Over the years, the Greek Revival home where Robert Frost lived for a short time in Ann Arbor has served as a classroom, a gallery and exhibit space but never as a tribute to the poet like other homes in Greenfield Village have honored their former inhabitants — inventors, innovators and the like.
That is about to change.
The home, built in the 1830s and moved to Greenfield Village a century later, is poised to become a center for American literary creativity, honoring not only the man who lived in the home and his work but also building a bridge to inspire future writers.
Exactly how the modest house, where Frost lived while a fellow at the University of Michigan, will become a center for literary creativity is open for discussion. But the effort kicks off Thursday evening with a first-of-its-kind literary event in the Village: “A Literary Feast: An Evening of Frost & Food.”
The evening, which begins with poetry readings at the Frost house, celebrates the poet’s works and his influence on modern poetry and literature. Guests will enjoy cocktails and light refreshments while poet Vievee Francis, a Detroit native who has been influenced by Frost, will read from both of their works.
“Lots of kids still read Frost. He’s part of the canon of American literature,” said Christian Overland, executive vice president and chief historian at The Henry Ford. “We’re celebrating with a poet who is doing well in her career and was influenced by Frost. This kind of event connects to younger people today and the movement of poetry today.”
Following the poetry reading, guests will be transported by Model T or horse-drawn carriage — modes of transportation Frost would have been familiar with — to the Eagle Tavern for dinner and a presentation by Paul Dimond, an Ann Arbor author who has written a recently published historical novel about Frost’s time in Michigan, “The Belle of Two Arbors.”
The evening concludes with a discussion about how to make the Frost structure a living center for American literary creativity.
Overland compares the evening’s open discussion to the same dialogue Frost pursued with his students about poetry and literature at the Ann Arbor home.
“This event is kicking off something that we think is pretty cool,” Overland said. “What we’re trying to do with Robert Frost and the Frost home is to bring the past forward to inspire people. We’re going to encourage the audience (Thursday night) to talk about the idea. We’re open to ideas to kick around.”
Overland sees the opportunity with the Frost home as the same with the Davidson-Gerson Gallery of Glass in the village’s Liberty Works District. The gallery not only traces the history of glass making in America from the 18th century to the present but also is home to an artist-in-residence program. Glassmakers from around the world come to showcase their talents and work with village artists.
“We want to take that concept and move it into literature,” Overland said. “Wouldn’t be awesome to take something like this event and have something all the time. It’s relevant. It’s another art — literature. We’re breathing new air into Greenfield Village.”
While Frost and his poetry are more closely associated with New England, the poet created some of his best-known poems while living on Pontiac Trail north of downtown Ann Arbor. Those works include “Spring Pool,” which he wrote in three days while dreaming of spring in New England, as well as “A Winter Eden” and “Acquainted with the Night.”
Frost was initially lured to the University of Michigan in 1921 as a non-teaching “Fellow in Letters.” He left, then returned to the university, where he was in residence between 1925-1926. Before moving to Ann Arbor, he had just received the first of four Pulitzer Prizes for his work.
“He was the talk of the town when he came to Ann Arbor,” said Dimond, who grew up in Ann Arbor and spent summers in Glen Arbor near Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. He spent a decade researching and drafting his novel. “He was brought here to be inspiring and creative to others. He doesn’t have to teach a class and a lot of academic types didn’t like that.”
Even so, some contend Frost became more popular than the football coach. An Ann Arbor confectioner even named an ice cream concoction after the poet, calling it Frost Bite.
Dimond, a lawyer who once served as special assistant to then-President Bill Clinton for Economic Policy in the 1990s, said Frost became fond of Ann Arbor and was productive as a writer while living away from campus in the Pontiac Trail house.
Henry Ford relocated the home to Dearborn because he admired Greek Revival architecture and thought it was an excellent example of that form. Overland suspects the industrialist had some inkling that Frost had lived there as well.
Initially, the walkout basement part of the six-room house was used as a classroom for Kindergarten students as part of Greenfield Village Schools from 1937 to 1969. (Note: Greenfield Village originally opened as a school and not as a historical destination). In 1959, the home was opened as a historic display building. The Frost connection was formally attached to the house around 2000; it had formerly been called the Ann Arbor House, said Jim Johnson, curator of historic structures and landscapes at The Henry Ford.
Located in the Village’s Porches and Parlors District, the Frost house sits in a pastoral neighborhood of notable homes once lived in by Noah Webster, the Wright brothers and others — docents there tell the stories of those inhabitants. The Frost home has never really honored the poet. The structure is furnished with Grecian-inspired American furniture from the first half of the 19th century. The only other clue of a Frost connection is an audio recording of him reciting one of his most famous poems, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.”
Dimond, who also is a trustee of The Henry Ford, is equally excited about the home’s transformation into a center for American literary creativity.
“One of the missions of The Henry Ford is to create interest in history and innovation and to inspire the future,” he said. “How do we encourage the young people out there to become the next generation of poets or writers? We have waves of young people coming through on school buses – how can we inspire them?”
Greg Tasker is a Michigan-based freelance writer.
A Literary Feast: An Evening of Frost & Food
7 p.m. Thursday
20900 Oakwood, Dearborn