Why Vagabondia?

I am a big fan of Frances Hodgson Burnett of Secret Garden fame.  Several years ago I lived in Knoxville, Tennessee, which has an unlikely connection to the author.  I feel in love with the city, especially Volunteer Landing, which is a waterfront park honoring the history and culture of the area.  Among the monuments is a large stone featuring a quote from the noted author.  That quote (see below) mentions her dedication to starting a haven for artists and other creative people called Vagabondia Castle.  The name resonated with me and I have used it ever since as an homage to the author and that spirit.  When I started this blog, I searched everywhere for the quote and I recently found it on a Knoxville website.  Finally!!!  Along the way, I have discovered a number of other references to the word Vagabondia, including Richard Hovey and Bliss Carman’s “Songs from Vagabondia” (1894), Burnett’s first novel (1884), and Issac Julien’s art video (2000). 

The following quote is from the Knoxville Website (check it out! there are a lot of other really fun quotes) and can be found at Volunteer Landing.  p.s. if anyone has a picture of said rock, I’d love to have one to post here.  thanks!!!

“Near this spot in 1869, was the early Knoxville home of Frances Hodgson Burneth, the English born author of the Secret Garden.  Sarah Crewe and Little Lord Fluentleboy who moved to Knoxville with her family when she was 15.  When Frances was 20, her widowed mother died here leaving her children alone here in “The Riverside House” where they established an informal community of Musicians and artists they called Vagabondia Castle.  Her son Vivian later described it as a “Rather roomy but dilapidated house with a backyard running down to the Tennessee River.  As Vagabondia Castle, it became the very center of enthusiastic youngsters who were glad to think of themselves as Bohemians… Burnett’s first novel Vagabondia, drew its spiritual setting from her experiences.  Some of Burnett’s later stories featured East Tennessee settings.”

“It stretches from the open sea, to the blue mountains and beyond; the world is Vagabondia to him who is a vagabond.” – Bliss Carman

Check out what this traveling lass had to say about Vagabondia and Knoxville:

 “You might not ever think of it this way, but Knoxville is a great town for writers. It’s the place where Frances Hodges Burnet’s Vagabondia Castle stood with its secret gardens on a soft lawn that led down to Tennessee River. Alexander Haley called it home till the end of his life and James Agee’s childhood in Fort Sanders was the inspiration for “A Death in the Family”. I think there must be a writer’s muse woven in to the banks of the Tennessee River where it bends around in the rocky arms of the valley. The downtown of Knoxville, despite much reinvention has a crumbling feel. Ghosts from a little known, but fascinating History walk its streets. It is just vacant enough to give space for thought but just vital and old enough to inspire Art.” 

From “Smokey Mountain Musings ” a West Knoxville Travel Page by Espresso_girl


6 thoughts on “Why Vagabondia?

  1. I went to Calhoun’s on the River for lunch and discovered the stone monument you mentioned. I was intrigued by it and while researching, found your site. I am also a writer and I fully agree that this town of Knoxville, Tennessee offers some interesting inspiration.

    • Glad you found it. I need to take a trip down and get a picture some time. What an incredible story! Who would have imagined that Knoxville would have such a close connection to the writer of the Secret Garden??? =) Thanks for visiting!

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