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The Front Hall

The front hall of the Wadsworth-Longfellow House

The front hall of the Wadsworth-Longfellow House, 2002.

In the front hall, the walls retain their original eighteenth-century wainscot paneling: the upper plaster wall was decorated with wallpaper beginning in 1786. Influential American architect Alexander Jackson Downing suggested new styles and decoration of residences in The Architecture of Country Houses (1850). The hall's costly French rococo-revival paper, featuring large cartouches, illustrates "the enhanced architectural effect which may be given a plain room, by covering the walls with paper of a suitable style." The rococo-revival paper Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and his wife Fanny selected in 1844 for the parlor at Craigie House, their Cambridge home, may have inspired Anne Longfellow Pierce's choice. Anne's design was particularly sophisticated with the use of two alternating rolls. Borders representing architectural molding and leaves at the ceiling and wainscot further defined the room.

As early as 1841 Zilpah Longfellow discussed the purchase of a new floor covering for the hall. A painted canvas carpet or floorcloth had been a popular choice from the eighteenth century because of its durable varnished surface. "Why everybody has it," her family urged. "Is that a good reason?" she replied. After Zilpah's death, "a painted floorcloth was put down on the front entry which with two nice handsome mats give the old place quite the look of a lady's premises without materially changing the entry," reported Anne in 1852. Anne's design featured bold oak leaves enclosed in diamonds. A woven runner, secured by brass rods, carpeted the stairs. An elegant blown-and-engraved glass fluid lamp illuminated the space. (The Longfellows' oil lighting fixtures were wired for electricity by the Society in 1903.)