Steinbeck’s Eden

John And Elaine Steinbeck’s Longtime Sag Harbor Home, “The Point” Is On The Market  

Main House Photos: Richard Lewin

Anyone who has written a book report for a traditional English class in High School or Junior High is more than familiar with the titles Travels with Charley, Of Mice and Men, The Grapes of Wrath, Cannery Row and more works by Nobel Prize and Pulitzer Prize winning author John Steinbeck. Although John Ernst Steinbeck, Jr. was born in Salinas, California on February 27th, 1902, Sag Harbor, New York, was the home of his heart and talent most of his life. Whenever possible Sag Harbor Village honors his lifelong relationship and presence there.

In 2019 the park at the Sag Harbor waterfront was dedicated to him and officially named “John Steinbeck Waterfront Park”. A plaque above the door of the neighboring Windmill on Long Wharf thanks him for his role in establishing the Old Whalers Festival in 1963, and for being its Honorary Chairman from 1963 to 1968.

During this year’s Sag Harbor Harborfest Weekend, Canio’s Books, the premier bookstore of Sag Harbor, celebrated the 60th birthday of Travels with Charley with dramatic readings of portions on their lawn, as part of their “Canio’s Cultural Café” Series. Steinbeck scholar Susan Shillinglaw recently lectured about “Travels with Charley at 60” at The Church on Madison Street. Sag Harbor Cinema just held a special screening of the film The Grapes of Wrath.

Steinbeck could have lived comfortably almost anywhere in the United States, but, in 1955, he chose 2 Bluff Point Lane in Sag Harbor, which he called “Eden”, as his base of creative operations, and for the home of his unique lifestyle with his wife from 1950 to 1968, Elaine Anderson Steinbeck. 

Often called “The Point”, the romantic, private and peaceful location was the perfect choice for the Steinbecks. With 586 feet of waterfront, and a 60-foot dock jutting into Morris Cove on one side of the property and Upper Sag Harbor Cove around the corner, it was no wonder Steinbeck called it “his fishing place”.

Each structure on the 1.27 acres of “The Point” has its own noteworthy history and is a reflection of the personalities of the owners.

The waterfront cottage Main House, with its 3 bedrooms and three baths was built in 1929. A special custom feature of the house is “The Library Loft”, which became a kind of playroom for his sons, John Steinbeck IV and Thomas Myles Steinbeck. When the boys became too rowdy and outgrew the loft, fate presented John Steinbeck with a perfect opportunity for a solution…the Cozy Cabin.

In the old days, as you traveled East on Montauk Highway through Wainscott, you passed a lighted sign marking the location of “Cozy Cabins”, a cluster of tiny, basic one-room cottages. On the night designated as moving out night for the Cabins, in preparation of their subsequent replacement, Steinbeck passed the flatbed trucks that were in the process of hauling them away. Thinking fast he ran up to one of the drivers, gave his address and a wad of cash (he never told Elaine how much) for them to deliver what would be his very own Cozy Cabin. They couldn’t quite make it onto the property, so they dropped it as close as possible. The Sag Harbor Fire Department dragged the cabin to its final location, after having to cut down a split rail fence to enter the property.

Most of Steinbeck’s creative work at “The Point” was done in the octagonal “Writing House”, with its windows on all sides, each with water views. According to Clark Covert, nephew of Elaine Steinbeck (whom he called “Aunt E”), Uncle John had a very particular way he liked his workspace. As a lover of Arthurian lore and history of coats of arms, he called The Writing House “Joyous Garde”, after Sir Lancelot’s castle in France. The bookshelves above his writing desk contained an interesting variety of volumes, including “Fishes of Europe”, an encyclopedia of flags, medical reference books and a set of Encyclopedia Britannica. On his desk was a red leather pencil box (for his preferred #2 pencils). Used ones ready for sharpening were placed in a special round plastic canister. Two sharpeners were available: a manual one and an electric one, which he preferred because of his love for gadgets. His workday started at 9 a.m. with his handwritten correspondence as a warmup for his creative typed work, which he typed on the typewriter stand he made himself out of an old Adirondack-style table.

There are many more interesting historic details about “The Point”, including “Doggy Island”, Charley’s preferred place to “go”, Gladys the plastic goose which Elaine lit up to let John know that drinks were ready in the house, and the swimming pool which they called “The Cement Pond”.

The property, currently listed for $15,400,000, is represented by Doreen Atkins of Sotheby’s International Realty.

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