The Bookshelf: The Frost Place Turns 40

Jul 21, 2017

Robert Frost is one of America's best-known and beloved poets. He lived many places over the span of his 88 years: San Francisco, Massachusetts, Southern New Hampshire, and Vermont.

And then there's the house in Franconia, New Hampshire. From 1915 to 1920, Robert Frost lived on Ridge Road. There he wrote poems, cared for animals, and raised a young family.

That home is now known as The Frost Place, run by a nonprofit dedicated to Frost's memory and legacy. This weekend, it's celebrating its fortieth anniversary. 

The barn behind Frost's former home no longer holds chickens or cows. Instead, it's got a stage, a sound system, and on one recent evening, people listening quietly to a reading of contemporary poetry.

Poets from all over the country routinely gather here to learn from each other and share their work. Blas Falconer is one of them. He lives in Los Angeles. This is his third time here at the Frost Place. He says he likes how intimate it feels and the awe the location inspires.

"Robert Frost is one of our most important American poets, and to think that he was here, and writing here and living here is a really special thing to consider," he says.

Falconer and I spoke on the lawn in between the barn and the house. There's a meadow nearby that ends at the edge of the forest. The poets gathered here either wear bug spray, or wish they had. Looking southeast from the house, you can see Lafayette and Cannon Mountains bathed in afternoon sunlight.

Maudelle Driskill introduces poet Martha Rhodes at the Frost Place.
Credit Peter Biello / NHPR

Frost apparently liked this view, because for years after he moved out, he returned in the summer. In 1976, when it went on the market, a small group of people in Franconia petitioned the town to buy the house. Their campaign worked.

Evangeline Machlin, who helped found the Frost Place, spoke at the dedication ceremony 40 years ago.

"Today that old house, The Frost Place, is ours," she said at the ceremony. "Although there's a mortgage of $45,000 on it, it's halfway to being free and clear. The town of Franconia owns it and offers it to us all, to go over there and get some color and music out of life."

"Get some color and music out of life" is the last line in Frost's poem "The Investment." The Frost Place itself has been a kind of investment in literary culture. It's part museum, part residence for guest poets to live here and create. It gives poets the chance to explore the property and find inspiration where Frost did.

Maudelle Driskell takes me inside the house, through what was once Robert Frost's kitchen. Driskell is a poet and the director of The Frost Place. Then we climb the narrow staircase to one of the rooms where Frost wrote his poems while looking out over the mountains.

Below is a transcript of our conversation.

What does it mean to have this place be successful 40 years in?

I’m very heartened to understand the commitment that we have to our history and our letters. And poetry is the language of the interior—it brings us together. It teaches us empathy. It’s one of the most important art forms that we have that can be passed down.

So historically, it means that we have a respect for the arts, and that Robert Frost was able to carve a big enough place in history that we want to honor his memory.

This 40th anniversary celebration this weekend is partly a celebration of everything you just mentioned, but it’s also a kickoff for a fundraising campaign.

It’s quite an old house and it’s quite damp. So one of the things we’d like to do is look at a capital campaign to try to help fix some of that damage from the dampness and to stop the dampness from continuing to occur.

This building is partly a residence for the poets in residence, but it’s also a museum. What do you think people gain from coming here and seeing where Robert Frost lived and did his work?

We found recently a board that was loose here. When we turned the board over, we found writing that was pretty familiar to all of us. What was there was the top of the crate that he used to move back from England and move into this house. He took the crate and cut a notch out of it, and used it to make a shelf.

At that moment, I realized how closely this house was tied to Frost and how much you actually feel it. It’s not just a tie to the history, it lets you experience inspiration in a very real way.

Robert Frost, if nothing else, encapsulates the human experience and the American experience in spirit. To stand in this place where he stood and look at what he looked at, that realizes it more fully.