Survey Finds Longfellow Site Underfunded
According to a survey released last week by the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), the Longfellow National Historical Site—Cambridge’s only federally operated historical site—lacks sufficient funds.
The NPCA—a private advocacy group focused on protecting national parks—examined Longfellow as part of a survey of a dozen national parks and museums devoted to the American Revolution.
The Longfellow museum is the 18th century mansion located just beyond Harvard Square at 105 Brattle Street, which was once the home of noted poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow—who was also an English professor at Harvard in the mid-1800s. The house also served as George Washington’s first headquarters for the Continental Army.
The site is currently open only five months out of the year, and may have to reduce its hours further due to an inadequate operating budget.
“Every year our financial problems get worse, as our funding has not increased and we receive more visitors,” said James M. Shea, the museum director.
The staff of the museum is asking for more than 100 percent increase from its current $791,000 annual budget. The additional money would help meet maintenance needs, add new educational and outreach programs and support research.
With over 700,000 pieces in its archives and 14,000 books in its collections, the museum receives tens of thousand visitors annually.
“The house has tremendous importance because it houses 19th and 20th century American materials. It is a research facility that should be open year-round,” said Charles M. Sullivan, the executive director of the Cambridge Historical Commission.
But funds are not easy to come by.
As part of the National Parks Service (NPS), workers at the museum are federal employees and cannot pursue any fundraising efforts on their own.
The museum does have a friends group that has raised some money to restore the gardens, but only federal funds go toward the maintenance of the house. And the city of Cambridge can do little to help.
“Receiving funds is a political process and most of the decisions get made in Congress,” Sullivan said.
Although President Bush announced that he will provide $4.9 billion for the NPS over the next five years, national park advocates have said this is not enough.
“Focusing strictly on the maintenance backlog is a band-aid approach that has been tried for years but does not solve the problem in the long run,” said NCPA president Thomas Kiernan in a press release.
The museum, which is usually open from June through October, has been closed this past season to renovate security, fire, and other internal systems.
It is scheduled to reopen in June.
“Our primary concern right now is addressing operation and staffing costs and being able to maintain our hours,” Shea said. “We often get calls from visitors who are disappointed to hear that we are not open. People all over the world come to hear about our history and it is hard to turn them away.”
—Staff writer Jessica E. Vascellaro can be reached at email@example.com.