Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Longfellow National Historic Site in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

For almost fifty years the Georgian mansion was the home of noted American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. For a time, it had previously served as the headquarters of George Washington in the 18th century.

The house was built in 1759 for John Vassall, who fled the Cambridge area at the beginning of the American Revolutionary War because of his loyalty to the king of England. George Washington used the abandoned home as his first official headquarters as commander of the Continental Army; the home served as his base of operations during the Siege of Boston until he moved out in July 1776. Andrew Craigie, Washington's Apothecary General, was the next person to own the home for a significant period of time. After purchasing the house in 1791, he instigated the home's only major addition. Craigie's financial situation at the time of his death in 1819 forced his widow Elizabeth Craigie to take in boarders. It was as a boarder that Henry

Wadsworth Longfellow came into the home. He became its owner in 1843, when his father-in-law Nathan Appleton purchased it as a wedding gift. He lived in the home until his death in 1882.

The last family to live in the home was the Longfellow family, who established the Longfellow Trust in 1913 for its preservation. The home was donated in 1972, along with all its furnishings, and was made part of the National Park Service. The home, which represents the mid-Georgian architectural style, is seasonally open to the public.

Longfellow died in 1882 and his daughter Alice Longfellow was the last of his children to live in the home. In 1913, the surviving Longfellow children established the Longfellow House Trust to preserve the home as well as its view to the Charles River. Their intention was to preserve the home as a memorial to Longfellow and Washington and to showcase the property as a "prime example of Georgian architecture".

In 1962, the trust successfully lobbied for the house to become a national historic landmark.

In 1972, the Trust donated the property to the National Park Service and it became the Longfellow National Historic Site; it is now open to the public as a house museum. On display are many of the original nineteenth century furnishings, artwork, over 10,000 books owned by Longfellow, and the dining table around which many important visitors gathered. Everything on display was owned by the Longfellow family.

The site also possesses some 750,000 original documents relevant to the former occupants of the home. These archives are open to scholarly research by appointment. Today we are touring a passage hall, the main hall, Dinning room and parlor.

The interior passage hall decorated with plaster and marble bust and classical furniture.  Clytie is a painted plaster cast after the marble original in the British Museum.

In the 1790s, Andrew Craigie added this hallway and the ell to its north.
Throughout the late eighteenth and nineteenth century this space was always used as a hallway and formal entry to the home. It was an elegant open hallway that served as the primary carriage entrance for guests or family arriving and departing. In the early twentieth century, this hallway was altered to accommodate the installation of an elevator for Alice Longfellow. At that time, the original entrance door was converted to a window, and the space required for the elevator was sensitively designed by Alice's cousin, Alexander Wadsworth Longfellow Jr.

Sandalphon, a marble bust by sculptor Florence Freeman, was presented to Henry Longfellow on January 18, 1870, by a group of his friends in honor of his poem about the angel Sandalphon .

Some of the 10,000 books owned by Longfellow

I love the Neoclassical feel of this room.Behind the busts are bas-relief panels depicting musicians.


A two-branch bronze chandelier hangs in the Blue Entry. It was originally a two-arm gasolier. Along the north wall are large mahogany Renaissance Revival bookcases filled with eighteenth-century French books including the seventy-five volume set of Voltaire which Longfellow bought at the sale of Mrs. Craigie’s books in 1841.

Jupiter of Otricoli was cast in Boston in 1846 simulating the original in the Vatican Museum.

Dinning room showing classical furniture along with The Japanese and Chinese collections.Charles Longfellow (1844-1893), Henry and Frances Appleton Longfellow’s oldest son, collected a wide range of ceramics, textiles, paintings, and bronzes during his twenty-month sojourn in Japan, from June 1871 until March 1873, and shipped more than twenty crates of furnishings and decorative arts home to his family in Cambridge.

The sideboard is made of black walnut. The Appleton family portraits hang above it.

Along the wall opposite the two windows is the red lacquer Buddhist altar table with detailed carved brackets, partly Chinese and partly Japanese. Above the altar table are portraits of Fanny and Mary Appleton, the three Longfellow daughters, and three landscapes, including Scheviningen and The Departure of Hiawatha.

The black stealite (soapstone) mantel dates to the Greek Revival period and was probably installed during Henry Longfellow's residency.

Maria Theresa Gold Appleton by Gilbert Stuart, c. 1812

An 1820s Grecian three-arm whale oil Argand Chandelier

In the original Vassall House this room served as the kitchen, as it must have during George Washington's occupancy.

Andrew Craigie renovated this space in the 1790s to serve as his dining room. Many elaborate dinner parties and gatherings took place here from the Craigie period through the Longfellow family occupancy, 1843-1950.

The sideboard is made of black walnut. The Appleton family portraits hang above it. To the left of the sideboard hangs the portrait of Fanny Appleton's mother, Maria Theresa Gold Appleton, and to the right of the sideboard is the portrait of her father, Nathan Appleton. Both were painted by Gilbert Stuart about 1812 and are among the finest portraits in the House.

This three-arm Cornelius and Baker gasolier was electrified in the early twentieth century. It is an argand chandelier with candle holders.

Anne Longfellow Pierce by Eastman Johnson 1846
The black stealite (soapstone) mantel dates to the Greek Revival period and was probably installed during Henry Longfellow's residency.

In the center of the room is the round mahogany table where the Longfellows entertained many distinguished guests.

Letters and journals describe various foods served including oysters, partridge, venison, soups, pears, preserved peaches, figs, strawberries, pudding, pie, and special foods sent from friends abroad.

The Longfellows drew upon their well-stocked wine cellar to accompany meals.

Longfellow's also loved Old Paris porcelain like myself. Paris porcelain dinner plate circa 1840

Along the wall opposite the two windows is the red lacquer Buddhist altar table with detailed carved brackets, partly Chinese and partly Japanese. Above the altar table are portraits of Fanny and Mary Appleton, the three Longfellow daughters, and three landscapes, including Scheviningen and The Departure of Hiawatha.

Thomas Buchanan Read painted Longfellow's three daughters, Edith, Alice, and Annie Allegra, in 1859. Longfellow described his daughters in his poem, The Children's Hour, which was written that same year.


A Paris porcelain Rococo clock made by Jacob Petit circa 1840. Between the west windows is an oval pastel portrait of the Longfellow sons, by Eastman Johnson about 1850.

A Paris porcelain Rococo clock made by Jacob Petit circa 1840.

Armchair Adam Hains, cabinetmaker Philadelphia, Pennsylvania c. 1792-1793 mahogany and black ash .The eight Louis XVI armchairs of carved walnut, upholstered in flowered silk and wool tapestry, originally belonged to Mrs. Craigie and were bought by Mr. Longfellow at the sale of her furniture in 1841.

Parlor chandelier Cornelius & Baker & Co. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania c. 1852 

The historic furnishings and decorative arts in the museum collections date from the mid-eighteenth to early twentieth centuries. The majority of the furnishings came into the House from the 1830s through the 1870s, acquired by the Longfellow family through purchase, inheritance or gifts.

The Longfellows’ collection of colonial pieces purchased in the 1840s reveals their reverence for the past. For them, having old-fashioned furnishings in the house stimulated their awareness of America’s past and the house’s association with George Washington and the American Revolution. There are numerous items within the rooms from around the world which reflect the family’s cosmopolitan interests.

The woodwork in the room dates from 1759. The sashes date from the 1790s.

The fireplace wall is the most elaborately carved in the House, with an arched niche on each side, a panelled marble chimney piece, and a broken pediment supported by Corinthian pilasters.Broken pediment detail

Parlor fireplace with porcelain vases The marble mantel dates from the mid-Georgian period and is believed to be original to the House.

1840's Rococo Revival furniture mixed with 18th century furniture

The parlor is kept today as it was decorated in 1846 by Fanny Longfellow, with a few additions and changes by her daughter Alice. The wallpaper, curtains, rug, and upholstery are all of flower patterns and gray background, characteristic of a lady’s taste in the 1840s.

This room has been a parlor or drawing room throughout the history of the Vassall-Craigie-Longfellow House. When Martha Washington joined her husband here in the winter of 1775-1776, it is said that she held sewing circles in the parlor where she and other women mended clothing for soldiers and made bandages for the temporary hospital across the street. Documents suggest that she and the General held a grand Twelfth Night anniversary in this room in January 1776.

In the 1790s the Craigies spared little expense in decorating this space as a show case room to entertain guests such as the French statesmanTalleyrand.

As the most formal room in the House, the Longfellow family continued to use this room for special occasions and as a reception room for Fanny Longfellow. After her death in 1861, the room has been maintained as a memorial to her.
The architecture, wallpaper and furnishings have changed little since Fanny's death. Her family added the marble bust of her.
Front Hall,In 1877 Longfellow acquired an ornate eighteenth-century Dutch clock that he placed in Colonial Revival fashion on his front hall stair landing, possibly inspired by the tremendous popular response to his poem, "The Old Clock on the Stairs" written in 1843.

(The clock that inspired the poem was in the Pittsfield, Massachusetts home of Fanny Appleton Longfellow's grandfather.)
Longfellow wrote to his friend George Washington Greene,

"... When you come to Cambridge you will find George Washington brought down from his station on the stairs, and standing in the hall below, where he can be better seen. ... [The clock’s] silver chimes will lull you to sleep at night. At the half-hours it strikes the coming hour, to give timely warning. The hours are struck on a larger bell, and the chimes ‘shiver the air into a mist of sound.’ ... This is my latest plaything."

In 1844 Longfellow acquired a copy of a bust of George Washington made in 1785 by the French sculptor Jean Antoine Houdon. The original terra-cotta bust is at Mount Vernon. Longfellow's copy was recently restored.

Longfellow first placed the bust on the stair landing. When he acquired the tall clock in 1877, he moved the bust to the bottom of the stairs.

Of particular note for their fine quality are crayon portraits by Eastman Johnson, commissioned by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow of his family and friends in the mid-1840s. These include portraits of:

Charles Sumner

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Nathaniel Hawthorne

Cornelius Conway Felton

Henry W. Longfellow

Anne Longfellow Pierce

Mary Longfellow Greenleaf

Charles Longfellow

Ernest Longfellow.

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