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.

Harvard Square, Cambridge, Mass

Looking west toward Harvard Square on Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge, around 1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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Harvard Square in 2016:

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The first photo was taken only a few years before the Red Line opened. At the time, people traveling from Cambridge to Boston had to use the streetcars, as shown here. In the distance on the left side of the photo, passengers are boarding a trolley whose destination is “Subway Park Street,” and the trolley to the right of it is presumably heading outbound from Park Street, on the way to its destination at Mount Auburn. This route was replaced in 1912 by the much faster Red Line subway, which originally ran from Park Street to here at Harvard Square, and a station entrance was built in the middle of the square. The station also included a streetcar tunnel that allowed passengers to easily transfer between the subway and the trolleys; this tunnel was later modified for buses and is still in use as the Harvard Bus Tunnel.

As for the buildings at Harvard Square, very little is left from the turn of the century. None of the buildings in the first photo have survived, with most being demolished in the early 20th century to build the current Colonial Revival buildings. Most of the businesses themselves are long gone, except for the Harvard Cooperative Society. Originally located in the Greek Revival-style building in the center of the photo, this bookstore was founded in 1882 as a cooperative for Harvard students. Now commonly known as The Coop, the bookstore is still in operation in a different building on the same spot, and serves students at both Harvard and MIT. Otherwise, the only landmark remaining from the first photo is the gate on the far right side, which connects the square to Harvard Yard.

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.

Matthews Hall, Cambridge, Mass

Matthews Hall at Harvard University, probably around 1872-1890. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library.

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The building in 2016:

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The Gothic architecture of Matthews Hall is very different from the Georgian style of the neighboring Massachusetts Hall, which is some 150 years older. However, they both contribute to the appearance of the Old Yard at Harvard Yard, which includes a variety of historic 18th and 19th century buildings. Matthews Hall was one of the first buildings designed by Boston architectural firm Peabody & Stearns, and it was completed in 1872 as a dormitory, named for its benefactor, Nathan Matthews.

Today, Matthews Hall is still a dormitory, and like the others at Harvard Yard it is a freshman-only dorm. Over the years it has housed a wide range of notable students, including newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst, Nobel laureate physicist Philip Warren Anderson, Senator Chuck Schumer, Secretary of the Treasury Robert Rubin, and actor Matt Damon.

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.