Historical and Cultural Collections

The historical and cultural collections at Longfellow House - Washington's Headquarters National Historic Site span a wide range of subjects. Included are Japanese and Chinese objects, Arts and Crafts items, archeological pieces, architectural elements, and more.
A Japanese kimono and fan, and Asian bronze and ceramic works collected by Charles A. Longfellow.
A Japanese kimono and fan, and Asian bronze and ceramic pieces collected by Charles A. Longfellow during his travels to Japan, China, and other parts of Asia.

Asian Collections

The Japanese and Chinese collections reflect generations of interest in Asian art, culture, and literature. The Longfellows' Asian collections are significant because of their provenance and context, and provide insights into the importance of international art to one nineteenth century family.

The site's Japanese collections reflect transformations in both Japanese and American culture. After the Meiji Restoration in 1868, Japanese culture became increasingly westernized. In turn, late nineteenth century Americans' lives were transformed by the increased availability of Japanese imports and travel. A "Japan Craze" spread through Boston and beyond in the period between 1870 and 1890.

The collections include a rich assortment of silk kimono, obi, and other Japanese textiles, including some outfits custom designed for Charles Longfellow. Other early Meiji-era items include atlases, printed books, watercolors of Noh theater productions, and scrolls. Charles Longfellow's papers include over 350 photographs, including rare images of the Ainu people.

Charles Longfellow's sitting room, decorated with Japanese objects.
Charles Longfellow's sitting room at 105 Brattle Street, with Japanese fan-paintings on the ceiling.

Charles Longfellow, Henry W. Longfellow's oldest child, collected a wide range of ceramics, textiles, bronzes, and paintings during his twenty month sojourn in Japan from June, 1871 until March, 1873. He shipped more than twenty crates of furnishings and decorative arts to his family in Cambridge.

Soon after his return from Japan, Charles and his cousin Alexander Wadswoth Longfellow Jr. decorated his sitting room in the Longfellow House with many of his finds, covering the ceiling with Japanese painted fans, and displaying prints and furniture in the room.

Grueby tile.
c. 1910
Arts and Crafts Grueby tile.
c. 1910

Arts and Crafts Collection

The museum collections reveal Alice Longfellow's keen interest in the Arts and Crafts movement in England and the Boston area, as reflected in books, pottery, jewelry, and furnishings.

In 1897, Alice's cousin Alexander Wadsworth Longfellow Jr. was one of the founding members of the Society of Arts and Crafts, Boston. Alice became a member of the Society in 1901.

Detail of library column and molding.
Architectural detail from the Longfellow House library, showing column capital and dentil molding.

Architectural Collection

This collection holds roughly 300 architectural items dating from the eighteenth to the twentieth century. All items are from the Longfellow House, Carriage House, or formal garden and grounds. Included are shutters, ornamental finials, hardware, doors, and fencing.

Archeological dig in the Longfellow garden.
Archaeological dig in the Longfellow garden

Archeology Collection

The archeology collection numbers over 22,000 artifacts resulting from test digs and formal archeological excavations in the garden, grounds, and house basement. It includes prehistoric artifacts as well as material from the eighteenth through twentieth century. Among the holdings are blown bottle glass, porcelain, tools, and clay pipes.

Last updated: April 9, 2018

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Cambridge, MA 02138


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