grey4 History of the Property

Cambridge, originally called "Newtowne," was the first administrative capital of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
  • The town was naturally defensible, located on a hill with visibility in three directions.
  • Harvard College was founded here in 1636.
Early map of Massachusetts Bay
Cambridge and Boston

Leonard Vassall settled in the Massachusetts Bay Colony before 1723.   
  • His son, Colonel John Vassall,  purchased land near the King's Highway in Cambridge in 1746-1747.
  • Colonel Vassall's son, Major John Vassall, inherited the land from his father and built the House in 1759.
  • Major John Vassall consolidated seven neighboring properties to create his 97-acre estate.

During this period, it was necessary to have enough land for a farm on a country estate to provide food for the family and the staff.

Vassall estate property plan
Vassall estate:  97 acres    1774-75

The Vassall family left Cambridge for Boston, and then left Boston with the British when Boston was evacuated.

The property was confiscated in 1779 at the end of the American Revolution, as were the properties of most Loyalists.

Nathaniel Tracy purchased the property in 1781.

Vassall buildings
Vassall buildings 1774-1775

Andrew Craigie purchased the property and transformed it into a 140-acre estate between 1791 and 1819.

He lived lavishly, but after a number of financial setbacks, he had to liquidate some of his holdings.  

Craigie property plan
Craigie estate:  140 acres 1819

Craigie also added a number of outbuildings, the side porches, and added the ell onto the back of the House.
After his death in 1819, the estate was divided among the heirs.  Elizabeth Craigie, Andrew's wife, received one-third of the estate, including the mansion.
Craigie improved property plan

Craigie buildings 1819

As a wedding gift, the Longfellows received
  • Four acres around the house
  • Five acres between the house and the river

The Longfellows removed most of the Craigies' outbuildings except the barn and the woodshed. They rebuilt the barn that had burned in 1840 near the original site.

Fanny Appleton implored her father to purchase the land between the House and the river to preserve the view.

Longfellow property plan
Longfellow land 1844: 4 acres around house


© 2004 Longfellow National Historic Site