Walt Whitman Birthplace Chronology
1810 Opinions vary as to exactly when the house was built. Historians suggest the time span from 1810 to 1816. Walt’s sister Mary Elizabeth wrote a letter stating that her father, Walt, Sr., built the house in 1810. The house has 3 sections.
1816 Walter Whitman Sr., marries Louisa Van Velsor.
1819 Walter Whitman Jr. (aka Walt Whitman), is born May 31.
1824 The Whitmans move to Brooklyn. Carlton Jarvis (later called “one of the most enterprising farmers in the neighborhood”) moves in. After Mr. Jarvis dies in 1878, the farm is run by his eldest son, Henry, and his wife, Elizabeth Jarvis. It remains in Jarvis’ ownership until her passing in 1899. The Jarvis family also had an interest in the blacksmith shop that once stood near the North West corner of Old Country Road and Route 110.
1881 Whitman visits “Mrs. J.” (Mrs. Jarvis).
1899 Frank J. Rogers purchases the 20-acre property and uses the house to board farmhands. Rapid deterioration of the house occurs. Mr. Rogers expands the size of the farm, hoping to develop it into a produce supplier for New York City. He has an investment interest, but not an historic preservation interest, in the property. Unfortunately, his plans do not pan out.
1908 Postcard dated 1908 depicts only 2 sections of the house, with the “out kitchen” missing.
1909 Rogers tries to sell the house at auction. The Long Islander reports: “Friends of Whitman for a long while have talked of buying the homestead and preserving it for all time.”
1915 Rogers tries again to sell the house at auction. The Long Islander says, “This is an opportunity for the Huntington public to raise funds to buy and hold the property till it could be conveyed to the historical society.” The house is not sold.
1917 Title passes to Mrs. Sarah E. Hall, real estate broker, in February. The land is divided into 2-acre “little farms.” In November, Mr. and Mrs. John D. Watson of New York City buy the house. “They were not Whitmanites,” reported The Long Islander some years later, “but they chanced upon this old house and bought it together with a considerable plot of ground on which are the old red farm buildings and a small orchid of apple trees. The old house has been put in beautiful condition. Every good feature has been perfectly restored. Furniture of its period enhances its charm; shrubs and vines and trees have been planted about it, copies of the Alexander and Eakins portraits of Whitman are on its walls, and no lover of the poet is ever turned from its door without seeing the room where he was born. At the time of the centenary celebration (1919) of his birth, Mr. and Mrs. Watson graciously welcomed all to their grounds for the memorial exercises and permitted all who would go through the house.” (The Long Islander, 8/4/22)
1921 Mrs. Watson’s sister, Bertha Mitchell, opens a tearoom for business in the main house, serving sandwiches, cinnamon toast, waffles and the “usual beverages” during the afternoon.
1922 The Long Islander reports that the tearoom will move to a cottage on the grounds and will re-open July 3rd. “Guests visiting the Whitman home will find there some interesting photographs and literature for sale, pertaining to Walt Whitman…”
1936 The Roadhouse Controversy. The Watsons intend to sell. “Walt Whitman Birthplace, Huntington, L.I., for sale,” their broker’s ad reads. “Widely advertised, historic landmark; main highway; ideal inn, roadhouse.” Asking price is $30,000. Huntingtonians are up in arms. Attempts are made to have the town, or the federal government, take over the property. Nobody buys.
1940 One Sunday morning, a bolt of lightning passes through the house and out the open door, leaving a hole in the east wall near the peak roof, but no fire. The hole remains unrepaired…
1949 The final campaign to purchase the Birthplace begins. The Walt Whitman Birthplace Association (WWBA) forms and organizes to buy the house. $20,000 must be raised within two years.
Sept. 1951 With only a month until the option to buy expires, the fund to purchase the house is still $10,000 short. Newsday mounts a vigorous campaign to raise the money.
Oct. 1951 Pennies, nickels, dimes come pouring in. Schoolchildren save the day. The largest school group sum comes from Valley Stream Central Junior High School, where the Culluloo Club raises $1300 - - of which $1000 is won on the quiz show “Strike it Rich.” Walt Whitman Birthplace Association purchases the home.
1952 The house officially opens under the auspices of Walt Whitman Birthplace Association. “This occasion,” says the keynote speaker, “is not principally for celebrating a genius, but for the growth and spreading of the understanding of genius.”
1957 The Birthplace is sold to New York State for $1 and becomes a New York State Historic Site operating under a cooperative agreement between the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (NYS OPRHP) and the Walt Whitman Birthplace Association. The State restores the house to its 1820 appearance. The old barn is torn down and a new one reconstructed with the timbers. For security, a caretaker house is built next to the Birthplace by New York State.
1997 The Interpretive Center is constructed and opened. Although it is built entirely of native materials, it is an architectural contrast to the original farmhouse. The new facility brings Long Island’s only State Historic Site on a par with the other historic sites within New York State. It allows an expansion of the Birthplace Association's efforts to perpetuate Walt Whitman’s legacy. The Birthplace becomes a rewarding tourist destination with state of the art exhibits and an educational facility offering unique interdisciplinary programs. Because of the Birthplace Association, there is a renewed awareness of Walt Whitman as our national poet.
2000 Restoration of the Birthplace. The transfer of the Office, Library, and Exhibit room from the second floor of the farmhouse to the new Interpretive Center allows a restoration and refurbishing of the entire house back to the year 1823. This was the last year in which the Whitmans lived in the building. The exterior of the Birthplace is also restored to its 1882 appearance, probably as first built, and is exactly as it looked when the poet last saw it.
2004 The Gathering House is built. The Carriage Shed (or Barn), built after Whitman’s time, becomes unusable, and is taken down and replaced with a new structure, the Gathering House. It is a braced frame construction done in the old manner. The old floorboards from the Carriage Shed were reused in the new building.
Present Day - The house, birthplace of America's greatest poet, continues to attract visitors, thousands each year who come from across the country and around the world.
Why not become a member of Walt Whitman Birthplace Association? We would welcome you! There is a membership category for everyone.
Click here to download a brochure. To request one by mail, write to the Walt Whitman Birthplace Association, 246 Old Walt Whitman Road, Huntington Station, NY 11746-4148. Or, e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.