Longfellow House, Main Street, Aberdeen, South Dakota


Have you ever been so inspired by an author that you've decided to model your house after his? It's hard to imagine it today, but back in the early 20th century, Longfellow houses were a bit of a trend.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) was an American poet best known for Paul Revere's Ride and The Song of Hiawatha. In 1837 he was a young professor at Harvard and needed a place to room and board in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He chose the grand Georgian Revival on Brattle Street that was then known as Castle Craigie, and eventually his father-in-law bought the house for him.

For the Longfellows, the appeal of the house was that George Washington had slept there. From July 1775 to March 1776, Washington used the house as his base of operations. While the Longfellows lived there, it became a hub for famous guests. Longfellow himself would often serve as a tour guide for curious sightseers. By 1916, it was said to be the best known house in America, after Mount Vernon.

It spawned many duplicates, including a 1918 Sears, Roebuck kit version called the Magnolia. It was a four bedroom, 2,990 square feet plan. It was one of their more expensive models, costing about $6,000 to build. 

"Many will recognize a close resemblance in the illustration above to the famous residence at Cambridge, Mass. where the poet Longfellow competed his immortal works."

Although very grand for a Sears kit, the Magnolia was considerably smaller than the Longfellow house, which is 11,500 square feet. The Aberdeen, South Dakota version of the house decided to land somewhere in the middle of the two, at 5,996 square feet.

Aberdeen's version was built in 1909, designed by architect Franklin Ellerbe, for local banker and realtor W.D. Swain. The house is now part of the Highlands Historic District

We know the exterior is trying its best to be a scaled down version of the original. What about the interior?

I know what you're thinking. The entry hall seems a little plain for this house. But, its role model was pretty plain, too, in 1909:

As for the parlor...

It makes a good attempt to capture some of the grandeur in this composite photo of the original:

The dining room comes the closest to the spirit of the Cambridge house, pictured below it:

Meanwhile, the Cambridge kitchen...

was left behind a century ago:

In 1909 (and more recently) the house felt free to imagine its own powder room:

The Aberdeen house also has a billiards room that is not modeled after the Cambridge house:

The second floor has four bedrooms and three bathrooms.

If it were mine, I'd want this bedroom to feel a little more like Washington could have slept in it, like so:

I couldn't leave the other bedrooms alone, either. This one...

should look like this:

{source, I "Longfellowed" the artwork}

This bedroom...

should look like this:

It's Emily Dickinson's bedroom, so it seemed especially fitting for a model of a poet's house.

That brings us to Ye Olde Exercise Room and the Nouveau Victorian bathrooms and laundry room:

The third floor has a nice bonus space...

but it's the basement that's the real bonus to this house, with two additional bedrooms, a kitchenette, and second laundry room:

The house is on a little over an acre, north of old downtown.

My map-rendering skills aren't on par with Mr. If It Were Mine's, but this (too) early map was too cute not to include:

Speaking of cute, remember that I mentioned that the original Longfellow house spawned many copies? This dollhouse version is my absolute favorite:

How cool is that? A miniature copy of the house is inside the big copy of the house. I would love to know more about its history and furnishings. 

Here are the other best known versions of Longfellow houses:

The Pierce House at 17 Weston Rd. Lincoln, MA is a popular wedding venue:

The Minneapolis Parks System owns the one at 4800 Minnehaha South, Minneapolis, MN. It serves as the Minnesota School of Botanical Art:

116 West Ave. Great Barrington, MA is a 9 bed, 7.5 bath, with 7,000 square feet, and also has a rather less attractive version of it as an apartment building:

Enfield Place at 1048 Forest Ave. Evanston, IL is 7 bed, 9 bath, and has 9,799 square feet. They ditched the black shutters and painted it gray and added a fancy portico:

The famous original house in Cambridge is now known as the Longfellow House Washington's Headquarters National Historic Site. (Coincidentally celebrating its 50th anniversary as a National Historic Site this year.) It's the source for the old interior photos.

More details of Longfellow's life in the house are here. A good article about replicating author's houses is here. The listing is here.

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