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Hop aboard the Wadsworth Longfellow house for a historic and cultural glimpse into a 19th-century family house. Boyhood home of poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, three generations of his family lived there until 1901. Visit this time capsule exploring this remarkable family 19-century style and its preserved universe.
A pinch of History
- General Peleg Wadsworth Longfellow, Henry’s grandfather (1748-1849) built this family house in 1785-1786.
- This is the oldest brick structure on Portland’s peninsula and was one of Maine’s 1st
- Henry’s bust is the only non-British writer to stand in Westminster Abbey.
A family house from the 19th century
Peleg and Elizabeth Bartlett Wadsworth (Henry’s grandparents) moved into this two-story brick house with their six children, four more would be born later in the current Zilpah’s bedroom. The property also included a store, a barn, a garden, and an orchard. After the American War, Peleg pursued a political career: elected senator, he later became congressman for Massachusetts.
George Washington’s pictures in the house is a testimony of Peleg’s admiration for the 1st president. When the country mourned him, Peleg brought back a piece of George’s hair for his daughter Elizabeth.
Zilpah Wadsworth and Stephen Longfellow (Henry’s parents) inherited the house in 1807. When a kitchen fire burnt the roof in 1814, they remodeled and extended it adding the third floor. Indeed, they needed more space to welcome their eight children (Six of seven Henry’s siblings were born in his mom’s bedroom).
Historic and cultural heritage
Entering the house is a unique glimpse into the 19th century as all original furniture has been preserved. Visitors can walk through the 1st floor to discover several functioning rooms: the parlor, the kitchen, the summer dining room and the dining/sitting room. Bedrooms are located on the 2d floor and the 3rd floor is closed to the public.
After dinner, kids used to gather in the kitchen to play and do their homework with their mother. Indeed it was the warmer place in the house as there were neither gas nor electricity in the other rooms.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the renewed poet (1807-1882)
Henry moved to his grandparents‘house a few weeks after his birth in 1807. As he grew, he developed his literary talent. As a child, he wrote in his father’s waiting room adjacent to the dining room. At age 13 he composed his first poem at his kid’s desk.
Inspired by his environment, including the view over the ocean at the time, he increased his writing. One day, looking out into the garden while seating in the summer dining room he wrote “The Rainy Day.”
After spending a few years in Europe studying languages and teaching at the college level, he moved to Cambridge. He taught romance languages at Harvard and returned to his home town, Portland, for annual family visits.
Top secret! One of the secrets of this house is hidden on the stairwell between the 2nd and 3rd floors. Recently, as the tapestry was removed, an autograph was discovered. This is young Henry’s handwriting.
Anne Wadsworth Longfellow, Henri’s younger sister (1810-1901)
At age 22, Anne married George Washington Pierce, Henry’s college friend. Three years later, she moved back to her parent’s house when her husband died from the typhus epidemic. She didn’t have children and would never get married again.
Anne inherited the house from her mother and had a special attachment to it. In 1851, she said that she was “[…] happier here than anywhere else. An affectionate presence seems to enfold me here…”
Anne was the last person to live in the house. She bequeathed the furnished house to Maine Historical Society requiring it to be transformed into a museum dedicated to her famous brother Henry. She wrote eight pages of instructions in order to preserve the house, including some specific guidelines for furniture.
Sounds like a time capsule into Wadsworth Longfellow’s family history?
- Location: 489 Congress St, Portland, ME 04101, USA.
- Hours: June-October: Monday-Saturday 10am-5pm. Sunday: 12pm-5pm
- Admission: $15
- Duration: I spent 1 hour to discover it.
- More information available at https://www.mainehistory.org/house_overview.shtml