The James Merrill House is located on a late-Victorian commercial/residential block in Stonington Borough, a picturesque maritime village set on a narrow, 170-acre peninsula in the southeastern corner of Connecticut near the Rhode Island border. Significant for its close, forty-one-year association with American poet James Ingram Merrill (1926–1995), the eclectically styled, shingle-clad building at 107 Water Street originally contained street-level retail space, second-floor clubrooms and third-floor living quarters.
In 1956 Merrill purchased the property with his partner David Noyes Jackson (1922– 2001). They used the third floor as their private living and guest space. Adding an attic studio and rooftop deck, the men transformed their quarters with a distinctively quirky décor that remains largely intact. Merrill produced virtually all his major writing during his ownership of 107 Water Street, between 1956 and 1995, and the village came to play a vital role in the poet’s life. The apartment was a magnet for leading intellectuals and cultural figures of the day, while Merrill’s poetry increasingly resonated with references to the pleasures and peccadilloes of life in this close-knit community.
Merrill’s impressive canon of work garnered nearly every major award in his field, including the Pulitzer Prize; two National Book Awards in Poetry; the National Book Critics Circle Award; the Library of Congress’s first Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry; Yale’s Bollingen Prize for Poetry; and the Medal of Honor for Literature from the National Arts Club. The multilingual author also translated dozens of works of other poets into French, Portuguese, Dutch and modern Greek, and contributed countless introductions, forewords, and afterwards to the publications of his colleagues.
Today the apartment Merrill and Jackson inhabited is owned by the Stonington Village Improvement Association (SVIA), which inherited the building from Merrill in 1995. The SVIA leases out the ground-floor retail space and two one-bedroom apartments (north and south ends) that occupy the former club rooms. The entire third floor and attic studio are reserved for use by visiting scholars as part of the James Merrill Writers-in-Residence program. The SVIA also opens the Merrill apartment throughout the year to the public. The property has undergone relatively few alterations since its construction.