In 2004, the New York Times ran an article about the proliferation of literary talent stemming from Connecticut. The article mentioned the home in New Canaan of Max Perkins. I thought it was interesting considering we have also been touched by the life of the Perkins family as we have been renovating the inn. Here's the excerpt from that article ("Writer's Block", Alan Bisbort, New York Times Nov. 28, 2004 ):
Maxwell E. Perkins
A few years after Fitzgerald moved out of Westport, Maxwell E. Perkins, the Scribner's editor who guided Fitzgerald, moved in to New Canaan, a few towns away. Perkins also edited Ernest Hemingway, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings and Thomas Wolfe.
In a letter to Fitzgerald on Oct. 18, 1924, Perkins wrote: "I told you we'd bought a house in New Canaan. It has the face of a Greek temple and the body of a spacious Connecticut farm house."
This capacious, eccentric home, located at 63 Park Street half a block from the New Canaan commuter station, was designed and built in 1836 by Hiram Crissey, a local carpenter. Mr. Perkins bought the Greek Revival house in 1924 after it had served as a boardinghouse and private school. He lived there with his wife, Louise, who called it her "investment in happiness," and their five daughters until his death in 1947. Louise stayed in the house until 1965, when she died after falling asleep while smoking in bed, the blaze gutting part of the structure. The oldest Perkins daughter, Bertie, stayed in the house, divided it into four apartments, and then moved to Vermont a few years later, according to Sandra Bergmann, one of the current owners of the house.
By 1973, when the house was sold to its Ms. Bergmann and her husband, Richard, it was falling apart. It was largely through the efforts of the Bergmanns, who have lived in the house for 31 years, that the Maxwell E. Perkins House was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on May 6, 2004. Mr. Bergmann has been chairman of New Canaan's Historic District Commission for 24 years.
"I remember seeing the house for the first time in 1961," Ms. Bergmann said. "It was so overgrown, like an antebellum mansion gone to seed in the South. We knew it as an eccentric-looking house, not because of the Max Perkins connection. We confess that the name meant nothing to us at the time we bought it."
When the Bergmanns purchased the 5,000-square-foot house and two-acre lot, it had been on the market for some time.
"Only an architect would take on such a challenge as this house presented," Ms. Bergmann said. "There was four of everything. Four kitchens, four bathrooms, four front doors, and so on. I started crying when my husband said he wanted to buy it. We lived in one room at a time and it took us seven years to renovate. We inherited a hundred years of deferred maintenance. It sagged right down the middle. The house is now structurally the same from the outside as it was when the Perkins lived here. We tried to leave something from each era in the house. Bookcases Max Perkins had built are still here."
After the Bergmanns moved in, they were invited to a party by Thomas Ashwell, the neighbor across the street and one of Mr. Perkins's publishing colleagues.
"Mr. Ashwell told stories about 'Max' and how it was their running joke that whenever he'd see smoke coming out of the chimney over here they'd say, 'Max must be burning some more of Thomas Wolfe's manuscripts,' " she said.
Today, the Bergmanns run an architecture firm out of this shrine, which in addition to the National Register of Historic Places plaque, sports a plaque for being on the national Literary Landmarks Register, an honor bestowed on May 18, 2002. At the ceremony, A. Scott Berg, author of "Max Perkins: Editor of Genius" (and originally from Norwalk), delivered the keynote address from the steps of the house.
"People come by all the time now because of the Perkins connection," Ms. Bergmann said. "It doesn't bother us. We share the house with everyone."
And here's an interesting letter to the editor in response to the article here.
Perkins definitely was a fascinating and inspiring character to many. And although he is often put on a pedestal by others, I believe Max himself would have been the last person to tell you he was important. I think that is part of his success. For Max, home, family and books were prized far above any temporary honor. It's a model any of us would do well to follow.