‘My friends are my estate’

  • The Emily Dickinson Homestead in autumn. COURTESY of EMILY DICKINSON MUSEUM

  • A DaGuerreotype portrait of Emily Dickinson, one of Amherst’s great poets. COURTESY of EMILY DICKINSON MUSEUM

  • Flowering trees dot the grounds outside the Homestead. COURTESY of EMILY DICKINSON MUSEUM

  • The Emily Dickinson Homestead, looking toward the Conservatory.

For the Bulletin
Thursday, April 06, 2017

In a letter to a friend, Emily Dickinson once wrote “my friends are my estate,” but while her friends have long since passed, her estate lives on — and now, visitors can enjoy it again.

From the bright ochre-painted brick, to the dark green openings of the Dickinson’s family home, the Emily Dickinson Homestead opens its doors to visitors for the 2017 season. The estate immerses those in what was once the everyday life of one of America’s great poets.

Upon entering the Dickinson family home, the ingress leads into what was once the kitchen, now remodeled from its original state to a quaint gift shop. The kitchen windows let in warm sunlight, welcoming visitors to tour the Homestead and experience the place where Emily spent much of her formative and inclusive years.

Despite the lack of visual indications of the former kitchen, the room was once central to the Dickinson family’s home life. “I feel great that I get to be in a room where she had spent a lot of time,” said Starr Florio, the house manager for the estate. “Emily, as the baker of the family, had spent a lot of time here. She could also gaze out and see her gardens or check if anyone was coming up the drive.”

From the family’s parlor room to Emily’s bedroom, the museum is filled with authentic memorabilia and pictures dating back to the early 1800s. Although none of Emily’s original poetry is located at the Homestead, the museum’s curators have created archetypes of her work, allowing visitors to see her creative process. From candy wrappers, to envelopes, the museum has copies of parchment that had once captured Emily’s spontaneous bursts of artistry.

“Emily’s life comes alive in this wonderful place,” said Julie M., a tourist from Tulsa, Oklahoma, in a review on Tripadvisor. She went on to call it “a must-visit for any of her fans.”

Currently the museum is in a state of rebirth and rebuilding, with new restoration plans underway. As such, the museum will be giving modified tours of the Dickinson family home throughout the spring season. Tours of The Evergreens will also be modified until maintenance work on the estate is finished.

The museum is currently recreating the Dickinsons’ conservatory off the family’s library at the Homestead. After the property was sold outside the family in 1916, the conservatory was taken down. However, pieces like the window sashes and the conservatory’s doors had been stored inside a garage on the grounds.

“We’ve had archeological digs here to find the foundation,” said Michael Medeiros, public relations coordinator for the museum. “We have historical records, like photographs taken around 1916 and other lithographs. Her niece also has some recollections of the conservatory that she had written down.”

Medeiros said the museum wants to provide visitors a chance to experience Dickinson’s life as it was in her Amherst home. Restoring the conservatory is a chance to reclaim the original intent of the house and property, not change it, he said.

“Any changes here go according to the way it was,” Medeiros said. “The whole goal of restoration work is bringing it back as closely as possible to how it was when Emily Dickinson was here, so people can experience her spaces a little more closely.”

The conservatory, like Emily Dickinson’s bedroom where she wrote her poetry, is a very intimate space. Encompassing only 102 square feet of the property, the conservatory is where she tended her plants and bulbs through the wintertime.

“We have an idea of what she had in her conservatory,” Florio said. “From jasmine to pomegranates, she grew all kinds of plants. You can imagine the 19th century’s horrible winters, driving by in your little sleigh, and here’s this riot of color from her flowers.”

The conservatory is expected to be open by May. In the meantime, the museum invites guests to tour the household and view the restoration’s progress. Running through April, the museum will be open Wednesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

For more information about tours and the conservatory’s reconstruction, call the museum at 413-542-8161 or online at www.emilydickinsonmuseum.org.