Library

Black and white photograph of Victorian interior with ornate furniture including bookcase and table piled with books. Interior of Victorian library with ornate furniture including large bookcase and grand piano in foreground.
Library, circa 1871. Buildings and Grounds Photograph Collection (3008-2-2-11)
Library, 2017. NPS Photo

The spacious library stretches out past the original footprint of the house. Four windows and an exterior door open onto the eastern veranda, with views to the east lawn and linden tree. Two small passages connect into the study and central hall; at the other end, a door opens into the Blue Entry.




 
Manuscript letter dated Cambridge April 1776 and signed G Washington
This letter from Washington to Governor Cooke of Rhode Island was likely written by one of Washington's secretaries in this room in April 1776.

H.W.L. Dana Papers

Military Office

During 1775 and 1776 this room was used as a staff room and writing room for George Washington's aides. It would have been the busiest room in the house as Washington and his aides struggled to issue orders and handle the crush of correspondence coming and going. The Continental Army did not have the benefit of a supporting Department of Defense; its administrative functions were carried out in this room. While here, Washington identified the characteristics required in his subordinates to perform these critical duties.

 

Renovated Ballroom

As part of his expansion of the original Georgian structure in about 1793, Andrew Craigie enlarged this room towards the north. The library retains most of the changes made at that time. Craigie's changes to the house reflect the Federal style. The room was lengthened, and two fluted columns with Corinthian capitals supporting a heavy entablature were added in the middle of the long wall. He added the Blue Entry behind the dining room to keep the house square and to serve as an impressive entrance to his new grand room for entertaining.

 
Tall, ornately carved bookcase. Upper case with arched glass windows showing four shelves of books. Lower case with ornately carved wooden doors.

NPS Photo / David Bohl

Books that Crowd My Shelf

Six massive oaken bookcases line the outer walls of the library. They hold many of Henry Longfellow's foreign-language books: the nineteenth-century French poets in elaborate gold-tooled bindings, the Italian poets in white vellum, and the German poets in green leather. The 675 books on exhibit in the room today are a small fraction of the poet's library. Longfellow's 1875 poem "Travels by the Fireside" emphasizes the importance of his books, for personal pleasure as well as scholarly study:

The ceaseless rain is falling fast,
And yonder gilded vane,
Immovable for three days past,
Points to the misty main,

It drives me in upon myself
And to the fireside gleams,
To pleasant books that crowd my shelf,
And still more pleasant dreams,

I read whatever bards have sung
Of lands beyond the sea,
And the bright days when I was young
Come thronging back to me.

An oak Elizabethan Revival library table with green baize panel stands in the center of the room. It was purchased by the Longfellows in the 1850s. Historic photographs make it clear that this table was often covered with piles of books that overflowed the shelves.

As Longfellow wrote in his poem "Twelfth Night," "The busts of Grecian bards sublime / Smiled from their antique oaken cases." Busts of Homer, Sophocles, and Aeschylus still sit on top of three bookcases. They are complemented by a standing statue of Sappho by Thomas Crawford, a gift to Henry Longfellow by Crawford's widow in 1861.

 
Watercolor of a young woman in long brown dress playing a piano in front of a window.
Watercolor of Alice Longfellow at the piano by Ernest Longfellow, 1870

Music Room

The Longfellows used the room for formal and informal family gatherings, musical events, children's programs, parties, and dances. The family appreciated good music, and Henry Longfellow recorded several evenings devoted to performances by guests to the home:

A small musical party at our house.... We had Chopin, Schubert, De Meyer, Liszt, and some German songs. A delightful evening. We lighted the library for the first time... Miss Loring has true musical genius and evidently feels intensely all she plays. She rather scorned our piano-forte, having at home one of Chickering’s Grand instruments.
— Henry W. Longfellow's journal, June 3, 1846

Mr. and Mrs. Waterston came out with Ernst Perabo, the young musician; and we had a charming musical evening. He played Beethoven divinely. I never heard such expression given to the music of the great master...
— Henry W. Longfellow's journal, April 30, 1868

In 1897, Alice Longfellow replaced her parents' Chickering piano with the 1888 Model C Steinway grand piano in the room today.

Last updated: January 30, 2018

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