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:

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:

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.