Featured property: The Eschaton House
For the past nine years, the current owners of The Eschaton House on Spring Street have been spending summers on Block Island in order to escape the heat and its attendant air conditioning at their Charlottesville, Virginia, home. But their island house is iconic as a different sort of escape: from the FBI.
When a previous owner, renowned theologian, attorney, and writer William Stringfellow, bought the house in 1967, he christened it “Eschaton,” Greek for ‘a place that sits between the end of the world and the beginning of the kingdom of god.’
Stringfellow was friendly with another famous writer and theologian, Jesuit priest Daniel Berrigan. Berrigan’s peace protests during the Vietnam war often found him on the wrong side of the law, most infamously as part of the Catonsville Nine, a group of Catholics who walked into the Catonsville, Maryland, draft board in 1968, removed 378 draft files, and burned them — using napalm.
After his arrest, instead of heading off to jail, Berrigan got on the ferry to Block Island and hid out at his friend Stringfellow’s house. Both Berrigan and Stringfellow wrote a number of books, poems, and papers while at Eschaton.
Reports differ as to whether they were posing as binocular-toting birdwatchers or rifle-toting duck hunters, but the two disguised FBI agents who climbed up the lawn one morning in 1972 were definitely toting the handcuffs they used to escort Berrigan back onto the ferry and off to federal prison in Danbury, Connecticut.
“I knew I would be apprehended eventually, but I wanted to draw attention for as long as possible to the Vietnam War, and to Nixon’s ordering military action in Cambodia,” Berrigan told George M. Anderson of America: The National Catholic Weekly in 2009. During that interview, Berrigan showed Anderson the dozen Block Island beach stones he keeps on the floor of his room in the Jesuit residence in Manhattan. One imagines they must remind him of the view he had from his room at Eschaton, on Block Island.
That view hasn’t changed much since Berrigan gazed out at it. It’s a sweeping expanse of the Atlantic and the lighthouse to the south, a tiny town landscape to the north, and it is one of the things the Allens love most about the house that has become a much more traditional vacation hideout.
“We almost always have supper outside,” says Tom Allan, about being at the home he shares with his wife, Elizabeth. In Charlottesville, he says, “it’s just too hot.” They relish the break from air conditioning as much as they do the escape from the oppressive heat. Here, they say, there’s always an ocean breeze. Another thing that makes al fresco dining so tasty is the patio that was carved out for just this purpose.
The Allans also take advantage of the cool island air to do a lot of walking with their dogs, a golden retriever and an Australian shepherd. There are paths in any direction, but their favorite walks are in Rodman’s Hollow to the south, along the bluffs on the North End, and down Payne Road.
It’s the 10-hour drive from their Virginia home that’s spurred the Allans to put this house on the market, but they are having a tough time finding a vacation replacement. As they look at other areas, says Tom, it just underscores for them how special a place Block Island is: “We were thinking the Jersey Shore, so I went on Google Earth and from Cape May to Sandy Hook, it’s just nothing but houses back to back.
“If I had my druthers,” he adds, “I would pull up the anchor and move Block Island south.”
The Eschaton House is listed at $1,750,000. For information, call Lila Delman Real Estate at (401) 466 8777 or visit www.liladelman.com.