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My Lost Youth: Longfellow's Portland, Then and Now

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Item 14866

Slopes of Munjoy Hill, Portland, 1840s

Slopes of Munjoy Hill, Portland, 1840s / Maine Historical Society

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow kept extensive diaries. During a visit to Portland in 1846, he relates how he took a long walk round Munjoy's hill and went down to the old Fort Lawrence. He writes: "I lay down in one of the embrasures and listened to the lashing, lulling sound of the sea just at my feet. It was a beautiful afternoon, and the harbor was full of white sails, coming and departing. Meditated a poem on the Old Fort." However, it would not be until March 29, 1855 that he records:

"A day of pain; cowering over the fire. At night, as I lie in bed, a poem comes into my mind, -a memory of Portland, - my native town, the city by the sea.
"March 30. Wrote the poem; and am rather pleased with it, and with the bringing in of the two lines of the old Lapland song,
A boy's will is the wind's will,
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts."

 

Item 13294

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ca. 1842

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ca. 1842 / Maine Historical Society

My Lost Youth

Often I think of the beautiful town
That is seated by the sea;
Often in thought go up and down
The pleasant streets of that dear old town,
And my youth comes back to me.
And a verse of a Lapland song
Is haunting my memory still:
"A boy's will is the wind's will,
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts."

I can see the shadowy lines of its trees,
And catch, in sudden gleams,
The sheen of the far-surrounding seas,
And islands that were the Hersperides
Of all my boyish dreams.
And the burden of that old song,
It murmurs and whispers still:
"A boy's will is the wind's will,
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts."

I remember the black wharves and the slips,
And the sea-tides tossing free;
And Spanish sailors with bearded lips,
And the beauty and mystery of the ships,
And the magic of the sea.
And the voice of that wayward song
Is singing and saying still:
"A boy's will is the wind's will,
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts."

I remember the bulwarks by the shore,
And the fort upon the hill;
The sunrise gun, with its hollow roar,
The drum-beat repeated o'er and o'er,
And the bugle wild and shrill.
And the music of that old song
Throbs in my memory still:
"A boy's will is the wind's will,
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts."

I remember the sea-fight far away,
How it thundered o'er the tide!
And the dead captains, as they lay
In their graves, o'erlooking the tranquil bay,
Where they in battle died.
And the sound of that mournful song
Goes through me with a thrill:
"A boy's will is the wind's will,
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts."

I can see the breezy dome of groves,
The shadows of Deering's Woods;
And the friendships old and the early loves
Come back with a sabbath sound, as of doves
In quiet neighborhoods.
And the verse of that sweet old song,
It flutters and murmurs still:
"A boy's will is the wind's will,
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts."

I remember the gleams and glooms that dart
Across the school-boy's brain;
The song and the silence in the heart,
That in part are prophecies, and in part
Are longings wild and vain.
And the voice of that fitful song
Sings on, and is never still:
"A boy's will is the wind's will,
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts."

There are things of which I may not speak;
There are dreams that cannot die;
There are thoughts that make the strong heart weak,
And bring a pallor into the cheek,
And a mist before the eye.
And the words of that fatal song
Come over me like a chill:
"A boy's will is the wind's will,
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts."

Strange to me now are the forms I meet
When I visit the dear old town;
But the native air is pure and sweet,
And the trees that o'ershadow each well-known street,
As they balance up and down,
Are singing the beautiful song,
Are sighing and whispering still:
"A boy's will is the wind's will,
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts."

And Deering's Woods are fresh and fair,
And with joy that is almost pain
My heart goes back to wander there,
And among the dreams of the days that were,
I find my lost youth again.
And the strange and beautiful song,
The groves are repeating it still:
"A boy's will is the wind's will,
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts."

 

Item 12230

Birthplace of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1896

Birthplace of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1896 / Maine Historical Society

Longfellow was born in Portland, Maine on February 27, 1807. His parents were temporarily living with his father's sister, Abigail Longfellow Stephenson. Because her husband, Captain Samuel Stephenson, was away at sea, the young couple moved in to keep her company.

 

Item 12546

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow birthplace, Portland, ca. 1900

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow birthplace, Portland, ca. 1900 / Maine Historical Society

This lovely home was on the corner of Fore and Hancock Streets, and the Longfellows could step out the front door, cross the dirt street, and be on a sandy beach and Casco Bay. The fill that would create the present-day Commercial Street and the Portland Company would not be placed until the 1840s and 1850s.

 

Item 4122

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow birthplace, Portland, 1896

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow birthplace, Portland, 1896 / Maine Historical Society

The three-story frame house was of the Federalist style. Presently a flagpole and a boulder with an engraved plaque on it mark the spot.

 

Item 18352

Wadsworth-Longfellow House and Store, 1882

Wadsworth-Longfellow House and Store, 1882 / Maine Historical Society

This two-story red brick Georgian house was built in 1785-86 by General Peleg Wadsworth, Zilpah Longfellow's father. A Revolutionary War hero, Wadsworth imported the bricks from Philadelphia. This stately home was the first brick house in Portland.

Incidentally, Henry's family also owned the first piano in Portland. Henry was musically inclined and loved to write. From a young age, he knew he wished to be man of letters, but his father wanted him to follow his footsteps and pursue law as a career.

 

Item 10936

Wadsworth-Longfellow house and store, Portland, 1786

Wadsworth-Longfellow house and store, Portland, 1786 / Maine Historical Society

According to Charles Calhoun's Longfellow: A Rediscovered Life, "Wadsworth established himself as a merchant in town. He built a barn and store on the well-traveled route leading to the town's hay scales. By January 1785, he had opened for business, advertising in the Falmouth Gazette "an assortment of goods" available on credit, in exchange for lumber, or for public securities of every kind."

 

Item 11337

Wadsworth-Longfellow House, Portland, ca. 1880

Wadsworth-Longfellow House, Portland, ca. 1880 / Maine Historical Society

While this photo dates from 1880, it resembles how the how looked in 1820 when Henry was 13 years old. No doubt the stagecoach was a familiar site to him.

 

Item 11330

Wadsworth-Longfellow House, Portland

Wadsworth-Longfellow House, Portland / Maine Historical Society

The third story of the house was added by Henry's father in 1815, to accommodate his family of eight children, his sister-in-law Lucia Wadsworth, and several servants.

Henry would pursue his playing of the piano and the flute and his reading and writing within this home. In fact, Henry's first published poem, "The Battle of Lovell's Pond" appeared in the Portland Gazette when he was thirteen.

 

Item 11051

Wadsworth-Longfellow House,  Portland

Wadsworth-Longfellow House, Portland / Maine Historical Society

The house is presently owned by the Maine Historical Society and has been recently renovated to the 1850s. Touring his home is the best way to understand the daily life and environment of the young Henry. The home is open daily, May 1 to October 31, except holidays; Saturdays in November, all December. Closed January through April, it is open to school groups in November and December.

 

Item 11959

Portland Skyline, Mary King Longfellow, 1885

Portland Skyline, Mary King Longfellow, 1885 / Maine Historical Society

OFTEN I THINK OF THAT BEAUTIFUL TOWN
THAT IS SEATED BY THE SEA.

In her oil painting Mary King Longfellow, Henry's niece, captured the impressionistic Portland that evokes a highly personal response from the viewer.

 

Item 7830

Portland, 1865

Portland, 1865 / Maine Historical Society

This lithograph shows Portland, Maine, as it appeared in 1865 along the waterfront with a ship under construction and others sailing about.

 

Item 10788

Portland Head Light

Portland Head Light / Maine Historical Society

Photograph of Portland Head Light taken by Ralph F. Blood shows waves crashing on the rocks around the structure.

Portland Head Light was Maine's first lighthouse. It was commissioned by George Washington and built in 1791.

 

Item 191

Martin's Point, Portland, ca. 1850

Martin's Point, Portland, ca. 1850 / Maine Historical Society

On this piece of land [lower right hand corner] was built the Verandah Hotel, a favorite spot highly conducive to the adult Henry's reflection and writing.

 

Item 14842

The Verandah Hotel on Martin's Point, 1874

The Verandah Hotel on Martin's Point, 1874 / Maine Historical Society

A sketch of the Verandah Hotel on Martin's Point as it appeared in 1847.

 

Item 14841

Site of the former Verandah Hotel, 2004

Site of the former Verandah Hotel, 2004 / Maine Historical Society

The former Marine Hospital, this brick building is now part of the Martin's Point complex; it is used by the Portland School System. This photo was taken from the causeway to Mackworth Island, Falmouth.

 

Item 14833

From the Portland Observatory, 2004

From the Portland Observatory, 2004 / Maine Historical Society

Taken from the top of the Portland Observatory, this photo of the city by the sea now boasts a population of 60,000 to 70,000. In 1809, two years after Henry's birth, the population of Portland was 7,000.

The Portland Observatory was built in 1807, the same year as Henry's birth, and it served as a signal-communications tower for vessels and the islands. Sea captains' wives and others could watch for the return of sailing vessels.

Today it welcomes cruise ships and strikes their flags as they enter the harbor.

 

Item 14834

Observatory View II, 2004

Observatory View II, 2004 / Maine Historical Society

Notice the black pilings at the water's edge on the lower right of this contemporary photo. While the city has transformed dramatically, such a view would have been familiar to the young Longfellow.

 

Item 14879

Congress Street, Portland, 1800

Congress Street, Portland, 1800 / Maine Historical Society

OFTEN IN THOUGHT GO UP AND DOWN
THE PLEASANT STREETS OF THAT DEAR OLD TOWN,
AND MY YOUTH COMES BACK TO ME.

From left to right Goodhue has sketched the Daniel Davis house (1794), the Rev. Samuel Deane house (1765), and the First Parish Meeting House(1740), where the young Longfellow attended church. The steeple was placed on the rectangular structure in 1761.

 

Item 12889

Old State Street, Portland, ca. 1900

Old State Street, Portland, ca. 1900 / Maine Historical Society

State Street, which passes by Deering's woods at its base, climbs to Congress Street and would have been familiar and pleasant terrain for Longfellow. The canopied street with its lofty trees would have been a fond memory of his days in Portland.

 

Item 14857

Pearl and Congress, Portland, 1845

Pearl and Congress, Portland, 1845 / Maine Historical Society

According to Shettleworth, Jr. and Barry, in Mr. Goodhue Remembers Portland: Scenes from the Mid-19th Century, "Goodhue serves us best in depicting neighborhoods like this one" as "all of this section was lost during the Great Fire of July 4 and 5, 1866."

The First Baptist Church is the central focus of the sketch; behind it to the left is the John Harris House. Next door is the more impressive residence of the Quaker merchant Samuel F. Hussey, who was the "wharfinger and dictator of Union Wharf," according to William Willis' History of Portland. No doubt the young Longfellow would have known who the man was as he died in 1837 at the age of 82; he had five daughters.

As one looks up Congress Street in this drawing, there is a school house, a hearse house, Lane's joiner shop, and a private residence.

Today the Central Fire Station is on this site.

 

Item 14838

Central Fire Station, 2004

Central Fire Station, 2004 / Maine Historical Society

The Central Fire Station is flanked by a statue of a fireman; the base of that statue reads: Erected by/Citizens of Portland/in Honor of the/Fire Department/ 1898

Beyond the station is the Blethen Newspapers Building, home of the Portland Press Herald and Maine Sunday Telegram.

 

Item 14858

Hay Market Square, Portland, 1830

Hay Market Square, Portland, 1830 / Maine Historical Society

Present day Monument Square was called Hay Market Square in the days of Longfellow's youth. Longfellow's home was so close to this site that he certainly would have heard the busy market. This Market House would be Portland's first City Hall.

Even today the Farmers' Market convenes here a day a week during the growing season.

 

Item 12521

Market Square, Portland, ca 1880

Market Square, Portland, ca 1880 / Maine Historical Society

View of Market Square in Portland, now Monument Square, showing the Market building. It was demolished in 1950s to build Casco Bank.

 

Item 14837

Monument Square on the day of the Farmers' Market, 2004

Monument Square on the day of the Farmers' Market, 2004 / Maine Historical Society

Franklin Simmons built this massive Civil War Monument in 1891. The people of Portland honored the soldiers and sailors who died fighting in the Civil War. This bronze statue is of Nike, the goddess of victory. Nike, as well as the other figures on the monument, were sculptured in Rome, Italy, by Franklin Simmons, a Maine native.

 

Item 14859

Tukeys Bridge, Back Cove, Portland, sketched in 1902

Tukeys Bridge, Back Cove, Portland, sketched in 1902 / Maine Historical Society

The young Henry would certainly have walked to Hammonds Rope Walk which was situated on the Back Cove side of Tukey's bridge on Munjoy's hill. Rope-making was an important industry in the age of sail. Portland had four major rope walks; Hammonds, the largest, was built in the early part of the 19th century.
Shaped like a two-story tobacco shed and taking up several blocks, a ropewalk is described and immortalized in Longfellow's poem "The Ropewalk."

 

Item 12535

View of Portland harbor by moonlight

View of Portland harbor by moonlight / Maine Historical Society

I CAN SEE THE SHADOWY LINES OF ITS TREES,
AND CATCH IN SUDDEN GLEAMS,
THE SHEEN OF THE FAR-SURROUNDING SEAS,
AND ISLANDS THAT WERE THE HESPERIDES
OF ALL MY BOYISH DREAMS.

 

Item 14860

Bird's eye view of Munjoy Hill and the islands in 1845

Bird's eye view of Munjoy Hill and the islands in 1845 / Maine Historical Society

Likely this is the very view that Longfellow had when he wrote in his journal about a long walk on Munjoy's hill during his 1846 trip to the Portland of his roots.

 

Item 14820

The Far-Surrounding Seas and the Hesperides, 2004

The Far-Surrounding Seas and the Hesperides, 2004 / Maine Historical Society

On Munjoy Hill one can go to Fort Allen Park, stand on the embankments of the old fort and look out to Longfellow's islands. The islands that Longfellow loved as a boy remain the inspiration for all who view them now. Constructed before 1800 to protect the city, the park was rebuilt in 1814 and named in memory of Commander William Henry Allen. The main mast and navigational bridge and shield of the Naval cruiser the "U.S.S. Portland," a World War II ship, is in the park. Also in the park is a gun from the battleship "Maine."

The islands, though somewhat indistinct to the non-native eye, are, from left to right: Little Diamond, Peaks, House, and Cushing.

 

Item 14821

Cannon, Fort Gorges, and the Islands, 2004

Cannon, Fort Gorges, and the Islands, 2004 / Maine Historical Society

Fort Gorges was built to protect the harbor during the Civil War but was never used.

 

Item 10998

Waterfront, Portland, ca. 1890

Waterfront, Portland, ca. 1890 / Maine Historical Society

I REMEMBER THE BLACK WHARVES AND THE SHIPS,
AND THE SEA-TIDES TOSSING FREE.

 

Item 13052

Union Wharf, Portland, 1962

Union Wharf, Portland, 1962 / Maine Historical Society

Union Wharf, Building 19-22, the north elevation, taken in 1962. The building was constructed in about 1800 for the Union Wharf Proprietors group that was formed in 1792. The wharf was demolished in 1969. It was one of the few extant early maritime-commercial building complexes in Maine.

 

Item 14865

Clay Cove, Portland, 1840

Clay Cove, Portland, 1840 / Maine Historical Society

According to Shettleworth, Jr. and Barry, In the "Portland Gazette" of October 20, 1806, the ship carver William Garnons advertised his trade from "Clay-Cove, Fore-Street." William Willis, in his History of Portland, noted: "Ship building soon came to be an important auxiliary and lucrative branch of business. The ancestors of many of our present men of property laid the foundations of their fortunes in this profitable pursuit. The first ship yard in town was on the cove of India Street, which continued for the same purpose to 1850; there was another near the foot of India Street, and another between Titcomb's wharf and Clay Cove."

 

Item 14831

Bait Breakfast on Union Wharf, 2004

Bait Breakfast on Union Wharf, 2004 / Maine Historical Society

The black wharves still stand as a foundation of commerce and often the site of free food for the birds.

 

Item 14829

Fishing and Lobstering Boats at the Wharf, 2004

Fishing and Lobstering Boats at the Wharf, 2004 / Maine Historical Society

 

Item 14830

In Port, 2004

In Port, 2004 / Maine Historical Society

The waterfront not only teems with vessels of all kinds. In the background of this photo are the ninety condominiums on Chandler's Wharf.

 

Item 14823

Remains of Wharves of Long Ago, 2004

Remains of Wharves of Long Ago, 2004 / Maine Historical Society

 

Item 6152

Clipper ship the Portland

Clipper ship the Portland / Maine Historical Society

AND THE BEAUTY AND MYSTERY OF THE SHIPS,
AND THE MAGIC OF THE SEA.

 

Item 14877

Age of Sail

Age of Sail / Maine Historical Society

 

Item 10789

Portland Head Light at dawn

Portland Head Light at dawn / Maine Historical Society

Portland Head Light is shown in this photograph by Ralph F. Blood (1905-1972) of Portland. Blood was a professional photographer who specialized in seascapes.

 

Item 14822

The Magic of the Sea, 2004

The Magic of the Sea, 2004 / Maine Historical Society

 

Item 1125

View of Portland Harbor, ca. 1853

View of Portland Harbor, ca. 1853 / Maine Historical Society

I REMEMBER THE BULWARKS BY THE SHORE,
AND THE FORT UPON THE HILL;
THE SUNRISE GUN, WITH ITS HOLLOW ROAR,
THE DRUM-BEAT REPEATED O'ER AND O'ER,
AND THE BUGLE WILD AND SHRILL.

 

Item 14824

Bulwarks by the Shore, 2004

Bulwarks by the Shore, 2004 / Maine Historical Society

A view of Portland from its eastern shoreline. One can view the pilings and the bulwarks along the water's edge.

 

Item 4144

Munjoy Hill in the Forties

Munjoy Hill in the Forties / Maine Historical Society

Looking on Munjoy Hill from what is now the Evergreen Cemetery site, one can see in Goodhue's remarkable sketch the earthworks on the left with Fort Sumner to the right of it. In the foreground is the Sands, Lent, and Co. Circus, which visited in July of 1847. Built in the year of Longfellow's birth, the prominent Portland Observatory dominates the horizon.

According to Greater Portland Landmarks' "Munjoy Hill Historic Guide," "In the field between the Observatory and the Eastern Cemetery, 19th-century Portlanders gathered for 4th of July celebrations, militia musters, political conventions, circuses and, in 1808, a public hanging."

For further explication of this [and all Goodhue's sketches], please see Mr. Goodhue Remembers Portland: Scenes from the Mid-19th Century by Earle G. Shettleworth, Jr. and William David Barry.

 

Item 14818

The Fort Upon the Hill, 2004

The Fort Upon the Hill, 2004 / Maine Historical Society

This site of Fort Sumner is on the brow of Munjoy Hill between Sumner Court and Shailer School. According to Greater Portland Landmarks' "Munjoy Hill Historic Guide," "During the Revolution, there was an earthworks nearby, called 'The Great Fort Upon the Hill'. Of course, the sunrise comes up in the East so many have assumed that the site of Fort Allen Park is what Longfellow envisioned. Needless to say, the sunrise would be visible from Sumner as well.

 

Item 14826

Portland Harbor, 2004

Portland Harbor, 2004 / Maine Historical Society

Note the foreground stones which are what remains of Victoria Docks. Built between 1851-1858, the docks served the trans-Atlantic passenger business for many decades. The Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII), completed his North American tour here on October 20, 1860.

 

Item 131

Watercolor of Boxer and Enterprise

Watercolor of Boxer and Enterprise / Maine Historical Society

I REMEMBER THE SEA-FIGHT FAR AWAY,
HOW IT THUNDERED O'ER THE TIDE!
AND THE DEAD CAPTAINS, AS THEY LAY
IN THEIR GRAVES, O'ERLOOKING THE TRANQUIL BAY
WHERE THEY IN BATTLE DIED.

On September 5, 1813, the American Brig Enterprize and the British Brig Boxer battled off the Maine coast. According to George Thornton Edwards' The Youthful Haunts of Longfellow, "The War of 1812 was brought on by England's arrogant insistence in boarding American vessels, and taking away American sailors, or any other sailors for that matter, that her naval officers saw fit, by merely claiming they were English subjects. It was necessary to put a stop to this practice in its incipiency, and the "Enterprise" with several other vessels were fitted out with crews and armament to look out for English privateers."

Lieutenant William Burrows, Commander of the Enterprise, and Captain Samuel Blythe of the Boxer died in the battle. There were 28 English killed in the battle and 14 wounded; Burrows was the only American who died on the day of battle. However, of the thirteen Americans wounded, three died the following day.

While Longfellow was only six years old at the time, the battle and the fame that surrounded it made a deep impression on him.

 

Item 14867

Boxer and Enterprize

Boxer and Enterprize / Maine Historical Society

It has been said that Captain Lemuel Moody relayed details about the sea fight from the top of the 86 foot tower of the Portland Observatory. Since the battle took place off Monhegan Island, miles from shore, it would have been impossible to see anything and unlikely anything would have been heard. The "thundering o'er the tide" is poetic license on Longfellow's part.

 

Item 14868

Graves of the Captains, 1876

Graves of the Captains, 1876 / Maine Historical Society

Edwards writes, "On September 7, after the arrival of the Enterprise at Portland with her prize, the bodies of the two commanders were brought on shore in ten-oared barges, rowed at minute strokes by masters of ships, and accompanied by a procession of almost all the barges and boats in the harbor. Minute guns were fired from the vessels, the same military ceremony was performed over each body, and the procession moved through the streets, preceded by the selectmen and municipal officers, and guarded by the officers and crew of the Enterprise and the Boxer. The funeral was attended with all the honours that the civil and military authorities of the place, and the great body of people could bestow. The whole scene was strikingly impressive. The bells were tolled, and the two companies of artillery fired minute guns, which were repeated from forts Preble and Scammel."

The bodies of the young officers, as well as that of Lieutenant Kerwin Waters, were buried side by side in Eastern Cemetery. One can see the tranquil bay barely visible
half way up the right edge of the painting.

 

Item 14869

Graves of the Captains, 2004

Graves of the Captains, 2004 / Maine Historical Society

Each grave is topped with a marble slab with a fitting tribute. On Lieutenant Burrows' is written:

Beneath this Stone/ moulders/ the body/ of/ WILLIAM BURROWS/ late commander/of the/ United States Brig Enterprise/ who was mortally wounded/ on the 5th of Sept. 1813/ in an action which contributed/ to increase the fame of/ American valor, by capturing/ his Britannic Majesty's/ Brig Boxer/ after severe contest of/ forty-five minutes./ Age 28/ A passing stranger has erected this /monument of respect to the name of/ a patriot, who in the hour of peril/ obeyed the loud summons of an injured/ country, and who gallantly met,/ fought, and conquered/ the foeman.

 

Item 14816

Eastern Cemetery, 2004

Eastern Cemetery, 2004 / Maine Historical Society

One of two Maine cemeteries entered on the National Register of Historic Places, Eastern Cemetery is nine acres of sacred ground which contains the remains of 4,000 early inhabitants. At the corner of Congress and Mountfort streets, it marked the edge of the settlement of Portland from the 1600s through the Revolution.

 

Item 14840

Eastern Promenade Burial Ground, 2004

Eastern Promenade Burial Ground, 2004 / Maine Historical Society

According to "Munjoy Hill Historic Guide," "The burial ground on the Promenade across from Quebec Street holds the remains of some 21 American prisoners captured and returned by the British during the War of 1812. As early as 1792 there was a Pest House, or smallpox infirmary, nearby, located here because of its then remoteness from the town." The cemetery was restored in 1986.

 

Item 14839

Returned Home, 2004

Returned Home, 2004 / Maine Historical Society

The engraving on the boulder at the site of the cemetery reads:

Within this enclosure/ were buried 21 soldiers/ captured by the English/ at the Battle/of Queenston, Canada/ in the War of 1812/ and died in hospital here/ while on their way to/ Boston for exchange.

 

Item 14850

Deering Oaks: Domed Trees, Duck House and Fountain, 2004

Deering Oaks: Domed Trees, Duck House and Fountain, 2004 / Maine Historical Society

 

Item 14828

Unclipped Grasses of Deering Oaks, 2004

Unclipped Grasses of Deering Oaks, 2004 / Maine Historical Society

While much of Deering Oaks is perfectly manicured today, during Longfellow's time, Deering's Woods was, according to Charles Calhoun's Longfellow, "a tangle of trees, tidal estuaries, and overgrown ravines that separated the Deering estate from the town'a place where Portland boys went to shoot birds and squirrels and escape the confines of home. Henry went along, but to sit under the trees and read and meditate the rough and resiny Maine forest into the greenwood of his British literary masters."

 

Item 14835

Domes of Trees of Deering's Woods, 2004

Domes of Trees of Deering's Woods, 2004 / Maine Historical Society

 

Item 4115

Mary Storer Potter Longfellow

Mary Storer Potter Longfellow / Maine Historical Society

AND THE FRIENDSHIPS OLD AND THE EARLY LOVES
COME BACK WITH A SABBATH SOUND, AS OF DOVES
IN QUIET NEIGHBORHOODS

When Longfellow was 24, he married Mary Potter who was 19. They would have known one another as children, but Mary grew into womanhood while Henry was on his first European tour. When they met again as adults, their courtship proceeded rapidly. One of three girls being raised by the widowed Judge Barrett Potter, Mary wed Henry on September 14, 1831 after a year engagement.

 

Item 14843

Old Portland Academy

Old Portland Academy / Maine Historical Society

I REMEMBER THE GLEAMS AND GLOOMS THAT DART
ACROSS THE SCHOOL-BOY'S BRAIN;
THE SONG AND THE SILENCE IN THE HEART,
THAT IN PART ARE PROPHECIES, AND IN PART
ARE LONGINGS WILD AND VAIN.

Henry went to "Ma'am" Fellows' school at the age of three to learn his alphabet, and to the town-supported school at the age of five, according to Calhoun. He did not like the roughness of the town children at the public school and was sent by his parents the next year to a private school, Portland Academy. Henry was a fine scholar and a sociable young man.

 

Item 14832

Firehouse Museum, 2004

Firehouse Museum, 2004 / Maine Historical Society

The Firehouse Museum sits on Spring Street, on the site of young Henry's first school, the little red brick schoolhouse of Ma'am Fellows. One of the Longfellow's servants would have carried the boy to school on horseback.

 

Item 4141

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow miniature

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow miniature / Maine Historical Society

One of Henry's schoolmates, Elijah Kellogg, would recall the young Henry in these words, according to Calhoun's Longfellow: A Rediscovered Life, "He was a very handsome boy, retiring, without being reserved, there was a frankness about him that won you at once. He looked you square in the face. His eyes were full of expression, and it seemed as though you could look down into them as into a clear spring." Calhoun goes on to say that Kellogg remembered Henry as thoughtful, but not melancholy, as he would become in later years.

THERE ARE THINGS OF WHICH I MAY NOT SPEAK;
THERE ARE DREAMS THAT MAY NOT DIE;
THERE ARE THOUGHTS THAT MAKE THE STRONG HEART WEAK,
AND BRING A PALLOR INTO THE CHECK,
AND A MIST BEFORE THE EYE.

 

Item 12890

State Street, Portland, ca. 1880

State Street, Portland, ca. 1880 / Maine Historical Society

STRANGE TO ME NOW ARE THE FORMS I MEET
WHEN I VISIT THE DEAR OLD TOWN;
BUT THE NATIVE AIR IS PURE AND SWEET,
AND THE TREES THAT O'ERSHADOW EACH WELL-KNOWN STREET,
AS THEY BALANCE UP AND DOWN,
ARE SINGING THE BEAUTIFUL SONG,
ARE SIGHING AND WHISPERING STILL

 

Item 14876

Launching of the Gen. Warren, Sept. 28, 1844

Launching of the Gen. Warren, Sept. 28, 1844 / Maine Historical Society

Had Longfellow been back in Portland for the last launching from the Dyer Yards, he would not have known most of the thousands who gathered for the great event. As the ship is poised to slide into the waters of Casco Bay, Henry's birthplace is on its right.

According to Mr. Goodhue Remembers Portland: Scenes from the Mid-19th Century,
"Broad humor was not lacking during the festivity of the launch. A reporter from the Portland Transcript of February 28, 1994 recalled:

An old man by the name of Warren, who was slightly demented, was lowered aboard, dressed in full uniform and with a sword at this side. As the vessel went over the sea-wall the ways spread and she stuck in the mud, with somewhat disastrous effect to the martial-looking Warren, who was thrown to the deck in a most undignified manner."

 

Item 1128

Deering's bridge in the forties

Deering's bridge in the forties / Maine Historical Society

AND DEERING'S WOODS ARE FRESH AND FAIR,
AND WITH JOY THAT IS ALMOST PAIN
MY HEART GOES BACK TO WANDER THERE,
AND AMONG THE DREAMS OF THE DAYS THAT WERE,
I FIND MY LOST YOUTH AGAIN.

According to Barry and Shettleworth, Jr., the towns of Portland, Falmouth, and Westbrook financially committed to build the bridge in 1805. The bridge, which is now part of Forest Avenue, was named for James Deering who lived in a beautiful house where the University of Maine stands now. No doubt the young Longfellow would be aware that folks caught minnows from the bridge to use as bait for smelting. According to Nathan Gould's article in the Portland Transcript of August 31, 1898, he knew the old mill on the western side of the bridge ground corn and, he thought, salt as well.

 

Item 14836

The Lay of the Land - Undulations, 2004

The Lay of the Land - Undulations, 2004 / Maine Historical Society

It is fascinating to stroll in Longfellow's beloved Deering's Woods today to see the border of the athletic fields and courts which are built on what used to be the tidal area that flowed under Deering's Bridge. The lay of the land definitely suggests the old shoreline of the Woods as it touches the flat which is used for recreational purposes today. One can easily dismiss the baseball field and the tennis courts and imagine the tidal area that Longfellow knew so well.

 

Item 4111

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Isle of Wight, 1868

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Isle of Wight, 1868 / Maine Historical Society

MY LOST YOUTH…

…A BOY’S WILL IS THE WIND’S WILL,
AND THE THOUGHTS OF YOUTH ARE LONG,
LONG THOUGHTS.

 

 

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