We like to remember how Steepletop, nearly a century ago, became Edna St. Vincent Millay’s beloved home. Living in Manhattan in 1924, Millay wanted to escape the noisy city for a country place where she could think and write in peace.
So she and her husband Eugen Boissevain bought an abandoned blueberry farm on East Hill Road in Austerlitz, New York, and soon after, purchased the farm across the road, as well. Those two properties would become Steepletop, the country estate where they lived for nearly 25 years—working the farm, entertaining friends, and crafting the landscape to their vision of heaven.
The seasons directed Steepletop life, and that continues to be true today. Though the site is no longer an active farm, the blueberries still grow on several acres above the house; the original Peony Circle outside the front door produces exquisite pink and white blossoms; and the irises, roses, lupine, and foxglove in the Garden Rooms bloom and are tended to until the weather turns cold. Birds nest in the birdhouses and the fields still must be mowed.
Steepletop—which the Society fondly calls “the hill”—always seems to have its own weather patterns: a bit more wind than anywhere else in the area and inches of snow even when none has fallen elsewhere. During March of their first winter living here, Millay wrote in her diary:
“Our house is an island in the snow; it’s an expedition to Austerlitz; and when you get to Austerlitz you haven’t got anywhere, except to the post-office and two little empty churches. Gene has to walk five miles on snow-shoes, coming and going, to post this letter, and fetch the mail!”
“We have been snowed in here tight for exactly six weeks tomorrow, no road to our house at all. But I saw a blue jay yesterday. And maybe someday it will be spring.”
The “hill” remains an isolated and private space, with spotty cell service, atop the original winding gravel road that leads down to the hamlet of Austerlitz, with its Post Office and few churches. The main house and other buildings at Steepletop remain unchanged, though Mother Nature has altered the andscape somewhat: the grounds are mature; the pines Millay planted around The Writing Cabin to remind her of Maine extend high into the sky. The three maples above The Kitchen Garden are thick and robust; the gnarled and twisted apple trees still bear fruit.
The Society is committed to maintaining and protecting Steepletop until it can be opened again for visitors. Our goal is to continue to protect the house and its contents, and to provide the extensive upkeep the property requires. At the same time, we’re involved in ongoing conversations about the future of the site that will enable us to share this historic gem with our Friends and supporters as well as the public at large.
Like many other venues, Steepletop was not able to host visitors on the property during the pandemic. Instead, we focused on engaging with Millay lovers worldwide through our social media channels. Now that the pandemic situation appears to be somewhat more under control, we are looking forward to hosting a summer event during the 2022 season.
We offer a heartfelt thank you to all those who have donated in the past, and to the new Friends who will join the effort. We ask for your continued support as we look forward to a renewed life for the poet’s beloved Steepletop!
Vincent Elizabeth Barnett