Longfellow House–Washington's Headquarters National Historic Site

  • Posted on: 16 June 2015
  • By: apiuser

The Longfellow House?Washington's Headquarters National Historic Site, also known as the Vassall-Craigie-Longfellow House and, until December 2010, Longfellow National Historic Site, is a historic site located at 105 Brattle Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts. For almost fifty years, it was the home of noted American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. It had previously served as the headquarters of General George Washington, 1775-76.
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 occupied the house as his headquarters, beginning July 16, 1775. It served as his base of operations during the Siege of Boston, until he moved out on April 4, 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. In 1972, the home and all of its furnishings was donated to, and was made part of, the National Park Service. The home, which represents the mid-Georgian architectural style, is seasonally open to the public.

-- From Wikipedia


Early history

The original house was built in 1759 for Loyalist John Vassall who inherited the land along what was called the King's Highway in Cambridge when he was 21. He demolished the structure that had stood there and built a new mansion. The home became his summer residence with his wife Elizabeth (Oliver) and children until 1774. His wife's brother was Thomas Oliver, then royal lieutenant governor of Massachusetts, who in 1766 moved to Cambridge and built the nearby mansion now known as Elmwood. On the eve of the American Revolution in September 1774, they fled Boston.

1854 image of the home labeled as "Headquarters, Cambridge 1775" in reference to George Washington

In the days after the Battles of Lexington and Concord, the home was used as a temporary hospital. Colonel John Glover and the Marblehead Regiment occupied the house as their temporary barracks in June 1775. Initially, General George Washington, Commander-in-Chief of the newly formed Continental Army, used the Benjamin Wadsworth House at Harvard College as his headquarters, but decided he needed more space for his staff. Washington moved into the Vassall House on July 16, 1775, and used it as his headquarters and home until he departed on April 4, 1776. During the Siege of Boston, he found the view of the Charles River from the house particularly useful. The home was shared with several aide-de-camps, including colonel Robert H. Harrison. During his time there, Washington was visited by John Adams and Abigail Adams, Benedict Arnold, Henry Knox, and Nathanael Greene. In his study, Washington also confronted Dr. Benjamin Church with evidence that he was a spy. It was in this house that Washington received a poem written by Phillis Wheatley, the first published African-American poet. "If you should ever come to Cambridge", he wrote to her, "I shall be happy to see a person so favored by the Muses".

Martha Washington joined her husband in December 1775 and stayed until March 1776. She brought with her Washington's nephew George Lewis as well as her son John Parke Custis and his wife Eleanor Calvert. On Twelfth Night in January 1776, the couple celebrated their wedding anniversary in the home. Mrs. Washington reported to a friend that "some days we have [heard] a number of cannon and shells from Boston and Bunkers Hill". She used the front parlor as her personal reception room, still furnished with the English-made furniture left behind by the Vassalls. The Washingtons also had several servants, including a tailor named Giles Alexander, and several slaves including "Billy" Lee. They also entertained very often. Surviving household accounts show that the family purchased large quantities of beef, lamb, wild ducks, geese, fresh fish, plums, peaches, barrels of cider, gallons of brandy and rum, and 217 bottles of Madeira wine purchased in a two-week period.

Washington left the house in April 1776. Nathaniel Tracy, who had made a great fortune as one of the earliest and most successful privateers under Washington, owned the house from 1781 to 1786. He then went bankrupt and sold the house to Thomas Russell, a wealthy Boston merchant, who in turn occupied it until 1791.

Craigie family and boarders

Andrew Craigie bought the house in 1791; Craigie had been the first Apothecary General of the American army. In his ballroom, Craigie hosted Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn, the father of Queen Victoria. While living in the home, he married the daughter of a Nantucket clergyman, 22-year old Elizabeth Craigie, 17 years her elder. Craigie overspent in trying to restore the home and, when he died in 1819, he left his wife Elizabeth in great debt; Mrs. Craigie took in boarders to support herself, most often people connected to nearby Harvard University. Short-term residents of the home included Jared Sparks, Edward Everett, and Joseph Emerson Worcester. Sparks, who moved into the home in April 1833, was then preparing a biography of Washington based on original documents. He recorded in his journal: "It is a singular circumstance that, while I am engaged in preparing for the press the letters of General Washington which he wrote at Cambridge after taking command of the American army, I should occupy the same rooms that he did at that time." Another lodger was Sarah Lowell, an aunt of James Russell Lowell.

Longfellow moved to Cambridge to take a job at Harvard College as Smith Professor of Modern Languages and of Belles Lettres. A friend, Cornelius Conway Felton, recommended that Longfellow rent a room on the third floor of the home of a Professor Stearns on Kirkland Street; Longfellow stayed there for the 1836?1837 academic year. He disliked the place, however, and sought out better accommodations. Beginning in the summer of 1837, he rented rooms on the east side of the second floor of the home on Brattle Street, now owned by Elizabeth Craigie. At first, Mrs. Craigie thought he was a student at Harvard and refused to rent to him until he convinced her that he was a professor as well as the author of the book she was reading, Outre-Mer.

Longfellow's new landlady had earned a reputation for being eccentric and often wore a turban. In the 1840s, Longfellow wrote about an incident when canker-worms were devastating the elm trees on the property. Mrs. Craigie "would sit by the open window and let them crawl over her white turban. She refused to have the trees protected against them & said, Why, sir, they have as good a right to live as we?they are our fellow worms". The maid at the time, a woman named Miriam, served Longfellow his meals in his room. Longfellow called her "the giantess".

Upon moving into the home in August 1837, Longfellow wrote to his father, "The new rooms are above all praise, only the do want painting." The rooms Longfellow rented were the same ones once used personally by George Washington while it was his headquarters. He proudly wrote to his friend George Washington Greene: "I live in a great house which looks like an Italian villa: have two large rooms opening into each other. They were once Gen. Washington's chambers".

The first major works Longfellow composed in the home were Hyperion, a prose romance likely inspired by his pursuit for the affections of Frances Appleton, and Voices of the Night, a poetry collection which included "A Psalm of Life". 20th-century literary scholar Edward Wagenknecht notes that it was these early years at the Craigie House which marked "the real beginning of Longfellow's literary career". His landlady, Elizabeth Craigie, died in 1841.

Longfellow family

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow with his sons Charles and Ernest and his wife Frances

After Elizabeth Craigie's death, the entire property was leased by Joseph Emerson Worcester from her heirs; he in turn rented the eastern half of the house to Longfellow. In 1843, the house was purchased by Nathan Appleton, who gave the house to Longfellow as a wedding gift when Longfellow married Nathan's daughter Frances. He paid $10,000 for the home. Frances wrote to her brother Thomas Gold Appleton on August 30, 1843: "We have decided to let Father purchase this grand old mansion", especially after Longfellow's friend George Washington Greene reminded them "how noble an inheritance this is ? where Washington dwelt in every room". Longfellow was proud of the connection to Washington and in 1844 purchased a bust of the home's former occupant, a copy of the sculpture by Jean-Antoine Houdon. Worcester and his wife became tenants under Longfellow in the western half of the house until their new home a few doors down was completed that spring. Mrs. Longfellow wrote on May 5, 1844, "Worcester family left us in complete possession [of the house], with rooms nicely cleaned, and uncarpeted stairs and entries".

Nathan Appleton also purchased the land across the street, as Longfellow's mother wrote, "so that their view of the River Charles may not be intercepted". In all, Longfellow's gift included nine acres of land.

Longfellow lived in the house for the next four decades, producing many of his most famous poems including "Paul Revere's Ride" and "The Village Blacksmith", as well as longer works such as Evangeline, The Song of Hiawatha, and The Courtship of Miles Standish. In all, while living in this house, Longfellow published eleven poetry collections, two novels, three epic poems, and several plays as well as a translation of Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy. Even as the poet's popularity increased, Longfellow and his wife most often referred to the home as "Craigie House" or "Craigie Castle".

Longfellow oversaw the creation of a formal garden and his wife oversaw decorating the interior. Mrs. Longfellow purchased several items from Tiffany's in New York as well as $350 worth of carpets. They installed central heating in 1850 and gaslight in 1853. During their time in the house, the Longfellows hosted famous artists, writers, politicians and other luminaries who were attracted to Longfellow's hospitality and fame. Specific visitors included Charles Dickens, William Makepeace Thackeray, singer Jenny Lind, and actress Fanny Kemble. Dom Pedro II, Emperor of Brazil also visited the house privately and requested the company of Longfellow, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., and James Russell Lowell. Mr. and Mrs. Longfellow also raised their three daughters and two sons in the home. Longfellow and his wife stayed in the home until their respective deaths but spent their summers after 1850 in Nahant, Massachusetts.

Longfellow often wrote in his first-floor study, formerly Washington's office, surrounded by portraits of his friends, including charcoal portraits by Eastman Johnson of Charles Sumner, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Cornelius Conway Felton. Longfellow would write either at the center table, at the desk, or in the armchair by the fire.

Fanny Longfellow died in the home in July 1861 after her dress accidentally caught fire; her husband attempted to quell the flames, managing to keep her face from burning. Longfellow himself was burned on his own face and was scarred badly enough that he began growing a beard to hide it.

-- From Wikipedia


main Cambridge , Massachusetts
United States
42° 22' 36.0012" N, 71° 7' 35.0004" W
Museum Genre: 
Historic house