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COLLECTION Identifier: UAI 15.10.5

Records of early Harvard buildings, 1710-1969


The Records of early Harvard buildings consist of floor plans, drawings, receipts, estimates, and correspondence resulting from the construction of Harvard College buildings in the Old Yard during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The records include several drawings and floor plans of Massachusetts Hall, the oldest surviving building at Harvard; as well as correspondence, notes, and sketches from the construction of University Hall, designed by architect Charles Bulfinch. In addition to providing an overview of the expansion of Harvard Yard, the records also reveal the costs of construction, including labor and supplies, in colonial New England.


  • 1710-1969


Researcher Access

The Records of early Harvard buildings are open for research with the following exception: blueprints in this collection are restricted for 80 years from the date of creation.

Copying Restriction

Copying of fragile materials may be limited.


2.05 cubic feet (3 flat boxes,1 legal document box, 1 bound volume, and 5 oversized folders)
The Records of early Harvard buildings consist of floor plans, drawings, receipts, estimates, and correspondence resulting from the construction and maintenance of Harvard College buildings in the Old Yard during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The records also include several drawings and floor plans of Massachusetts Hall, the oldest surviving building at Harvard, as well as correspondence, notes, and sketches from the construction of University Hall, designed by architect Charles Bulfinch. In addition to providing an overview of the expansion of Harvard Yard, the records also reveal the costs and labor involved in constructing educational buildings in colonial New England.

Most of the records were created by contractors and architects working for the Corporation to construct buildings in Harvard Yard. Estimates for roof replacements, prices for bricks, stone, and other building supplies; and formal contracts authorizing construction document the working relationship between Harvard and local vendors. The construction of University Hall, completed in 1815, particularly highlights this relationship in Corporation member John Lowell and engineer Loammi Baldwin's correspondence with contractors, proposed elevation and side view sketches by Charles Bulfinch, and receipts for labor completed from the Corporation. An original floor plan for Massachusetts Hall, completed in 1720, with measurements to scale and notes is also available in the collection. Additional Massachusetts Hall items include estimates for repairs for damages likely caused by soldiers during the Revolutionary War and blueprints for reconstruction after a fire caused severe damage in 1924.

The collection also contains correspondence and documents related to the maintenance and upkeep of Wadsworth House and faculty houses occupied by Professor Levi Hedge and the first and second Hollis Professors of Divinity, Edward Wigglesworth and his son, Edward Wigglesworth. Fund-raising and subscription documents related to the construction of a College bath on the Charles River designed to prevent student drownings circa 1800, and receipts, memoranda, and estimates for glass windows for student dormitories including Stoughton College and Stoughton Hall, are also located in the collection.

Historical Note

After Harvard College was established in 1636 by a legislative act of the Massachusetts General Court, a location for the institution needed to be established. On November 15, 1637, the College was "ordered to bee at Newetowne" and five days later the General Court appointed the first Board of Overseers, including Governor Winthrop, Deputy-Governor Dudley, four other magistrates and six ministers. By the end of 1637, the Overseers had acquired an acre and an eighth of land in Newetowne, an area encompassing modern-day Cambridge, which later became Harvard Yard. In recognition of the English University where most of the Overseers and many leading colonists had been educated, on May 2, 1638 the name of Newetowne was changed to Cambridge.

On October 28, 1636, the Massachusetts General Court voted £400 to fund construction of the first building in the colonies designed for collegiate education. The structure was to be built adjacent to the William Peyntree house (near the current site of Grays Hall), and construction began in 1638. Later that year, on September 14, 1638, John Harvard died, and bequeathed half of his estate, including his library of over 400 books to the College. In gratitude for Harvard's legacy, on March 13, 1639, the Massachusetts General Court officially named the institution and its first building, Harvard College. References to the "Yard" first appear in 1639 during construction of the first building "in the Colledge Yard" in expenditures for "fencing the yard with pale six feet and one half high." The wooden building was completed in 1642, and hosted Harvard's first Commencement in September later that year. The first floor east wing was used for prayers, meals, and all college exercises while the west wing contained the kitchen, storerooms, and the buttery. The second floor consisted of student chambers and the library. In later years, the building became known as "Old College" after newer buildings were acquired and built. The building was modeled after English universities, but its construction was severely affected by the harsh New England weather; within five years the roof, walls, and foundation began to decay. By 1677, the building was no longer habitable.

Despite ongoing construction of its first building, the College opened to students in the house of William Peyntree in the summer of 1638. This house later became the home of Harvard's first president, Henry Dunster, from 1640 to 1641. In 1644, a new structure, the President's Lodge, was built on the foundations of Peyntree House, and served as the residence for Harvard presidents Dunster, Charles Chauncy, and Leonard Hoar, before a new President's residence was built (on the present site of Massachusetts Hall) in 1680. In 1651, the College purchased William Goffe's house, lot, and cow-yard to ease overcrowding in Old College. Known as Goffe College, this structure "conteyned five Chambers, 18 Studyes, a Kitchen Cellar and 3 Garretts" and housed students until 1674. Funds to purchase Goffe College were obtained from the sale of "Brazil wood" given to the College in 1650 by residents of the island of Eleuthera in the Bahamas. Goffe College completed a rectangle of College buildings with a 180 foot frontage on Braintree Street (now Massachusetts Avenue). It is unclear if Goffe College was destroyed by fire or was demolished before 1677 when Old Harvard Hall opened for student occupancy.

In 1752, under the leadership of Reverend Thomas Shepard, the First Parish in Cambridge completed construction of its fourth meetinghouse, adjacent to the southwest corner of Harvard Yard. The second and third meetinghouses, built in 1650 and 1706 respectively, and the fourth meetinghouse occupied the area on which Lehman Hall currently stands. This land did not become Harvard property until 1833. Harvard students and faculty worshiped with the First Parish congregation from 1638 until 1814, when a separate University Church was constructed in University Hall.

Harvard's first quadrangle comprised the President's Lodge, Old College, Goffe College, and the Indian College, Harvard's first brick building which accommodated 20 students and the printing press. Constructed circa 1653 (across from the southern end of present Matthews Hall), the Indian College was completed in 1656 "for the Convenienyce of six hopefull Indian youthes." Construction was funded by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in New England which granted Harvard funds for the training of Indians as missionaries. The printing press was moved to a lower room of the Indian College from the President's Lodge in 1655. The printing press, which was the first in the colonies, had been acquired by President Dunster in 1646. In 1659, the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel sent a new printing press to Harvard to print puritan tracts which were prohibited in England. Between 1660 and 1663, over 1,200 pages of John Eliot's Indian Bible were printed at the Indian College; the press also produced almanacs, law books, broadsides, catechisms, psalm books, and sermons. The press was later given to the College in 1670. Since few Indian students attended the College after 1665, the Indian College was then likely used in preference to the dilapidated and deteriorating portions of Old College. When the Indian College was demolished in 1698, the bricks were used for the construction of Stoughton College, completed in 1699.

Bordering Harvard on Braintree Street in the 17th century was a house built in 1631 for Rev. Thomas Hooker, the first minister at Newetowne. Hooker left the area in 1636, leading his congregation to Connecticut where they became the First Church of Hartford. Thomas Shepard and Jonathan Mitchell, the first and second ministers of the First Church in Cambridge; and John Leverett, president of Harvard, also lived in this house. The house later became known as "the Wigglesworth House" (presently the site of Wigglesworth Hall) which was occupied by Wigglesworth family members from 1726 to 1794, including Edward Wigglesworth, the first Hollis Professor of Divinity, and his son, Edward Wigglesworth, the second Hollis Professor of Divinity. The house was sold to the College by the Wigglesworth family in 1794. The house was demolished in 1843.

In the last quarter of the seventeenth century several College buildings were constructed facing westward toward Cambridge Common. Old Harvard Hall, built in 1677 and funded by individual subscriptions collected by country clergy and other individuals, housed a dining hall, student rooms, and the college library. Old Harvard Hall was built on the previous site of Harvard College, or "Old College." Stoughton College, the first college building funded by an individual donor, Lieutenant Governor William Stoughton, opened in 1699 as a student residence. Stoughton College was built at a right angle to Old Harvard Hall and the new President's Lodge, forming a new quadrangle. During the Revolutionary War, Stoughton College quartered 240 American soldiers whose harsh wear on the building rendered it unhabitable after the War. Stoughton College stood vacant for several years until it was demolished in 1781. Harvard acquired the Spencer Orchard in 1697 north of Old Harvard Hall, which was allotted for student recreation use in 1712.

By the end of the seventeenth century, Harvard had acquired the western third of the present Yard, extending to Kirkland Street. In 1718, the Massachusetts General Court authorized £3,500 for the construction of Massachusetts Hall as a dormitory for students. Massachusetts Hall is the College's oldest surviving building, and is currently the second-oldest academic building in the United States after the Wren Building at the College of William and Mary. When Massachusetts Hall opened as a student residence in 1720, it contained 32 chambers, each with two smaller studies. During the Revolutionary War, Massachusetts Hall housed over 600 Continental Army soldiers. In the 19th century Massachusetts Hall was renovated to have recitation rooms on its first floor, and later renovated to house lecture rooms and offices. Massachusetts Hall's roof was damaged by fire in 1924, resulting in a large-scale renovation of the building which included its return to being a student dormitory. In 1939, Massachusetts Hall was renovated again into its current arrangement to accommodate the relocation of the President's Office; the lower floors were transformed into offices, leaving its fourth floor as a student dormitory.

Wadsworth House, Harvard's second oldest surviving building, was constructed in 1727 as a residence for President Benjamin Wadsworth. Nine Harvard presidents, including Wadsworth, Edward Holyoke, Samuel Locke, Samuel Langdon, Joseph Willard, Samuel Webber, John Thornton Kirkland, Josiah Quincy, and Edward Everett, lived in Wadsworth House between 1727 and 1846. In 1775, Wadsworth House was the temporary headquarters of Generals George Washington and Charles Lee.

Holden Chapel, built in 1744, is the third oldest Harvard building presently standing. The structure was likely designed in London, with the plans brought to America by Thomas Hutchinson who obtained initial funding of £400 for its construction from the widow of Samuel Holden, a prominent English Dissenter, part of whose estate had been left to charity "such as the promoting of true Religion." Morning and evening prayers were held in Holden Chapel from 1744 until 1766 when a new chapel was built in Harvard Hall. Holden Chapel was later used for religious services from 1769 to 1772 while the Massachusetts General Court utilized the chapel in Harvard Hall. During the Revolutionary War, Holden Chapel served as barracks for 160 Continental Army soldiers. It was used by John Warren for the instruction of students in medicine after the establishment of Harvard Medical School in 1783.

Hollis Hall, a student dormitory, was built in 1763 at the request of the Corporation who thought that students living with private families were "less orderly and well regulated than those" living on campus. As a result of overcrowding on campus in 1761, ninety Harvard students were lodging with nearby families. The College then requested funds from the Province to build a new dormitory, and the Massachusetts General Court appropriated £2,500 for construction and appointed a joint committee to oversee the project. When dedicated in January 1764, Hollis Hall was named in honor of Thomas Hollis and the Hollis family of London, an English family who had given generously to the College. During the Revolutionary War, Hollis housed likely 600 Continental soldiers.

On January 24, 1764, only a few days after the opening of Hollis Hall, Old Harvard Hall, including most of the College library's 5,000 volumes, was destroyed by fire. The building had been occupied at the time of the fire by the Massachusetts General Court, which was meeting at Harvard due to a smallpox epidemic in Boston. The General Court of Massachusetts took responsibility for the blaze, and funded the construction of the new Harvard Hall, which was completed in 1766. The new building contained a library, installed in the upper west chamber; the Philosophy School consisting of Professor John Winthrop's lecture room and laboratory; two small lecture rooms housing the Hebrew School and later, in 1769, the "Musaeum"; and the college hall which was used for student dining, commencement dinners and class day dances. Harvard Hall's west end housed the "New Chapel," replacing Holden Chapel. The College kitchen remained in the basement while the buttery was relocated to Massachusetts Hall. Books and furnishings for this building were contributed by John Hancock, the province of New Hampshire, and several donors from the largest fund-raining campaign the College had sponsored until that time.

In 1800, the College appropriated $300 from the treasury toward the construction of a wooden bath to be built on the Charles River for Harvard students due to several drownings while bathing in the River. The College partnered with the Humane Society of Cambridge and several private individuals to design and fund the project. Thomas Brattle oversaw the construction of this wooden cage-like structure in the River which was completed in January 1801. Later that year, Harvard assessed its students a fee of ten cents per quarter toward the maintenance of the bath and the refunding of the money which had been allotted from the treasury for the project.

Stoughton Hall, partially built with funds from public lottery, opened as a student dormitory in 1805, replacing Stoughton College, which was located on another site in the Yard. Stoughton Hall carries on the name of the alumnus to give a building to Harvard, Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor William Stoughton. Similar to Stoughton, Holworthy Hall was built with proceeds from a public lottery in 1812. The structure was named in honor of English merchant and landowner Sir Matthew Holworthy, who bequeathed £1,000 to the College in 1678. Holworthy Hall was designed by engineer Loammi Baldwin, and was the first dormitory at Harvard to be lighted by gas.

Constructed of Chelmsford granite and designed by architect Charles Bulfinch (Harvard Class of 1781), University Hall, Harvard's first stone building, was completed in 1815. Construction was funded by a grant from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and was overseen by Loammi Baldwin. Bulfinch, whose son Thomas was a member of the Class of 1814, provided his services as an architect to the College in exchange for his son's tuition payments. Bulfinch chose granite for University Hall to set it apart from the older, brick buildings surrounding it in Harvard Yard. Upon its cornerstone laying on July 1, 1813, President John Thornton Kirkland explained that the new building would provide a larger chapel for religious and public occasions, and more convenient rooms for the College Commons. When complete, commons were located on the first floor, and were divided into four rooms with folding doors, one for each class. Kitchens were located in the basement. The second and third floors contained recitation rooms and the President's Office. The Chapel was located on the second floor in the center of the building, though religious services were relocated to the newly-constructed Appleton Chapel in 1858. The chapel was divided into two floors with four rooms in 1867; the attic was then used as an examination room. In 1842, the commons were discontinued on the first floor rooms, and a portico with stone pillars on the western facade was removed to give more light to the basement story, part of which included the Faculty Room. Due to the increased size of the Faculty, a Faculty Room was restored in the space previously occupied by the chapel in 1896. This room contained portraits and busts of the University's presidents, professors, and benefactors, and continues to be used as a function space after its most recent remodeling in 2001. University Hall currently houses the administrative offices of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.


The records are arranged in alphabetical series by building. Within each series, the records are arranged chronologically.

Acquisition information

The documents in this collection are University records and were acquired in the course of University business. Individual donors, when available, are noted at the item level.

Online access

Some of the records have been digitized and are available online. Links accompany detailed descriptions.

Related Materials

  1. Harvard University. Corporation. Harvard College Papers, 1st series, 1636-1825, 1831 (UAI 5.100):
  2. Harvard University. Corporation. Records of land and property owned by Harvard University, 1643-1835 (UAI 15.750):
  3. Harvard University. Board of Overseers. Reports to the Overseers (UAII 10.5)
  4. Harvard University. Records of Harvard lotteries, 1772-1814 (UAN 1):
  5. Photographs of the Harvard Hall renovations, circa 1968-1970 (HUY 89):
  6. Digging Veritas: The Archaeology & History of the Indian College and Student Life at Colonial Harvard is an online exhibit that forms part of the archived web site of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology.


  • Education, Bricks and Mortar: Harvard Buildings and Their Contribution to the Advancement of Learning. Cambridge, Mass.: The President and Fellows of Harvard College, 1949.
  • Harvard University Handbook: An official guide to the grounds, buildings, libraries, museums and laboratories, with notes on the history, development and activities of the university. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1936.
  • Bunting, Bainbridge. Harvard: An architectural history. Cambridge, Mass. : Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1985.
  • King, Moses. Harvard and its surroundings. Cambridge: Moses King, publisher, 1884.
  • Morison, Samuel Eliot. Harvard College in the Seventeenth Century. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1936.
  • Morison, Samuel Eliot. Three Centuries of Harvard 1636-1936. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1936.
  • Shen, Andrea. "History springs to life in restored Faculty Room: Functional, aesthetic, historically accurate restoration proves past is prologue," Harvard Gazette, 1 February 2001.
  • Vaille, F. O and H. A. Clark.The Harvard book : a series of historical, biographical, and descriptive sketches. Cambridge, Mass.: Welch, Bigelow, and Company, University Press, 1875.

Inventory update

This document last updated 2019 June 11.
Superseded call numbers The call number for all material in the Records of early Harvard buildings is now UAI 15.10.5. To assist researchers in identifying materials noted in previous citations, the list below provides references from obsolete call numbers to new box and folder numbers. Please use the current call number, UAI 15.10.5, with the appropriate box and folder number in place of the superseded call number when citing material from this collection.
UAI 15.8 Buildings records relating to the Old College, 1910-1933.
  1. See UAI 15.10.5 Box 1, Folders 8-9
UAI 15.9.7 Buildings records relating to Goffe College, 1909-1912.
  1. See UAI 15.10.5 Box 1, Folders 5-6
UAI 15.10 Buildings records for Massachusetts Hall: plans, 1720-1924
  1. See UAI 15.10.5 Box 10, Folders 2-8
UAI 15.10.3 Papers relating to Holden Chapel, 1742
  1. See UAI 15.10.5 Box 1, Folders 13-15
  2. See UAI 15.10.5 Box 2, Folder 6
  3. See UAI 15.10.5 Box 3
UAI 15.10.3 pf Papers relating to Holden Chapel
  1. See UAI 15.10.5 Box 3
UAI 15.10.4 pf Plan of Cambridge New Meeting House, 1756
  1. See UAI 15.10.5 Box 2, Folder 1
UAI 15.12 Buildings records for Harvard Hall: plans, [ca. 1764].
  1. See UAI 15.10.5 Box 1, Folder 4
UAI 15.12 Buildings Records for Harvard Hall Plans, ca. 1764
  1. See UAI 15.10.5 Box 2, Folder 5
UAI 15.13 pf Hollis Hall Plans, 1801-
  1. See UAI 15.10.5 Box 1, Folder 17
  2. See UAI 15.10.5 Box 2, Folders 7-18
  3. See UAI 15.10.5 Box 5
  4. See UAI 15.10.5 Box 6
UAI 15.14 pf Proposed University Hall Designs re-making of chapel, circa 1835
  1. See UAI 15.10.5 Box 10, Folder 19
UAI 15.14 pf College building plans, circa 1813
  1. See UAI 15.10.5 Box 1, Folder 40
  2. See UAI 15.10.5 Box 8
  3. See UAI 15.10.5 Box 9
UAI 15.15 Buildings records for Harvard College, 1811-1834
  1. See UAI 15.10.5 Box 4
UAI 15.15.2 Buildings records for University Hall: orders, 1813-1814.
  1. See UAI 15.10.5 Box 1, Folder 34
UAI 15.18 pf Buildings records for University Hall: plans, ca. 1799-ca. 1831.
  1. See UAI 15.10.5 Box 1, Folder 27
  2. See UAI 15.10.5 Box 10, Folders 15-16
UAI 15.18 pf Sketchbook with floor plans and elevations, [ca. 1815]
  1. See UAI 15.10.5 Box 10, Folders 17-18
UAI 15.20 Buildings records for University Hall, 1813-1814.
  1. See UAI 15.10.5 Box 1, Folders 28-32, 35-39, 41, 44-47, 49-50
UAI 15.25 pf Holworthy Hall, 1829
  1. See UAI 15.10.5 Box 2, Folder 19
UAI 15.25 pf Indian College, 1655-1698 - Reconstruction
  1. See UAI 15.10.5 Box 10, Folder 1
UAI 15.25 pf Old Harvard Hall 1667-1774 - Reconstruction
  1. See UAI 15.10.5 Box 2, Folders 2-3
UAI 15.25 pf Stoughton Hall, 1827
  1. See UAI 15.10.5 Box 10, Folders 10-14
UAI 15.25 pf President's House (Wadsworth) 1929
  1. See UAI 15.10.5 Box 10, Folder 20
UAI 15.86 Buildings records: map of remains found of Peyntree and Goffe Houses, 1912
  1. See UAI 15.10.5 Box 1, Folders 6-7
UAI pf Buildings records for Massachusetts Hall basement: space and electrical plans, 1969.
  1. See UAI 15.10.5 Box 7
  2. See UAI 15.10.5 Box 10, Folder 9

Processing Information

These records were previously dispersed both physically and intellectually, and classified under numerous call numbers. All of the records were re-processed in 2011 and brought together as a single collection. Re-processing involved a collection survey, re-housing in appropriate archival folders, and the creation of this finding aid.

Titles have been transcribed from the documents unless otherwise noted at the item level.

This finding aid was created by Jennifer Pelose in July 2011.

Preservation and description of the Harvard University. Corporation. Records of early Harvard buildings was supported by the Arcadia-funded project Harvard in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries.
Link to catalog
Harvard University. Corporation. Records of early Harvard buildings, 1710-1969: an inventory

Repository Details

Part of the Harvard University Archives Repository

Holding nearly four centuries of materials, the Harvard University Archives is the principal repository for the institutional records of Harvard University and the personal archives of Harvard faculty, as well as collections related to students, alumni, Harvard-affiliates and other associated topics. The collections document the intellectual, cultural, administrative and social life of Harvard and the influence of the University as it emerged across the globe.

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