Harvard, America’s most famous university is easily accessible from Boston by train or if you’re feeling energetic you can even walk there. I opted for the train. Harvard station is literally in the middle of Harvard Square, a central point in the town and the best place to start exploring.
As I exit the station the first point of interest I come to is the Out of Town newsstand. The business here today has been trading since 1955 but a closer look at the building reveals that it was once a shelter for the Boston Elevated Railroad. It’s now been designated a national historic landmark.
Just across the road to the left down JFK Street is number 5, the third floor window has the name “Dewey, Cheatem & Howe” (Do we cheat’em & how) painted on it. These are the fictional offices of the law firm from a famous radio show called Car Talk that was broadcast from 1977 to 2012.
On Mount Auburn Street is one of the most unique buildings on the Harvard campus, the Lampoon Building. It sits in the centre of the street and is the home of the comedy magazine the Harvard Lampoon. Built in 1909 the building is in the form of a human face wearing a Prussian helmet. The ibis on top is made from copper, is four foot high and weighs in at about 70 lbs. The building cost was $40,000 which made it the most expensive headquarters for a college newspaper in the USA. There are two dates displayed on the building, 1909 and 1876. 1909 refers to the year the building was completed and 1876 to when the Harvard Lampoon was founded.
Looking across to my right I can see Lowell House, one of the residential houses on campus, this one being built in 1930. It cost $3.6 million to build and was named after the Lowell family who have been associated with Harvard since John Lowell graduated in 1721. In 1938 the building won the Harleston Parfer Medal for its design. The Lowell family coat of arms is visible on the tower with the motto “recognise the opportunity” written below. In the tower are 18 bells that range in size from 22 lbs to 27,000 lbs (the Mother Earth Bell). Traditionally after the Harvard / Yale football game the Harvard score is rung out on that bell while the Yale score is tolled on the bell of Pestilence, Famine and Despair.
To the left of me is Plympton Street where I find the Adams House which dates from 1900. It was named for John Adams and John Quincy Adams who both attended the university. Inside the Adams House is a suite called the FDR Suite where the 32nd President of the USA once lived while attending Harvard. The room was restored to its 1904 appearance while FDR was studying there.
A little further up Plympton Street is the Harvard Crimson Building which houses the newspaper for Harvard University. Taking a closer look through the large glass door you may be able to spot a chair inside. On the back of the chair there are brass markers with the names of former newspaper presidents engraved on to them. Some of the more famous names associated with the paper are Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy and Caroline Kennedy.
At the top of Plympton Street where it crosses with Massachusetts Avenue is the Dexter Gate, one of the entrances into Old Harvard Yard. As I pass through the gate I notice its inscription, “Enter to grow in wisdom”. Once through, look back and the see that the other side reads “Depart to serve better this country and thy kind”.
Taking a left as I walk through the gate I see Wigglesworth Hall which houses the freshman dorms. Some of Wigglesworth Hall’s more famous residents have included Leonard Bernstein, Ted Kennedy and Bill Gates.
Opposite the dorms is the Henry Elkins Winder Memorial Library. Built in 1915 this massive structure is the largest academic as well as the third largest library in the USA. There are six floors above and four floors below the ground. Henry Elkins Winder was a graduate of Harvard University and a rare book collector who was killed on the RMS Titanic in 1912 aged 27. There are over 2 million books and 50 miles of bookshelves inside.
As I walk around the library following the path I eventually come to the Dragon Statue. The statue was presented to Harvard University by Chinese Alumni in 1936 on the university’s 300th anniversary. Made from marble it weighs 27 tons and was carved between 1796 and 1820 in Beijing. Before being donated to the university it was kept at the old Summer Palace in Beijing.
When John F. Kennedy was studying at Harvard he resided in Weld Hall when he was a freshman and this building sits just along from the Dragon Statue.
As I walk into the main part of the Old Yard with the grand facade of the Henry Elkins Winder Memorial Library behind me I find myself looking directly at the Memorial Church. The church was built in 1932 and inside there are engraved walls with the names of the 373 alumni who were killed during World War I and also a sculpture named “The Sacrifice”. Since then other memorials have been established for those who lost their lives in other wars.
Following the path around University Hall I find myself at the famous John Harvard Statue. Apparently this is one of the most photographed statues in the USA and judging by the crowds of people that seems to be true. Legend has it that if you touch the left foot of John Harvard you will gain some of the knowledge of the university.
Directly opposite across the grass is the Massachusetts Hall. This building was opened in 1720 and is the second oldest dorm building in America with Wren Hall on the campus of William Mary being the oldest. Former residents include Samuel Adams, John Adams and John Hancock. The first two floors and part of the third floor are now used as offices for the President of Harvard University but the fourth floor still houses freshman dorms.
At the end of the path is Johnston Gate, this being the first gate that was erected on Harvard Yard. It was built between 1889 and 1890 and leads back out on to Massachusetts Avenue.