Massachusetts Hall (1718)

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Harvard College was founded in 1636, making it the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. The oldest surviving building on the Harvard campus is Massachusetts Hall, located in Harvard Yard in Cambridge and built between 1718 and 1720. It was designed by the successive Harvard Presidents John Leverett and Benjamin Wadsworth. Originally a dorm, it housed many famous students during the colonial period, including John Adams, John Hancock, Samuel Adams, Elbridge Gerry and James Otis. In 1722, when Thomas Hollis donated a quadrant and telescope, Massachusetts Hall also became the location of an informal observatory. During the Revolutionary War, the building was occupied by soldiers of the Continental Army. It has served many uses over the years, currently being the offices of the President of Harvard University and other administrators, who may soon take over the remaining areas of the building currently used as dormitory space. Please take a look at today’s companion post, about Yale’s Connecticut Hall, at Historic Buildings of Connecticut.

Vassall-Craigie-Longfellow House (1759)

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The Vassall-Craigie-Longfellow House has important associations with both the Revolutionary War and nineteenth century American literature. This impressive Georgian-style mansion was built in 1759 by Maj. John Vassall on what is now Brattle Street in Cambridge. The area was known as Tory Row because of the many houses built there by loyalists, like Vassall. When anti-Tory sentiment rose during the outbreak of the Revolutionary War in 1774, Vassall and his wife, who was the sister of the royal lieutenant governor of Massachusetts, fled to Boston and eventually left for England. The abandoned house was occupied by the Marblehead Regiment in 1775 and then became the headquarters of General George Washington from July 1775 to April 1776 (during the Siege of Boston).

After the war, the house came into the possession of Andrew Craigie, who had been the Continental Army’s first Apothecary General. He added porches to the sides of the house and an extension on the back. When he died, in 1819, he left his wife, Elizabeth in debt. Over the next two decades, she would take in boarders to make ends meet, including many Harvard students. In 1837, one of her boarders was Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, then a professor of modern languages at Harvard. In 1843, when Longfellow married Fanny Appleton, her father, the wealthy industrialist Nathan Appleton, acquired the house to give the newlyweds as a wedding gift. Longfellow would live there until his death in 1882, passing the property on to his children. His daughter, Alice Longfellow, later commissioned a new garden in the Colonial Revival style.

In 1913, his surviving children established the Longfellow House Trust to preserve the house as a monument to their father and George Washington, as well as to Georgian architecture. In 1962, the house became a National Historic Landmark and the Trust donated it to the National Park Service and it is today open to the public as the Longfellow National Historic Site.