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.
The famous house in Concord known as the “Old Manse,” has associations with the Revolutionary War and with two of America’s greatest literary figures. It was built in 1770 as a “manse”, or parsonage, for the town’s minister, William Emerson. Emerson was there, on April 19, 1775, when the Revolutionary War began at the Old North Bridge, located just behind the Manse property (and now part of Minute Man National Historical Park). Emerson went on to serve as a chaplain with the Continental Army, but died of a fever in October 1776, during the Fort Ticonderoga Expedition. In 1778, Ezra Ripley became Concord’s new minister. He boarded at the Old Manse and in 1780 married William Emerson’s widow, Phebe Bliss Emerson. William Emerson’s son, also named William, became a minister. His son was the famous Transcendentalist, Ralph Waldo Emerson, who lived in the Old Manse, his ancestral home, from 1834-1835, before purchasing his own house in Concord. It was during his residence in the Old Manse that Emerson wrote the first draft of his classic work, Nature.
Ezra Ripley died in 1841 and from 1842 to 1845, the Old Manse was rented by Nathaniel Hawthorne and his new wife, Sophia Peabody. It was during this period that Hawthorne would write many of the stories featured in his collection, Mosses from an Old Manse, including his introductory description of the Old Manse that would help make the building famous. In 1846, the Hawthorne’s left the Manse because Ezra Ripley’s son, Samuel Ripley, returned to live in his childhood home, although he died the following year. His wife, Sarah Alden Bradford Ripley, who had mastered numerous subjects and seven languages, lived on for another two decades, exchanging views with many of the intellectual leaders of the times. She lived through the Civil War, which claimed the life of her younger son, Lt. Ezra Ripley.
When Sarah and Samuel Ripley’s granddaughter, Sarah Ripley Thayer Ames, died in 1939, according to her wishes the house and its contents were sold to The Trustees of Reservations. The Old Manse is now a museum where visitors can tour this National Historic Landmark.
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.