The Restoration of Arrowhead
When Herman Melville bought Arrowhead in 1850, it was already an old house. Originally built in 1780, the house was constructed in a Georgian style. In the 1840s, a subsequent owner added Federal style architectural details to the exterior. In two literary works (“I and My Chimney” and the dedication to “Weeds and Wildings, Chiefly, with a Rose or Two”), Melville himself alludes to a previous owner having removed the orginal gambrel roof, replacing it with the roof which remains today.
Melville, too, found it necessary to make changes to the house, adding a piazza (porch), outbuildings, and an ell to the back, and making numerous small interior changes. As he wrote to Nathaniel Hawthorne:
I have been building some shanties of houses (connected with the old one) and likewise some shanties of chapters & essays. I have been ploughing & sowing & raising & printing & praying, and now begin to come out upon a less bristling time, and to enjoy the calm prospect of things from a fair piazza at the north of the old farmhouse here.
Subsequent owners have continued the tradition of alterations. Melville’s own brother added a front porch, and his descendants changed the back ell of the house. 20th-century owners added screened porches, patios, picture windows, removed the original staircase, and closed off several fireplaces. When the Berkshire County Historical Society purchased the house in 1975, even Melville’s famous piazza had been removed!
Since its purchase of the property, BCHS has raised funds to complete many restoration projects:
- restoration of the piazza
- restoration of the windows in the house
- replacement of the asphalt shingle roof with a cedar shake roof
- repainting the house in its original colors
- reconstruction of the 1850s front door section
- rehabilitation of the original barn
- restoration of Melville’s study
When the house was purchased, Melville’s library, the room where he wrote Moby-Dick, had been converted to a small bedroom. The fireplace had been enclosed, and a wall built through the room to create a hallway. The Berkshire County Historical Society has restored the room to its Melville-era appearance based on documentary and physical evidence.
Despite all the work that has been done to restore the house, much more remains to be done. Currently, BCHS is raising funds to match grants from the Massachusetts Historical Commission and the Massachusetts Cultural Facilities Fund. We have embarked on an ambitious set of projects, including repairing sills, windows, and doors. We are also reproducing the front entry porch, based on historic photographs. In addtion, we will be upgrading pathways and restrooms.
If you would like to help restore Herman Melville’s Arrowhead, please join the Friends of Herman Melville’s Arrowhead. As a member, you will receive a newsletter keeping you informed of restoration progress.