Home Dealers Calendar Articles Fine Art Database About AFA Login/Register
Home | Articles | Longfellow National Historic Site: 30th Anniversary & Rededication, Cambridge, Massachusetts

An enthusiastic recitation of the well-loved poem "Paul Revere's Ride," penned in 1860 by Henry W. Longfellow (1807-1882), inspired a congressional audience to allocate $1.64 million to historic restorations in 1998. The orator was Massachusetts Senator Edward M. Kennedy, whose purpose was to draw attention to the poet's stately Georgian mansion, built in 1759 and in need of conservation. The Longfellow House then became one of the first sites to be chosen for inclusion in the Save America's Treasures program, a national initiative to preserve culturally significant structures and collections.

Begun by former First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton in 1998 and administered through the National Park Service and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Save America's Treasures has generated enormous support from the public and private sectors. The Longfellow House, a National Historic Site since 1972, has received almost $1 million for the conservation of its most "at risk" collections. Projects have included regilding the frame on a Gilbert Stuart portrait and the complex restoration of an eighteenth-century French mantel clock.

Three years of rehabilitation resulted in a celebration this September when over 400 invited guests that included political and cultural luminaries gathered at the Longfellow House for a grand rededication. In the wake of the 9-11 anniversary, the seven distinguished speakers, including Senators Kennedy and Clinton, referenced the American essence of Longfellow's work and the significance of his pre–Revolutionary War–era home. And while the great bard’s poems are not historically accurate (Revere didn’t actually make the entire famed ride), former Poet Laureate of America Robert Pinsky pointed out that Longfellow understood the importance of creating a national mythology. "We needed one in order to become a nation," he acknowledged.

After three years of intensive restoration, the Longfellow National Historic Site was reopened in June and rededicated in September. Besides being the residence of General George Washington and Henry W. Longfellow, the house has played host to the likes of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Charles Dickens, Julia Ward Howe, and most recently, Senators Edward M. Kennedy and Hillary Rodham Clinton, historian David McCullough, and poet Robert Pinsky.

Biographer David McCullough noted that the Longfellow House, situated on historic Brattle Street dubbed "Tory's Row" in the eighteenth century for its English allegiance, served for nine months as George Washington’s Revolutionary War headquarters and residence. "It's an authentic, incomparable American treasure," stated McCullough.

After a musical prelude by members of the Boston Pops conducted by Keith Lockhart, Museum Manager James Shea, who oversees the site, presented Senator Kennedy with a Wedgwood plate depicting the Longfellow House. Shea admits he "bought it on eBay."

Tours of the house include displays of several recent donations along with works of art resurrected from storage through conservation funds provided by Save America's Treasures. About 200 American and European paintings on view, mostly acquired between the 1830s and 1928 by two generations of the Longfellow family, represent such artists as John Kensett, Eastman Johnson, George Healey, Gilbert Stuart, Mather Brown, J. Appleton Brown, Anna Klumpke, Albert Bierstadt, and Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot. Among the recent gifts on display is a luminist oil, Dana’s Beach by Ernest Longfellow, the poet’s son.

Another of Longfellow's sons, Charley, was largely responsible for the hundreds of Asian artifacts throughout the home, including the earliest-acquired major collection of Japanese art in the Boston area. During his stay in Japan from June 1871--three years after the Meiji Restoration and the opening of Japan to foreigners--to March 1873, Charley accumulated ceramics, textiles, paintings, lacquer furniture, fans, screens, bronzes, and photographs. Marilyn Richardson, editor of the Longfellow House Bulletin, notes, "The collection is particularly significant because these objects were obtained in Japan before many Westerners arrived there. They were purchased out of sheer enthusiasm for their beauty and to be used in the family home."

The Save America's Treasures initiative brought this six-panel Japanese screen (partially shown) by Kano Moritsune (1829-1866) out of a century of storage; it is now displayed in Longfellow's library. The screen, one of several collected by the poet's family, was restored by conservation specialists T. K. McClintock, Ltd., of Somerville, Mass. Photo courtesy of National Park Service.

Recently, decorative arts specialists have combed over and reinterpreted pieces in the collection. Conservator John Driggers of Robert Mussey Associates examined a piece known as the "Heidelberg chest" and discovered it was neither a chest nor from Heidelberg. What was once thought to be an eighteenth-century German secretary turns out to have been enhanced and rebuilt in the nineteenth century. A handwritten note stating "Cabinet at the Castle of Heidelberg" was probably a dealer's claim over a century ago; yet its intrinsic value lies in its worth to Longfellow, who prized the piece as a gift from a favorite aunt.

The structure of the house has also been rehabilitated--from the addition of HVAC climate control to the cleaning and stabilization of Victorian-era (and earlier) wallpapers. Scalamandre provided a generous $30,000 gift toward the reproduction of the dining room’s stunning drapery fabric, based on original hangings. And while major projects such as cataloguing 9,000 historic photographs (completed with a $75,000 donation from the Fidelity Foundation) are now finished, the work is ongoing. Next up for this dedicated group of National Park Service employees is the conservation of the 10,000-volume library.

Antiques and Fine Art is the leading site for antique collectors, designers, and enthusiasts of art and antiques. Featuring outstanding inventory for sale from top antiques & art dealers, educational articles on fine and decorative arts, and a calendar listing upcoming antiques shows and fairs.