A significant portion of Maine’s literary, political, and cultural history can all be found within the walls of the U.S. National Landmark, the Wadsworth-Longfellow House. Built between 1785 and 1786 by General Peleg Wadsworth, the Longfellow House carries the proud role of being the first brick dwelling in Portland as well as the oldest standing structure on the Portland Peninsula. One of the most important people associated with the Longfellow House is American poet Henry Longfellow, who gained international fame for his work, “Paul Revere’s Ride.” For over 35 years, Henry Longfellow grew up and worked in his family’s home. The last person to live there was Anne Longfellow Pierce (1819-1901), Henry's younger sister. Mrs. Pierce would go on to live in the house until her death in 1901. According to a deed she executed in 1895, the house passed to the Maine Historical Society after her death to be preserved as a memorial to her famous brother and their family. Nowadays, the Maine Historical Society operates a museum and archive within the historic Wadsworth–Longfellow House. The Museum's diverse collection features over 15,000 artifacts, and exhibits and galleries depict five centuries of life, history, and culture in Maine.
Backstory and Context
History of the Wadsworth and Longfellow Families
Born in 1748, General Peleg Wadsworth was a prominent American officer in the Revolutionary War, and when the war was in full swing in 1780, Peleg was given command of all the troops raised in defense of the Province of Maine.
After the war, Wadsworth bought 1.5 acres of land in 1784, where he built a store and then later the Wasworth-Longfellow House. Wadsworth and his wife had ten children, among them Henry Longfellow’s mother, Zilpah.
Henry Longfellow was born in 1807 as the second of eight children from his mother, Zilpah, and father Stephen Longfellow. Henry’s actual birth house in Portland was demolished in 1955, though he spent his childhood and early-adult life in the Wadsworth-Longfellow House. His first poem was published in the Portland Gazette in 1820.1
The Wadsworth–Longfellow House and Gardens
Other than a third story added in 1815 and various internal design changes, the house hasn’t changed much. When handed over to the Maine Historical Society, preservation efforts were undertaken to restore the house to its 1850s look and appeal.
Also, the Historical Society worked quickly to open the house as a museum and library. Henry Longfellow’s nephew and local architect Alexander Wadsworth helped renovate the house, and the library opened in 1907. By 1962, the house was designated as a National Historical Landmark, and four years later, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Visitors traveling to the Wadsworth-Longfellow House can discover a fascinating array of exhibits and artifacts pertaining to both the Longfellows as well as the 19th century Maine culture. Virtually all of the artifacts are completely original to the Longfellow and Wadsworth families, and many of the household furnishings showcases the cultural and technological changes as well as the common attitudes during the 19th century.
Traveling through the house, visitors can explore the parlor, the sitting room, kitchen, and acclaimed Front Hall, all of which were continually inhabited by a multitude of both adults and children at that time (remember, General Wadsworth and his wife had ten kids, Henry Longfellow was the second out of eight siblings).
Behind the house, the secluded Colonial Revival Garden endures as an oasis of tranquility and natural beauty in the heart of downtown Portland. Created by the Longfellow Garden Club in 1926, the garden features stunning landscaping and meandering paths ideal for pleasant walks.2