Highlights of Harvard Walking Tour
This short walk through the main campus of Harvard University includes stops at over a dozen campus buildings and several statues and other historical and cultural landmarks.
The Johnston Gate, located in Cambridge, MA, is a historical landmark designed by architect Charles McKim of McKim, Mead, and White in 1889-1890. It is the first of several entrances that allow entrance into Harvard Yard. Each year, the sheriffs of Middlesex and Suffolk Counties enter through Johnston Gate as they arrive at Harvard Yard on horseback during Commencement Day for the Middlesex Sheriff's ritual calling of the celebrants to order. The ornate ironwork gate features symbolism signifying Harvard's religious roots and two stone inscriptions on either side of the gateway.
According to the Cambridge Historical Society, the founders of First Parish Cambridge were highly trained, many of them Englishmen educated at Cambridge and Oxford University. The Parish’s religious teachings evolved based on the minister in charge: although founded by English Puritans, the First Christ Church in Cambridge witnessed an unspoken transition to Calvinism under the guise of unitarianism throughout the early decades of its operations. Despite a history of flirting with branches of Christianity, the Cambridge First Church is presently encompassed under the Unitarian Universalist Association, a national religious organization comprised of Unitarian congregations and Universalist faith communities. For centuries, its functions have extended beyond the scope of community church, acting as a civic meetinghouse, repository for family history and center for social activism.
Massachusetts Hall, a four-story brick building with gambrel roof, stands just off Massachusetts Avenue, on the western side of the Old Yard of Harvard College. Erected in 1718-1720, it is the oldest surviving building on the third Colonial institution for higher learning. As such, it possesses great significance, not only in the history of the American education but in the story of the development of England’s North American colonies during the 18th century. Massachusetts Hall today houses administrative offices of Harvard University and, above the second floor, also serves as a freshman dormitory. The restored building, maintained in excellent condition, is not open to the general public.
Matthews Hall is a freshman dormitory for Harvard University, constructed in Harvard Yard in 1872. Named after Nathan Matthews of Boston, the hall is built on the site of the Indian College, Harvard's first brick building, which housed a printing press, classrooms, and living quarters for English and American Indian students from 1655 to 1698. The first Bible in North America was printed at the Indian College from 1659-1663, translated into Algonquian by John Eliot. Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck of the Wampanoag tribe was the first American Indian to graduate in 1665.
Dedicated in 1884, the John Harvard statue in Harvard Yard, Cambridge, is the focal point of many false rumors, inaccuracies, and even pranks. The statue reads "John Harvard, Founder, 1638," yet all of these are inaccuracies, which led to the statue being nicknamed "the statue of three lies." The man depicted by the statue is not John Harvard, but instead a student at the school. In addition, Harvard was not the founder of Harvard College, but rather a financial investor. Finally, the school was actually built in 1636, not 1638. Regardless of the inaccuracies revolving around this statue, this work of Daniel French is an important part of the Harvard Yard.
Harvard Yard is a 22.4-acre enclosed grassy area and the oldest part of the Harvard University campus. The Yard, originally a cow pasture, serves as the symbolic heart of the university. It is principally bounded by Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge Street, Broadway, and Quincy Street. On this plot of land are situated most of the freshman dormitories, Harvard's most significant libraries, Memorial Church, classroom and departmental buildings, and the offices for high-ranking university administrators. Three of these structures are designated National Historic Landmarks, and Harvard Yard itself was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1987.
Widener Library is Harvard University’s central academic library. Deemed Harvard’s “flagship” library by the University, it is located at the top of Harvard Yard. The library is named for Harry Elkins Widener, descendant of two of America’s most wealthy nineteenth-century families and graduate of Harvard College’s class of 1907 . After Widener perished in the sinking of the Titanic in 1912, his mother, who survived the tragedy, donated a bequest to Harvard University to build a library in her son’s name. Meant as a tribute to Harry Elkins Widener’s passion for book collecting, the library was completed in 1915 . Today, it houses some of Harry Elkins Widener’s personal reading collection of rare books as part of this tribute, including a Gutenberg Bible. Now home to more than 3.5 million books, Widener Library is accessible to all Harvard affiliates and to members of the public who purchase a Harvard Special Borrower Card at a cost of USD $750 per year .
The Barker Center for the Humanities at Harvard University was established in 1996 within a newly-renovated building that was constructed in 1900 and previously housed the Harvard Union. The Harvard Union was built as an alternative to the restrictive social clubs that dominated campus life at that time and had created a sharp division between “society” and “non-society” men.
The Harvard Art Museums are comprised of the Fogg Museum, the Busch-Reisinger Museum, and the Arthur M. Sackler Museum. The Fogg Museum opened in 1895 in a Beaux-Arts style building on the north end of Harvard Yard. In 1891, Mrs. Elizabeth Fogg left money to Harvard University to build a Fogg Art Museum in memory of her husband. “Designed by architects Coolidge, Shepley, Bulfinch, and Abbott of Boston, the joint art museum and teaching facility was the first purpose-built structure for the specialized training of art scholars, conservators, and museum professionals in North America. With an early collection that consisted largely of plaster casts and photographs, the Fogg Museum is now renowned for its holdings of Western paintings, sculpture, decorative arts, photographs, prints, and drawings dating from the Middle Ages to the present” (“History”). In 1927, the museum moved to its current location.
Memorial Hall is a building complex at Harvard University, primarily built to honor graduates who died for the Union cause during the Civil War. Completed in 1878, it is composed of three sections: Sanders Theater where students can be found attending lecture and seminars, Annenberg Hall, which is based on Christ Church at Oxford (and used for filming the Great Hall in Harry Potter), and the Memorial Transept, which contains over 100 tablets with the names of the honored students who perished. The Memorial Transept serves the most direct memorial purpose, boasting beautiful stained glass windows that illuminate the names of those who died.
Established in 1931, the Harvard-Yenching Library was formed from the transfer of Harvard University’s East Asian collection to the Harvard-Yenching Institute which had been established in 1928. Since that time, the library has grown to become the largest East Asian university library in the United States with over 1.3 million items in its collections. The Harvard-Yenching Library is a part of the larger Harvard University Library system which dates back to 1638 and is the oldest in the United States. Though primarily open to Harvard ID holders, researchers and the general public are able to access the collections within the Harvard-Yenching Library with special permission.
Originally founded in 1889, the Harvard Semitic Museum is now known at the Harvard Museum of the Ancient Near East. It is one of the Harvard Museums of Science & Culture. The museum features 40,000 Near Eastern artifacts from Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Syria, and Tunisia that explore the archaeology, history, and culture in those countries. The collection was begun to facilitate study of Semitic languages, but the name was recently changed to better reflect the collections modern-day diversity.
Divinity Hall is the oldest building at the Harvard Divinity School. Constructed in 1825 on land reclaimed from Cambridge marshes, it was the first Harvard structure built outside the Yard. Architectually, Divinity Hall features characteristics of both the Federal and Greek Revival styles and serves as a rare example of a 19th-Century institutional building. It was from this hall that on July 15, 1838, Ralph Waldo Emerson delivered his Divinity School Address, "Acquaint Thyself at First Hand with Deity."
The Harvard University Herbaria include six collections and more than five million specimens of algae, bryophytes, fungi, and vascular plants. Together they form one of the largest university herbarium collections in the world, and the third largest herbarium in the United States. With their state-of-the art research laboratories and world class libraries, the HUH have been a centerpiece of biodiversity science since the early 1800s.
Founded in 1866 by Massachusetts-born George Peabody, Harvard University's Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology is one of the world's first anthropology museums. Its collections include archaeological and ethnological material from North, Central, and South America; Europe; Africa; Asia; and Oceania. Its materials include artifacts; photographic archives; paintings, drawings, and textiles; osteological, paleoanthropological, and zooarchaeological collections; and manuscripts, correspondence, and other historical documents.
The Harvard Museum of Natural History (HMNH) was established in 1998 as the public face of three research museums: the Museum of Comparative Zoology, the Harvard University Herbaria, and the Mineralogical & Geological Museum. Presenting these incomparable collections and the research of scientists across the University, the Harvard Museum of Natural History’s mission is to enhance public understanding and appreciation of the natural world and the human place in it, sparking curiosity and a spirit of discovery in people of all ages.