Christ Church, Cambridge, Mass

Christ Church on Garden Street in Cambridge, on October 25, 1929. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leon Abdalian Collection.

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The church in 2016:

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This church, which is also visible in the previous post, is the oldest existing church building in Cambridge. It was completed in 1761 and designed by Peter Harrison, who was the first formally trained architect to work in the future United States. It is one of only a few existing buildings that he definitely designed, along with King’s Chapel in Boston and several others in Newport, Rhode Island. Like King’s Chapel, and unlike most colonial New England churches, Christ Church was Anglican, and was intended to serve the town’s small but wealthy Anglican population along with students at nearby Harvard. Early in the American Revolution, Cambridge served as George Washington’s headquarters during the Siege of Boston. Many of the Anglicans here were Loyalists who fled the city, and the church closed for several years. However, George and Martha Washington, who were Anglicans themselves, did attend a service here in 1775.

The building reopened in 1790, and along with the Washingtons, the church has seen a number of other distinguished visitors. In 1879, Harvard student Theodore Roosevelt taught Sunday School here until a new pastor asked him to stop, because he was Dutch Reformed rather than Episcopalian. Nearly a century later, the church was more accommodating to Martin Luther King, Jr., who held a press conference here after Harvard refused to allow him to use one of their buildings.

Aside from an 1857 expansion to accommodate its growing congregation, the church has remained true to Harrison’s original design, and over 250 years later it is still in use as an Episcopalian church. Because of its historical and architectural significance, it has been designated as a National Historic Landmark, which is the highest level of recognition on the National Register of Historic Places.

Old Burying Ground, Cambridge, Mass

The Old Burying Ground in Cambridge, across from Harvard Yard, around 1899. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The cemetery in 2016:

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Cambridge was first settled in 1631, just a year after Boston, at a location a little further up the Charles River from Boston. Originally given the creative name of Newe Towne, the settlement centered around the Harvard Square area, and this was the town’s only cemetery for nearly 200 years. The first burials here date back  to around 1635, but headstones were not common at the time, so the oldest one still standing is dated 1653.

Most of the headstones here are from the late 17th and 18th centuries, with very few after the early 19th century. Because it was the town’s only cemetery, the burials here represent people from all classes and walks of life. Some of the prominent citizens have more elaborate monuments, such as the table stone in the foreground, which marks the grave of Colonel John Vassall, who died in 1747.

Today, the historic gravestone remains essentially unchanged since the first photo was taken some 117 years ago. In the background is Christ Church, one of two churches that borders the cemetery on either end. It was built in 1760, and although partially hidden by trees in the 2016 scene, it is still standing as one of the few surviving works of prominent colonial architect Peter Harrison.

Tremont Street and King’s Chapel, Boston

Looking south on Tremont Street in Boston, toward School Street, around 1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The scene in 2014:

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These photos were taken from right across the street from the ones in this post, although the “then” photo here was taken nearly 50 years after the one in the other post.  Aside from King’s Chapel, which predates the first photo by about 150 years, a few other buildings survive from the 1906 scene.  The most obvious one is the Tremont Temple, the third building on the left after King’s Chapel.  It was built in 1896 and continues to serve as a Baptist church.

King’s Chapel, Boston

King’s Chapel in Boston, as seen between 1900 and 1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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King’s Chapel in March 2013:

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Not much about the church itself has changed, although most of its surroundings have.  The King’s Chapel Burying Ground is still to the left, and the top of the old Boston City Hall is visible just above the roof of the church.  The church was built on the site of a previous, wooden church, which had been built in 1688.  When King’s Chapel was built in the early 1750s, it was literally built around it, and when it was completed, the 1688 church was dismantled and removed through the windows.