A Day of Sunshine.

“Listen, my children, and you shall hear, of the midnight ride of Paul Revere” -Paul Revere’s Ride, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

There is no shortage of history in New England. This much has become evident to me during the five months since I moved to Massachusetts. Today I took a tour of a home that was built in 1759, that quartered General George Washington as he began to organize what would become the Colonial Army, and that was also the house of one of America’s preeminent poets. On a beautiful Saturday afternoon I was able to explore yet another piece of this nation’s past, the benefit of living in a place where nearly four hundred years of history wait to be discovered by anyone with time and curiosity.

This weekend, with two dear friends visiting from Philadelphia, I was able to play tour guide around Boston (one of my favorite things to do for family and friends!). My friends had specifically asked for a tour of Harvard University, and anything else interesting in the area. After a trip back to New Jersey last weekend for a family event, my original plan was to take it easy today. Beyond showing my friends around Cambridge and Boston, I had very little planned for this weekend and no intention of writing a post. Out of habit, however, I threw my camera gear in my trunk, reasoning that you never known when a good photographic opportunity will present itself. Then, while driving to Harvard to meet my friends, I saw the perfect place to take them as part of their tour: the Longfellow House – Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site.

Built in 1759 by John Vassal, a Loyalist who did not support independence from Britain, the house was vacated by the Vassal family shortly before the American Revolution. The empty house was occupied by General George Washington from 1775-1776 as his headquarters in Boston. After the war, the again-vacant house was purchased by Andrew Craigie, the first Apothecary general of the US Army (he was the first person to be responsible for producing, storing, and distributing medicine for the American military- think of him as our first national pharmacist). The Craigie family would take in boarders to help supplement their income, and one renter was a young Harvard professor named Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. After the Craigie family sold the home to wealthy Boston businessman Nathan Appleton, the house would again enter Professor Longfellow’s life. It was given to him as a wedding gift from Mr. Appleton when the professor married Nathan Appleton’s daughter Frances. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is one of the preeminent poets in American literature. He wrote numerous novels and poems (and the title of this post is named after one of my favorite Longfellow poems). Almost all of us are familiar from childhood with Paul Revere’s Ride, Longfellow’s 1860 poem which recounts the story of Revere’s nighttime journey to warn the towns of Lexington and Concord of the impending British attack in 1775. The Longfellow family resided in the house until 1913. In 1962 it became part of the National Park Service and was opened as a public museum (via Wikipedia).

2012 Honda Accord coupe, in a parking lot.
Despite most of my New Jersey trip being occupied by a family event, I did make some time to squeeze in a long overdue wash and wax for my car.

 

The Inn of Cape May, a Victorian Hotel on Beach Drive.
During my trip to New Jersey, I stayed at a very unique hotel- The Inn of Cape May. Built in 1894, its Victorian architecture is noteworthy- it is on the US Register of Historic Places. It is also known as one of the most haunted locations in Cape May. Alas, I have no close encounters of the paranormal to report back.
View of the Cape May beach through a hotel window. A street is in the foreground.
I did, however, have a fantastic view of the ocean from my hotel room.
Sunset photograph over the Atlantic Ocean. Trees, in silhouette, are in the foreground.
On my last night in Cape May before I headed back to Boston, Mother Nature offered a beautiful gift of a sunset.
Map of Longfellow House, west of Boston.
Today’s destination: The Longfellow House – Washington’s Headquarters in Cambridge, MA.
View of the Star Market that sits above the Massachusetts Turnpike.
Driving to Cambridge on the Massachusetts Turnpike, I passed this oddity: a Star Market supermarket that was built over the highway. In the 1960s planners envisioned a host of businesses, hotels, and residences that would be constructed above the Mass Pike, creating a new standard of urban design. The idea never caught on, however, as only two buildings would be built over the highway: this supermarket and a hotel about a mile further east. You can read more about this oddity on the WGBH website.
2012 Honda Accord coupe and 2015 Honda Civic EX-T in an underground parking garage.
My friends arrived in their 2016 Honda Civic EX-T, a car I had introduced in a previous post. Blú (the Civic) and DH got acquainted while we explored Cambridge.

 

Harvard Yard, looking toward University Hall. Crowds of tourist fill the lawn in front of the building.
Our first stop: Harvard Yard. It’s tourist season at Harvard. Crowds of visitors stand in front of University Hall.
View of hallway in Widener Library. A chandelier hangs from the ceilings a door is in the center of the room, and two tapestries depicting WWI are on either side of the door.
As I have described before, Widener Library at Harvard is an opulent building, a palace for learning and knowledge. The library is restricted to Harvard ID card holders- faculty, staff, students, and alumni. ID card holders can bring up to four guests into the library, so of COURSE I took my friends inside! It’s one of the highlights of the campus.
Wall of Memorial Church at Harvard. A piece of white stone is attached to the brick wall. The inscription below it reads: "This stone from the fabric of St. Savior's Church, Southwark, London, now the Cathedral Church of that Diocese commemorates the Baptism of John Harvard there on November 6, 1607.
Every time I visit Harvard, I seem to learn something new. One of my friends spotted this on the side of Memorial Church, the primary chapel in Harvard Yard. The white stone is a piece of the church in England where John Harvard was baptized. Despite my 13-year association with the school, I never noticed this until today.
View of Christ Church in Cambridge. A tree branch is in the foreground.
On the way to lunch we passed Christ Church, built in 1760. George and Martha Washington worshipped here during their time in Boston. Fun fact- the pipe organ is a replacement. The original pipe organ was melted down to make bullets during the American Revolution.
Entrance to Cambridge Burial Grounds. A gate is in the foreground.
Near Christ Church is the First Parish Church in Cambridge, established in 1633. Between the two churches is the Cambridge Old Burial Ground, established in 1635. It was the sole cemetery in Cambridge for nearly two centuries, holding the remains of Harvard presidents, citizens who lived in poverty, and many people in between. As silent testimony of the blight on American history that was slavery, the cemetery also holds the remains of several slaves (as slavery was legal in Massachusetts until 1780).
Roasted chicken, french fries, and a grilled avocado.
My reward for a good tour- my friends treated me to lunch at Border Cafe, a great Tex-Mex restaurant in Harvard Square. While my chicken fajitas were great (as always), my friend Emily stole the show with the Chicken Bandera- mesquite grilled chicken, served with shoestring fries, mango salsa, and a grilled avocado. I know what I’m ordering next time!
Sign on Brattle Street beside a brick wall.
As we walked to the Longfellow House, we passed this sign along Brattle Street. This section of the road was known as “Tory Row.” Before the war against England, several families who were loyal to the British crown had their homes here. In the months leading up to the American Revolution, angry crowds would protest outside the houses, telling their inhabitants to leave the colonies. Despite the fact that these “Loyalists” were born in the Americas, they were viewed with hostility by other colonists as British agents. Each of these families (including the Vassal family that owned the Longfellow House) left for England.
The Longfellow House, view from front lawn.
The Longfellow House. When I was a graduate student at Harvard, I lived exactly two blocks from this house. Despite that fact, today was my first visit to the museum.
Jar filled with quill pens. A sign says "QUILL PENS $2.95"
I love gift shops at the places I visit! I also can easily spend too much money there. I was sorely tempted to buy a quill pen for my desk at work.
Sink in laundry room with wash board in sink.
Our tour began in the back of the house, in the laundry room. The back half of the house was added by the Craigie family after the American Revolution, and the plumbing and electricity was added by the Longfellow family later in the 19th century.
Dining room in the Longfellow House.
The Longfellow House’s dining room. All of the furniture and decorations are as Henry Longfellow and his family had them. Nothing you see is a reproduction.
Study in the Longfellow House.
When George Washington resided here, this room was the chamber for his war council. Henry Longfellow’s use was much more peaceful- it was his study. The portrait of Henry Longfellow on the left was painted by his son, who was an accomplished artist. The books you see are among the 10,000 volumes that Henry owned, a collection which is now overseen by the National Park Service.
Exhibit of drawing by Frances Appleton, Henry's wife.
An exhibit of drawings by Frances Appleton, Henry Longfellow’s second wife. Despite his great success as a writer, Henry endured tragedy in his personal life. His first wife died while giving birth (not uncommon in those days) and his second wife, Frances, died in a horrific accident when her dress caught fire. The loss of his beloved Frances would drive away Longfellow’s inspiration as a writer. The remainder of his career would be spent as a translator.
Main staircase. A grandfather clock is on the landing, and several paintings are on the walls.
The main staircase. Note the bust of George Washington- it was purchased and installed there by Henry Longfellow. He wanted everyone who visited his home to know that Washington had stayed there.
Library of the Longfellow House. A desk is in the foreground, a piano is in the background, and numerous bookshelves line the walls.
The library. While it might seem very solemn, our tour guide told us that the Longfellow house was filled with activity. This room would be ornately decorated during the Christmas holidays, for instance. And the family’s cats enjoyed sitting on the piano and on the desk whenever the family was in the room. Visitors to the home described the house as full of running children, noise, laughter, and animals.
Books from the writer Dante, on a bookshelf.
Beyond his poetry, most Americans will have been exposed to Longfellow for his translations. If you read the Italian poet Dante Aligheri in school, chances are you read Longfellow’s translation. After the death of his wife, he invited a group of his friends to assist him in translating Dante’s work into English. The group called themselves “The Dante Club.” On a related note, a 2007 historical fiction murder mystery, The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl, imagines Longfellow and his friends as a group of reluctant detectives who find parallels between a series of murders in Cambridge and the works of Dante that they are translating. It’s a fun summer read, and will also help you appreciate the history of the time.
Purple flower in the gardens behind the house.
Henry and his wife Frances established a garden behind the house. It exists to this day, and is carefully maintained by the National Park Service.
Exterior view of Lizzy's ice cream parlor. A white plastic cow lounges on the roof, holding an ice cream cone.
Before saying goodbye to my friends for their return to Philadelphia, we made one last stop. No trip to Cambridge is complete without a visit to Lizzy’s Ice Cream! I ordered a frappe (an extra thick milkshake), and my friends each got dishes of the homemade ice cream. On a beautiful day in Cambridge, you can’t go wrong by stopping by the lounging cow…

I had a wonderful time with my friends on a gorgeous summer day. The Longfellow House – Washington Headquarters is open every  year from late May through the end of October. During those months, you can visit from 9:30 am – 5:00 pm. Tours of the house run every hour on the hour. In addition, the park rangers offer 20-minute Express tours of the first floor of the home if you are pressed for time. If you are looking for a longer visit, the rangers will not only take you on a tour of the house, but important historical sites in Cambridge as well. Best of all, the Longfellow House is totally free! Thanks for coming along on another journey down the open road ahead!

‘Til next time.

 

 

5 thoughts on “A Day of Sunshine.

  1. Awesome stuff! I admit I got sidetracked googling around about the grocery store built over the freeway. Fascinated by that for some reason, haha. I know in Oklahoma somewhere there’s a McDonald’s over the freeway. Hope you’ve had a great weekend.

    Liked by 1 person

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