Pictured Above: The pathway down to the dock at John Steinbeck’s house on Sag Harbor Cove. | Sotheby’s International Realty Photo

Nobel and Pulitzer prize-winning author John Steinbeck’s Sag Harbor home where he spent his later days went on the market for an eye-popping $17.9 million in mid-February.

The 1,220-square-foot cottage, with nearly 600 feet of waterfront frontage on Sag Harbor Cove and Morris Cove, was built in 1953, and Steinbeck and his wife Elaine purchased it in 1955. 

The famed author would work in an octagonal outbuilding overlooking the cove that he dubbed “Joyous Gard” after the castle of Sir Lancelot in the Arthurian legends. 

It was here in Sag Harbor that he wrote such works as “The Winter of Our Discontent,” the story of a grocery store clerk in the fictional town of New Baytown, who comes from a founding family but is disgruntled to be working for an Italian immigrant, and it is from Sag Harbor that he departed on his journey across the United States documented in “Travels with Charley,” his standard poodle who was a faithful companion during his Sag Harbor years. 

John Steinbeck was a fixture in Sag Harbor in his later years, gracing barstools in what had been a rough-and tumble working class village, and serving as a judge at the whaleboat races at the annual Old Whalers Festival, which is now HarborFest in mid-September. 

He died of heart disease in 1968 at the age of 66 in his apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, where he split his time with Sag Harbor, and his ashes were buried in his hometown of Salinas, California, which had long had a contentious relationship with a native son who exposed the hardships faced by farm workers in the Salinas Valley. Today, Salinas is the home to the John Steinbeck Museum, which draws visitors from all over the world.

Sag Harbor has long prided itself on its literary history, and has in recent years claimed its place in Steinbeck history, naming the waterfront park adjacent to the Sag Harbor bridge after the author, and hosting village-wide Steinbeck celebrations lead by Canio’s Books and John Jermain Memorial Library.

“It’s the jewel in Sag Harbor’s literary crown,” said Canio’s co-owner Kathryn Szoka in a Facebook call-to-action on Feb. 20. “Creative minds, can we at least preserve his writing studio, Joyous Garde, which is a literary chapel, if ever there was one. If anything of historic value in the village deserves CPF funds, THIS is it.”

The response was somewhat lukewarm — with one word summing up the community’s response to the listing price: “astounding.”

The Sag Harbor house was placed on the market by a family trust set up by Elaine Steinbeck before her death in 2003, and is listed with Doreen L. Atkins of Sotheby’s International Realty.

According to the listing, “John and Elaine came to Sag Harbor and fell in love with a sundrenched cottage, tucked away in the trees on a bluff. His newly found ‘Eden’ was his latest in a line of treasured habitats 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….’ By John Steinbeck.”

Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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