A Note on the Childhood Home of William Carlos Williams

Readers of William Carlos Williams interested in the poet’s life have long wondered about his childhood home. In his 1981 biography of Williams, Paul Mariani writes that Williams’s parents, recently married in Brooklyn, relocated to Rutherford, New Jersey, in 1882—the year before Williams was born. But the actual home site has proven elusive.

Many people, including Williams scholars, have mistakenly believed that Williams was born at 131 West Passaic Avenue in Rutherford. For records show that this home was not acquired by Williams’s parents until the mid-1880’s. As it happens, Williams, in an address to the Rutherford Women’s Club, described his birthplace as 87 West Passaic Avenue. And Eric Williams once described his father’s birthplace as “the skinny house” on West Passaic, just down from Mortimer Avenue.This quaint, vernacular house is a short distance from Grace Episcopal Church that was built a decade earlier in 1873. The Women’s Club later established a walking tour of historic Rutherford homes, which included the house at 87 West Passaic.

The search for the Williams home is described by Rod Leith, then Rutherford Borough Historian, in his 2014 column about local history in the South Bergenite. But more recent data collected by Leith in a historic structures inventory provides the evidence to support Williams’s birthplace as 87 West Passaic Avenue. A footnote in the 2017 inventory reads in part:

“87 West Passaic Avenue; Block 34, Plot 33.01, historic data: occupants in 1884 William George Williams and wife, Raquel Hoheb Williams, parents of William Carlos Williams, born in 1883, and his brother, Edgar Irving Williams, born in 1884. W.G. Williams and his wife were married in Brooklyn and settled in Rutherford in late 1882. Rutherford tax records of 1884 list WGW & wife as residing in the ‘Mellen house’ They are believed to have rented the house owned by William H. Mellen, near Mortimer Avenue. Current owner, Muro, Norman & Elizabeth.”

The house at 87 West Passaic Avenue was built by the Rutherford Heights Association. Leith explains that the Rutherford Heights Association (RHA) was formed by Henry Bell about 1882. The RHA began selling homes in 1883. And records show the RHA sold property to William George Williams in 1885–what is now 131 West Passaic. But before that RHA had a house that it leased at 87 West Passaic to William and Rachel, which is where William Carlos Williams was born.