Orchard House is a home that many visitors feel they know before they even visit it. In 1857-8, Bronson Alcott, the Transcendentalist reformer and educator, purchased and combined two early eighteenth century houses, adding the smaller of the two to the rear of the main house and making many alterations to his new home. He named it “Orchard House” due to the property’s 12 acres of apple orchards. Alcott and his family made Orchard House their permanent home from 1858 to 1877. The house owes its greatest fame to fact that it was here, in 1868, that Bronson’s daughter, Louisa May Alcott, wrote the classic Little Women, loosely based on her own family. The house is now a museum, where visitors can learn about Alcott and see the room where Louisa wrote the famous book.
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.
The House of the Seven Gables,
Capt. Ingersoll and his son died at sea in 1804 and the house was later inherited by his only surviving child, Susannah Ingersoll, who was unusual for a woman at the time in being a businesswoman, active in real estate. She was the cousin of Nathaniel Hawthorne and it was during his visits with her that he would have learned of the home’s past. In 1851, Hawthorne published his famous novel, The House of the Seven Gables. Susannah Ingersoll died in 1858 and the house passed through many different owners, remaining vacant during part of this period. In 1908, the house was purchased by the philanthropist, Caroline O. Emmerton, who thus saved it from becoming a tenement. She enlisted the prominent early preservation architect Joseph Everett Chandler to restore it. She founded the House of Seven Gables Settlement Association and opened the house to the public in 1910, using the admission proceeds to support the Settlement. Visitor expectations based on Hawthorne’s novel influenced the restoration at the expense of strict historical accuracy, although this approach was not uncommon for early twentieth century colonial revival preservation efforts.
The house museum is often visited today as a popular tourist attraction and is part of a compound containing other historic buildings, acquired by Emmerton and her successors, and a Colonial Revival Garden. In 2007, the house was designated a National Historic Landmark. A pdf file is available of the National Historic Landmark Nomination form.