A new year and a new chapter is set to begin for John Steinbeck’s former home in Sag Harbor. The Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist’s old house at 2 Bluff Point Lane on a peninsula overlooking Morris Cove and Upper Sag Harbor Cove, was listed Friday for $17.9 million.
Steinbeck and his third wife, Elaine, fell in love with the Sag Harbor cottage on the bluff in 1955. While Steinbeck died 53 years ago, and his wife died 18 years ago, the home has remained in their family.
“As soon as you arrive at this property, you know you have arrived somewhere special,” says Doreen Atkins at Sotheby’s International Realty, who is representing the trust that has put it on the market. “It feels like no other place in the Hamptons. This home is filled with local and literary significance.”
The couple, who married in 1950, first came to Sag Harbor after he completed East of Eden, and purchased the cottage a few years later. It was a newly found “Eden” for him, Atkins says, that inspired him to say: “I look forward to Sag Harbor—after seeing you, of course. And do you know, journalism, even my version of it, gives me the crazy desire to go out to my little house on the point, to sharpen fifty pencils and put out a yellow pad. Early in the morning to hear what the birds are saying and to pass the time of day with Angel and then hitch up my chair to my writing board and to set down the words—’Once upon a time…'”
In fact, a sign that read “Eden” used to sit near the front door.
He found inspiration there, and immersed himself in the small community. Despite having won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for Grapes of Wrath in 1940, he enjoyed anonymity in Sag Harbor, where he was known to walk around in a fisherman’s cap and rubber boots with his dog, Charley, in tow when he went to local dives like the Black Buoy.
In the mornings, he wrote from a gazebo-like structure at the tip of the property, overlooking the water, or even from his boat. He wrote an editor once, “I can move out and anchor and have a little table and yellow pad and some pencils… Nothing else can intervene.” He would spend the afternoons fishing.
From there he penned The Winter of Our Discontent, set in a New England village modeled much after Sag Harbor, and Travels With Charley, about his cross-country adventure with his dog, in which he called the village, “my little fishing place.”
In a 1958 letter to John O’Hara, he wrote, “I grow into this countryside with a lichen grip.” He lived there until his death in 1968.
The recipient of the Nobel Prize for literature in 1962, his memory in the village remains strong. In 2019, village officials unveiled the beginnings of the John Steinbeck Waterfront Park in the shadow of the bridge to North Haven.
The two-bedroom, two-bath house offers just 1,200 square feet of living space, but the interior offers plenty of character. The living room has wainscoting and wood beams on the cathedral ceiling. Bookcases line one wall, while French doors on the other lead to the patio. The kitchen opens to a sitting area with a wall of windows that overlooks the waterfront and the 60-foot dock.
There are nods to Steinbeck still. Above a large fieldstone fireplace hangs a painting of “Charley.” In a loft overlooking the living area, is “the Library Loft,” which Steinbeck reportedly created with bookcases on three sides. His hexagonal “writing house” out on the property’s point remains. With windows on all sides, it is a spot for respite and reflection.
A guest cottage on the property with views over the water has room to sleep two and offers a bathroom and an outdoor shower.
The property also has a free-form pool, or “Cement Pond” as Steinbeck reportedly called it.
“This opportunity has unparalleled significance—private, protected by topography of land, waterfront on two sides, upside opportunity for building, 60-foot dock and minutes away from the coveted Village of Sag Harbor,” Atkins says.
A trust set up by Elaine Steinbeck before her death in 2003 is selling the house after many years of legal disputes between John Steinbeck and Elaine Steinbeck’s families, according to The New York Times.