Authentic furnishings, personal effects, and garden plantings bring the Whittier Home to life.
From 1836 until his death in 1892, John Greenleaf Whittier lived and wrote most of his poetry and prose here in this Amesbury, MA home. Built circa 1829, this classic New England farmhouse retains the decor and structure of the home as Whittier and his family knew it during the mid- and late 1800s. While it serves as a National Historic Landmark and tribute to the Quaker poet and the anti-slavery champion who made outstanding contributions to the life and literature of this country, it also plays an important role in the region’s contemporary literary scene, attracting writers from Greater Boston and beyond.
About the House
When Whittier and has family moved into the house at 86 Friend Street in 1836, the original structure consisted of four rooms: a parlor which was rarely used by the family, a kitchen used by the family for all activities common during the times, and two small bedrooms. There was also a pantry adjacent to the kitchen where the food was prepared and used for storage of food goods and utensils. When the house was first purchased, Whittier was working in Connecticut; however, when he returned, he realized that it was too small for himself and three women.
The first addition occurred shortly after his return. Whittier had a tiny bedroom built in the back of the house for Aunt Mercy and a bedroom in the attic for his sister Elizabeth. It is not known whether a small stairway or a ladder was used by her to reach her room. Whittier himself occupied the unheated front bedroom while his Mother used the second bedroom that backed up to the kitchen chimney.
The second addition was completed in 1847. Since Aunt Mercy had passed away, Whittier replaced her small bedroom with a large study. This is called “The Garden Room” due to the fact that he was required to cut down some of his prized pear trees to make space. This room also extended out to the side of the original house allowing for an exit from his study to an outside porch. Whittier often used this door for a quick exit when uninvited guests arrived. Two additional bedrooms were built on the second floor directly over the first floor bedrooms and the addition. The front bedroom was designated for guests while the back bedroom was for Elizabeth. Two attic rooms were added as well, and was used later by nephews and nieces, children of his brother Mathew and sister Mary. At the same time, a summer kitchen, with running water from a well, was added to the other side of the house. The old kitchen was now used as a dining room and the family used the new “Garden Room” for activities.
The third addition in 1884 was the two bedrooms on the right side of the front of the house. One was located over the entranceway and the kitchen while the other bedroom was built over the parlor. At this time, Whittier was living in Danvers with cousins, and visited Amesbury only during the fall and the spring. He had good Quaker friends who acted as caretakers of the house, and since he arrived and left without notification, he felt that the caretakers needed their own spaces.
His niece Lizzie Pickard acquired the house upon his death in 1892 but was not interested in living in it. At this time, The Whittier Home Association was formed and acted as caretakers. When Lizzie died, her husband and son decided to take up residence in Amesbury. Even at this time, Whittier was so loved that the people of Amesbury did not want to have his belongings moved or touched.
In 1904, the fourth addition was created by Greenleaf Pickard, Lizzie’s son, who chose to add to the house for his own residence, leaving most of the original home of John Greenleaf Whittier intact. He first moved the summer kitchen to another spot, in the yard of a neighbor, making it possible to build a modern kitchen in the back of the house. He added a family dining room between the parlor and new kitchen, incorporating the old pantry and built an additional stairway to the second floor from this dining room. A livingroom/bedroom was added over the newly constructed kitchen and dining room, and a summer porch completed the construction overlooking the back yard. This livingroom/bedroom as well as the porch was built to accommodate his sickly wife. A state of the art bathroom was added on the second floor with indoor plumbing. An attic room completed the construction over the new livingroom/bedroom creating a third floor bedroom/study for his father.