Touring the Vassall-Craigie-Longfellow Historic House

Project: Bob's Shingle Style Home, Episode 6, Part 2

Interior framing and structural additions are well along, and Bob takes a look at the different uses of wooden and metal studs and how they’re constructed.  Bob tours historic Longfellow House.


Part 1: Installing Stud Lumber Partitioning for the Bathroom
Part 2: Touring the Vassall-Craigie-Longfellow Historic House

Bob visits the historic mid-Georgian Vassall-Craigie-Longfellow House with National Parks Service representative Jim Shea. Bob describes the home's unique history and notes its many architectural features.

Part 3: Building a Metal Stud Wall in the Basement
This project centers around the remodel of Bob Vila's own gracious Shingle Style home in Cambridge, MA. It's a house with a lot of history and beautiful architectural details, many of which were obliterated in remodels of the 50s and the 70s. On the centennial of the house's construction, Bob gets together the best talents in the business to recreate and renew it to its former glory, making some important modifications along the way that will transform this into a dream house for today.

Also from Bob's Shingle Style Home

Hi I'm Bob Vila. Welcome home again. Today's a big day. We're gonna get started with a tour of the new spaces, especially the kitchen.

And we've finally finished all of our structural repairs, so we're going to be laying out some of the new partitions, wooden walls as well as metal studs down in the basement.

And I'm taking you on a tour of a neighboring house. The Longfellow house, one of the greatest historic houses in America.

George Washington was headquartered there and the famous poet Longfellow lived there for many decades.

Stick around, it's good to have you home again.

Well the re-framing of the kitchen space is complete now and I wanted to explain it to you because, you know, this is an 1890's Victorian house, and what we started out with was a collection of pantries in small, tight spaces.

We've blown everything out of the way now so that it's 18 by 25.

Plenty of room for large eating kitchen, big cooking area and here the way we framed it here we're creating a small mud room. We'll have a bench, and we'll have hooks on the wall, and back here we'll have pantry cabinets for stuff that you don't need all the time.

This corner of the kitchen becomes, well basically an office. A computer center and a kitchen office, with lots of built-ins. And the major change is that we've taken, and we've put in a window here, and a double window here, that really face east and south.

And when you think about it, that's the best light in the morning. And this is a kitchen space that you're going to be using it in the morning.

One of the things that makes it plausible to put big openings like this with glass, into old, hundred year old frames, is the use of what you're looking at up there, which is basically an engineered lumber product.

A structural, a product that won't shrink in the frame, so that it's not going to make any twists or any changes to the frame.

These are Strucklams. There's also Microlams. There's many different brands. But it's basically engineered and it's very stable.

The other thing we've done to.reframe this space involved the actual second floor system. Which was very compromised because one of the earlier remodelings had removed some load-bearing walls here. What had happened was that we had a very, very unstable floor system.

Earlier in the project we put in that very, very large carrying beam that you see there and now we've completed it by putting in more of these structural lumber pieces, these engineered lumber pieces, throughout the whole area of the second floor.

Let's go, now, to the second floor. We'll touch base with Greg Rockman, the architect, who is up there, as well as Riley who's doing some of the framing.

The second floor has really seen a lot of changes, also. It's basically gutted. And we have taken out one of the bedrooms. It had four bedrooms, it's now going to have three. So that we can have his and her baths off of this main room, which is the master bedroom.

Hi, Greg,

Hi, Bob, how are you?

Things are looking good up here.

Yes, they are.

Now, you've had some major structural changes to take care of in this room. Because the original partition for the room went along here, and we've moved it back.

That's right.

To this location.

This is a new bearing wall. It holds up the third floor.

It was here where the joist from the two spaces were joined.


And we added a structural member to each joist and then bolted the old joist to them to stiffen them.

And these are the same as we used in the kitchen area.

That's right.

So that we're now taking the third floor load right across the whole span here, which is now what?

About eighteen feet.

Eighteen feet. So it'll be a very good size.

Now is the project on schedule?

No, we're about two weeks behind. We spent a lot of time re-framing the second floor due to damage and some errors that were made in the original 1898 frame.

So there were original errors, but then the plumbers really did


The early plumbers

The early plumbers really did a lot of damage. We had to replace a lot of joist before we could build any partitions on top of it.

Are we going to be able to catch up?

Yeah, I think we will be.

Alright I know we've got Riley trying to catch up in the next few months.


See you later. Hi, Riley. Hi Bob!

And on this other side of the house what we've got is essentially two rooms that are about twelve by sixteen, and this center area which will have closets and over here a bathroom. This is where we really had some very badly chopped up joist work, right Riley?

Oh yeah this was a mess in here.

Yeah this was, and we are now looking, the new framework that has been put is, again, using engineered lumber, and still we got three or four inch waste pipes that have been run through there but here the span is so short that is doesn't make any difference. It's really solid enough. And we've actually put these cleats down on either side of it, so that when the subfloor plywood is installed, it's flush with the tops of, the tops of the joists.

And that just affords us an extra three quarters of an inch of depth, if you will, so that when we put down a mudjob and ceramic tile, we're not taking up too much space and we're not taking too much away from the head room. Are you ready to go in with us now?

Yep, this is all set, ready to go.

Jordy, are you gonna give him a hand?

We're just doing all of this partitioning with regular two by four stud lumber as opposed to metal.

Here we go.

And this of course is on 16 inch center.

16 inch center.

Now do you nail it first on the bottom or the top?

Yeah you definitely want to nail the bottom first and then once we get that secured we'll plumb the wall.

Exactly, if you went and started nailing the top first then, you wouldn't really be able to plumb it to make sure that it was perfectly straight up and down. Alright, let's get a level on it.


You need your, OK, here you go.

OK, well that's the first of several partitions for this whole bathroom area, and I know it'll be a full day to get it all framed and we've got to break for some messages.

Don't go away, because when we come back, we are going to be touring one of Cambridge's most important historic homes: the Longfellow House. Stick around. We're visiting the Vassall-Craigie-Longfellow house. All of you have heard about Longfellow, the poet. Who wrote among many other things "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere".

It's known as the Vassal house because the builders in the mid Georgian period, mid 1700s, were loyalist colonist's who fled here, at the beginning of the Revolution, leaving all their properties, leaving the silver on the table.

Now the house was headquarters for General George Washington . In fact, this was all open land back then and his troops were encamped here along the land surrounding the house.

Longfellow, our great poet, was one of the early preservationists. And he was fortunate to be married to a woman who was an heiress. And it was the, the father-in-law who founded the, the woolen mills here in New England. Who gave them this historic house as a wedding gift.

And they proceeded, during their lifetime, to kind of recreate and to create an archive and to really be preservationists This in the 19th century. The house was also a magnet for intellectuals from all over America and the world, who came here to visit with Longfellow, the great American intellectual.

We want to take our tour inside with the fellow who is the manager and curator here. This is a house that belongs to the National Park Service and his name is Jim Shay. Let's go inside.

Hi Jim.

Hi Bob. Welcome to the Longfellow house.

Thank you.

You know, a house like this, I don't know whether to start talking about the architecture or start asking questions about the history.

Well obviously, architecture is the most obvious and you look at the staircase, it's so wonderful, which dates to the building of the house in 1759.

And is it a double staircase?

It is, it's one of a double staircase, the front is the most decorative and the back is one place people come up to.

But it's also an art gallery in here.

Well you see obviously we have people like George Washington who actually lived in this house, and that shows the layers of history since he was one of the residents. Here. He lived in in 1775.

And, Longfellow the poet tried to create a shrine to General Washington here, right?

He did. Washington lived here from 1775 to 1776. So when Longfellow lived here in 1843, he created a shrine for Washington with the bust and paintings of the house.

Was this the poet's study?

Yeah, come on in. The... Mr. Longfellow actually wrote most of his poetry and prose in this room. And as you come through you see Mr. Longfellow himself, right here.

So this is a room that's kind of the typical of the 1860s?

1860s , 1870s. This is typical of , you know, this neighborhood.

And, and when you look at the colors in here, the bright red drapes and the taupe walls and everything it could be, you know, it could be contemporary.

Definitely, definitely, and this...

Is this a portrait of Longfellow?

This is Mr. Longfellow. It was painted in his later life, of course. It was done by his son Ernest Longfellow.

Amazing. Tell me a little bit about the furniture. What about a chair like this Hey this chair is actually wonderful. It has a great story to it as many things as many things in this house do.

But this particular chair was built from the wood of the spreading chestnut tree. Mr. Longfellow wrote a poem called "The Village Blacksmith".


And in 1876 the tree was chopped down. It used to be on Bridal Street here. Which saddened Mr. Longfellow so much. So the children of Cambridge pooled their money and had the wood from the tree made in this chair. Designed by Longfellow's nephew W.P.T Longfellow.



That's a great story.

This is actually the spreading chestnut tree here in the blacksmith shop.

In this picture.

In this picture, is painted by Voltan, the artist in 1846.

Fabulous story. Now, was this the actual library, I mean I heard he was a a collector of books?

His library actually is ten thousand volumes, so follow me because the library is actually in the next room.

OK, so this was the working room and then the actual library was next door.

Exactly, exactly.

Well its clearly a library, but it also has the feel of a very, very Gracious living room.

You're right. And we do have all these books from Mr. Longfellow. He spoke several languages and could read twelve.


Yes. And also, we have around the house paintings and sculpture, work from Italy, from all of the world.

So, they did the grand tour of Europe?

The grand tour of Europe, of course. And over here, we have some ceramics from Japan, French bronzes, a clock from France, as well.

Yeah. Now how was the room used? Just a repository for books?

The room was used as a music room, actually. And reception for people from around the world. We had people like Jenny Lind coming here.

The opera singer. Yeah.

Oscar Wilde came here. Charles Dickens was often here.

It's a fabulous piano, too, isn't it?

Yes, yes. The piano was actually Alice Longfellow's piano. And Mr. Longfellow, himself, could play the piano.

Mm-hm. Now the room is an 18th century room with all this grand paneling. And the moldings, and the dentils, and this mantelpiece. is it from the original 1759 construction?

No, it's not. This actually came from another house called the Old Boot House in Boston. Demolished in 1846 and Mr. Longfellow brought this mantle to this house and had it installed.

But, it's from the 1700's.


So, he was collecting items from the previous century that fit into the house.

The layers of history here. Right. Exactly.

Where to next?

Why don't you follow me to the back hallway?

OK. Boy, the books are amazing, huh?

Jim, why would a Georgian mansion like this have a front stairs and a back stairs. It's clearly not a service staircase, they're both very elaborate.

Right, actually, public space and private space being -- this being for the family, coming back here. But thevisitors would not use this space at all.

So, this is kind of private.


I see. And this is the formal dining room.

Yeah, the dining room .

And is the table set for dinner?

No, actually it's set for dessert table. All the original artifacts from the Longfellow family, as you see around this room. Including the paintings and this Buddhist alter table.

What is this?

A Buddhist altar table that the older son Charles Longfellow brought back from Japan in 1870.

All red lacquer.

Red lacquer.

Quite a souvenir to bring back.

Yeah, he actually brought back trunks and trunks of this from Japan and China.

Now who are the lovely women on the wall?

Okay, we actually have Fannie Appleton, Henry Longfellow's wife. His three daughters, right here, and Mary Appleton, which is Fannie's sister.

So they were the two heiresses to this huge textile fortune, right?

Yes. Exactly.

And Fannie's parlor was supposed to be quite famous.

Right, and come and see it.


Boy, what an extraordinary room, huh?

This is really high Georgian detailing. The, the overmantel and the mantel flanked by the arching doorways. And the pilasters, this is all... woodwork that's all hand-planed and carved, broken pediment at the top. What a fabulous room.


This is probably the fanciest room in the house.

It's wonderful. It is. It is.

Now, the furnishings certainly don't look 18th century though.

No, they're not. They're [unintelligle] Henry Longfellow and Fannie Longfellow. And we have furniture and paintings from that period.

What year did they move into this house?


So, this is when they decorated this room.

Exactly. And this actually the original wall paper from 1846 that Fannie choose and put in the room here.

And the room was never changed?

Never changed, nope. And she died tragically in a fire in this house. And this is a memorial to her from Henry Longfellow.

So, the family maintained the room as she had it. Kind of in her memory.

Exactly. Exactly.

How wonderful.

You know, also, Martha Washington lived here. And this a portrait of her. And this also Martha Washington's parlor, which we have preserved. And Fannie Longfellow also was --

There is that real connection between the Washington's and the Longfellow's and the whole spirit of preservation in this house.


Now tell me, Jim, the National Parks Service owns the house. Is it open year round?

It is not. Right now, we're closed six months out of the year.

We're open May to October of every year, and we'll be opening soon, actually.

And I know there's a group called The Friends of The Longfellow House who are doing a lot to raise funds for preservation and improvements here at the house, right?
Right. They're an important group right now, community-based, and we look forward to working with them for many years.

Marvelous. Well, thank you for the tour.


It's a very special house.

Thank you.

We have to break for some messages. When we come back, we'll be back at our house.

Don't go away. The basement entry into this house is really comfortable, because we have a fine stone entryway with full size doors here, which means you can get a lot of material in and out of the basement. And what we're going to do here is have a nice family woodworking shop.

Yeah, last week we poured a new concrete slab throughout the area, so that today we're going to be talking about putting up the metal stud partitions. Let me just show you on the floor plan.

I just came into the basement from the original bulkhead, and this whole portion here is all going to be a family home workshop for boys and girls. Lots of project space.

We're also going to have a small wine storage closet. And we're going to have a large laundry room space for an additional refrigerator and freezer.

Over here we've got a boiler room, and we got a half bath and an exercise room. But right now we're focusing on all these partitions that have to go in place, and we're using steel for a variety of reasons.

You know, in a

Basement you've always got damp and in this 100 old year house. We did have some evidence of termite damage of one point, so you don't have to worry about termites with steel. You don't have to worry about rust, it's galvanized. It's Recyclable. There's a lot of reasons for working with it and Danny Rafine here from Horhill Construction. You've got,well, you've got the project started. How did you fasten it to the slab?

Well we screwed it down fastened it.

So you can use either cut nails or you can use screwdrivers.

Power actuated on top of a slab.

Or you can shoot it?


Yeah, in the concrete.

Thats another point that I didn't make is that usually they come with all these perforations. So you don't have to worry about, running electrical wires, or any kind of wires through the metal stud.

And we lined those all up.

You've already laid it out here.

Yeah, we laid it out, we just simple..

Just put these in place while you start fastening at the bottom there.

Yep. Yep. Little tech screws.

They're self-tapping screws?

Little tech screws, they call them.


So that you don't have to drill holes or anything. And again you fasten them from the bottom and then you plumb them up to the top. Here you go.

Alright, we're ready to turn the corner.

And again it's the same deal right?"

Yeah. Go on. Now Danny you pre-cut all these to length using a power saw, but how do you hand cut them?

Well, you can cut these with a regular tin snips here. I have this piece here.

That's gonna be the header?

Yeah, that's gonna be the header for this opening and we got it already marked and we just cut it. Then we just bend it over. This will attach to this stud here. Just like that. We need to put this one in first.

Yeah, yeah.

Just cutting this.

So, then its really not intimidating. A guy with tin snips can do most of the work.


You can also cut right along the length.


You've got a setup over here where you can cut how many? Five at a time?

Yeah, you can cut

Lets watch you run this.

You've got a carborundum blade on the power saw?

Yep, yep. We just put here.

Okay. Now this is gonna spit out some fireworks.


So, you've gotta have your eyes protected. That's all there is to it.

Yeah. That makes quick work out of it.


Alright, we are going to break for some messages. Don't go away.

That's gonna wrap things up for today. Come home again next time, where we'll be working on a red cedar shingled roof. And hopefully the windows will be delivered.

'Till then, I'm Bob Vila. It's great to have you home again.



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