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One of maines finest minds 870a84d4

One of Maine’s Finest Minds

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is an esteemed poet from the 19th century who devoted his life to education and the art of prose. His most famous works are “Paul Revere’s Ride”, The Song of Hiawatha, and Evangeline. The home he grew up in still stands in Portland and is the oldest building on the peninsula. Most of the Longfellow family’s original furnishings and belongings still occupy the home, which has been converted into a museum that you can visit soon.

Longfellow’s Incredible and Tragic Life

Longfellow spent his early years in Portland, where he attended school and was reportedly an incredible student. He went on to study at Bowdoin College at the tender age of fifteen. His early acceptance into college speaks volumes of his heightened intelligence, but it also didn’t hurt that his grandfather founded the college, and his father was a trustee. Here he met his lifelong friend and novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne, who is best known for The Scarlet Letter.

Like many great artists, Longfellow’s life was burdened by tragedies. When he was in his mid-twenties, he was offered the position of Smith Professorship of Modern Languages at Harvard University. The job stipulated he would have to travel abroad to study German, Dutch, Danish, Swedish, Finnish, and Icelandic. While away, his first wife, Mary Potter, suffered a miscarriage and subsequently passed away. 

Longfellow went on to remarry Frances “Fanny” Appleton, who he loved dearly, but she tragically passed away when her dress caught on fire in their home. Longfellow attempted to save her but was unsuccessful. He suffered terrible scars on his face, which he hid by growing out the bushy beard he is remembered by today.

The Wadsworth–Longfellow Home

General Peleg Wadsworth built the home in 1785, and it remained in the family until Henry’s younger sister died in 1901. Her will stated that she wanted the house to be passed to the Maine Historical Society to be preserved as a memorial to her famous brother and their family. This proactive thinking is why so much of the family’s original belongings are still intact.

Besides being home to literary royalty, the house is significant because it was the first all-brick dwelling in Portland and is part of the National Register of Historic Places. The home reopens to the public in May, and a tour is only $15.

An Oasis of Peace

Behind the Longfellow Home is a lush garden that has been meticulously maintained by the Longfellow Garden Club, created way back in 1926. Unlike the home, the garden is free to visit and is a welcome escape from the hustle and bustle of downtown Portland. There are winding paths throughout the foliage and many spots to sit and relax or enjoy a cup of coffee.

Longfellow Arboretum at Payson Park

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow has contributed much more to Portland than I’m sure he could ever realize. In 1974, the Longfellow Garden Club was granted 2.5 acres of land on the west side of Payson Park to set up an arboretum, a botanical garden dedicated to trees. The Longfellow Arboretum was established two years later and is home to well over 100 different types of trees, both native and exotic. The safe and well-traveled “squirrel paths” that criss-cross through the forest are open to the public.

-Written by Stacy Oswald & Photo by Gavin McGruddy