grey4 Architecture
Vassall-Craigie-Longfellow House Vassall-Craigie-Longfellow House

Harold Eberleing, author of The Architecture of Colonial America, said: "Architecture is crystallized history . . . it represents the life of the past in visible and enduring form." The Longfellow House is a perfect example of crystallized history. It manifests several important architectural trends in the United States popular from the eighteenth through the twentieth centuries.

The importance of the House in influencing architectural trends in late nineteenth century and twentieth century America cannot be underestimated. It influenced not only the architecture of the surrounding neighborhood of Brattle Street and Cambridge, but also that of the entire country. The influence is due to several notable Americans including George Washington and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, separated by time, but linked by a home.

George Washington
George Washington

The first resident whose presence helped ensure the iconization of the House was General George Washington who used it as his headquarters during the Siege of Boston, 1775-76.

Later Longfellow's tenure, his appreciation and, indeed, reverence for the House because it had been Washington's headquarters, and his poetry which created a mythology of American history and culture guaranteed the House's preservation for future generations.

Longfellow Family
Henry, Fanny, Charles, and Ernest Longfellow

Both Henry and Fanny Longfellow appreciated the significance of the House and its architecture and had no desire to alter it because of its association with George Washington. When her father purchased the 1759 mansion for them as a wedding gift in 1843, Fanny Appleton Longfellow wrote: "We are full of plans and projects with no desire, however, to change a feature of the old countenance which Washington has rendered sacred." (Oct. 1843)

Henry appreciated art and architecture. Some of his writings, both poetry and plays, expressed his views about architecture.
Michael Angelo (1882)
Ah, to build, to build!  
That is the noblest art of all the arts.
Painting and sculpture are but images,   
Are merely shadows cast by outward things
On stone or canvas, having in themselves  
No separate existence. Architecture,
Existing in itself, and not in seeming  
A something it is not, surpasses them  
As substance shadow.

Longfellow House Andrew Craigie added the rear ell and the piazzas (porches) to the House

Andrew Craigie was George Washington’s apothecary general, and he profited greatly from that position during the Revolutionary War. The rear section of the House was constructed in 1793 by Mr. Craigie.

Craigie amassed acres of land and properties in Cambridge during his lifetime and made many improvements to the House.

Longfellow House Many Georgian elements are evident on the front facade

There are three distinct architectural periods represented in the House:  the mid-Georgian, the Federal, and the Colonial Revival. The exterior of the Longfellow House is Georgian style.

The Georgian style began about 1700 with construction of the Wren building at College of William and Mary and then the Governor's Palace in Williamsburg, VA. It ended in America with the coming of the American Revolution.

The House, although primarily Georgian, also represents Federal style changes by Andrew Craigie, and Colonial Revival changes by Alice Longfellow and her cousin, architect Alexander Wadsworth Longfellow Jr. Georgian characteristics include:

  • Pedimented central pavilion
  • Ionic pilasters and classical doorways
  • Eighteenth-century balustrade faithfully reproduced by Henry Longfellow
  • Craigie addition of 1790s include side porches and rear ell
  • Alexander Wadsworth Longfellow Jr.'s additions: second floor veranda, kitchen porch, garden seat for Alice Longfellow

The House's verticality is similar to English Baroque.

Many of the Federal and Colonial Revival features are especially evident in the interior and are discussed with each room.
Christ Church Cambridge
Christ Church in Cambridge

Examples of Georgian Buildings in the Neighborhood Harvard Hall (1764), Hollis Hall (1762), Apthorp House (1760) — all on the Harvard Campus. On Brattle Street, the Read House (1772) now moved to Farwell Place, Fayerweather House (1764) at 175 Brattle St., Elmwood (1767), Vassall-Craigie-Longfellow House (1759).

Near Harvard Square, the Christ Church (1759) designed by Peter Harrison (as is the Apthorp House and perhaps the Longfellow House).

Copy of Longfellow House in Detroir Detroit copy of Longfellow House

The commodification of the Longfellow House in the late nineteenth century began when the House was reproduced. The first known replica House was the 1883 Gladisfin in Newcastle, Maine, followed in 1887 by a House in Evanston, IL. In 1898 a House in Great Barrington, MA was built. In 1907 a Longfellow House replica was built in Minneapolis, and in 1932 it was converted into a branch of the public library by the WPA. It also was furnished with reproduction furniture.

In 1918 Sears, Roebuck and Company produced a Homebuilder's Catalog which featured on its cover the Longfellow House replica. The plans were called "The Magnolia" and the house was the most expensive. The design was produced as late as 1927.

Official interpretations of the Longfellow House:

  • At the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893, the Massachusetts State Pavilion, designed by Peabody and Stearns, combined elements of the Hancock Mansion and the Craigie House.  
  • In 1895 the Massachusetts building for the Atlanta Cotton States and International Exposition was a replica of the Longfellow House.
  Several Longfellow family members were professionally involved in design or architecture.

Longfellow's poetry and home helped solidify America's perception of what constituted the American Colonial experience and Colonial architecture. His poetry transformed places such as the Wayside Inn, the blacksmith shop, and the Old North Church into cultural landmarks. He popularized historic places in New England, and in so doing became a founding father of the Colonial Revival and historic preservation movements. His children and relatives, through their historic preservation and architectural interests, continued his legacy.


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© 2004 Longfellow National Historic Site