For twenty-five years, 1925 to 1950, Edna St. Vincent Millay lived and worked on a farm in Columbia County, New York in the town of Austerlitz, a farm which she named Steepletop. The name was drawn from a wild flower which grew all over the property: Steeplebush, or Hardhack, technically Spirea Tomentosa. During Millay’s years the farm encompassed 700 acres including a large group of wonderful gardens designed, planted and maintained by Millay herself. Each of her garden “rooms” had its purpose, or look. Since Spring 2007 the Edna St. Vincent Millay Society has been working to restore those gardens, returning them to the special spaces Millay wished them to be.
There are three rose gardens; a large and verdant kitchen garden; the sapping maple grove; the “Dingle” – a flat plain where Millay and her husband had a badminton court at one time; the Maine pine forest which surrounds her writing cabin; wildflower gardens; and more.
At the core of this garden spectacular stands the house itself. Built in 1892, the same year in which Millay was born, she took away its Victorian glories and created a simple New England farmhouse which still holds all of her furniture, her books and other possessions, many of which are still where they were on the day that she died, October 19, 1950. The three-dimensional blueprint this provides will aid us in the complete restoration of the house into a premiere Historic House and Garden Museum.
There is much work to be done on both the house and the gardens. The principal goal of participants in the Millay Renascence is to foster that rebirth of a site that has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1972.
The goals of the Renascence are two-fold: to make that rebirth happen as well as to provide its supporters with programs and information about Millay and Steepletop that continue to add to their knowledge and understanding of the importance of this poet and her home to the vast world of literature that both of them have inspired.
Today visitors to Steepletop can see the gardens, walk the Poetry Trail created by the Friends of the Millay Society (replaced now by the Millay Renascence), visit the gallery which was Charles Ellis’ studio, and purchase Millay memorabilia and books at our gift shop. They can see a film on life on the farm in Edna’s time and in her sister Norma’s years of residence here. They can watch Society co-founder Roscoe Lee Browne reading Millay’s poetry here at Steepletop. Other visual items may be available.
Things change at Steepletop, not just the seasons, but our knowledge of this place, of Millay’s life and achievements and tribulations. Our public collection grows in size and accessibility. Our research facility adds new items monthly.
For 61 years Millays lived at Steepletop. We think they always will.