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What was the location of Hill House in The Haunting of Hill House (1959) by Shirley Jackson?

The movie adaptation The Haunting (1963) claims that Hill House was built in the most remote region of New England in the 1870s.

The movie adaptation The Haunting (1999) claims that Hill House was built in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts.

I don't know where Hill House was supposed to be in the 2018 tv series The Haunting of Hill House.

The possibly totally unrelated Hill House in Clue (1985) was probably in western Connecticut or western Massachusetts.

But where was Hill house in the original novel? I recently read that there were no location given for it. But where there any clues such as the roads taken or the travel times and directions traveled to get there?

Where there any clues to the location of Hill House in The Haunting of Hill House (1959) by Shirley Jackson?

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  • The 1959 horror novel gives no specific location ,but wikipedia ( the haunting of hill house) however asserts that in an internet article by Paula Guran 2018 , that Shirley Jackson had claimed (post hoc )to have had found a magazine picture of a suitably creepy Californian house at the time of writing and with the assistance of her mother determined that the architect was a great- great grandfather who in his time worked in San Francisco. The specifics of the P.G. claim aren't elaborated further in the article beyond this. Perhaps accessing official records if architect details tracked down ?
    – schweppz
    Oct 5, 2023 at 4:17

2 Answers 2

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TLDR: We can't be sure, but it seems most likely the house is in southern California.

There is very little given in the book that could be used to track down a location. The only description given is that the house

stood by itself against its hills

Those hills are mentioned again several times in the text when characters are looking at the view outside the house. A number of quotes also mention trees, but hills and trees are to be found somewhere in most states, and no specific state is offered. The directions we're given are:

“…Route 39 to Ashton,” the letter said, “and then turn left onto Route 5 going west. Follow this for a little less than thirty miles, and you will come to the small village of Hillsdale. Go through Hillsdale to the corner with a gas station on the left and a church on the right, and turn left here onto what seems to be a narrow country road; you will be going up into the hills and the road is very poor. Follow this road to the end—about six miles—and you will come to the gates of Hill House

The route numbers aren't much help - very many states have both a route 5 and a route 39. Interestingly, Massachusetts - the oft-presumed location and the choice of several adaptations - isn't one of them. There is an interstate Route 5 which runs through the state, but that runs north-south, so "Route 5 going west" rules that out.

There's another reason we can be confident the house is not in Massachusetts. The text makes repeated mentions of oleander trees. These are not in Hill House itself: rather, Shirley mentions seeing them on the journey, and they are referred to several times in the text. But there is one quote about oleanders which we can use to help place the house:

She nearly stopped forever just outside Ashton, because she came to a tiny cottage buried in a garden. I could live there all alone, she thought, slowing the car to look down the winding garden path to the small blue front door with, perfectly, a white cat on the step. No one would ever find me there, either, behind all those roses, and just to make sure I would plant oleanders by the road.

Why is this helpful? Because the cottage is just outside of Ashton, which we know from the directions is something like 40 miles from the house, and oleander does not grow all the way across the United States. It originates in from the Mediterranean and only grows in the south, in a strip from Florida to California.

So if Elanor is considering planting oleanders 40 miles from Hill House, and she's seen them on the journey, we're in the warm climes of the southern states. This means we can narrow down our search for Route 5 and Route 39 to a handful of states, and see if any of them have intersections between those two routes. Now, I'm not from the USA, so my research here will have to be taken with a pinch of salt, but it looks as though that narrows us down to three possible states: California, Virginia and Arkansas.

Of these three, California seems the most likely. It's the only one that has a definite intersection between 5 and 39 - the Virigina intersection appears to have been removed by road renumbering (I wasn't clear on this) and Arkansas has a number of highways labelled 5 and 39. More importantly, California is the birth state of the book's author, Shirley Jackson. Route 5 runs outside the city, so it's reasonable she was at least familiar with its geography.

The junction between 5 and 39 is in Los Angeles, about six hours drive south of San Franciso, and this is where things begin to get a bit sticky. The directions tell us to travel down route 39 to Ashton, but there is no Ashton in California: instead, the actual road meets route 5 in the city of Buena Park. The instructions continue, stating we head west on 5 for about 30 miles. Doing would take you to the populous city of Burbank rather than a village of any kind. However, both north and south of here there are open areas where a place like Hill House could conceivably be situated, particularly around the outskirts of the Angeles Forest.

We can, therefore, be fairly sure that the house's precise location is fictional and that Jackson invented the geography on a whim, not being particularly interested in the details. So it's no great loss to uproot the house in our imaginations and move it to a more secluded location, as many adaptations have done. The frequent choice of Massachusetts seems likely down to that locale's long-standing connection with weird fiction, primarily through the work of HP Lovecraft.

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  • There is no interstate 5 in Massachusetts. I-5 runs inland of and parallel to the west coast. Besides, it too runs north-south, as all odd-numbered interstates do. Also, I'm not sure about the usage in the 1950s, but these days generally route refers to non-interstate highways. In 1959, California state route 5 would have been near Santa Cruz, much closer to SF than to LA, and would not have intersected route 39. When you say "Route 5 runs outside the city": which city do you mean?
    – verbose
    Jan 23 at 6:13
  • I guess what I'm saying is, while California is plausible, the actual identification of a "route 5" running east-west in 1950s/1960s California seems improbable to me.
    – verbose
    Jan 23 at 6:15
  • @verbose oh, for sure. Dating plays a role in this - the 5/39 junction that confused me in Virginia turned out to have been removed by route re-numbering, which I think happened before Jackson's time, but I'm not certain. The point is that I think I've found the only possible solution, however implausible, given the text, but that - as I alluded to in the final paragraph - what that implausibility really highlights is that the location is entirely fictional and Jackson wasn't interested in the details.
    – Matt Thrower
    Jan 23 at 9:06
  • @verbose: Before Interstate 5 was built (starting in the 1960s), Route 5 in California connected "Oakland to Stockton via Altamont Pass." So it was an east-west road, but in Northern California, and it could not have intersected Route 39 in Southern Califonia. Thus, I'd guess that the best we can say about the setting is that it's an indeterminate location in California.
    – Peter Shor
    Jan 23 at 20:35
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I don't remember whether it was the 1959 novel or in the 1961 movie but I seem to recall that Hill House is supposed to be a 50 mile drive northwest of Boston.

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    That you 'recall' it is useful, but not enough for an answer. Could you add contextual corroboration? (Such as descriptions of scenery?)
    – CDR
    Dec 18, 2023 at 6:26

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