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.

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.

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:

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.