Also among National Park Service sites along the Upper Delaware is the home where the prolific author, Zane Grey, wrote his best-selling Riders of the Purple Sage, among other early works. The Zane Grey House, in Lackawaxen, Pennsylvania, is now a museum about Grey’s successful career as an American novelist.
Immensely popular books by the prolific author Zane Grey (1872-1939) established the "Western" as a major genre in American literature and film. This site served as the base from which Grey launched his travels to the American West that inspired the setting and characters of his novels and was the primary location where his early works were written. During this period, Grey, with the vital support of his wife Dolly, perfected a formula that transformed the Western into one of the most popular forms of American pulp fiction. Featuring powerful, detailed descriptions of the wild Western landscape he encountered and flawed main characters from the East who found redemption in the simple virtues of the frontier, Grey's work struck a chord with an audience that was adapting to increasing urbanization.
His books created the basis upon which popular film and literature to the current day interpreted the American West of the late nineteenth century. Grey's early work brought him considerable fame and fortune and ultimately prompted his relocation to California, where he oversaw the adaptation of his books to Hollywood films.
Pearl Zane Gray was born on January 31, 1872, in Zanesville, Ohio, a town founded by his mother's ancestors. (The spelling of the Gray family name was changed to "Grey" sometime during the late 1890s.) As a youth in Ohio, he developed interests in fishing, baseball and writing. All three pursuits would later bring him acclaim.
Grey's baseball prowess led to a scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania's Dental Department. He graduated in 1896 with a degree in dentistry, but chose to play amateur baseball for several seasons, practicing dentistry intermittently. He established his own dental practice in New York City in 1898.
He loved to get away from the city, and began visiting Lackawaxen, Pennsylvania. There he fished and enjoyed the outdoors as in his youth.
Early Years at Lackawaxen: The Genesis of a Writer
Zane Grey often escaped to Lackawaxen with his brothers. On one of these outings in 1900, Zane ("Doc") met 17-year-old Lina Elise Roth, or "Dolly" as he called her, while canoeing near the Delaware House, a grand boarding house on the river.
Dolly was a positive influence in Grey's struggle to become a successful writer. Her encouragement and belief in his abilities led him to continue writing despite rejection by publishers.
Grey's first published article was "A Day on the Delaware," in Recreation magazine, May 1902. In 1903, Grey wrote, illustrated and published his first novel, Betty Zane, with money from Dolly.
The Lackawaxen Years: 1905 - 1918
In 1905, Dolly became Zane's wife. He left dentistry to pursue writing full-time and the couple settled into a farmhouse overlooking the junction of the Lackawaxen and Delaware rivers. In 1906, they took a honeymoon trip to the Grand Canyon in Arizona, and to California - Grey's first trip west.
In 1907, Grey met Western conservationist Colonel J. C. "Buffalo" Jones at a meeting of the Campfire Club in New York City. Using the last of his wife's inheritance, Grey accompanied Jones, as a writer and photographer, on a hunting expedition to the Grand Canyon. This trip marked a turning point in Grey's career as it opened up new vistas in subject matter for his writing. He wrote an account of this adventure, The Last of the Plainsmen, published by Outing Press in 1908.
In 1910, Harper & Brothers published The Heritage of the Desert, Zane Grey's first western novel and his first real success. Next came Grey's most noted work, Riders of the Purple Sage, published in 1912. By 1915, Grey had 15 books in print (frontier/baseball/juvenile adventure/western) along with many fishing and outdoor adventure articles and serialized stories.
Zane and Dolly's three children (Romer, Betty, and Loren) were born in New York during the Lackawaxen era. In 1912, the family moved into the house built next door for Zane's brother, R.C. In 1914, Zane and Dolly purchased the house. They enlarged it in 1915 and 1916. Zane's study and office were decorated with a frieze of Navajo sand painting and Hopi kachina doll designs, painted by Dolly's cousin, Lillian Wilhelm.
Grey continued his travels to the Southwest. He fished in the Pacific off Catalina Island, in the Florida Keys, Mexico and Nova Scotia. He moved his family to California in 1918. The family retained the house in Lackawaxen, visiting when they were on the East Coast. (Zane Grey's last visit was in 1929.)
Zane Grey's influence and success continued through the height of the Great Depression. He was a prolific writer, publishing one or more western novels every year and a fishing or outdoor adventure book every few years until he died. He left behind more than twenty manuscripts which were released after his death.
Zane Grey died October 23, 1939, at the age of 67. When Dolly died in 1957, the ashes of both were interred in a cemetery near their home in Lackawaxen, fulfilling their wish to rest together beside the Delaware River.
Zane Grey Museum
The museum was sold in 1989 to the National Park Service. It was included in the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River because of Zane Grey's association with the Delaware River and its effect upon the budding writer.
Today the museum is self-guided with National Park Service rangers and volunteers available to answer questions and provide for sale a variety of Zane Grey books currently in print.