STATEMENT OF KATHERINE H. STEVENSON,
ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, BUSINESS SERVICES, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE,
DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR,
BEFORE THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS,
COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES,
UNITED STATES SENATE,
CONCERNING S. 1405,
A BILL TO REDESIGNATE THE LONGFELLOW NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE,
AS THE 'LONGFELLOW HOUSE-WASHINGTON'S HEADQUARTERS NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE'.
NOVEMBER 4, 2009
Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to provide the Department of the Interior's views on S. 1405 to redesignate the Longfellow National Historic Site in Massachusetts as the Longfellow House-Washington Headquarters National Historic Site.
The Department supports enactment of this legislation.
On June 16, 1775, George Washington accepted the appointment of the Continental Congress as commander of the yet-to-be-formed Continental Army.He immediately journeyed north to take command of New England militia troops on July 3, 1775, and conduct a siege of British-held Boston, Massachusetts.A house, abandoned by Loyalist John Vassall, on Brattle Street in Cambridge became his headquarters for nine months during the conflict.Vassall had been forced to flee the house shortly after the Battles of Lexington and Concord. Washington's wife Martha, along with other family members and servants from Virginia, joined him there for four of those months.
From a ground floor office in the house, Washington struggled with the numerous problems of his new command.Among these were defending the region against the well-trained British troops occupying Boston, bringing discipline to the untrained militia, and supplying his army with arms and the accoutrements of war.It was here, too, that he gave command to Benedict Arnold of a small force to attack Quebec over the mountains of Maine and confronted Dr. Benjamin Church, a patriot leader, with evidence that he was a British spy.From Cambridge, Washington provided for the development of a network of spies in Boston to report on British plans and movements.He also approved the arming and use of vessels to confront British supply ships.
The siege proved to be successful and the British withdrew from Boston without the destruction of lives and property that a major battle would have caused.For his efforts, Washington received a medal from Congress and an honorary degree from Harvard.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and his wife Fanny received the house on Brattle Street as a wedding gift from his wife's father in 1843.Both expressed pride in owning the house that had been Washington's headquarters.Fanny Longfellow wrote:
"….we are full of plans and projects with no desire, however, to change a feature of the old countenance which Washington has rendered sacred."
Longfellow relished conducting tours of the house when tourists would inquire about the period when it was Washington's headquarters.The Longfellows also collected Washington memorabilia, which are prominent among the furnishings they left and which are preserved today at the national historic site.
Public Law 92-475, which authorized the establishment of the national historic site in 1972, recognized the role that the house played as the headquarters of General George Washington during the siege of Boston between 1775 and 1776.Redesignation of the national historic site will better enable visitors to identify the importance of the full history of the resource and appreciate Longfellow's veneration of George Washington.
The appropriateness of redesignating the name of the national historic site was perhaps best expressed by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, himself, from the same ground floor office used by Washington. In 1845, in his poem entitled "To a Child",hewrote this passage:
Once, ah, once, within these walls,
One whom memory oft recalls,
The Father of his Country, dwelt.
And yonder meadows broad and damp
The fires of the besieging camp
Encircled with a burning belt.
Up and down these echoing stairs,
Heavy with the weight of cares,
Sounded his majestic tread;
Yes, within this very room
Sat he in those hours of gloom,
Weary both in heart and head.
Mr. Chairman, that concludes my testimony. I would be pleased to answer any questions you or members of the committee may have regarding the proposed redesignation.