Herman Melville's Arrowhead – Pittsfield, Massachusetts - Atlas Obscura

Herman Melville's Arrowhead

Pittsfield, Massachusetts

Herman Melville wrote 'Moby Dick' in this landmark 18th-century house surrounded by farmland. 

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Nestled in the Berkshire mountains, Arrowhead is the house and surrounding grounds where one of the greatest American novels was written, Moby Dick. Tours of the house are available, as well as free walking paths throughout the remaining 160 original acres of Melville’s farm. 

Originally built in the 1780s as a farmhouse and inn, Melville acquired the property in 1850. As a young man, Melville had worked on his uncle’s farm In the Berkshires. When his uncle decided to sell his farm in 1850, the writer, plagued by nostalgia, on impulse decided to purchase the adjacent property, Arrowhead. He kept a small amount of livestock (including a horse and a cow), but much of the farmland was used for hay.

Melville had begun Moby Dick earlier in the year and used his time at Arrowhead to complete the manuscript in the summer of 1851. Unfortunately, the book did not achieve instant success: the author’s profits are estimated to have been around $1,260, much less than the $1,500 mortgage on the property and still less than the $3,000 he had borrowed from his father-in-law for the purchase. Accordingly, in an attempt to salvage his financial position Melville sold half the land, but his father-in-law assumed the mortgage and title and transferred ownership to Melville’s wife Lizzie in 1860.

In 1862, the Melvilles moved out, and the following year sold Arrowhead to Herman’s brother Allan. Unable to shake his obsession with rural life, in subsequent years Herman returned, Ahab-like, to visit Arrowhead, which remained in the Melville family until 1927. Although it had been out of print at Herman’s death in 1891, by the time Arrowhead was sold out of the family the novel was recognized as a great work of American literature and had been made available again both in print and in a film adaptation.

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March 21, 2021

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