Monthly Archives: March 2008

The 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.

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The House of the Seven Gables (1668)

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The House of the Seven Gables,
aka/ the Capt. John-Turner House or the Turner-Ingersoll Mansion
Few houses in the world have the fame and literary associations of the House of the Seven Gables. The earliest section was built on Derby Street in Salem, facing Salem Harbor in 1668 by Capt. John Turner I, a prosperous merchant. He then added a south ell to the house in 1677. After his death in 1680, his widow, Elizabeth Roberts took charge of the household, marrying Charles Redford in 1684. By the time of Redford’s death, in 1691, John Turner II was old enough to take charge of the estate. In the early eighteenth century, it was this John Turner who would have the house decorated in the new Georgian style. The third John Turner inherited the house after his father’s death in 1742, but he made few alterations to it, as his primary residence was about a half a mile away. John Turner III eventually experienced a financial decline and sold the house to Capt. Samuel Ingersoll in 1782. He would make a number of changes to the house, removing several of its gables and brining it in line with the taste of the Federal Period.

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.

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