Richmond periodically for the rest of his life. As a child, he traveled with the Allans to England and lived there for five years. After their return to Richmond, the Allans sent Poe to the University of Virginia. A quarrel over money (and possibly gambling debts) led him to drop out and enlist in the Army.
Around this time, Poe began publishing his work. He led a somewhat nomadic life, leaving Richmond for a time only to return. He was determined to earn his living as a writer. So Poe often took writing or editing positions in other east coast cities like Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Boston.
Though he frequently wandered, Poe always considered Richmond his home and referred to himself as “a Virginian.”
Visit the Edgar Allan Poe Museum
Richmond has long embraced its connection with Edgar Allan Poe. Thousands of tourists and scholars visit Richmond’s Poe Museum every year. It houses the world’s most extensive collection of Poe artifacts and memorabilia.
You will find the Poe Museum in one of the oldest parts of the city, historic Shockoe Bottom. In fact, the oldest house in Richmond (constructed in 1737) became part of the museum when it opened to the public in 1922. Folks say that Poe himself would have often walked past the Old Stone House (as it is known) on his way to nearby Rocket’s Landing.
Today, the Old Stone House is home to the Poe Museum Store and an exhibit room filled with various Poe memorabilia.
The Poe Museum complex includes three additional buildings: the exhibits building (housing rotating exhibits about Poe’s life and times), the model building (featuring a model of Richmond as it would have looked in Poe’s lifetime), and the Elizabeth Arnold Poe Memorial Building.
The Memorial Building, built in 1928, serves as an extensive archive of Edgar Allan Poe documents, manuscripts, and first editions. It also houses many of Poe’s personal items, including his silver-tipped walking stick and a lock of hair clipped at his death bed.
After viewing all of the Edgar Allan Poe artifacts, you can relax in the historic Enchanted Garden. Inspired by Poe’s poem “To One in Paradise,” the Enchanted Garden is filled with plants mentioned in Poe’s poetry. The ivy was grown from a clipping taken at Elizabeth Arnold Poe’s grave.
Bring your favorite book of Poe’s writings to read on a bench near the Poe Shrine.
Don’t forget to give the two resident kitties, Edgar and Pluto, some scritches.
Other Edgar Allan Poe Pit Stops
After you hit the Poe Museum in Shockoe Bottom, you can explore other Edgar Allan Poe-related historic sites. Several are in the nearby Church Hill neighborhood.
Church Hill is full of historic homes and funky restaurants. It’s easy to imagine yourself as a 19th- century traveler when you walk along brick sidewalks in front of houses with gas lanterns.
Although Poe’s Richmond homes have all been demolished, two churches connected with him are open to the public.
St John’s Episcopal Church is the oldest in Richmond. Both Poe and the American Revolution have connections to the colonial church. St. John’s was the site of Patrick Henry’s famous “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death” speech. It is also the final resting place of Edgar Allan Poe’s mother, actress Elizabeth Arnold Poe.
Her grave is found near the eastern edge of the churchyard because 19th-century churchgoers were scandalized by her profession. Elizabeth Arnold Poe’s grave remained unmarked until 1927 when several Poe groups erected a stone monument in her honor.
Monumental Episcopal Church, closer to downtown, has its own Poe connections. He attended church there as a young man, sitting in the Allan’s pew. The Allan Family Pew (no. 80) is marked for visitors.
The church has another macabre association with Poe. It is built on the site of the Richmond Theater, where Edgar Allan Poe’s mother performed just before her death. In an odd twist of fate, the theater burned down only eighteen days after Elizabeth Arnold Poe’s untimely death in 1811.
Keep It Macabre With a Ghost Tour
After the museums and historic sites close and the witching hour falls, why not continue the macabre theme of this Richmond literary road trip? Take a spooky ghost tour with Haunts of Richmond.
Their “Shadows of Shockoe” tour even leaves from the Poe Museum.
Poe Inspired Bites
If you’re on an Edgar Allan Poe-themed literary road trip, whet your whistle at Poe’s Pub. This Church Hill restaurant serves tasty bar food in a Poe-themed atmosphere.
We love the Raven Fries and the Fried Oyster Poe-Boy.
Master of the Macabre
“Beauty of whatever kind, in its supreme development, invariably excites the sensitive soul to tears.”
Perhaps the beauty of his hometown inspired these words from Edgar Allan Poe. Discover for yourself what makes Richmond, Virginia, a unique and literary destination.
Set A Macabre Mood
Set the mood while you’re planning your trip (or for your next reading of The Raven) with our Poe-inspired literary candle.
The somber blend of opium, cedar, and brandy will put you in a 19th-century frame of mind.