Cambridge is known the world over as the home of two legendary universities - Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In fact the town name that had originally been “Newe Towne” since it was settled in 1630-1631 as a new town upriver from Boston was changed to honor Cambridge University in England when it was selected in 1636 as the site for a school to train ministers for the Massachusetts Bay Colony. That school would become Harvard College that would come to so dominate the character of Cambridge that it would be observed in the late 1700s that, “This business of teaching, lodging, boarding and clothing and generally providing for the Harvard students was the occupation of the majority of the households of the Old Village.”
But while Harvard was busy churning out United States Presidents - seven - and becoming the most famous college in America, the town was busy as well, if not quite as celebrated. During the Industrial Age only Boston and Providence produced more goods than Cambridge. There was soap from the Lever Brothers Soap Works, one of the largest concerns in the country. There was glass from the New England Glass Company, founded in 1818 and operating the largest and most modern glassworks in the world in the 1800s. William Carter and his brothers and cousin were making more ink than anywhere in the world. There was the country’s first ladder factory and an immense ice cutting trade and caskets and books and boxes and crackers and the first mechanical egg-eater. There would eventually be eight times as many factory workers in Cambridge as students.
But Cambridge has always been regarded as an intellectual center rather than an industrial center so that is where our walking tour will concentrate and we’ll start at the center of it all, in Harvard Square...
EXIT HARVARD SQUARE ON BRATTLE STREET AND CONTINUE ON BRATTLE AS IT TURNS RIGHT.
The Brattle House
42 Brattle Street
This house was constructed in 1727 and at the time of the American Revolution it was owned by General William Brattle, a prominent military man in town dating back to his leadership in the French and Indian War in the 1750s and 1760s. in fact the Brattle House was an anchor of seven mansions along the street that were known as Tory Row for the wealthy families that lived here and were loyal to the King. When it became apparent in the days leading to the Revolution that the Tories were a minority in Cambridge most, including the Brattles, fled. The house was used as Commissary General Thomas Mifflin’s headquarters during the Siege of Boston.
90 Brattle Street at Ash Street
Mary Fiske Stoughton purchased this land in 1882 and hired Henry Hobson Richardson to build her a house and he delivered one of the most important wooden houses in America. Richardson delivered an early example of the Shingle Style with an irregular massing sheathed in wooden shingles. Stoughton’s son, the noted historian John Fiske, made major alterations in the house in 1900 but died before he could move in. There have been further modifications by subsequent owners. Today a seven-foot high wall screens most of the Stoughton House but the details that can be seen up high, like the turret and chimneys, are true to the original design.
Longfellow National Historic Site
105 Brattle Street
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, one of the world’s foremost 19th century poets, moved into this house in 1837, married here in 1843 and lived here until his death in 1882. But even before Longfellow arrived the house had seen an illustrious history. John Vassall, a wealthy Englishman loyal to the Crown, built this elegant Georgian mansion in 1759. He fled with his family in 1774 as the American Revolution spread out around him and during the nine-month British siege of Boston in 1775-76 George Washington made the house his headquarters. Longfellow came to the house as a renter and when he married Frances Appleton, her father bought the house for them as a wedding present. The first use of anesthesia in the United States for childbirth was administered to Mrs. Longfellow at the house. The house remained in the Longfellow family until 1962 when it was deeded to the National Park Service.
TURN AND WALK BACK TO MASON STREET AND TURN LEFT.
First Church, Congregational
11 Garden Street at Mason Street
Gathered in 1636, First Church is one of the oldest continuing Protestant congregations in North America. This fieldstone sanctuary with patterned roof is the Sixth Meeting House, constructed in 1872. The next year the church tower was graced with a weathervane in the shape of a rooster, crafted by Shem Drowne in 1721. Drowne’s work was a familiar sight on early New England streets; his most famous creation was the grasshopper on Boston’s Faneuil Hall.
Christ Church Cambridge
Zero Garden Street
The congregation was founded in 1759 by members of the King’s Chapel who lived in Cambridge to have a church closer to their homes and to provide Church of England services to students at Harvard College across Cambridge Common. Noted church designer Peter Harrison built the wooden church on a foundation of stones collected from the ballast of ocean-going ships the next year. The interior was still incomplete in 1774 when most of the Loyalist congregation abandoned the church. Continental troops were housed here but the occasional service was held here, on the request of Martha and George Washington. Christ Church would gain another connection to Mount Rushmore a century later when Theodore Roosevelt taught Sunday School here while a student at Harvard. When Roosevelt, a member of the Dutch Reformed Church, refused to become an Episcopalian, however, he was dismissed.
TURN RIGHT ON GARDEN STREET.
Garden Street across from Cambridge Common
At a time of expanding educational opportunities for women, the institution that would become Radcliffe College began under the leadership of Elizabeth Cary Agassiz. In 1879, the first formal year of this experiment, 27 women from the Boston area passed the Harvard entrance exam for admission to then nameless program familiarly known as the Harvard Annex, later the Society for the Collegiate Instruction of Women. Finally, in 1894 the school was named for the first female benefactor to Harvard, Ann Radcliffe, who made her bequest in 1643. The core of Radcliffe grew rapidly around the Radcliffe Yard. Today female students continue to be enrolled in Harvard through the Radcliffe system and enjoy the services and programs provided by the long history of women’s education at Radcliffe. The grounds are open to the public and among the yard buildings is a Colonial Revival gymnasium designed by the celebrated architectural firm of McKim, Mead & White in 1898.
BEAR RIGHT ON MASSACHUSETTS AVENUE BACK TOWARDS HARVARD SQUARE.
The First Parish. Unitarian Universalist
3 Church Street, Harvard Square
The first Meeting House was built in 1632 near the corner of the present Dunster and Mt. Auburn streets and Thomas Hooker became the first minister in 1633. It was replaced by a new structure in the current Harvard Yard in 1652 and a third in 1706 and a fourth in 1756. The fifth and current Meeting House was sited across the street on this spot in Harvard Square in 1833.
CROSS MASSACHUSETTS AVENUE TOWARDS THE GATED WALL.
Harvard Yard, Massachusetts Avenue
For most of its existence the core of Harvard University, about 25 acres, was a grassy area left open or marked by a low rustic fence. Charles Follen McKim, a Harvard alumnus, sought to change all that in the late 1800s. McKim, Mead and White was the most influential architectural firm of America’s Gilded Age and McKim would contribute several important buildings to the Harvard campus. It was not without years of cajoling and wrangling that McKim’s vision for enclosing the yard came to pass - a stately combination of brick piers and wrought iron fences broken by Georgian-style gates that would harmonize with the early buildings in the Yard. The Johnston Gate facing Cambridge Common and Harvard Square was completed in 1889 and named after Samuel Johnston, Class of 1855, who donated $10,000 for its construction.
WALK THROUGH THE GATE. THE BUILDING ON YOUR LEFT IS...
Completed in 1766, this is the Harvard Hall to stand here. The first, from 1642, collapsed thirty years later and its replacement burned in 1764, unfortunately taking the college library with it, including all but one of the original books donated by namesake benefactor John Harvard. This building, substantially expanded through the years, was sited perpendicularly to the square to dividing Haryard Yard into a pair of quadrilateral sectios.
THE BUILDING ON YOUR RIGHT IS...
Massachusetts Hall, designed by Harvard presidentJohn Leverett and his successor Benjamin Wadsworth, was created in 1718 as a dorm to house 64 students. It has been a dorm ever since and among its residents who went on to later fame wereJohn Adams, John Hancock, Samuel Adams, Elbridge Gerry and James Otis. This is the oldest surviving building on campus and only the Wren Building at William & Mary in Williamsburg is an older collegiate building anywhere in the United States.
TURN RIGHT AND WALK COUNTERCLOCKWISE AROUND THIS PART OF HARVARD YARD KNOWN AS “OLD YARD.”
Nathan Matthews gave the $113,000 to build this dormitory in 1872 with the stipulation that it be partly reserved for “needy and deserving scholar.” The design byBoston architects Robert Swain Peabody and John Goddard Stearns, Jr. is infused with Ruskian Gothic ornamentation but they were careful to keep the form symmetrical in keeping with the more conservative Georgian brick buildings In Harvard Yard. Some who bunked here: Matt Damon, Chuck Schumer, Barney Frank, William Randolph Hearst, John Dos Passos and Ernest Thayer.
This French Second Empire-inspired building was constructed as a dormitory in 1863 at a cost of $40,000. The Grays, three of them, who attended Harvard in the first decades of the 1800s were descendants of William Gray, born to humble circumstances in Lynn in 1750. Gray was apprenticed to merchants in Salem and after entering business on his own built a fleet of more than sixty-square rigged ships. He was considered the wealthiest man in new England when he died in 1823. Norman Mailer lived here and so did Natalie Portman. The dorm stands on the spot where Old College was constructed as Harvard College’s first academic building, completed in 1644. It was reported that Old College was “built of timber covered with shingles of cedar, and framed, fastened, sheathed and boarded with wood, the cheapest material available. Iron was used only for the frames and hinges of casement windows, for fastening the sheathing to the frame, and for nails, locks, and hinges in the studies.”
Harvard University has been populated by Welds, a prominent Massachusetts shipping family, for most of its 400-year history. One family member who did not attend the college was William Fletcher Weld whose plans to go to school were scuttled by the War of 1812 that brought financial ruin to the family shipping business. Instead, Weld began clerking for an importer at the age of 15 and launched his business career. By the age of 33 he had made enough money to built The Senator, the largest ship of her day. In 1870, Weld donated money to build this Queen Anne style dormitory in memory of his younger brother, Stephen Minot Weld, who had died four years earlier after contracting pneumonia while attending a reading in Boston by Charles Dickens. This was the dorm where John F. Kennedy lived during his freshman year.
Charles Bulfinch, considered the first American professional architect and Class of 1781, provided the plans for this building in the center of Harvard Yard in 1813. Although the final building is a scaled-down version of Bulfinch’s grand vision it features some of his trademark touches - twinned, fluted Ionic pilasters at the entrances, doors with fanlight transoms and a roof balustrade. The light gray granite for the building was quarried in Chelmsford, Massachusetts. University Hall originally contained four dining rooms (one for each class), a library and a chapel.
John Harvard Statue
University Hall, Harvard Yard
John Harvard sailed from England in May 1637 to Charlestown where he was installed as the town’s pastor. His time in America was short; he contracted tuberculosis and was dead 16 months later at the age of 30. John Harvard had left no discernible footprint on his new land but he directed that half of his money, about 779 pounds, and his library of 400 books be left for the New College in Cambridge, started two years earlier with his friend Nathaniel Eaton as schoolmaster. The money was put to use constructing a school building and John Harvard’s name would be attached to one of the world’s most famous colleges. This statue was sculpted by Daniel Chester French and placed here in 1884. No one had any idea what the real John Harvard looked like so French used a student as a model for the sitting Harvard. Years later he had more to work with when he created the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Tradition holds that it is good luck to reach up and rub John Harvard’s left foot.
TURN LEFT AND WALK BACK TOWARDS THE JOHNSTON GATE. TUN RIGHT AN WALK DOWN THE PATH IN FRONT OF HARVARD HALL. LOOK TO YOUR LEFT PAST THE FIRST BUILDING, HOLLIS HALL, ON YOUR LEFT.
This small Georgian building was constructed in 1744 when it stood along, not dwarfed by surrounding dorms. It is the third oldest building at Harvard and one of the oldest college buildings in America. In the beginning the students would come here for morning and evening prayers but it has not hosted services for more than 200 years. The Harvard Medical School used the building for autopsies and for most of the last 100 years has been home to glee clubs and choir groups. Its most conspicuous feature is the huge coat of arms set against the blue flush-board gable facing the center of Harvard Yard.
William Stoughton, Class of 1650, became lieutenant governor of the Massachusetts Bay colony in 1692 and acting governor for about five years. Stoughton, who presided over the Salem with trials, was one of the major early benefactors of Harvard College and he funded the building of the first Staughton hall in 1700. This remembrance came along in 1804 in the form of this wonderfully proportioned brick dormitory designed by Charles Bulfinch. It resides next to its virtual twin, Hollis Hall, the third of the school’s dormitories, opened in in 1763. If you are looking for a difference in the two buildings, look for the beltcourses between stories on Hollis Hall.
CROSS OVER CAMBRIDGE STREET INTO THE LAW SCHOOL AND WALK INTO THE OPEN SPACE. AHEAD TO THE LEFT, IS...
Harvard Law School
While Henry Hobson Richardson, the most influential architect of post-Civil War America, corralled his design philosophy to blend his Sever Hall into the fabric of Harvard Yard, here he found full expression for the first home of Harvard Law School in 1883. It features such Richardson touches as polychromatic sandstone, conical tower, clusters of truncated columns and emphatic use of broad, bold arches.
TURN RIGHT AND WEAVE YOUR WAY THROUGH THE BUILDINGS OUT TO OXFORD STREET AND TURN RIGHT. WHEN IT ENDS IN A FEW STEPS, TURN LEFT ON KIRKLAND STREET.
Adolphus Busch Hall
27 Kirkland Street
Beer baron Adolphus Busch, who pioneered the pasteurization of beer so that it could be kept in rail-side icehouses and shipped in refrigerated rail cars throughout the country without a loss of quality, tossed $265,000 to Harvard for the construction of a Germanic Museum. This romantic revival building was one of the first commissions for German Bestelmeyer who studied architecture at the Technical University of Munich and is the only museum in North America dedicated to the study of art from the German-speaking countries of Central and Northern Europe.
TURN RIGHT ON QUINCY STREET.
Church of the New Jerusalem/Swedenborg Chapel
50 Quincy Street
This one-and-a-half story, gable roofed stone building in the Late Gothic Revival style was designed by H. Langford Warren. Warren, who founded the School of Architecture at Harvard and was a charter member and long-time president of the Boston Society of Arts and Crafts. A founding member of the Cambridge church, he was the son of a Swedenborgian missionary that derives its theology from the writings of Emmanuel Swedenborg from the 18th century.
45Quincy Street and Kirkland and Cambridge streets
Just beyond the walls of the refined Georgian-style of Harvard Yard looms this exuberant example of High Gothic Victorian architecture that was called “the most valuable gift the University has ever received, with respect to cost, daily usefulness, and significance” by the Harvard president when it was opened in 1878. Memorial Hall, designed by grads Robert Ware and Henry Van Brunt, is the result of a fund-raising campaign following the Civil War to honor Harvard graduates who fought for the Union cause and provide the college with a theater and gathering place for alumni. In three years $370,000 was raised - a sum equal to one-twelfth of the school’s then endowment.
Fogg Art Museum
32 Quincy Street
The Fogg Museum is the oldest of Harvard University’s art museums. It opened in 1896 in an Italian Renaissance building designed by master Richard Morris Hunt that was demolished for this Georgian Revival home in the 1920s. Its function is being usurped by a new building that will house all three school art museums under one roof.
TURN RIGHT AND RE-ENTER HARVARD YARD. TURN RIGHT AND AGAIN WALK COUNTERCLOCKWISE.
Of all the illustrious alumni of Harvard, not many get a building named after them without paying for it. This one, however, was named for Ralph Waldo Emerson, writer, philosopher and Class of 1821. It was designed by Guy Lowell, and completed in 1900. The building bears over the main entrance the inscription: “What is man that thou art mindful of him?”
The celebrated Henry Hobson Richardson created one of his most important buildings here, often praised as one of the best buildings in America. Richardson swapped his trademark rough-faced stone for the red brick of Harvard Yard and used more than one million of them in the construction, some 100,000 to form the exterior facade alone. There are more than 60 different varieties of red molded brick, enhanced by elaborate brick carvings. Sever Hall originally was held together with red mortar but it has been lost in restoration efforts over the years. The building is trimmed with Longmeadow brownstone. Sever Hall was built from 1878-1880 with a gift from Anne Sever in honor of her deceased husband, James Warren Sever.
This Georgian Revival church was constructed in 1931-32 opposite the monumental Widener Library to create a wide grassy area known as Tercentenary Theater that now hosts the school’s most important ceremonies. The building was dedicated to Harvard students who perished in World War I.
CONTINUE ACROSS TERCENTENARY THEATRE.
Widener Memorial Library
Gore Hall, erected in 1838, was for years the symbol of Harvard University, and remains on the seal of the city of Cambridge. It was modeled on the fifteenth century King College Chapel in Cambridge, England and was the first building at Harvard to be used solely as a library. By the early 1900s the school’s collections far exceeded the capacity of Gore Hall and it was unceremoniously demolished. Its replacement was paid for by Mrs. Eleanor Elkins Widener in the memory of her son Harry who lost his life in the Titanic disaster of 1912. As a condition of her gift, Mrs. Widener stipulated that the library should be designed by Horace Trumbauer, a self-taught Philadelphia architect who was the go-to designer for the family. Trumbauer’s Beaux Arts building features 57 miles of bookshelves capable of holding three million volumes - still only a fraction of the 15.6 million-volume Harvard University Library system, the largest university library system in the world.
TURN RIGHT AND MAKE YOUR WAY ACROSS HARVARD YARD TO THE JOHNSTON GATE. WALK OUT AND TURN LEFT TO RETURN TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT IN HARVARD SQUARE.