Longfellow House Visit

While in Boston two weeks ago, I also found time to visit the Longfellow House (also known as Washington’s Headquarters). For my own work, I wanted to see where Washington hosted his early councils of war. I’ve always been a visual learner and my understanding of historical events is much improved by seeing the room where it happened, so to speak.

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I really didn’t know much about Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, but the guide did a great job telling the story of the Longfellow family and the history of the home (including Washington’s stay). Much of the wood and marble work is original, although the decor belonged to the Longfellow family. The welcome center had a great map of Boston in 1775, which depicted the American and British forces. Cambridge (and the house) is on the far left.

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As a modern visitor, we came in through the back of the house, past the kitchen. This stove did not exist when Washington occupied the home, but it was added in the 1790s, so it does provide some context. And frankly is just super cool.

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If you were visiting Washington’s headquarters in 1775, the original lock would have been turned and you would have entered through the original front door.

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You would have immediately seen the original staircase and entry vestibule.

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If you were a woman, or a couple arriving for a social visit, you would have been shown into the parlor Martha Washington used to host guests. The door on the left would have just been an arch to the old hallway. While the decor is newer, the fireplace and wood work would have been there in 1775.

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The art in this room pays homage to the Washingtons.

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If you were a congressional delegate, or had a military purpose for visiting, you would have been shown into the dining/meeting room (which is shown here as Longfellow’s office). The councils of war probably took place in this space.

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Behind the dining room, was the office or the room where Washington’s aides-de-camp would have toiled away drafting letters, copying instructions, or corresponding with informants.

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Upstairs, Washington and Martha would have had a private bedroom and perhaps also a private drawing room. It’s not clear which rooms the Washingtons occupied, but Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s first landlady rented him these rooms because they were reportedly “Washington’s quarters.”

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Unfortunately, the rain limited our time in the gardens, but we got a quick look and they were stunning.

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I loved our tour of the Longfellow House. It only took about an hour, so if you are looking for a quick visit to a historical site, this is a great option. The house also offered some new information for my thoughts on New England homes and hospitality culture, which I wrote about briefly last week. In 1759, John Vassall built the home, but his family only spent summers in this space. They spent the winters in a townhouse in Boston proper. Looking at the size of the rooms and the height of the ceilings, it’s understandable why they chose a cozier space for winters.

Furthermore, the Vassall family made their wealth on Caribbean sugar plantations. I don’t know much about the family, but I wonder if their connections with plantation culture influenced the original design choices. Just a few thoughts for me to consider.


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