Wadsworth House, Cambridge, Mass

The Wadsworth House on Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge, around 1904. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The house in 2016:

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The Wadsworth House is the second-oldest building at Harvard, after the nearby Massachusetts Hall. It was built in 1726 for college president Benjamin Wadsworth, who lived here until his death in 1737. For over a century, eight additional Harvard presidents lived here, with the last being Edward Everett, who was president here from 1846 to 1849, in the midst of a lengthy political career that included serving as a Congressman, Governor of Massachusetts, Ambassador to the United Kingdom, US Senator, and US Secretary of State. However, the most prominent resident of this house was George Washington. It served as his first headquarters when he arrived in Cambridge to take command of the Continental Army in July 1775, and he stayed here for two weeks before moving into the John Vassall House on Brattle Street.

Although no longer the home of the Harvard president, the Wadsworth House is still part of the campus and is used for offices. Over the years there have been some additions to the side and back, but overall the nearly 300 year old building remains an excellent example of early 18th century Georgian architecture.

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.

Massachusetts Hall, Cambridge, Mass (2)

Another view of Massachusetts Hall at Harvard University, taken around 1886. Image from Harvard and Its Surroundings (1886).

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The building in 2016:

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As explained in more detail in the previous post, Massachusetts Hall is the oldest building still standing at Harvard, and has housed many notable figures over the years, including future president John Adams. While the previous post shows the south side of the building, this scene is of the north side, with the Johnston Gate partially visible in the distance. The building was originally a dormitory, but by the time the first photo was taken it had been converted into offices and lecture rooms. Today, the exterior looks the same, as does the section of Matthews Hall visible on the far left. Inside, though, the first three floors are now used for administrative offices, including those of the university president, and the top floor is a dormitory for 14 students. Like the rest of the dorms at Harvard Yard, it is used exclusively for freshman housing.

Massachusetts Hall, Cambridge, Mass

Massachusetts Hall at Harvard University, around 1900. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The building in 2016:

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This building, which was completed in 1720, is the oldest surviving building at Harvard and the second oldest academic building in the United States. When it opened, it housed 64 students, and some of its colonial-era residents included young future Founding Fathers such as John Adams, Samuel Adams, Elbridge Gerry, John Hancock, and James Otis. During the American Revolution it was used as barracks for the Continental Army, with George Washington using Cambridge as his headquarters while laying siege to the British across the river in Boston.

The soldiers caused considerable damage to the interior of the building, and since then it has been substantially renovated several times. In the 1800s, the building was converted into other uses, such as offices and lecture rooms, and then converted back to dormitories in 1924. Then, in 1939, the lower three floors became offices, leaving only the top floor for students. Today, the offices of the Harvard President and other high-ranking administrators are located in Massachusetts Hall, but the fourth floor retains its original purpose as a dormitory, with rooms for 14 freshmen who live here.

First Church of Christ, Longmeadow, Mass

The First Church at the corner of Longmeadow Street and Williams Street, sometime in 1907. Image courtesy of the Longmeadow Historical Society, Emerson Collection.

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The church in 2016:

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It doesn’t look like it at first, but this is the same church building in both photos. In fact, Longmeadow’s First Church of Christ is one of the oldest church buildings in Western Massachusetts, although I’m not sure how much of the original building is still left at this point. Up until 1783, Longmeadow was part of Springfield, and for many years its residents attended church there, nearly four miles away. They finally received permission to build their own church in 1716, which lasted for about 50 years before it was replaced with the present church in 1768.

The church was originally located on the Town Green, but in 1873 it was moved to its present location and drastically remodeled, as seen in the first photo. This Gothic style appearance was popular in the mid-1800s, but by the early 1900s it had fallen out of fashion, so in 1932 it was remodeled again to restore it to a colonial style. I haven’t seen any photos of the church in its original appearance, but it probably still looked a little different than it does now. In particular, the front portico would have been virtually unheard of in New England in 1768; this element was added with the 1932 renovation and modeled after the one on Arlington Street Church in Boston. There are a few features that date back to the early years of the church, though – the bell was cast in 1808 by Paul Revere and recast by him in 1812 after it cracked, and the rooster on top of the steeple is even older than the building itself. Its origins are unclear, but it has watched over the center of Longmeadow since at least 1732.