Benjamin Wadsworth House (1726)


In 1726, a house was constructed on Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge, on the site where Harvard’s earliest building, the Peyntree House, had stood. It was first occupied by Harvard’s fourth president, Benjamin Wadsworth, his family and two slaves. After Wadsworth, it would serve as the home of eight other presidents, until 1849, when president Jared Sparks chose to reside in his own Cambridge home. During the Revolutionary War, the house was Washington’s first headquarters when he came to command the army during the siege of Boston in 1775. Do to its state of disrepair at the time, Washington soon moved to other quarters. Over the years, the house would serve as lodging for visiting ministers and student boarders (including Ralph Waldo Emerson). The building now houses the Office of the University Marshal and other offices. The Wadsworth House lost its front yard when Massachusetts Avenue was widened. Today it is the second oldest of Harvard’s surviving buildings, after Massachusetts Hall.

Sever Hall, Harvard (1880)


Sever Hall, on the campus of Harvard University in Cambridge, is one of the most important buildings designed by the architect H.H. Richardson. Constructed between 1878 and 1880 in Richardson’s Romanesque style, Sever Hall is notable for its brickwork, which features 100,000 bricks on the exterior elevations and elaborate brick carving. Red mortar was used originally to join the bricks. The facade also has Longmeadow brownstone and a varied placement of windows. The massive structure is linked to the neighboring eighteenth century buildings of Harvard Yard through the use of brick, the greater regularity of the design and the central pediments on the east and west facades. Sever Hall, an academic building consisting of both large and small classrooms, was recently restored and the upper floors contain the film program of Harvard’s Department of Visual and Environmental Studies.

Massachusetts Hall (1718)


Harvard College was founded in 1636, making it the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. The oldest surviving building on the Harvard campus is Massachusetts Hall, located in Harvard Yard in Cambridge and built between 1718 and 1720. It was designed by the successive Harvard Presidents John Leverett and Benjamin Wadsworth. Originally a dorm, it housed many famous students during the colonial period, including John Adams, John Hancock, Samuel Adams, Elbridge Gerry and James Otis. In 1722, when Thomas Hollis donated a quadrant and telescope, Massachusetts Hall also became the location of an informal observatory. During the Revolutionary War, the building was occupied by soldiers of the Continental Army. It has served many uses over the years, currently being the offices of the President of Harvard University and other administrators, who may soon take over the remaining areas of the building currently used as dormitory space. Please take a look at today’s companion post, about Yale’s Connecticut Hall, at Historic Buildings of Connecticut.