By Christopher Shields
Greenwich is connected to a number of literary and publishing figures, but did you know that former Greenwich resident Irving Bacheller helped to introduce the legendary fictional detective Sherlock Holmes to American readers?
Addison Irving Bacheller was born in upstate New York in 1859. His mother (a descendent of Mayflower settlers) named him to reflect her great appreciation of the authors Joseph Addison and Washington Irving. At the time, there was no way she could know that her son would become an acclaimed author in his own right.
Bacheller grew up on a farm and never completed high school because he needed to work to support his struggling family. He did, however, manage to win entrance to St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York and received his undergraduate and graduate degrees from that institution. As an undergraduate, Bacheller established the first northern chapter of the historically southern fraternity Alpha Tau Omega.
After college, Bacheller moved to New York City where he found employment in the newspaper business as an editor and writer. He went on to form the first major metropolitan press syndicate with James W. Johnson, a business that came to be known as the New York Press Syndicate. This enterprise distributed news items and serialized short stories to newspapers across the United States.
It was in this role that Bacheller first brought the exciting exploits of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson to an American audience. In addition to Arthur Conan Doyle, Bacheller’s press syndicate serialized works by Rudyard Kipling, Joseph Conrad, Hamlin Garland and Stephen Crane. In fact, Crane’s now famous The Red Badge of Courage had been rejected by at least one other publication before Bacheller chose to publish what would become a staple of American fiction.
Irving Bacheller was not content just sharing the creations of other writers with the nation’s readers. He eventually decided to sell the New York Press Syndicate to the owner of Cosmopolitan magazine in order to focus on his writing. Over the course of his long career, Bacheller published poetry, short stories and over 30 novels. His most famous novel was Eben Holden, an example of regionalist literature which captured the language and customs of his childhood home in northern New York State. Due to the popularity of this and other works, Bacheller became a very well known figure in the early part of the last century.
The Greenwich connection begins when Bacheller purchased a summer home in Sound Beach (today’s Old Greenwich) with the appropriate name “Rest Cliff.” He soon moved to Riverside where he lived full time with his first wife, Anna, from 1905 until 1917. This home, known as “Thrushwood” was destroyed by fire in April 1917. The surviving gatehouse to this residence was added to the Greenwich Historical Society’s Landmarks Registry in 1995. The couple relocated to Florida, but returned to spend their summers in Riverside.
The archives at the Greenwich Historical Society has early printings of some of Irving Bacheller’s novels. The archives are open to the public on Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 1 to 4 p.m.
Christopher Shields is the archivist at the Greenwich Historical Society, 39 Strickland Road, Cos Cob, CT 06807.