Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Longfellow's House Washington Headquarters National Historic Site

The Longfellow's House Washington Headquarters National Historic Site is a home with a long, varied, and interesting history. The house at 105 Brattle Street, Cambridge, was built in 1759 as a Georgian-style mansion for loyalist John Vassal, a merchant. The neighborhood was full of the fine homes of British sympathizers who fled in 1774 as the dawn of the American Revolution became uncomfortably obvious.

Longfellow's House Washington Headquarters National Historic Site

George Washington occupied the house in July 1775 as the new Continental Army was besieging British-occupied Boston. He was put in command of the army in nearby Cambridge Common and used the house as headquarters (it still has a good view of the Charles River and Boston). His wife Martha came to live with him through to March 1776, when the British evacuated and the war moved elsewhere.

In 1791 Andrew Craigie bought the house and expanded it, earning it the nickname "Castle Craigie." The expenses were too much and after Andrew's death his wife Elizabeth had to take on boarders.

Add-on at the back

The extension!

One boarder was a Harvard professor named Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who rented rooms in 1837. He was excited to live in Washington's headquarters. When Longfellow married Fanny Appleton, his father-in-law bought the house for them as a wedding gift. The house became a center of artistic and literary excellence. The Longfellows had five children there. In 1913 the surviving children set up a trust to maintain the home and welcome visitors. The location was donated in 1972 to the National Parks Service who maintain it to this day.

The NPS shingle on Brattle Street

We went around back and found out we were just in time for a tour of the house. At the start, we were the only ones on the tour. Another eight people joined the tour as it progressed through the house.

We started in the laundry room and kitchen (naturally at the back of the house). This area is part of the Craigie expansion and was not extant when Washington used the house.


Kitchen Stove

Replica of the original house

Connecting the servants' area to the main house is a blue hallway that features a portrait of the eldest Longfellow boys, Charles and Earnest. The hall also has some of the art collected by the family. Charley became a world traveler, collecting many of the items on display in the house, and Erny became an artist in his own right, painting many of the portraits in the house.

The blue hall

The dining room is where the Longfellows entertained guests. The decorations include a famous painting of the daughters (Alice, Allegra, and Edith).

Dining Room

The painting looks much better in real life

The parlor is where Fanny played with the children, visited with friends, or wrote.

The Parlor 

The house is full of busts of the Longfellows and people they admired.

Longfellow in old age

Fanny in her youth

General George Washington


The front hall features a doorbell that still works--and is the old-fashioned kind!

Door bell in the ceiling

The front room opposite the parlor is the study where Longfellow wrote many of his poems.

The study

Fancy (and patriotic) mirror

The library is extensive and includes works of art in addition to the myriad books Longfellow collected as a scholar.

Top of a bookcase

The casual part of the library

Fancy bookshelf


We also toured upstairs, seeing some of the bedrooms. One bed seems short from the way it's constructed but would comfortably sleep any modern person.


This bedroom is called the Gold Ring Room and served as Henry and Fanny's bedroom. The name comes from the Gold Ring in the ceiling, which was used for a canopy to protect from summertime flies.

The Gold Ring!

The other upstairs bedroom

We went back downstairs and explored the garden a little bit. As part of the Junior Ranger program, my children picked up an activity bag and put it to good use.

Formal garden

Roses in bloom

One of the activities was to play Graces. Each player holds a wooden wand in each hand and then throws a ring back and forth, catching it on the wand. The game is a lot tougher than it sounds. It's meant to increase the gracefulness of the players, but that must take lots of practice and play time.

Incoming ring

A catch!

Posing gracefully

After completing other activities (including writing a haiku), the children went back in and were sworn in as Junior Rangers. They received a badge and a pencil and a set of cards identifying various people and groups associated with the house.

Junior Ranger swag

The visit was great and well worth the short walk from downtown Cambridge.

A last view of the house

No comments:

Post a Comment