The House Which “Washington Has Rendered Sacred”

Source: Longfellow House Bulletin 4:1 p. 2
George Washington

Even at the height of his fame, Henry W. Longfellow never felt slighted when strangers knocked on the door and asked to see “Washington’s Headquarters.” He might have been bemused at the lack of interest in himself, but he shared the same feelings of awe about Washington’s association with the House.

In 1837 when the young Harvard College professor Henry Longfellow first came to the House as a boarder, he was well aware of Washington’s earlier presence there. His Harvard colleague and fellow tenant at Mrs. Craigie’s house, Jared Sparks, was working—in the very rooms Washington had inhabited—to assemble all of Washington’s existing letters for publication.

When Longfellow married Fanny Appleton in 1843, his wealthy father-in-law, Nathan Appleton, bought the Craigie House for them. Shortly after, Fanny wrote her brother about her delight in living “where Washington [had] dwelt in every room:

[The House] is, moreover very interesting to us for its associations of which we have lately had very exact information from Mr. Sparks.... Yesterday we had a thorough explanation of the American lines & Bunker Hill, Prospect & Winter hills under Mr. Sparks inimitable guidance who gave a more vivid idea of the revolutionary days than I had before...

In a letter to her brother two months later, Fanny announced the couple’s intention to preserve the house’s appearance and thus honor the memory of Washington’s occupancy:

We have just returned to our home & are enraptured with its quiet & comfort after that Pandemonium, New York. It has now too, the sentiment of the Future as well as the Past to render it dearer than ever for since we left it has become our own, we are full of plans & projects with no desire however to change a feature of the old countenance which Washington has rendered sacred.

In 1844 the sacred Washington connection was memorialized inside the House by the Longfellows’ prominent display of several Washington artifacts. Longfellow bought the bust of George Washington, a copy of the famous 1785 original by Houdon, which he placed in the entrance hall. On a wall by the front stairs, he hung an engraving of Washington on his white horse. Portraits of Martha and George adorned his study.

Longfellow enjoyed giving tours of the House and never failed to pay tribute to its historic role in the American Revolution. Blanche Tucker-Macchetta, who received such a tour in 1880, wrote in The Home Life of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow that the poet described his study thus:

This was Washington’s own private room; and where my writing desk now stands, there stood his table. These walls, lined with books, also shelved his literary lore. In fact, I think the arrangement of the room is exactly the same as when in his time.

Other members of Henry Longfellow’s family took pride in living in Washington’s former headquarters. After the family celebrated the hundredth anniversary of Washington’s arrival in Cambridge, the poet’s daughter Edith wrote to her sister Alice:

My interest and excitement is reading all about this summer 100 years ago in Sparks and Irving, and everyday I read the letters for that date written certainly in this room and probably by this very window where I write by dear George! Think what a privilege to spend this summer of all others in this house. I would not have missed it on any account and think it ought to have influenced us to stay under any circumstances. People go over land and sea to see just the place where some great man was born and died, and here all day long I can walk the floors this greatest of men to us Americans trod, go up and down the stairs... “Up and down these echoing stairs, Heavy with the weight of cares; Sounded his majestic tread.”

It is grand to feel the presence of so great a man and lifts me up quite out of the present life…when you come back I will read you his lettcr to his wife when he received his command and you will say it is full of manly, tenderness most inspiring.

Alice Longfellow lived in the House for many years after her father’s death. She conserved the house in her father’s memory, yet she also honored its connection to George Washington, as is shown in a letter she received from her cousin Alexander Wadsworth Longfellow Jr.:

I want to see you soon, foregathering as a family, and wish I could see you honoring the Father of this Country and his admirers at his headquarters, with the spirit which you show and feel so deeply. I think you very fortunate to have inherited this and be able to do so much for his memory.


© 2004 Longfellow National Historic Site