Poe's Honeymoon House in Petersburg, built in 1814, to be sold at auction
By CAROL HAZARD Richmond Times-Dispatch
A 202-year-old building in the Petersburg Old Town Historic District with connections to one of Richmond’s most famous residents is scheduled to be sold at auction Aug. 18.
The brick house at 12 W. Bank St. was the honeymoon site for American writer Edgar Allan Poe, then 27, and his bride, Virginia Clemm, his 13-year-old first cousin, in the spring of 1836.
The couple had eloped the previous fall in Baltimore and returned to Richmond in May, where they were publicly married — or so the story goes — and then stayed a couple of weeks in the building as guests of newspaper editor and poet Hiram Haines and his wife, Mary Ann, a childhood friend of Poe’s.
Petersburg at the time was a bustling commercial center on the Appomattox River.
The Poes stayed on the second floor of the Hiram Haines’ Coffee & Ale House, a classic-style structure built in 1814. The second floor remains for the most part as it was then, with original paneling and moldings.
“The upstairs is still beautiful,” said Beverly Rivers, the current owner, noting how the second-floor plaster walls appear to have received only one coat of paint, a blueish green, over the years.
The building is in the hands of Rivers, a magazine writer, editor and interior designer, and her partner, Jeffrey Abugel, author of “Edgar Allan Poe’s Petersburg: The Untold Story of the Raven in the Cockade City.”
They live in a historic home about eight blocks from the building they are selling at auction.
“We fell in love with beautiful old architecture, looked for houses in Savannah and Charleston, and kept going north until we could afford to buy a great house,” Rivers said. The writers found their Italianate home, circa 1870, in Petersburg in 2002 and moved here full time from Iowa in 2005. Rivers bought the property at 12 W. Bank St. in 2008 and ran her Rivers’ Edge Interiors business from there before she and Abugel reopened the 2,700-square-foot first floor as a coffee and sandwich shop in 2010. Honoring the building’s history, they renamed it the Hiram Haines’ Coffee & Ale House.
For fun, they offered a free meal to anyone who could name all 30 or so authors whose pictures hung on the walls. Some people came close.
“It took both of us to run it,” Rivers said. With the stress of running two businesses, she faced doctor’s orders to slow down. The couple shuttered the shop about two years ago.
“If we weren’t at this point in our lives and could afford to keep the building to entertain our friends, we wouldn’t sell it,” Rivers said, recalling how her family has flown from Colorado for the past several years to celebrate Thanksgiving in the building.
“We are at the point where we should have one or two jobs, not three,” she said, declining to state their ages. “Many people at our age have decided to retire.”
“There are not many buildings of that vintage in Richmond and only a smattering in Old Towne Petersburg,” said Bill Londrey with Tranzon Fox, the company handling the auction sale. “This is one of the older ones.”
Londrey said the first floor is in move-in condition. The second and third floors need work — there is no heat or electricity — and could be renovated for apartments, an office or a bed-and-breakfast, he said.
Haines died in 1841, and other owners carried on the coffee house tradition throughout the 19th century. Several businesses were run from the structure in the 20th century.
The building will be offered for sale along with a structure behind the building connected via an enclosed alley with skylights. The rear structure originally was a horse stable and, at some point, was converted into a bakery.
Five years remain on the city of Petersburg’s 10-year tax abatement program used for the building, an incentive that allows lower taxes in return for revitalizing a historic building. The abated city assessment is $63,800, according to Tranzon. The assessed value is $113,800, according to city records.
Rivers said she chose an auction sale — on-site Aug. 18 at 10 a.m. — because it seems like a creative way to market and sell a property. She and her nephew designed and painted a sign that hangs above the front door with pictures of Edgar Allan and Virginia Poe. It does not convey with the sale.
“If someone wants to continue the legacy of Haines and Poe, the new owners and I will talk,” Rivers said. “I would love to see it stay there in place.”