Introduction Biography Selected Works History of Gardiner Location Map Bibliography

Robinson House,
67 Lincoln Avenue

Built prior to 1856 by S. W. Bates, the Robinson House was remodeled in the Italianate style by the poet’s father in 1870. Here Robinson began writing verse at the age of eleven. Laura E. Richards recalled that, “in the pleasant house on Lincoln Street, where Mr. Robinson established his family, the library grew with the children. It was a cheerful and cultivated home.” In recognition of Robinson’s literary achievements, the Department of the Interior has designated the house a National Historic Landmark.

Built prior to 1856 by S.W. Bates, the Robinson House was remodeled in the Italianate style by the poet's father in 1870. This view showing the southeast corner of the house is the way the house appeared when the Robinson family moved to Gardiner in 1870.

Since 1870, two extended families have resided at 67 Lincoln Avenue. In 1903 the property was sold to the Hanley family who continued to occupy the house until 1954. Then Professor Harold W. Holt and his wife Barbara (Robinson) Holt of Urbana, Illinois, bought the property. Barbara Holt was the niece of Edwin Arlington Robinson. When Holt retired as dean of the law school at the University of Illinois in 1965, he and Barbara resided in Gardiner until his death in 1978 and hers in 1991. Then their only child F. Elizabeth (Holt) Calloway (1938–2005) lived there until she sold the property to Stephen and Sheila Hanley in 1997. Stephen Hanley, now the representative for Gardiner in the Maine State Legislature, is the grandson of the Hanleys who had bought the property in 1903.

“The house stood among elms at the edge of a shallow ravine where a rill, too minute to be a brook, purled through a pasture; a massive clap-boarded structure in the native tradition, with an ell in the back and a barn that opened on two levels. Edward Robinson liked the elbow-room and, in his new purchase, he had it on all sides, fenced against intrusion. His third son [Edwin Arlington Robinson] came to conscious life under a pumpkin-sweet apple-tree, making mudpies in a two-acre kingdom.” (Hagedorn, page 14) “The social life of the Robinsons seldom extended beyond the maple-shaded stretches of Lincoln Street, with informal ‘dropping in’ at each other’s houses and occasionally after-supper gatherings.” (Hagedorn, page 22)

This view of the north side of the Robinson house shows the bay window before it was extened to the second floor where the poet Robinson wrote The Torrent and the Night Before in his study.

About the identification of “The House on the Hill,” there is much anguish and torment. Local legend has led many to believe that the poem refers to the Oaklands estate of the Gardiner family, an idea given considerable credibility by Amy Lowell in her Tendencies in Modern Poetry. Robinson himself took extreme umbrage to Lowell’s statement and wrote in the most emphatic terms to his good friend Laura E. Richards:

Good heavings [sic], no! The House on the Hill is no house that every was, and least of all a stone house still in good order. I don’t know why [sic] assume and say such fool things, but they do, and they will do so for evermore. They will do so in heaven and they will do so in hell. Or, if necessary, they will do so in a condition of absolute annihilation. Not even annihilation will cure them of that. (Robinson to Laura E. Richards 2 Feb. 1930)

Some biographers have stated that the poem refers to the Robinson House after the death of the poet’s parents and the general, sweeping decline in the family fortunes. (See comments in the biography in this website under “Annus Horribilis.”) This identification would fit seemlessly into the lover’s triangle promulgated by Chard Powers Smith in Where the Light Falls. In any event, this is one of the finest examples of the villanelle form in the English language, and Emma did concede that the poem was about “Observation on Time and Change; the family circle and all such.”

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The House on the Hill
They are all gone away,
The House is shut and still,
There is nothing more to say.
Through broken walls and gray
The winds blow bleak and shrill;
They are all gone away.
Nor is there one to-day
To speak them good or ill:
There is nothing more to say.
Why is it then we stray
Around that sunken sill?
They are all gone away,
And our poor fancy-play
For them is wasted skill:
There is nothing more to say.
There is ruin and decay
In the House on the Hill:
They are all gone away,
There is nothing more to say.

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A Virtual Tour of Robinson's Gardiner, Maine

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This website is maintained by the Gardiner Public Library
152 Water Street, Gardiner, Maine 04345, and the Gardiner Library Association.

This website is sponsored by the Kennebec-Chaudière Heritage Commission and Maine Humanities Council, the J. W. Robinson Welfare Trust Fund, the Gardiner Library Association, and the Gardiner Board of Trade.

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