From Highway 28, the New Hampshire farm once owned by poet Robert Frost may seem unchanged from a century ago. Yet the picturesque New England white barn and farmhouse recently underwent thousands of dollars in renovation including a new roof, foundation work and other upgrades.
And for the first time in decades the Robert Frost Farm — which sits on 30 acres in Derry, N.H., about 10 miles north of the Massachusetts border — now closely resembles the place Frost left as he embarked on a life as a full-time poet, officials at the historic site say.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of when Frost sold the poultry farm for $1,100 to help pay for a three-year adventure in England where he would begin obtaining recognition in the world of letters.
After walking away from the farm, Frost won four Pulitzer Prizes for poetry, read at the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy and received a number of honorary degrees and awards.
But Frost scholars and enthusiasts say the poet never forgot those years in Derry. That's because the Derry years were some of the happiest of his life, and the farm and its New England grounds were the source of inspiration for some of his most famous poems.
"This is where he spent the most time with his family and had the happiest of memories," said Justine Golden, a tour guide. "After he left here, it was never the same. His life was filled with tragedy."
'It gave him time to dream'
New Hampshire officials hope the restored house along with newly placed markers around the Hyla Brook Nature Poetry Trail, or the area that surrounds the farm, will give visitors a sense of how the environment played a role in some of Frost's more memorable works. The New Hampshire Division of Parks and Recreation recently placed markers at the spots scholars believed inspired Frost to later write the poems "Nothing Gold Can Stay," "Mending Wall" and "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening," among others.
"Derry was a place where he grew as a poet," said Mark Schorr, executive director of the Robert Frost Foundation, based in nearby Lawrence, Mass. "The farm turned out to be exactly what Robert Frost needed. It gave him time to dream."
Frost moved to Derry in 1900 after his grandfather agreed to buy the farm for him on one condition — Frost and his family stay there for at least 10 years before Frost could own it. Frost worked as a poultry farmer for five years, before turning to teaching as an English instructor at nearby Pinkerton Academy.
In between his duties as a farmer, Frost walked the land and wrote constantly. He and his wife, Elinor, homeschooled their children and Frost began to use the landscape in his work.
Upon leaving the farm, Frost won acclaim for his poetry but his wife died of breast cancer in 1937, his son Carol committed suicide, daughter Marjorie died after childbirth, and daughter Irma was later committed to a mental hospital. The poet also battled bouts of depression.
Frost died in 1963.
Life on the farm
To recreate his happy life at the farm, the New Hampshire's Division of Parks and Recreation, which purchased the property shortly after Frost died, restored furniture and purchased period pieces around the home under the advisement of his late daughter, Lesley Frost Ballantine. For example, visitors to the farm will see antique books Frost read as a child and a chair next to the kitchen window where Frost wrote.
Some items, officials say, were definitely used by Frost, including the pair of wooden toilets near the entrance. "Of all the things in this house," said Golden, "we are sure the great man sat here."
Throughout the summer, the farm will host a number of poet readings and lectures on Frost. The farm closes for the season to visitors Oct. 11.
Since the time Frost and his family lived at the farm, much has changed in the area. Strip malls and stores cater to discount-minded Massachusetts shoppers lured to New Hampshire because there's no sales tax. To the south in Lawrence, Mass., where Frost and his wife graduated high school as co-valedictorians, sits a majority-Latino city where the old mills have closed and residents struggle with basic adult literacy.
Still, walking around the farm, even today, gives visitors the same sense of creative seclusion that Frost experienced, said Golden. That hasn't change, she said.
"There's something about this farm that pulls you in," said Golden. "That's probably why Frost always remembered it."