John Hodges House, Salem, Mass

The house at 81 Essex Street, at the corner of Orange Street in Salem, around 1890-1914. Image courtesy of the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum, Frank Cousins Collection of Glass Plate Negatives.

The house in 2019:

The second half of the 18th century was a time of great prosperity for Salem because of its thriving maritime trade, and many of the town’s wealthy captains and merchants built fine houses such as this one. This house was built around 1750 by John Hodges, a ship captain who was about 26 years old at the time. Hodges had purchased this property a year earlier, the same year that he married Mary Manning. The couple subsequently raised eleven children here, four of whom died young. Of the surviving sons, five went on to become captains themselves, although two of them died at sea.

Their third child, Benjamin, became one of Salem’s leading captains in the late 18th century. He was a cousin of Elias Hasket Derby, one of the richest merchants in New England, and he frequently commanded Derby’s ships, including the Grand Turk and the Astrea, which were among the first American ships to trade with the far east. Later in his career, Benjamin Hodges was involved in the construction of the frigate USS Essex, the largest ship—and only warship—ever built in Salem. It was funded by subscription from residents of Salem, including Hodges, who also served on the building committee, and it was presented to the United States Navy in 1799. Also in 1799, Hodges was one of the founders of the East India Marine Society, which has since become the Peabody Essex Museum. He then became the organization’s first president, serving until his death in 1806.

Benjamin Hodges acquired this house from his father in 1788, and he lived here with his wife Hannah and their large family. Tragically, though, most of their children died young from tuberculosis, starting with an infant daughter in 1783. Their oldest child, Hannah, died of it in 1792 at the age of 13, followed by ten-year-old John in 1797, 12-year-old Margaret in 1803, 19-year-old Benjamin in 1804, and 14-year-old Sarah in 1812. Both parents also succumbed to the disease, with Benjamin dying in 1806 at the age of 52, and Hannah in 1814 at the age of 59. Only three of their children lived relatively long lives, and only one, Mary, married and had children.

Mary Hodges married William Silsbee in 1808, and the couple lived here in this house, possibly with Mary’s unmarried sisters Hannah and Elizabeth. Like Mary, William was also from a prominent Salem family. His older brother Nathaniel was a ship captain and merchant who later went on to have a successful political career, serving four years in the U. S. House of Representatives and nine years in the Senate. William was likewise a merchant, with ownership interests in a number of vessels. He and Mary had seven children, and he lived in Salem until his death in 1833 at the age of 53. Four years later, Mary and her sisters sold this house, and she died in 1851 at the age of 62.

The house was subsequently owned by Stephen Webb, the cashier of the Mercantile Bank in Salem. He is not to be confused with his contemporary, Stephen Palfrey Webb, whose unusual political career involved serving as mayor of Salem from 1842 to 1845, mayor of San Francisco from 1854 to 1855, and then mayor of Salem again from 1860 to 1862. The Stephen Webb who lived here was about 34 years old when he purchased the house in 1837, and he was still living here during the 1850 census, along with his wife Martha, their five children, and two Irish-born servants. The same census valued his real estate—which may have included more than just this house—at $8,100, equivalent to about $250,000 today.

Stephen Webb had apparently died by 1870, because that year Martha—who was identified on the deed as a widow—sold the house for $3,750 to Sarah Maria Benson, the widow of Captain Samuel Benson. She died two years later, and the 1872 city directory shows her son, George Wiggin Benson, living here. At the time, his household included his ten-year-old son Frank Weston Benson, who later went on to become a prominent Impressionist painter. The future artist would live in Salem for much of his life, but was apparently only in this house for a short time, because by the 1874 city directory his father had moved to a house on Forrester Street.

During the late 19th century the house was owned by Henry Meek, who served as city clerk and later owned a publishing company. He was 54 years old in the 1900 census, and he lived here with his wife Annie, his daughter Alice, and a servant. This was apparently Henry’s second marriage, since Annie was only five years older than his 24-year-old daughter. He died later in 1900, and in 1906 Annie and Alice sold this house to Emma J. Brady.

The first photo was likely taken at some point during or shortly after the Meek family’s ownership. It was taken by Frank Cousins, a Salem native and noted photographer who used his camera to document hundreds of historic buildings in Salem and elsewhere in the northeast. The exterior of the house appears to have been well-preserved at the time, and it would have provided Cousins with a good example of colonial-era Georgian architecture.

Unlike the previous owners, Emma Brady does not appear to have lived here in this house, and instead used it as a rental property. The 1910 census shows that, at the time, it was being rented by Charles M. Proctor, a 44-year-old meat salesman who lived here with his wife Mary, their children Harrison, Charles, Arthur, Clifford, Mildred, and Gladys, and Harrison’s wife Nina. Like his father, Harrison worked as a meat salesman, while Charles was a winder at an electric works and Arthur was a farm laborer.

By the 1920 census the house had changed hands again, and at this point it was being used as a four-family home. There were a total of 11 people listed here that year, four of whom were immigrants, with three from Quebec and one from Greece. Aside from two children, all of the residents were employed, including three leather workers, two cotton mill workers, two machinists, a cook, and a rooming house keeper.

Overall, this house saw a steady decline in the prosperity of its residents, as shown by the fact that the former home of one of Salem’s most prominent captains had become a four-family apartment building. This was a common occurrence throughout Salem during this period; it had peaked in its importance as a seaport at the turn of the 19th century, when it ranked among the top ten most populous cities and towns in the country. However, Salem’s shipping industry was badly hurt by both the Embargo Act of 1807 and the War of 1812, and its merchants never fully recovered. This led to a long period of economic stagnation, and the city saw only moderate population growth during the second half of the 19th century.

From a historic preservation standpoint, though, this was not entirely a bad thing. The lack of economic or population growth led to little demand for new construction, resulting in the survival of many historic buildings. Today, one of Salem’s most visible assets is its large number of well-preserved late 18th and early 19th century homes, including the John Hodges House here on Essex Street. Although it has undergone many changes in ownership and use over the past quarter of a millennium, it stands as a reminder of the city’s historic maritime past, with few significant differences from its appearance more than a century ago when the first photo was taken. It is now one of the contributing properties in the Salem Common Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.

Benjamin Daland House, Salem, Mass

The house at 23 Summer Street in Salem, around 1891. Image courtesy of the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum, Frank Cousins Collection of Glass Plate Negatives.

The house in 2019:

This house was built sometime between 1756 and 1760 by Benjamin Daland. He does not appear to have lived here for very long, though, because in 1760 he sold the property to Samuel Calley, who in turn sold it in 1762 to Captain George Dodge, a mariner from nearby Beverly. He was 35 years old at the time, and he and his wife Lydia and their seven children. They subsequently had two more children over the next new years, and Dodge owned the house until 1782. By this point Dodge was referred to in historical records as a merchant rather than a mariner, suggesting that he took the career path of many retired sea captains in Salem and went into business for himself as a merchant. Like many other Salem merchants, he was also involved in privateering during the American Revolution, owning several privateer ships that preyed on British shipping.

The next owner of the house was William Orne, who purchased it from Dodge in 1782 for 1,100 pounds. The historical records indicate that he was also a ship captain and later a merchant, but there appears to have been several William Ornes living in Salem during this period, so it seems difficult to determine which one owned this house. However, it may have been the same William Orne who was captured by the British during the War of 1812 and was being held prisoner aboard the HMS Guerriere during its famous battle with the USS Constitution.

Another area of uncertainty in tracing the history of this house is that, while Orne owned the house, it does not necessarily mean that he—or the other early owners of the house—personally lived here. In any case, though, Orne owned the house until 1807, when he sold it for $4,600 to Thorndike Deland, who then sold it for $4,500 in 1812 to his sister Eliza Osborn. Eliza was a wealthy widow whose husband, Captain George Osborn, had been swept overboard at sea in 1800. A year after acquiring this house she remarried to Abner Kneeland, a Unitarian theologian who would become a notable and controversial religious figure over the next few decades.

As with the previous owners, it does not seem clear how long Eliza actually lived here, because she and Abner only lived in Salem for a couple years after their marriage. However, the house would remain in her family for many years. It was owned jointly by George Osborn and Eliza Archer, her children from her first marriage, until 1863, when George became the sole owner. Neither sibling appears to have lived in the house, though, because city directories of the period list several other residents here, including grocer John Chamberlain, who was living in the house as early as 1846.

After George Osborn’s death in 1882, his daughter Eliza D. Shepard inherited the property. The first photo was taken about a decade later by Frank Cousins, a prominent photographer who documented historic buildings in Salem and other places in the northeast around the turn of the 20th century. Cousin’s caption identifies it as the “Doctor T.O. Shepard house,” indicating that Eliza Shepard’s son Thomas was living here at the time.

Thomas and his sister Sarah eventually acquired the house, and unlike some of the previous generations they definitely lived here on Summer Street. The 1910 census shows them living here together, unmarried and in their 40s. Thomas, who was an 1892 graduate of Harvard Medical School, was an oculist, and he had his practice here in the house. The Shepards also employed two live-in servants at the time, one of whom was listed as a cook in the census.

Thomas continued to live here until his death in 1935, and Sarah remained here for at least a few more years, but by the 1940 census she was living elsewhere. Then, in 1941 she sold this house on Summer Street to Marie Anne Cadorette. This marked the end of 135 years of ownership by the same family, which had spanned four different generations of Osborns and Shepards.

Today, well over a century after the first photo was taken, the house is still standing. It has seen some changes, including the loss of the shutters and the front entryway, and the outbuilding in the back of the lot is gone, but overall it survives as one of the many well-preserved historic 18th century homes in Salem. The neighboring John P. Peabody House, built in 1868 on the far left side of the scene, is also still standing, although the house on the far right side of the first photo has since been demolished.

Derby House, Salem, Mass

The Derby House on Derby Street in Salem, around 1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The house in 2019:

Salem was at the peak of its prosperity as a seaport during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and perhaps no family better exemplified this golden age than the Derby family. The family patriarch was Richard Derby, a ship captain who lived most of his adult life in a house nearby at the corner of Derby and Herbert Streets. Derby eventually retired from sailing in 1757, and he spent the next few decades as a merchant here in Salem. He owned a fleet of ships, and in 1762 he began construction of Derby Wharf, which would eventually become the largest wharf in the port.

Richard and his wife Mary had three sons and three daughters. Two of their sons became ship captains, and the other son, Elias, joined his father in the merchant business. In 1761, at the age of 21, Elias married Elizabeth Crowninshield, and that same year his father began constructing this house for the newlyweds. The house was completed a year later, and it features a brick exterior with Georgian-style details, including a gambrel roof, which was typical for homes of this era. The architect and builder is unknown, although Joseph McIntire—father of the famous Salem architect Samuel McIntire—was apparently involved in the construction, because in 1762 Richard Derby paid him 40 shillings for unspecified work.

The house is situated on the north side of Derby Street, opposite Derby Wharf, where it overlooks the harbor. From here, Elias could keep a close eye on the activity at the wharf, which included the arrival of merchant ships and, during the American Revolution, privateers. He owned or held shares in about half of all the Salem privateers that preyed on British shipping during the war, and he made a significant profit from their success, while simultaneously benefitting the American war effort. Then, at the end of the war, these privateering ships were well-suited for conversion to merchant ships. This put Elias in a good position to expand foreign trade networks, and he became one of the first Americans to trade with China and other ports in southeast Asia.

By the late 18th century, Salem was the seventh-largest city or town in the country, along with being the richest on a per-capita basis. Elias Hasket Derby played a significant role in this prosperity, and he was regarded as one of the wealthiest merchants in New England at the time. Many years later, Nathaniel Hawthorne would famously give him the moniker “King Derby” in his prologue to The Scarlet Letter, in which Hawthorne recounted the glory days of Salem and contrasted them with the mid-19th century decline of the port city.

However, Elias and his wife Elizabeth did not live here in this house for his entire merchant career. They lived here through at least the early years of the Revolution, and raised their seven children here, but they appear to have moved elsewhere by around 1778. They were definitely gone by 1782, when they moved into a house closer to the center of Salem, at what is now the corner of Washington and Lynde Streets. Then, in 1799 they moved again, this time to a newly-built house designed by Charles Bulfinch. However, both Elias and Elizabeth died that same year, and that house was ultimately demolished in 1815 to build a new town hall.

In the meantime, the Derby family continued to own this house here on Derby Street for most of the late 18th century, before ultimately selling it to Henry Prince in 1796. Price, who apparently had begun renting the house from the Derbys as early as 1784, was a successful sea captain who sailed for some of Salem’s leading merchants, including Derby. He also played a role in the career of famed navigator and mathematician Nathaniel Bowditch; Prince was the captain on Bowditch’s first voyage, departing Salem in 1795 aboard the Derby-owned Henry.

Like many prosperous captains, Prince subsequently became a merchant, and by the early 19th century he had ownership interests in a number of vessels, including the appropriately-named 219-ton ship Golden Age. However, by this point the golden age of Salem was already nearing its end. Thomas Jefferson’s Embargo Act of 1807 severely damaged the American economy in general, but it was particularly devastating for Salem, which was dependent upon foreign trade. The War of 1812 caused further disruption to trade, and these financial hardships eventually forced Prince to sell both this house and his warehouse.

Various sources give somewhat different information as to when Prince lost his house, but in any case it was ultimately acquired by Henry Ropes, who married Henry Prince’s daughter Mary in 1821. Born in Salem in 1791, Ropes was the son of Captain George Ropes, who died at sea in 1807, and the brother of George Ropes Jr., a noted artist who specialized in maritime themes. Henry Ropes likewise became a ship captain, and made a number of voyages to India before retiring from the sea. He subsequently became involved in banking here in Salem, including serving for many years as the treasurer of the Salem Savings Bank.

Henry and Mary had nine children, three of whom died in infancy. Of their six children who survived to adulthood, most of them still died relatively young, with only two living past the age of 43. Henry died in 1861, but Mary continued to live her in her father’s old house until her own death in 1873. The 1870 census shows here with several generations of her family, including her only two living children, Joseph and Benjamin, who were both in their 30s and unmarried. She also shared the house with Priscilla, the widow of her oldest son George. Priscilla was 44 years old at the time, and she lived here with her daughters Priscilla and Mary, who appear to have been the only grandchildren of Henry and Mary Ropes who survived infancy.

Mary Ropes died in February 1873, and by late May the property, which was described in the Salem Register as consisting of a “two-story brick dwelling and other buildings and 22,000 square feet of land,” had been sold to Daniel Leahy for $6,700, or about $145,000 today. Leahy was an Irish immigrant who was about 26 years old at the time, and he moved in here with his wife Mary and their infant daughter Johanna. Just a few years earlier, during the 1870 census, the couple had been living in Peabody. According to the census, he worked as a laborer, had a personal estate of $150, and was unable to read or write.

The historical record does not seem to indicate how an illiterate immigrant laborer with $150 to his name in 1870 was able to, within three years, purchase a house that had once belonged to one of the wealthiest merchants in New England. However, this example serves to illustrate just how far Salem had fallen in prosperity since the days of “King Derby.” Nathaniel Hawthorne was no longer alive at this point, but if he had been he likely would have seen this as further proof of what he discussed in the prologue to The Scarlet Letter.

In any case, by the 1880 census Daniel and Mary were living here with a number of other family members. In addition to eight-year-old Johanna, they had a four-year-old son Thomas, and they also lived here with Daniel’s mother Johanna, his siblings Bartholomew, Michael, Mary, Catherine, and Margaret, and Bartholomew’s wife Catherine and infant son Patrick. Daniel and his two brothers all worked as stevedores, perhaps on the same wharves that Elias Hasket Derby had once built, and the three sisters worked in cotton mills. The family also had three young Irish women living here as boarders, all of whom also worked in cotton mills.

The Leahy family lived in this house until around the turn of the 20th century, but they continued to own the property for many years. The first photo was taken sometime around 1910, and that year’s census indicates that it was rented by two different families. In one unit was William and Annie Doyle, middle-aged Irish immigrants who lived here with their 11-year-old adopted daughter Agnes. In the other unit was John and Julia Szezechowicz, their four children, and John’s brother Bradislaw. They were all immigrants from Poland, arriving in the United States only three years earlier.

Over the years, the condition of the house steadily deteriorated, but it was ultimately acquired by the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities in 1927. Now known as Historic New England, this organization restored the house to its original appearance, and then in 1937 transferred it to the National Park Service. A year later, the house became part of the Salem Maritime National Historic Site, which was established that year as the first national historic site in the country.

Today, the Derby House is still part of the Salem Maritime National Historic Site. It is partially hidden behind the trees in the present-day view, but it stands as one of the many well-preserved historic 18th and early 19th century homes in Salem. In the rear of the house, the property also includes a formal garden, which is a recreation of the gardens that were typical for Salem merchants of this period. Just to the left of the house, outside of view in this scene, is the Benjamin Hawkes House, and beyond it is the Salem Custom House, both of which have likewise been restored as part of the national historic site.

Old Meeting House, South Hadley, Mass

The Old Meeting House at the northern end of the town common in South Hadley, around 1930-1937. Image courtesy of Mount Holyoke College Archives and Special Collections.

The scene in 2019:

Although it is difficult to tell from its current appearance, this modest-looking colonial house is actually the original meetinghouse in South Hadley. It was built around 1732, when South Hadley was still a part of Hadley, and it is likely the oldest surviving church building in western Massachusetts. It is also one of the oldest in the entire state, dating back to a time when New England meetinghouses were typically built without steeples or bell towers.

Present-day South Hadley was first settled by European colonists around the 1720s. These early residents would have been expected to attend church and town meetings in Hadley, but this proved challenging. The town center was eight miles away along rough roads, and South Hadley was geographically isolated from the rest of the town by Mount Holyoke. As a result, the settlers soon requested a church of their own, which was established around 1732. This meetinghouse was constructed around this time, and the building was originally situated about 100-150 feet south of its current location, on what is now the town common.

The first meeting appears to have been held here in March 1733, and the first pastor of the church was Grindall Rawson, who was ordained on October 3, 1733. He was a recent Harvard graduate who was about 25 years old, and five years later he married Dorothy Chauncey, the daughter of Reverend Isaac Chauncey of the Hadley church. During this time, work continued on the interior of the meetinghouse. This was done in several stages, beginning with the installation of nine pews in 1733, and it was not completed until 1744, when the gallery was finished.

It was not uncommon for early 18th century pastors to remain with the same church for their entire ministry career, but this ultimately was not the case for Reverend Rawson. Described in the 1863 History of Hadley book as “eccentric, free-spoken, and rash,” he soon became a source of controversy here in South Hadley. In 1737 a council of local clergymen met to discuss Rawson. Few details survive from this meeting, including where it was held, but one of the attendees was Jonathan Edwards, the famous pastor of the church in Northampton. He served as the scribe of the meeting, and in his memoirs he later wrote that the question at hand was “Whether Mr. R. was qualified for the work of the ministry as to his learning, his orthodoxy and his morals.” The council apparently found no issues with his qualifications, but this did little to appease his parishioners.

In February 1740, the congregation voted in favor of dismissing Rawson. However, he remained in that position for more than a year before, in March 1741, the church reaffirmed their decision and declared that “we have no further service for him in the office of a gospel minister, and that we expect he will refrain from any public acts in that office among us.” Rawson was apparently unfazed by this, though, and he continued to conduct services from the pulpit here throughout much of 1741. Finally, in October the church passed a resolution stating:

As Mr. Rawson has lately in an abrupt manner entered the meeting house and performed divine service, contrary to the mind of this precinct, the committee are directed and empowered to prevent Mr. Rawson from entering the meeting house on the Sabbath, by such means as they shall think best, except he shall promise not to officiate or perform service as a minister, and if Mr. Rawson shall offer to perform service as a minister, the committee shall put him forth out of the meeting house.

This still did not stop Rawson, who took to the pulpit a few weeks later. This time, though, a group of men seized him and forcibly carried him out of the building. The parish subsequently voted to appropriate 10 pounds as a legal defense fund, in the event that Rawson pressed charges against the men involved, but he did not, nor did he make any further attempts to preach here. He did, however, continue to live here in South Hadley for three more years, before accepting a position as pastor of a church in Hadlyme, Connecticut, where he served until his death in 1777.

In the meantime, South Hadley continued to grow in population, and this meetinghouse soon became too small for the parish. As early as 1751 the congregation voted to build a new church, but this caused a new controversy regarding its location. The residents here in the western part of the parish favored a site near the existing meetinghouse, while those in the eastern part—in present-day Granby—wanted the new church in a more central location on Cold Hill. After a decade of wrangling, the western faction finally prevailed, and the new church was built nearby in 1762. That same year, the eastern half of the district was established as a separate parish, and in 1768 it was incorporated as the town of Granby.

In the meantime, once the new church was completed the old building was moved northward to its current location, and it was converted into a house. This was a typical practice in New England during the 18th and 19th centuries, with thrifty Yankees generally preferring to move and repurpose old buildings instead of demolishing them. In the case of this meetinghouse, its relatively small size for a church—only 40 feet by 30 feet—made it well-suited for use as a house.

It is difficult to trace the ownership of the building in the early years after conversion to a house, but at some point in the first half of the 19th century it was owned by the Goodman family. It was then owned by Alfred Judd, who had been living there for “many years” by the time the History of Hadley was published in 1863. In a footnote, the author remarked that it was a “comely dwelling,” and that its old frame “may yet last a century.” More than 150 years later, this prediction that has proven to be a significant underestimate of the building’s longevity.

The 1860 census shows Alfred Judd living here with his daughter Irene, her husband Joseph Preston, and their two young children, Alfred and Joseph Jr. Alfred was 62 years old at the time, and he had just recently been widowed after his wife of 38 years, Mary, died in February 1860. He subsequently remarried to Sophia Preston in 1861, and he appears to have lived here until his death in 1878.

At some point afterward, Judd’s grandson Joseph Preston Jr. purchased the property to the right of the family home and built the Hotel Woodbridge, which later became Judson Hall, a dormitory for nearby Mount Holyoke College. In the meantime, the old house remained in the Preston family for many years. Joseph Jr. died in 1922, but his widow Elmina continued to own it until at least the 1930s, although it seems unclear as to whether Joseph or Elmina actually lived here during the early 20th century, or simply rented it to other tenants.

In any case, the first photo was taken at some point during Elmina’s ownership in the 1930s. By then, the building was the home of the Old Meeting House Tea Room, as indicated by the sign above the front door. It is difficult to determine exactly how much its exterior appearance had changed by this point, but it was clearly different from how it would have looked when it was moved here in the early 1760s. In particular, the wide pediment just below the roof and the pilasters in the corners are most certainly not original; these would have probably been added around the early 19th century, giving the old colonial meetinghouse a vaguely Greek Revival appearance.

In more than 80 years since the first photo was taken, this building has undergone some significant changes, including additions to the left, right, and behind the original structure. The front of the building has also been altered, particularly on the ground floor, but overall it is still recognizable from the first photo. Throughout this time, it has continued to be used as a commercial property, and it is currently the Yarde Tavern restaurant. The second floor of the building was damaged by a fire in April 2019, and these windows were still boarded up when the second photo was taken a few months later, but the restaurant itself was only closed for a few weeks.

Today, the building bears almost no resemblance to the Puritan meetinghouse that Grindall Rawson was dragged out of nearly 280 years ago. However, it despite these changes it still has significant historic value as one of the oldest buildings in South Hadley, in addition to being one of the few surviving early 18th century church buildings in this part of the state.

Longfellow House Staircase, Cambridge, Mass

The main staircase in the Longfellow House on Brattle Street in Cambridge, around 1910-1920. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2019:

As discussed in more detail in an earlier post, this house was built in 1759 for John Vassall, a wealthy sugar plantation owner who fled Cambridge just prior to the start of the American Revolution because of his loyalist sympathies. The patriot government then confiscated his property, and from July 1775 to April 1776 it was the residence and headquarters of George Washington, who had been given command of the Continental Army just before coming to Cambridge. Much of his strategic planning during the Siege of Boston was done here in the house, including his move to fortify Dorchester Heights in March 1776, which ultimately led to the British evacuation of Boston.

Aside from Washington, the other famous resident of this house was Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. He moved in here in 1837 as a boarder, when he was a 30-year-old Harvard professor and still a relatively obscure writer. His future father-in-law, Nathan Appleton, later purchased it as a wedding gift for Longfellow and his wife Fanny in 1843, and he went on to live here for the rest of his life. In total, he spent 45 years in this house, and most of his major works were written here, including Evangeline, The Song of Hiawatha, “Paul Revere’s Ride,” and “The Village Blacksmith.”

This staircase is located just inside the front door, so it would have been the first thing that guests of both Washington and Longfellow would have seen upon arriving in the house. Both of these famous residents had a number of notable visitors here, and for Washington these included his subordinate generals such as Horatio Gates, Artemas Ward, Charles Lee, Israel Putnam, and Nathanael Greene. Many of Longfellow’s prominent visitors were fellow literary figures, such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde, and William Makepeace Thackeray.

Although not visible in this scene, the entry hall also features two doors at the base of the stairs, with one on the left and one on the right. The door to the left leads into the room at the southwest corner of the house, which was used by Washington as his reception room for his visitors, and by the Longfellows as their parlor. To the right, at the southeast corner, is where Washington had his dining room, and where he would have held his councils of war with his other generals. This room was later used by Longfellow as his study, and he wrote many of his famous works there.

Longfellow appreciated the history of his house and its association with Washington. When the general first arrived here in July 1775, the patriot leaders had great confidence in his abilities, but at that point his leadership had not yet been tested in battle. However, by the time Longfellow moved in more than 60 years later, Washington was revered as the father of his country, and he was the subject of countless works of art. In 1844, to recognize Washington’s time here in this house, Longfellow purchased a bust of Washington, which he placed here in the entry hall. It was a copy of one made by Jean-Antoine Houdon in 1785, and, as these two photos show, it is still here next to the stairs, nearly 180 years later.

Longfellow’s daughter Alice had a similar respect for history and historic preservation, so after his death in 1882 she was careful to maintain both the interior and exterior appearances of the house. As a result, the first photo, which was taken around the 1910s, when Alice was still living here, probably reflects how it would have looked during Longfellow’s lifetime. Aside from the bust of Washington, the photo also includes several other antiques and works of art. On the left side are three paintings, and above them is a print of Washington on horseback that Longfellow acquired in 1864. In the upper center of the scene, on the landing, is a grandfather clock that he added there in 1877, five years before his death. As shown in the 2019 photo, all of these objects are still in the same location today.

For much of the 20th century, this house was run by the Longfellow House Trust. However, in 1972 the organization gave the house and its contents to the National Park Service, and it became the Longfellow House National Historic Site. It has since been renamed the Longfellow House–Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site, but, as these photos show, not much else has changed here, and the house is open to the public for ranger-guided tours.

Longfellow House, Cambridge, Mass (2)

The Longfellow House on Brattle Street in Cambridge, around 1890-1899. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The house in 2019:


As discussed in more detail in the previous post, this house was built in 1759 as the home of John Vassall, a 21-year-old sugar plantation heir. He lived here until 1774 when, as a loyalist, he and his family moved to the safety of British-occupied Boston shortly before the start of the American Revolution.

The Vassalls ultimately never returned here, and starting in the summer of 1775 their house was occupied by George Washington, who used it as his residence and headquarters during the siege of Boston. Washington remained here for nearly nine months, until after the British evacuated Boston in March 1776, and he departed on April in order to move the Continental Army to New York.

This house went through several different owners in the late 18th century before being purchased by Andrew Craigie around 1792. Craigie had been the first apothecary general of the Continental Army during the war, and he lived here until his death in 1819. His widow Elizabeth continued to live here until she died in 1841, and during this time she took on boarders, including a young Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who moved into the house in 1837.

The famous poet ultimately became the owner of the house when, in 1843, he married Fanny Appleton and her father Nathan purchased it and gave it to them as a wedding gift. Longfellow went on to write nearly all of his major works here in this house, and he also frequently entertained distinguished visitors here, among them Charles Sumner, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Charles Dickens, and Oscar Wilde. His wife Fanny died here in 1861 from burns that she suffered after her dress caught fire, but Longfellow continued to live here for the rest of his life, until his death in 1882 at the age of 75.

By the time the first photo was taken around the 1890s, his daughter Alice was still living here. She was a philanthropist and also an advocate of historic preservation, and during her ownership she maintained the house in its historic condition, on both the interior and exterior. The 1900 census, which was probably recorded soon after the photo was taken, shows here living here alone, with the exception of three servants.

Alice lived here until her death in 1928, and for much of the 20th century the house was preserved by the Longfellow House Trust. This organization ultimately donated the property to the National Park Service, and it became the Longfellow National Historic Site. It has since been renamed the Longfellow House–Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site, and it is still open to visitors for guided tours. As these two photos show, the house has seen hardly any exterior change from this angle since the first photo was taken more than 120 years ago.