Charlie Hailey


Calvin Stowe once conversed with Goethe on his Florida porch. His wife Harriet Beecher Stowe, well-known author of Uncle Toms Cabin, set up this context when she first explored Orange Park in the spring of 1867 and found an enthralling climate and landscape inclined to mix the actual with the imagined. By 1868 the Stowes purchased a house on the St. Johns River in Mandarin and by 1872 completed renovations, most significantly the porch. For Harriet, this open-air space-she called it her "veranda"-harbored dreams and visions for writerly inspiration. On the porch, Calvin reads, translates, and hallucinates while Harriet listens and writes, "spinning ideal webs out of bits that he lets fall here and there."1 You might have interrupted one of these moments as you drew near the porch in a stereoscopic view widely circulated in the 1870s, arriving like the wayward tourist who has walked up from the landing on the St. Johns River. The porch fills the middle ground, framed on the right by a magnificent live oak's trunk, its unseen canopy measuring your approach. To the left, Calvin has put down his reading, and Harriet-head tilting pensively-casts an oblique, preoccupied view back across the river. The porch's columns frame two other vignettes of domestic life: in the middle bay, a woman and a girl look up from their game of cards, and further to the right another woman quietly sews, her rocking chair turned to face an empty seat.