Herman Melville's Arrowhead (780 Holmes Road, Pittsfield)
Built in the eighteenth century, Arrowhead was the home of Herman Melville from 1850-1863. It was named for the arrowheads Melville collected while plowing the fields. Today, visitors can take a guided tour of the house, a tour that returns you to the days when Melville, his wife, Lizzie, their four children, his mothers and sisters, inhabited the busy household. One of the busiest rooms at Arrowhead was the dining area with its massive chimney. Melville joked about the chimney being the main structure and the house its annex. This enormous chimney that measured forty-eight feet in circumference at the base inspired one of his stories, I and My Chimney. Added shortly after his purchase of Arrowhead, the piazza also inspired Melville. The Piazza Tales were named for the porch, an important place for Melville, who felt that a house wasn't complete without one. When you walk out on the piazza today, you enjoy the same view as Melville. Before moving upstairs, you'll also visit the living room-parlor. This was where the Melvilles spent their evenings entertaining, playing cards, or listening to Lizzie play the piano.
Upstairs, you'll see Herman and Lizzie's bedroom and his library-study across the hall. It was here that
Melville wrote Moby Dick, inspired by the view of Mount Greylock with its whale-like curves. Melville's novel, Pierre, was dedicated to Mount Greylock and his short story, The Piazza, begins with a journey to the mountain.
When you return downstairs you can enjoy an exhibit on Berkshire writers and make a few purchases in the gift shop. Outside, the grounds also invite exploring. According to Arrowhead's website, the old red barn is "the site of several meetings between Hawthorne and Melville; the two men would escape the chaos of the Melville household by going there for a quiet place to talk." The Nature Trail makes for a pleasant walk in Melville's footsteps.
In 1863, the Melvilles moved to New York after selling Arrowhead to his brother, Allan. It remained in the Melville family until 1927. In 1975, it was bought by the Berkshire County Historical Society. Arrowhead is a fascinating house to tour; it connects visitors with Herman Melville and the place that inspired some of his best work.
You'll find information on Arrowhead, including directions, hours, and cost of admission; Melville; and links to other resources.
The Herman Melville Memorial Room at the Berkshire Athenaeum
A worthwhile stop at 1 Wendell Avenue, Pittsfield.
City of Pittsfield
The Herman Melville Society
"I and my chimney, two grey-headed old smokers, reside in the country. We are, I may say, old settlers here; particularly my old chimney, which settles more and more everyday." -- from I and My Chimney, by Herman Melville
"Now, for a house, so situated in such a country, to have no piazza for the convenience of those who might desire to feast upon the view, and take their time and ease about it, seemed as much of an omission as if a picture-gallery should have no bench...." from The Piazza, by Herman Melville
(Drawing and photographs by R. McIlvaine, ©2005.)