William Cullen Bryant House: Photo Tour of Home of Abolitionist Editor of the NY Evening Post

Pat Young

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William Cullen Bryant was one of the most prominent thought leaders in mid-19th Century America. As editor of the New York Evening Post, an abolitionist, a defender of immigrants and religious minorities, he became a leading progressive voice within the Democratic Party and later joined the Republicans because of his opposition to slavery. His most prominent memorial is Bryant Park in Manhattan where the New York Public Library is located, but his home on Long Island is open on a limited schedule and the beautiful grounds are always available for a stroll.

The house is now home to the Hagedorn Foundation, which supports services for immigrants and people of color in the region, and which indirectly supported my research for The Immigrants' Civil War series. I have been there dozens of times for meetings, but as the staff notes, it is always raining when I come. Yesterday, which was the closing meeting of the soon-to-be-defunct foundation, I attended a meeting there. It was raining. Oh well.

Finally, as the meeting ended, I saw the rain had stopped. This was it. My last chance to photograph the house with all-access had arrived, and I decided to take it.
 

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Pat Young

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Bryant was born in a log cabin near Cummington in western Massachusetts in 1794. He may have been proud of his common Yankee origins, but he did not want to live in a log cabin after he became a prominent newspaperman. He bought an existing house, which he later named Cedarmere, that had been built by a Long Island Quaker named Richard Kirk. The house was built in 1787. Bryant and his heirs expanded it considerably and added decorative landscaping.
 

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Historian Harold Holzer gives a sense of status of Bryant and why he might like to head to this bucolic estate given the rough and tumble of 19th Century journalism:

No blanket sheet of the period, for example, reached more readers than the progressive New York Evening Post— founded by Alexander Hamilton in 1801, and by the early 1830s dominating the afternoon market with a daily run of three thousand copies. Certainly no editor in the nation seemed more distinguished than the Post’s William
Cullen Bryant, famous since 1817 for beloved poems like “Thanatopsis.” At first he had been reluctant to take on the kind of full-time newspaper job that was increasingly a realm occupied by professional printers, not writers. Twisting the knife, broadsheet rival James Watson Webb sneered that Bryant “had embarked in a pursuit not suited to his genius.” Literary critics sadly concurred, one complaining in 1831 that “what he is [now] writing, is as little like poetry, as Gen. Jackson is like Apollo.” 55 Bryant surprised the doubters by throwing himself into political journalism, and coming quickly to speak eloquently for the city’s progressives. Ultimately, however, even a poet could become infected with the competitive virus gripping New York journalism. One day, in full view of startled spectators outside City Hall, Bryant took a cowhide whip to the editor of the Commercial Advertiser, William Leete Stone. Flabbergasted onlookers struggled to separate the enraged combatants on the street. Even the most staid of publications seemed to be rising— or sinking— to a new level of fierce rivalry whose potential for inciting outright violence lurked just beneath the surface.


Holzer, Harold. Lincoln and the Power of the Press: The War for Public Opinion (Kindle Locations 741-753). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.
 

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Bryant could be a poet at his retreat, a break from the crazy world of Newspapers:

Bryant himself sheepishly admitted to the bad reputation increasingly attached to professional newspapermen, himself perhaps included: “Contempt is too harsh a word for it, perhaps, but it is far below respect.” 56 Other New Yorkers had already become so accustomed to street brawls between journalists that when the blasé man-about-town Philip Hone spied the Bryant-Stone squabble from his window as it unfolded, the incident did not seem unusual enough to interrupt his shaving.


Holzer, Harold. Lincoln and the Power of the Press: The War for Public Opinion (Kindle Locations 754-757). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.
 

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The landscaping includes a natural spring fed pond. This was originally a mill pond, and a 19th Century mill is still on the property.
bryant pond.JPG
 

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Although he was born in a log cabin, his parents attained middle-class respectability. His father had a considerable library and his mother's roots traced back to the Mayflower. She tutored young William and he began to enthusiastically began composing poetry, including a political poem critical of the Jefferson administration. Poetry would become a defining part of his life and he enjoyed to poetic possibilities of his home.

bryant plaque.JPG
 

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Bryant married in 1821 to Frances Fairchild without telling his family until after the wedding. The couple had two children. In 1830 he moved to New York City to edit a literary magazine while his family stayed in Massachusetts. When the editor of the Evening Post was injured in an accident, he asked Bryant to help him edit the paper. In 1829, the old editor died and Bryant took over the duties.
bryant trees.JPG
 

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Bryant gave his first anti-slavery speech in 1820 in apposition to the Missouri Compromise. He opposed the extension of slavery guaranteed by the compromise saying it was guilty of "extending the dangerous and detestable practice of enslaving men into territory unpolluted with the curse." He was not a late-comer to anti-slavery.

My buddies at Cedarmere let me roam in the forbidden upstairs area and head outside on the recently restored porch to take this shot from the second floor porch outside of one of the bedrooms:

bryant upstairs.JPG
 

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In 1843, Bryant bought the Cedarmere home and 40 acres of property. He named it for the cedar trees and the mere (pond) on the land. Here is a bas relief of Bryant in the sunken garden's wall:

bryant bas relief.JPG
 



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