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The Elms - Stephen Longfellow's Gorham Farm

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Item 15659

Front exterior of Longfellow Farm, Gorham

Front exterior of Longfellow Farm, Gorham / Maine Historical Society

On April 3, 1761 Stephen Longfellow II signed the deed for the first 100 acre purchase of land that he would own in Gorham, Maine. His son Stephen III (Judge Longfellow) would build a home on that property which still stands to this day. Judge Longfellow would become one of the most prominent citizens in Gorham's history and one of the earliest influences on his grandson Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's work as a poet.

This exhibit examines why the Longfellows arrived in Gorham, Judge Longfellow's role in the history of the town, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's vacations in the country which may have influenced his greatest work, and the remains of the Longfellow estate still standing in Gorham today.

 

Item 15656

Field of Lot #33

Field of Lot #33 / Maine Historical Society

Stephen Longfellow II was born in Byfield, Massachusetts on February 7, 1723. He graduated from Harvard in 1742, became master of the Grammar School in Falmouth (Portland) in 1745 and held many public offices such as town clerk, clerk of the Proprietors of Common Lands, Clerk of the Judicial Court, and Register of Probate for Cumberland County. He married Tabitha Bragdon of York on October 1, 1749 and fathered five children. He died in Gorham on May 1, 1790 at age 67.

On April 3, 1761 Stephen II would purchase a 100 acre lot in Narragansett Township (Gorhamtown) from Solomon Lombard for sixty-six pounds, thirteen shillings, four pence designated Lot #33 in the village later known as East Gorham.

 

Item 15957

Plan of the Town of Gorham

Plan of the Town of Gorham / Maine Historical Society

On July 31, 1775 Stephen Longfellow II would purchase an additional 100 acre lot adjacent to his property from David Gorham of Barnstable, Massachusetts for the sum of fifty-five pounds, six shillings, five pence designated on the town map as Lot #34.

 

Item 6278

The town of Falmouth, burnt by Capt. Moet, October 18, 1775

The town of Falmouth, burnt by Capt. Moet, October 18, 1775 / Maine Historical Society

Stephen Longfellow II permanently moved to his Gorham land in 1775 after his Falmouth (Portland) home on Fore Street was destroyed by the British Captain Henry Mowatt on October 18 during the American Revolution. Coming to Gorham with his father was twenty-five-year-old Stephen Longfellow III.

 

Item 15738

Longfellow elm trees, 1908

Longfellow elm trees, 1908 / Maine Historical Society

Judge Stephen Longfellow was the eldest son of Stephen Longfellow II and Tabitha Bragdon born on August 13, 1750. He held many town and political offices- Gorham selectman, representative to the General Court of Massachusetts, Senator under Massachusetts, and Judge of the Court of Common Pleas from 1798 to 1811. Judge Longfellow married Patience Young of York and fathered six children. He died on May 28, 1824 at the age of 74.

 

Item 13054

Massachusetts Hall, Bowdoin College, 1962

Massachusetts Hall, Bowdoin College, 1962 / Maine Historical Society

Stephen Longfellow III was one of the founding Overseers of Bowdoin College, the institution his grandson Henry Wadsworth Longfellow would attend. Henry would become the college's professor of modern languages and college librarian on September 2, 1829.

 

Item 15702

Gorham Academy, Gorham, ca. 1880

Gorham Academy, Gorham, ca. 1880 / Gorham Historical Society

Judge Longfellow was also one of the original signers of the petition to the Massachusetts General Court for the establishment of Gorham Academy, a school to teach boys Latin and Greek to fit them for college life, established on January 21, 1803.

 

Item 15960

Ancient Elms Still Border Road by Old Longfellow Homestead

Ancient Elms Still Border Road by Old Longfellow Homestead / Maine Historical Society

Judge Longfellow built the home and estate that would become known as the Longfellow Elms. This estate would consist of the 200 acres of land purchased by Stephen Longfellow II on which the judge would build his farmhouse with adjacent barns and outhouses. Opposite from the house on the other side of the road was a blacksmith's shop. Indian Camp Brook was a short distance from the main house, and at the turn of the road, was the Longfellow School.

 

Item 15958

Longfellow School

Longfellow School / Maine Historical Society

Longfellow School was a one-room rural school built in 1897 to replace a dilapidated schoolhouse at the turn of the road. It remained as a school until 1951. Miss Grace Lillian Gordon was the teacher there for many years. In 1951 the building was sold to the AMVETS organization for a meetinghouse. In turn, the AMVETS sold the building which was then converted into a private family residence. In 1965 the former Longfellow School burned to the ground.

 

Item 15739

Longfellow Farm, Gorham, 1903

Longfellow Farm, Gorham, 1903 / Maine Historical Society

Judge Longfellow built his two and one-half story farmhouse with eight rooms-four rooms on the first floor, four on the second. Four of the eight rooms were bedrooms. The house had a double parlor, kitchen, and dining room, plus a full basement and attic. The wooden, clapboard house, built in the colonial style, had a single center chimney and a brick and stone foundation. The actual construction date of the house is unknown. Gorham town records estimate the date built at 1761, while newspaper stories date the house from the early 1770s to 1800. The original home was constructed with a side ell although the house stands today with a rear ell.

 

Item 15740

Longfellow Elms in Gorham, 1903

Longfellow Elms in Gorham, 1903 / Maine Historical Society

The estate was named the Longfellow Elms for the rows of trees Judge Longfellow had planted in 1803 offering his hired men nine pence (121/2 cents) apiece for each tree they would set outside their regular working hours. Hundreds of trees were planted and formed an archway over the road by the interlacing of their branches.

 

Item 15699

Capt. Stephenson Farm, Gorham, ca. 1900

Capt. Stephenson Farm, Gorham, ca. 1900 / Gorham Historical Society

In 1812 or 1813 Judge Longfellow divided his estate and gave property on Lot #34 to his daughter Abigail and her husband Colonel Samuel Stephenson for their farm. Samuel was Abigail's first cousin who lost the couple's Portland home through bankruptcy incurred by his merchant family's losses due to the embargo acts of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison before the War of 1812.

 

Item 4141

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow miniature

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow miniature / Maine Historical Society

As a young boy Henry Wadsworth Longfellow would spend his school and summer vacations at his grandfather's farm in Gorham. Judge Longfellow had a reputation as a storyteller narrating tales of wars, Indian fights, and the legends of the time. Henry, his brothers, and Stephenson cousins would fish in Indian Camp Brook or the Curtis River (Stroudwater River) about a mile away or hunt in the Gorham woods.

 

Item 15959

Mr. Finney's Turnip

Mr. Finney's Turnip / Maine Historical Society

Many of the early histories of Gorham claim that Henry wrote his first poem as a boy behind the barn at his grandfather's farm. That poem, "Mr. Finney's Turnip," was set to music in 1940 by Roland Leich giving credit for the lyrics to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Today "Mr. Finney's Turnip" is included in anthologies of nonsense verse with an anonymous author. Longfellow denied authorship in his journals, and James Baldwin in Fifty Famous People writes that "you must never, never, never, NEVER think that Henry Longfellow wrote some funny little verses about Mr. Finney's turnip."

 

Item 15654

Indian Camp Brook

Indian Camp Brook / Maine Historical Society

The poem that does have a direct connection to Henry's Gorham vacations is "The Angler's Song" first printed in the U.S. Literary Gazette and reprinted in an 1826 anthology. Fishing along the Curtis River was Henry's inspiration for this poem.

The Angler's Song
From the river's plashy bank
Where the sedge grows green and rank
And the twisted woodbine springs,
Upward speeds the morning lark
To its silver cloud - and hark!
On his way the woodman sings.

Where the embracing ivy holds
Close the hoar elm in its folds
In the meadow's fenny land,
And the winding river sweeps
Through its shallows and still deeps,
Silent with my rod I stand.

But when sultry suns are high
Underneath the oak I lie,
As it shades the water's edge;
And I mark my line away
In the wheeling eddy play,
Tangling with the river sedge.

When the eye of evening looks
On green woods and winding brooks,
And the wind sighs o'er the lea,
Woods and streams, I leave you then.
While the shadows in the glen
Lengthen by the greenwood tree.

 

Item 11378

Hiawatha Story Card 3

Hiawatha Story Card 3 / Maine Historical Society

As Henry grew older, his visits to the Gorham farm included the eight mile drive to Sebago Lake. Not far from Sebago Lake is Lovewell's Pond. At age thirteen Henry wrote "The Battle of Lovewell's Pond." He also became familiar with the Native American legends of that pond and Sebago Lake where the "Images," a great granite cliff seventy feet above the water, carries rock tracings of Native American lore. "Who knows but Hiawatha may have had its beginnings" in these early stories (Edwards, 144).

 

Item 15657

Longfellow Farm

Longfellow Farm / Maine Historical Society

On July 25, 1946 Gorham firemen and volunteers saved Longfellow Elms when they put out a fire which destroyed a neighboring barn, several animals, and fifty-five tons of hay. Water from Indian Camp Brook wet down the main buildings of Judge Longfellow's historic home.

 

Item 15655

Longfellow Farm

Longfellow Farm / Maine Historical Society

Today, remaining on Gorham's Longfellow Road, a two mile drive from Gorham Corner, is the farmhouse originally built by Judge Stephen Longfellow. Its once white paint is now covered by yellow. The home site consists of 1.5 acres, 34 acres of pasture and a total acreage listed at 51.5 acres. The blacksmith shop and school are gone as are the famous trees that arched the road. The current barn is not original to Judge Longfellow's time nor are the outbuildings, cow stanchion, and milk room.

 

Item 15653

Colonel Stephenson’s Farm

Colonel Stephenson’s Farm / Maine Historical Society

Colonel Samuel Stephenson's farmhouse still remains on what is left of the original 100 acre lot #34.

 

Item 16006

Longfellow Farm

Longfellow Farm / Maine Historical Society

The significance of the Gorham farm in the lives of the Longfellow family was immortalized by the Reverend Samuel Longfellow, youngest brother of the poet, at the age of twenty in his work entitled "The Homestead."

The Homestead
Home of my fathers! Once again
I stand beneath the shade

Of those ancestral trees where once
A dreamy child I played.
Those ancient elms still o'er thy roof
Their sheltering branches spread;
But they who loved their pleasant shade
In heavenly places tread.

No longer at the window now
Their friendly glance I catch,
No longer hear, as I approach,
The sound of lifted latch;
The ready hand which once threw wide
The hospitable door,
I know its warm and hearty grasp
Still answers mine no more.

The red rose by the window still
Blooms brightly as of old;
The woodbines still around the door
Their shining leaves unfold.
The pale syringa scents the air
Through the long summer hours;
But ah! The old beloved hands
No longer pluck their flowers.

I wander where the little brook
Still keeps it tranquil flow,
Where blooms the crimson cardinal,
And golden lilies glow,
Or, crossing o'er the wooden bridge,
I loiter on my way,
To watch where, in the sunny depths,
The darting minnows play.

That little bridge, the vine-clad elms
That guarded either end,
Oh, with that spot how many dreams,
How many memories blend!
When summer suns at morning kissed
The dew from grass and flower,
I've wandered there; and lingered long
At evening's holy hour.


Still, as each spring returns, those trees
Put on their garments green;
And still in summer hues arrayed
Those blooming flowers are seen;
And when the autumn winds come down
To wrestle with the wood,
The gold and crimson leaves are shed
To float along the flood.

Thus seasons pass, and year on year
Follows with ceaseless pace;
Though all things human change or die,
Unchanged is Nature's face.
Yet, when these well-remembered scenes
Before my vision glide,
I feel that they who made them fair
No more are by my side.

And one there was-now distant far,
Who shared my childish plays,
With who I roamed in deeper joy
In boyhood's thoughtful days.
Dear cousin, round thine early home
When truant memory
Lingers in dreams of fond regret,
Dost thou e'er think of me.

 

Item 15658

Longfellow Farm

Longfellow Farm / Maine Historical Society

Through the ravages of weather, the threat of fire, and the construction changes of its occupants, a piece of Gorham's local and America's literary history remains on the Longfellow Road- "The Elms," the original home of Judge Stephen Longfellow, his wife Patience Young, and their six children known today as Longfellow Farm.

 

Item 15703

Indian Camp Brook, Gorham

Indian Camp Brook, Gorham / Gorham Historical Society

Bibliography

Baldwin, James. Fifty Famous People. "Writing a Composition". August 24, 2004. View article.

Calhoun, Charles. Longfellow: A Rediscovered Life. Boston: Beacon Press, 2004.

Edwards, George Thornton. The Youthful Haunts of Longfellow. Portland, ME: G.T. Edwards, 1907.

Fogg, David Arthur. Images of America: Gorham. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 1998.

Gorhamtown: A Pictorial History from 1736. Gorham, ME: Gorham Historical Society, 1977.

Littlefield, Louise. "Old Documents Reveal Business Dealings of Stephen Longfellow". Portland Sunday Telegram (July 12, 1931). Section D pp. 1 & 3.

Lombard Lucina Hayes. "Longfellow Vacations at Gorham". Pine Tree Magazine, New Series, v. VII, no 1 (February 1907). pp. 21-27.

Lowell, Robert R., Jr. Personal interview. August 15, 2004.

McLellan, Hugh D. The History of Gorham Maine. Portland, ME: Smith & Sale, 1903.

Pierce, Josiah. History of Gorham Maine. Foster & Cushing, and Bailey & Noyes, 1862.

 

 

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