“I am simply a ‘book drunkard.’ Books have the same irresistible temptation for me that liquor has for its devotee. I cannot withstand them.” – L.M. Montgomery
While L.M. Montgomery did not live in the house that inspired Green Gables, visiting would have been quite easy given how close it was to the farm where she grew up in the care of her maternal grandparents. Visitors who purchase the bundle at the Visitor Center can drive or walk along the Haunted Wood Trail to the site of the MacNeill house and farmland (trail walkers also pass the overgrown and less-than-impressive site of the school she attended).
The property is still in the MacNeill family. Passing into the possession of Montgomery’s uncle after the deaths of her grandparents, the old farmhouse fell into disrepair and proved an unexpected attraction for fans of Montgomery’s. To prevent further “souvenir” taking (and probably the legal issues should uninvited guests injure themselves) the old farmhouse was demolished many decades ago. Montgomery’s uncle’s grandson and his wife (John and Jennie MacNeill) have since gone to great lengths to restore the site and make it available to those who are interested. The publication of L.M. Montgomery’s journals in the 1980s made public her thoughts and reflections during the years she lived and wrote at her grandparents’ home (she wrote four of her novels while living there before her marriage and removal to Toronto; Anne of Green Gables, Anne of Avonlea, The Story Girl, and Kilmeny of the Orchard).
The foundation for the old farmhouse has been cleared and plaques dot the path past the original well and on towards an on-site bookstore where members of the MacNeill family tend to make appearances and speak to the property’s history and Montgomery’s life while there. With a few family artifacts on display (including postal items from when the MacNeill’s kitchen served as the post office for the area), the bookstore is charmingly intimate and serves as a welcome, homey contrast to the main gift shop at the Green Gables house. The bookstore on the MacNeill property is almost exclusively books, including almost all of Montgomery’s published works, from her journals and memoirs through her novels and collections of short stories (just not the three that are missing from my personal collection). The gift shop at the Green Gables house has a few of the books – mostly those in the Anne series – but they also have a lot more of the commercialized Anne of Green Gables souvenirs (many of which are available at gift shops and stores throughout not only Prince Edward Island, but much of Canada).
During our visit to the site, we were able to meet Jennie MacNeill who was only too happy to share stories about the house, family histories, and Montgomery herself, including what she meant to the people of the island. Though Montgomery did not live on Prince Edward Island after her marriage, she and her husband are both buried there… but more on that in my last post about the trip.