Thorton Wilder in Hamden



Arguably, the most underappreciated literary home in the state is the one built by Thornton Wilder at 50 Deepwood Drive in Hamden. Wilder, author of the place-obsessed "Our Town," made Hamden his town from 1929 until 1975.




According to the Wilder biographer Gilbert A. Harrison, after graduating from Yale, Mr. Wilder lived with his family in New Haven, using their home on Mansfield Street as a base while he traveled extensively.




In late 1927, his novel "The Bridge of San Luis Rey," was published. Within two months, the book had earned $20,000 in royalties; within a year it earned $73,375 and won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Mr. Wilder was now famous and at least rich enough to look for land in the New Haven area to build a house where his parents, sisters and he could live. He bought the property in Hamden in March 1929. According to Mr. Harrison, the Wilders referred to their Hamden haven as "The House the Bridge Built."

Though he was a tireless traveler, speaker and teacher, Mr. Wilder, who never married, shared the house for the rest of his life with his sister Isabel, who served as his executive secretary. He died in his bedroom in December 1975.
"He traveled a great deal from the time he left Yale, but Hamden was the center of his life," said Patricia Willis, curator at Yale's Beinecke Library, where Wilder's papers are housed. "It's always been thought that "Our Town" was based on Peterboro, N.H., where he stayed at the MacDowell Colony, but like most of his writing, this play was not site-specific and could have some of Hamden in it, too. "Our Town" was intentionally nonspecific."


Mr. Wilder's home continues to follow his quiet, low-key example. It is still a private residence with no official connection to the author's legacy, no historic plaque to commemorate its famous owner. The unprepossessing, two-story, brown wooden structure rambles like a ski chalet onto the edge of a panoramic promontory, from which Wilder could see New Haven and East Rock, which he called "my dolomite."
"The owners were kind enough to allow Yale to feature the house during Wilder's centennial in 1997," Ms. Willis said.

A separate book could probably be written to explain why Connecticut has been and continues to be a scribbler's Canaan. John Ryden, former director of publishing at Yale University Press, lives just over the New Haven line from Wilder's home. Mr. Ryden once hosted a reading of one of Mr. Wilder's incomplete plays at the press and published a book of poetry by Amos Wilder, Thornton's brother.

"I believe the proximity to New York and Boston attracted many of the writers here initially," said Mr. Ryden, who moved to the state in 1979. "And because they came up here when the area was hardly discovered, they got hooked by the landscape and just could not leave. It's lovely country." Asked what keeps him here now that he's retired? Mr. Ryden said: "I'm doing some writing."



Wilder is buried in Mount Carmel in Hamden