About Longfellow House–Washington’s Headquarters

George WashingtonThe Longfellow House was built in 1759 by John Vassall, a wealthy royalist. In 1774, he and his family hastily abandoned their estate and fled to British protection in Boston on the eve of the Revolutionary War. Starting in July 1775, George Washington used the house as his headquarters for almost nine months during the siege of Boston. During this time he was visited by Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, John Hancock, and other revolutionary leaders.

Andrew CraigieIn 1791 the house was purchased by Andrew Craigie, the Apothecary General during the revolutionary war. He added the side porches and extended the back of the house. He and his young wife, Elizabeth, became known for their parties. When Andrew died, he was deeply in debt, and Elizabeth had to turn her home into a boarding-house.

Henry Longfellow Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the renowned American poet, occupied the house from 1837 to 1882. At first, when he was a professor of languages at Harvard College, he rented rooms in the house. In 1843 he married Frances (“Fanny”) Appleton, and her wealthy father bought the house for them as a wedding present. Fanny wrote to her brother about the house: “...we are full of plans & projects with no desire, however, to change a feature of the old countenance which Washington has rendered sacred.”

Longfellow ColleaguesThe house was a favorite gathering place for many prominent philosophers and writers, including Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Charles Dickens. Longfellow’s descendants preserved the house and the poet’s furnishings and collections until 1962, when they presented them to the nation. The Longfellow House–Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site is now maintained by the National Park Service.

Downstairs the house is much as it was in Longfellow’s time and offers an exceptional glimpse of intellectual life in the 19th century. Yet we can also imagine the 18th-century visitors to the house, conferring with General Washington in his office. The collections, extensive archives, and historic grounds make this house a unique repository of American history.

Henry W. Longfellow Looks Back on “An April Day”

“An April Day” was one of Henry W. Longfellow’s first published poems, written during his last year in college in 1825-26. He included it with other early work in the volume Voices of the Night, published in 1839, two years after he first moved into Craigie House as a college professor.

An April Day

    When the warm sun, that brings
Seed-time and harvest, has returned again,
’T is sweet to visit the still wood, where springs
    The first flower of the plain.

    I love the season well,
When forest glades are teeming with bright forms,
Nor dark and many-folded clouds foretell
    The coming-on of storms.

    From the earth’s loosened mould
The sapling draws its sustenance, and thrives;
Though stricken to the heart with winter’s cold,
    The drooping tree revives.

    The softly-warbled song
Comes from the pleasant woods, and colored wings
Glance quick in the bright sun, that moves along
    The forest openings.

    When the bright sunset fills
The silver woods with light, the green slope throws
Its shadows in the hollows of the hills,
    And wide the upland glows.

    And when the eve is born,
In the blue lake the sky, o’er-reaching far,
Is hollowed out, and the moon dips her horn,
    And twinkles many a star.

    Inverted in the tide
Stand the gray rocks, and trembling shadows throw,
And the fair trees look over, side by side,
    And see themselves below.

    Sweet April! many a thought
Is wedded unto thee, as hearts are wed;
Nor shall they fail, till, to its autumn brought,
    Life’s golden fruit is shed.

In that first collection Longfellow wrote of his early poems:
Some have found their way into schools, and seem to be successful. Others lead a vagabond and precarious existence in the corners of newspapers; or have changed their names and run away to seek their fortunes beyond the sea. I say, with the Bishop of Avranches on a similar occasion: “I cannot be displeased to see these children of mine, which I have neglected, and almost exposed, brought from their wanderings in lanes and alleys, and safely lodged, in order to go forth into the world together in a more decorous garb.”