Inhabiting History - Maine's famous homes and influencial people
Ever wonder what life was like for our predecessors? Museum homes invite visitors to step back in time and gain a greater perspective and respect for the historic forces that continue to influence our lives.
One of the greatest 19th century houses in the country, Victoria Mansion was built between 1858 and 1860 as a summer home for Ruggles Sylvester Morse, a Maine native who amassed a fortune as a New Orleans hotel proprietor. The sumptuous interiors of the brownstone Italianate villa are the creation of Gustave Herter, the first interior decorator of note in America.
2016 marked Victoria Mansion’s 75th anniversary as a public museum. Today the Mansion boasts over 90% of its original furnishings as well as fabulous fresco-style wall paintings that date to 1860. Unlike anything else in Portland, and of recognized national importance, Victoria Mansion’s brilliant stained glass, colorful wall and ceiling paintings, and original carpets, sculpture and gas lighting fixtures are a virtual time capsule of pre-Civil War grandeur. Open seven days a week, May through October, and during the Holiday season, when it is lavishly decorated.
When it was built in 1755, the Tate House was the largest and most elegant home situated in the Stroudwater section of what later became the city of Portland. Constructed for Captain George Tate and his family, it is the only pre-Revolutionary home in Greater Portland open to the public. George Tate arrived in the Colonies around 1751 to act as Senior Mast Agent, overseeing the cutting and shipping of white pines to be sent back to England for use by the British Navy. Tate built an impressive home on a hill overlooking the mast yard on the banks of the Fore River. With its period details, including 18th century furnishings and herb gardens, The Tate House reflects what a merchant class family might have owned in colonial Maine. Open June through October with many special events, including garden and holiday tours.
WADSWORTH- LONGFELLOW HOUSE
Within the walls of the Wadsworth Longfellow House lived three generations of one remarkable family that made significant contributions to the political, literary, and cultural life of the United States. America’s beloved 19th century poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882), grew up in the house and went on to become one of the most famous men of his time. Built in 1785-86 by Henry’s grandfather after Portland had been razed by fire, the Longfellow House was the first wholly brick building in the city and is the oldest standing structure on the Portland peninsula. The last person to live in the home was Henry’s younger sister, Anne Longfellow Pierce, who deeded the house to the Maine Historical Society. Virtually all of the household items and artifacts are original to the Wadsworth and Longfellow families and illustrate changes in style, and technology over the 18th and 19th centuries. The National Historic Landmark is open May through October.
NEAL DOW HOUSE
Built in 1829 for noted politician and prohibitionist Neal Dow (1804-1897), the late Federal-style house was given upon his death to the local Women’s Christian Temperance Union which still uses it as their headquarters. Approximately 98% of the home is in its original state. When serving as mayor of Portland, Dow authored the first prohibition law, passed by the Maine legislature in 1851; such laws in other states became known at "Maine laws”. Dow was a tireless, internationally-known activist in the Temperance and Abolition reform movements of the 1800s, as well as a Civil War general. Although designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1973, the house has been largely unknown to the public, a hidden gem presenting the life and social contributions of an important figure of 19th century Portland.
Living Testimony - Step back in time today
careful preservation and active stewardship, Portland’s past is vibrantly on
display for its residents and visitors to engage with. In 1876, Edward H. Elwell published the first
edition of his work Portland And Vicinity,
highlighting the many attractions so popular during the formative years of
Maine’s great age of tourism. Elwell’s work, revised in 1881, includes
wonderful illustrations by John B. Hudson, Jr., advertisements from some of the
city’s well-known businesses and a concise readable history of the "Neck.”
Elwell begins the history with a quote taken from Captain John Smith’s The True Travels, Adventures and
Observations of Captaine John Smith first published in London in 1629, which
personifies the long historical relevance of Portland, and the context of the
Maine coast within the larger history of early New England.
John Smith, the first of Maine’s tourists, in his account of his famous summer
trip along our shores, in 1614, thus describes it: ‘Westward of Kennebec is the
Country of Aucocisco, in the bottom of a deep bay full of many great isles,
which divided it into many great harbors’ This was Casco Bay, the present name
of which is a corruption of the Indian word Aucocisco, which according to some
authorities signifies ‘a resting place’, though others give it the
interpretation of crane or heron.”
The city of Portland has gone by many names
including New Casco, Falmouth Neck, and finally Portland in 1786 when the town
separated from Falmouth as a whole. Until 1899, Portland included only the peninsula,
running east to west until it annexed what was then the city of Deering, a location
with its own long, rich history. Elwell eloquently divides the history of Portland
into five periods, between 1632 and the ‘present’ time, 1881. Since the 1880s,
the history of Portland has grown to include a booming tourism industry, a
world-class sea port, an important role in civil defense, as well as periods of
urban development and revitalization.
A long history is not without its strife. The city
has suffered three great devastations during her tenure: in 1690 at the hands
of the French and Native populations; destruction at the hands of the British,
led by Capt. Mowatt, during the Revolution - widely known as the Burning of
Falmouth; and again during the Great Fire of 1866. The city rose like a phoenix
and rebuilt after the fire in 1866, spurring the first of much rejuvenation, a
great deal of which can still be seen thanks to modern efforts by organizations
such as Greater Portland Landmarks to preserve the city’s great architecture. Portland
is also home to the state’s historical society. Founded in 1822, the Maine
Historical Society moved to Portland in the 1880s, finding its permanent home
at the site of the Wadsworth-Longfellow house, boyhood home to Portland’s
native literary celebrity, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
The city of Portland, the
state’s largest city, represents Maine’s resilience and fortitude, revitalizing
and re-inventing herself over nearly four centuries to remain one of New
England’s premier destinations. Elwell’s book Portland And Vicinity, as well as a later edition of Capt. John
Smith’s work, are both available in the Brown Research Library at the Maine
Historical Society, which, along with the Wadsworth-Longfellow House and the
Society’s museum, is open to the public. Please visit www.mainehistory.org for