Author Museum Interviews: The Frost Place in Franconia, New Hampshire

It Was Really Better: A Conversation with Maudelle Driskell of The Frost Place, in Franconia, NH

In his poem “New Hampshire,” Robert Frost claimed:

Not even New Hampshire farms are much for sale.

The farm I made my home on in the mountains

I had to take by force rather than buy.

I caught the owner outdoors by himself

Raking up after winter, and I said,

“I’m going to put you off this farm: I want it.”

“Where are you going to put me? In the road?”

“I’m going to put you on the farm next to it.”

“Why won’t the farm next to it do for you?”

“I like this better.” It was really better.

 —

The better farm of which he wrote in this poem is the property now known as the Frost Place in Franconia, New Hampshire. There are a handful of other Frost homes-turned-museums spread throughout the New England countryside—the Robert Frost Farm in Derry, NH; the Robert Frost Stone House Museum in Shaftsbury, VT; the other Robert Frost Farm in Ripton, VT—but Franconia’s Frost Place seems to be one of the locations he liked the best, and one of the locations I liked best as well. “It was really better,” after all.

After checking in at the museum store in the back barn, visitors are allowed to wander the house on their own. There are some artifacts in the rooms, and information is posted about Frost throughout the home. Visiting the house is a treat in and of itself, but I enjoyed even more walking the Poetry Trail out back. The path, marked with poems by Frost, is just a short little hike that almost anyone able to walk should be able to partake in. As I made my way along the path, a butterfly fluttered (“from his gentle clasp”?), giving pleasure in the flowers lining the trail in this springing of the year. It was the kind of Spring scene the writer himself would have written a beautiful poem about, whereas all I could do to befit the moment and its mood was to smile and think: “It was really better.”

I spoke with the Frost Place’s executive director Maudelle Driskell about the place itself, its most famous resident, and some of the other interesting residents it has had since.

 —Tyler Malone

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INTERVIEWER

Robert Frost claimed to take this property “by force” in his poem “New Hampshire.” Tell me a little about the story of how he acquired this farm in Franconia.

MAUDELLE DRISKELL

Robert Frost returned from England in 1915 and wanted to settle on a small farm in New England. He came upon what is today The Frost Place, located at 158 Ridge Road, and he fell in love with the view from the front porch, which looks out on to Mount Lafayette, looming above the Franconia Notch. At the time, the Herbert family owned the house. Frost told Herbert that he planned to put them off the farm. Frost bought the house from Willis Herbert, who moved his family down the road to another family owned property. From 1915 to 1920, Frost and his family lived at what is now The Frost Place, full-time. After 1920 Frost and his family moved, but continued to come back to the house on Ridge Road every summer until his wife Elinor’s death in 1938.

INTERVIEWER

What are some of the poems he wrote in part or in full at this residence?

MAUDELLE DRISKELL

Wow, this is really difficult to say since the publication dates don’t necessarily correlate with the writing dates. So, famous poems may have been begun one place, edited in several other places, and then published years, even decades, later.

INTERVIEWER

How did the property transition from private home to house museum?

MAUDELLE DRISKELL

The Town of Franconia purchased the house, in 1976, at its centennial celebration of the founding of the Town of Franconia. Led by David Schaffer and a group of impassioned townspeople, they proposed the purchase at the annual Town Meeting. The story goes that every man, woman, and child in the town contributed a small monetary amount to assist with the purchase. A Board of Trustees was established and The Frost Place has been a museum ever since; it is currently listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.

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INTERVIEWER

What do you think are some of the benefits of having the houses of authors become museums?

MAUDELLE DRISKELL

Having historic houses of authors become museums helps to keep the connection alive between the author’s life, his or her work, and the readership in the present. This tangible connection in a physical space, such as a house where Frost lived, allows visitors to imagine what it was like during the time where Frost was writing and producing some of the best American poems of the modern era.

INTERVIEWER

One of the things you do at the Frost Place is have a resident poet honor awarded to an emerging American poet. How did that program get started and who are some of the poets you’ve had in residence?

MAUDELLE DRISKELL

The resident poet program at The Frost Place was started by founders David Schaffer and Donald Sheehan, former longtime executive director. Since 1977 The Frost Place has housed a resident poet during the summer months at Robert Frost’s former home in Franconia, NH. The Frost Place in Franconia, New Hampshire, invites applications for a six-to-eight-week residency in poet Robert Frost’s former farmhouse, which sits on a quiet north-country lane with a spectacular view of the White Mountains, and which serves as a museum and conference center. Previous recipients of this residency include Katha Pollitt, Robert Hass, William Matthews, Cleopatra Mathis, Mark Halliday, Mary Ruefle, Mark Cox, and Laura Kasischke. A full list of past resident poets can be found on our website at www.frostplace.org.

INTERVIEWER

Tell me about the discovery one of your volunteers made at the Frost Place last fall.

MAUDELLE DRISKELL

While doing spring cleaning prior to opening for the summer season, one of the volunteers pulled a loose board from the side of a closet under the stairs. Realizing that it was not just trash it was shown to the other volunteers on hand that day. Knowing so much about Frost and his life, the many volunteers were able to connect the written information on the board with Frost’s return trip from England in Feb. 1915. To find out more about this discovery, follow this link: http://nhpr.org/post/discovery-frost-place

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INTERVIEWER

What are some of the other items that you have here at the museum that you find the most interesting?

MAUDELLE DRISKELL

My favorite items in our museum collection are Robert Frost’s former Morris chair and his custom-made lap desk that rests on the arms of the chair. He had this lap desk made especially for him because he loved writing in the Morris chair. I can imagine him writing in the front room of the house all those years ago. You can, in fact, take a look at photos of Frost writing in the Franconia house.

INTERVIEWER

How did you become the executive director of the Frost Place?

MAUDELLE DRISKELL

I am a poet and writer myself with an advanced degree, an MFA from the Warren Wilson College. When I graduated in 2008, I was Vice President of The National Society of High School Scholars, which I co-founded. I wanted to devote myself more to poetry, the study and writing of it. I heard about the opening and it seemed like the perfect place for me. I was lucky enough to have been chosen for the position and here I am. My first poetry collection is about to be published by Hobblebush Press.

INTERVIEWER

What is your favorite Frost poem? And who are some of your favorite writers besides Frost?

MAUDELLE DRISKELL

This is another really tough question to answer. I admire so many of Robert Frost’s poems, for good reason. Lately, I have been looking closely at “Out, Out” and “The Silken Tent.” There is not enough room to list my favorite writers, but the contemporary poetry books I am carrying around in my backpack now are by Ellen Bryant Voigt, Rodney Jones, Maxine Kumin, and Jennifer Grotz. Listing my favorites would take a really long time.

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INTERVIEWER

Lastly, for visitors thinking of coming to visit, what other points of interest would you recommend in and around Franconia and the White Mountain region of New Hampshire?

MAUDELLE DRISKELL

Robert Frost chose the house on Ridge Road in Franconia, NH, what is now The Frost Place, for its stunning view of the Franconia Ridge and Mount Lafayette. The Franconia Notch area offers many natural beauties from visiting the Flume Gorge, to swimming in Echo Lake, to riding the Tramway up to the summit of Cannon Mountain, or hiking in the White Mountains. Visitors also enjoy eating at many of the local restaurants such as Polly’s Pancake Parlor, a local gem, and staying at a bed and breakfast on your visit to Northern New Hampshire is standard.

For more information, please visit: http://frostplace.org/

 

Tyler Malone is a writer and teacher. He has contributed articles, reviews, and interviews to various literary magazines including The Millions, Full Stop, Tottenville Review, and Literary Traveler. He was once known as “the Reading Markson Reading guy.”

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