RICHMOND, Va. - An honor society that bears the name of one of Edgar Allan Poe's major works is planning to renovate the room where the renowned poet and mystery writer lived during his short stint as a student at the University of Virginia.
The Raven Society won a $15,500 grant from an endowment established by the university's Alumni Association to refurbish Poe's room at 13 West Range. Work is to begin this summer as part of a broader renovation of a handful of nearby student rooms at the university in Charlottesville.
Clark Herndon, who just ended his term as the society president, said the project includes refinishing the room's wood floor, painting, upgrading the lighting, installing a small mantel around the fireplace, and replacing a decades-old sound system that plays a recording for visitors about Poe's 10-month stay at the university in 1826.
After the renovation is complete, Raven Society members will work with the university's preservation experts to determine the historical accuracy of the room's furnishings, which include a bed, a small writing desk, a washbasin, and a bust of Pallas - a reference to where Poe's talking bird perches in "The Raven."
"The leather-bound footlocker, for example, may be replaced with a wooden chest," said James Zehmer, U.Va.'s historic preservation project manager. "And there's a chair or two that might not be quite accurate."
The Raven Society was founded in 1904. After the election of new members each semester, the society conducts a ceremony in Poe's room that includes the reading of a stanza of "The Raven," Herndon said. It's the only time people are allowed in 13 West Range - visitors typically view the room through a glass door.
Poe enrolled at U.Va. in February 1826, not long after Thomas Jefferson founded the school, and professors quickly recognized his academic excellence. At the time, there were 177 students, and their rooms all lined the university's Lawn and Range, U.Va. officials said.
The 17-year-old student became active in university life, including becoming a member of the Jefferson Literary and Debating Society, and entertaining friends in his room with dramatic readings of short stories that bore the hallmarks of his later writings. But his time in Charlottesville didn't last, as he was plagued with financial difficulties caused in part by his foster father's refusal to cover all his expenses, and in part by heavy gambling. He withdrew permanently from the school that December.
Today, the Poe room and the Rotunda are among the University of Virginia's most-visited sites.