Long before TV shows and social media kept us entertained, Cambridge’s Fireside Poets were churning out literature that held the nation spellbound. In the 19th century, families gathered around the hearth as they read the works of American poets like Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, William Cullen Bryant, John Greenleaf Whittier, James Russell Lowell, Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., and even occasionally Ralph Waldo Emerson, who gave them a much-needed respite from day-to-day life and a strong message of morality. They were the first group of American poets to truly rival their well-established British counterparts. While these literary giants may be gone, their words and Boston-area homes still stand and are open for visiting and admiring. Here’s all you need to know about the Fireside Poets houses in Cambridge.
Visiting the Fireside Poets Houses
Longfellow National Historic Site
Fireside Poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow resided in this home on Brattle Street (where he wrote Paul Revere’s Ride) for 50 years, but the building also housed another famous American before the bard. General George Washington used the home as his headquarters during the tumultuous war years of 1775-76. Longfellow was first a boarder in the home before his father-in-law purchased the home for him as a wedding gift. Visit the Longfellow National Historic Site and see more than 10,000 books that Longfellow owned on display as well as 19th century furnishings and artwork. Photo above by @cambridgeusa on Instagram.
The Old Manse
Picture this: it’s the morning of April 18, 1775 and the inhabitants of the Old Manse, built by the Emerson family on the Concord River, see two groups of soldiers, the scrappy local Minutemen (ready in a minute’s notice, naturally) and the pristine red-backed British military ready to square off in your backyard. This became the famous “shot heard ‘round the world” and the first battle of the American Revolution. In 1834, Ralph Waldo Emerson would write his essay “Nature” in the home.
The John Greenleaf Whittier Home and Museum
Stand in the Amesbury home where Fireside Poet (and noted Quaker and anti-slavery proponent) John Greenleaf Whittier wrote most of his poetry until his death in 1892. The John Greenleaf Whittier Home and Museum is a beautiful New England farmhouse and now a National Historic Landmark and open for touring.
While the Cambridge home of Fireside poet James Russell Lowell now serves as the residence of Harvard University’s President and thus not open for tours, the façade of the Georgina building deserves a look. Elmwood, which was built in 1767, and originally sat on 100 acres of land, also housed noted traitor Benedict Arnold and Elbridge Gerry, who was sworn into office as Vice President of the United States in the home in 1813.