This beautifully bold red house located today at 88 Benefit Street sits at the very top of Church Street overlooking St. John’s Cathedral and the adjoining cemetery. A perfect setting for the courtship of Sarah Helen Whitman and Edgar Allan Poe, in which the home would serve in 1848. It was here that Poe first spotted Helen tending her rose garden under a midnight moon in July of 1845, inspiring his second “To Helen” poem. It was here that Mrs. Anna Power urged Helen to prepare Poe a strong cup of coffee when he showed up in a panicked delirium after sitting for the “Ultima Thule” daguerreotype. It was here that Poe gazed for hours at Cephas Giovanni Thompson’s Oil Portrait of Sarah Helen Whitman that hung in the parlor of the home. And it was here that Poe pleaded to Helen not to end their engagement as she pressed an ether-soaked handkerchief to her nose and uttered the final “I love you” to Poe, never to see him again.
After Helen’s father Nicholas Power was lost at sea (having been captured by a British fleet during the War of 1812) her mother Mrs. Anna Power purchased a quaint home at (then) 76 Benefit Street in Providence for her and her three daughters. The home served as an adequate nest for the ladies until Mrs. Power’s oldest daughter, Rebecca Power, married a man named William Staples in 1821 and moved into a home with him just up the road. It was shortly after this in 1824 that Sarah Helen Whitman would begin a considerably long four year engagement with John Winslow Whitman, finally marrying him in 1828. She would then flee her Benefit Street nest to live with him in Boston, leaving just her mother and younger sister Susan (who was developmentally disabled) at the home. Little did Helen know, she would return to the home a widow in 1833 after Mr. Whitman died after complications from a cold. Mrs. Power and her two daughters, Sarah and Susan, would live in the Benefit Street home until Mrs. Power’s death in 1858. It was at this point that Helen took on full responsibility for her younger sister Susan. She moved her and her sister into a smaller house at 37 Benevolent Street.