SHAFTSBURY, Vt. – On a warm June morning in 1922, Robert Frost sat down at his dining room table in southern Vermont and wrote “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” one of his most famous poems.
That house, including the 7-acre grounds with rugged old stone walls, a barn and some of the heirloom apple trees from Frost’s orchard, is now open again as a museum under the ownership of Bennington College.
“This was a very important property for him and an important time in his life,” said Megan Mayhew Bergman, director of the Robert Frost Stone House Museum at Bennington College. He hit his prime as a poet here, she said.
Frost’s poems, with their simple rhymes, stories, evocations of rural life and sometimes dark allusions, were immensely popular in the 20th century. They were memorized by school children and recited at countless graduations. The first line of “Stopping By Woods” – “Whose woods these are I think I know” – and the final, haunting line, “And miles to go before I sleep” – are instantly familiar to millions of Americans.
Frost bought the Dutch Colonial stone house built in 1769 in South Shaftsbury and moved his family there with plans to be an apple farmer, after leaving a teaching post at Amherst College. He found it easier to write when he was farming, according to Frost biographer Jay Parini.
He and his family lived there for nine years, with Frost winning the first of his four Pulitzers during that time.
“I have moved a good part of the way to a stone cottage on a hill at South Shaftsbury in southern Vermont on the New York side near the historic town of Bennington where if I have any money left after repairing the roof in the spring I mean to plant a new Garden of Eden with a thousand apple trees of some unforbidden variety,” wrote Frost in a letter to a friend on Oct. 23, 1920, according to Parini’s book, “Robert Frost A Life.”
The simple stone and timber house hasn’t changed much since then. The museum has displayed photographs of Frost and his family, a facsimile of the “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening” manuscript and woodcuts by artist J.J. Lankes, who illustrated Frost’s books. The house now has Frost quotations painted on some walls, including his epitaph, “I had a lover’s quarrel with the world,” from his tombstone where he is buried in the First Congregational Church cemetery in nearby Bennington.
Outside, many of the heirloom apple trees from Frost’s orchard have toppled in wind storms in recent years. One of the remaining gray gnarled trunks stands in the backyard with new growth angling toward the sky. The museum has taken shoots from the tree and is working with an heirloom orchard to propagate them.
“We think it’s really important to preserve the historic landscape and that connection between the landscape and the work it inspired. Because it’s so articulated here,” said Bergman, who also teaches literature at Bennington, which is incorporating the museum into students’ education. Some students have created a three-dimensional visual of the property using photography, surveying and mapping tools and Frost’s desk objects.
Frost gave the house to his son Carol, and then moved to a farm across the road. Carol Frost, who struggled with depression as his father sometimes did, took his own life at the house in 1940. The house stayed in the family and later was privately owned. It was opened as a museum in 2002. Bennington College acquired the house from the nonprofit Friends of Robert Frost last year.
The museum plans to have poetry readings at the Stone House, an outdoor film series and bluegrass concerts on the grounds.
“We want to be involved with the community and we want to be involved with supporting the arts and talking about poetry and making poetry accessible,” said Bergman. “We live in a rural, slightly economically depressed community. It’s important, I think, to make poetry and the arts accessible.”