A Search for a Lost Building

THE palace which had been reared at the command of Aladdin disappeared in a night. No sign of it remained to gladden the sight of the Sultan, when, in the morning, he looked from his cabinet window upon the spot where but yesterday the gorgeous structure stood. The building had been, but was not, nor could he discover that it had left behind a trace of its former existence.

The perplexity of him who searches for the traces of the first building erected at Cambridge for the use of Harvard College is almost as great as was that of the fabled monarch in the Oriental tale. Titles to real estate founded in town and proprietary grants will aid the searcher in determining the situation of many points of interest in Cambridge. He who visits that city to-day will find, inserted in buildings in the vicinity of the college, tablets inscribed with legends which point out historical associations with the sites. Stones erected by the wayside will aid him in the discovery of places where events of interest have occurred. He will, however, search in vain for some monument which shall assure him that he looks upon the site of the first college building. No record is extant which fixes positively the spot where the building stood. No fragment of the building, so far as is known, remains in existence to-day. The visitor can study in the vast collections of fossils in the museums the fauna and flora of former geologic periods. He can look upon hieroglyphic inscriptions from Egypt. He can find those who will interpret for him the cuneiform inscriptions on cylinders from Nineveh. The inmost secrets of the lives of the moundbuilders are spread before his eyes. The rude stone implements of palæolithic man, gathered by the hundred from the Trenton gravel, are submitted to his inspection. He can see the sketch of a mastodon rudely incised on the surface of a shell, the work of which was done by one who probably saw the living animal. At the Library, specimens of early books, rare tracts, valuable autographic manuscripts, and hundreds of maps, of various degrees of interest, are to be found. But of articles which have a known association with this building, one or two hooks of records, which must have been used within its walls, and a single volume from John Harvard’s library alone remain.

Historians of the college have dismissed their allusions to the building without attempting description. No print, no drawing, has been preserved to give us an idea how it looked.

The dazed and bewildered Sultan, when he gazed upon the vacant spot where he had hoped to see the palace of his son-in-law, had at least the mental vision, furnished by his memory, of what he expected to see. But a few hours before he had satisfied his pride with a view of the magnificent structure, and the picture then imprinted upon his retina was before him as he entered his cabinet. Although the palace was no longer there, he could not be robbed of his memory. In this respect, at least, the monarch, in his speculations over the missing palace, had a great advantage over him who searches for the lost college building. Yet if the latter has not the adventitious aid of memory to recall in imagination the building which he is seeking to depict, if he cannot find any graphic delineation to aid him in his task, if he derives no assistance from consulting the pages of historians who have selected the college as a topic, he is not absolutely without resources in his work.

The literature of the early history of New England is voluminous. The records of the colony and of the college cover the period when this building was in existence. Contemporary writers visited Cambridge, and mention of the college is made by several in their publications. The collation and comparison of these references, although they are vague and general in character, give some idea of the structure, and of the manner of its occupation. If to these are added a few extracts from the college records and account-books, we shall have some information at command concerning a building around which cluster so many associations of interest.

The work of collating references to the college from contemporary publications has been already performed, and the publication of the result in the proceedings of societies devoted to special investigations of this nature has placed this information within reach of specialists who know where to look for such matters. To make the result of this work more accessible to general readers, and to add thereto a few hints as to the building, culled from unpublished records, is the purpose of this article. If the fragmentary nature of the details shall, when thus grouped together, fail to satisfy the desires of those interested in the history of the building, it will at least be true that they will find something new on the subject. History cannot hope to vie with magic. Aladdin, by invoking the very powers which removed his palace, was able to restore it to its former situation. It is not probable that any search through publications and records will ever furnish much more knowledge than we now possess as to the site and construction of the college building. Yet if we consider the various references, published and unpublished, we can get a much better idea of the manner of building that it was, and of the discomforts which its tenants must have suffered, than will be suggested by meagre, detached allusions scattered through printed and written pages, some of which are only to be consulted with trouble, and the perusal of all of which would require great patience.

In the fall of 1636, a grant of “ £400 towards a School or College ” was made by the General Court of Massachusetts Bay. A little over a year thereafter, the same court ordered the college to be at New Town, or Cambridge, as the place was soon thereafter called. Nathaniel Eaton was chosen professor, and to him was entrusted the disbursement of the funds “ for the erecting of such edifices as were meet and necessary for a college, and for his own lodgings.” A copy of an account of these disbursements exists, in which Eaton charges himself with receiving from the executors of John Harvard’s estate £200. This account has no date, and no other credit is given the college for moneys received by Eaton. John Harvard died in September, 1638. Eaton was dismissed from his position the next year, for cruelty to his pupils. It is therefore probable that work upon the building was begun in the latter part of 1638. The town of Cambridge in 1638 made a grant of two and two thirds acres of land “ to the Professor,” “ to the town’s use forever for a public school or college.” The location of the grant is only approximately known, and the preponderance of evidence points to another lot, which in 1638 stood in Eaton’s name, as the site of the first college building. This lot was on Braintree (now Harvard) Street, opposite the street now known as Holyoke Street.

In 1643, a tract entitled New England’s First Fruits was published in England. The college building is described therein as follows : “ The edifice is very fair and comely, within and without, having in it a spacious hall, where they daily meet at Commons, Lectures and Exercises, and a large library with some books in it, the gifts of diverse of our friends, their chambers and studies also fitted for and possessed by the students, and all other roomes and offices necessary and convenient, with all needful offices thereto belonging.” Still another description is given in Johnson’s Wonder Working Providence, where Cambridge is likened to a bowlinggreen, and the college building is spoken of as a “ faire building,” “ thought by some to be too gorgeous for a wilderness, and yet too mean in others apprehension for a Colledg.” Johnson’s book was published in London in 1654. The next description of the building which contains matter of sufficient interest for our purposes occurs in the report of Edward Randolph, king’s commissioner, in 1676. He says, “There are three colleges built in Cambridge, a Town seven miles from Boston. One built of timber and covered with shingles of cedar, at the charge of Mr. Harvard, and bears his name.” He then proceeds to describe the Indian College as a small brick building, and the new college building as a “ fair pile of a brick building and covered with tiles.”

The college records furnish us with a copy of the bill for the glass used in the building, in which charges are entered for glass in the hall and school, the lanthorn, the turret, the staircase, the hall study, and in six other studies and eight chambers, designated by the names of the occupants. This bill was dated March 5,164 3/4. The total, including a charge for mending, was only £15 16s. 4d., — a sum which would seem to have been inadequate for the complete glazing of the building.

There are also a series of charges in the names of students, for work done in the several studies and chambers, from which it may be inferred that these rooms were finished under the direction and at the expense of the tenants who then took possession of them. Some of them were ceiled with cedar; some were calked and daubed with clay; some were plastered and whitened. Those students fortunate enough to share the benefits of a chimney bore their proportion of the expense of construction.

There is a table of the income of the studies which enumerates the rent of each room. There is also a list of studies in the handwriting of President Chauncy, in which they are classified according to their rents. Beside these, there is an inventory of the college property in 1654, in which the college building is described as follows : “The building called the old college, conteyning a hall, kitchen, buttery, cellar, turret and five studies, and therein seven chambers for students in them, a pantry and small corner chamber, a library and books therein valued at £400.” In addition to these entries, which deal specifically with the building, there are certain orders of the Overseers regulating the tenancy of the rooms, and prescribing rules to govern the conduct of students and college servants, which throw light upon the occupation of the building. For instance, an order prohibiting students from bringing candles into the hall, coupled with charges, in students’ accounts, for the use of the public candle and the public fire, vividly portrays the slender resources of the times.

When Eaton was removed the building was but just begun. Work upon it was continued under the supervision of Samuel Shepard. In his account there is one date of 1642. In an account of Tyng, the country treasurer, there is a charge against the college for 4000 boards in 1642. The charges for completing the studies are dated 1643. The bill for glass is in the spring of 1644. Winthrop is authority for the statement that most of the government of the college were present, in 1642, at the first Commencement, and dined in commons. It is a fair inference that this dinner was in the college building, but it is probable that the building was not completed until the latter part of 1643.

The search for traces of its construction brings us in contact with the record of its decay, which began within less than a decade from the time of its completion. Petitions from the Corporation and Overseers from time to time recite the progress of this decay, and in 1677 we find the record of the final collapse of the building. In 1680, Cambridge was visited by Dankers and Sluyter, two Dutchmen who made a tour in the colonies, and on their return home submitted a report of their trip. No mention of this building is made in the graphic account which they gave of their visit to Cambridge.

When we peruse the records of the brief existence of this building, and reflect upon the rude finish of its interior, we shall probably be disposed to doubt whether it was, after all, fair and comely within and without; and it is not unlikely that our sympathies will run rather with those who apprehended it was too mean for a college than with those who feared it was too gorgeous for a wilderness.

Charges in Eaton’s account for “ felling, squaring, and loading lumber ” show that he paid for cutting trees which entered into the construction of the building. The frame was set up in the yard, and apparently before this work was concluded it was determined that the projected building was on too small a scale, for in the original account a charge is entered for “ additions to be made to the frame.” The bricks used in the chimneys were made for the college, and the wages of the workmen who made them were paid by the person who had the work in charge.

From the various records which have been alluded to, the following facts with reference to the building can be deduced : In the first place, it had a cellar. The charge for excavation appears in Eaton’s account, and the cellar itself figures in the inventory of 1654. There was a kitchen, a buttery, and a larder or pantry. There was a fair and spacious hall and a large library. The hall was used for commons, as well as recitations and exercises. Some idea of its size may be gained from the fact that most of those who formed the government of the college in 1642 were present at Commencement, and dined “ with the scholars ordinary commons.” The government of the college was at that time composed of the magistrates and elders of the six nearest churches. In 1643, the synod met in Cambridge, and the number of elders present was about fifty. “ They sat in Commons, and had their diet there, after the manner of the Scholars’ Commons, but somewhat better, yet so ordered as it came not to above sixpence a meal for a person.”

There were eight chambers in the building. Two of them were small, and apparently were intended for use by single students. In each of the larger chambers there were three or four studies ; provision being thus made for a joint occupancy. That one, at least, of the smaller rooms was for a sole tenant appears from the assignment of a bedroom to Sir Alcock, “ which was to him alone.” Beside the studies in the chambers, there were five studies in the turret. Four of them were designated in the table of incomes by points of compass, and all four were evidently on the second floor. The fifth was called the “ lowest study,” and in Chauncy’s list is styled “ the study at the stairs at the foot of the turret.” It requires no great stretch of the imagination to fill up what is wanting in the description of the turret, and thus interpret the meaning of this entry. The main entrance to the building was through the turret. The space of the ground floor in that portion of the building was occupied by a staircase, which finds mention in the glazier’s bill and in Chauncy’s list, by the passage-way leading to the hall, and by “ the study at the stairs at the foot of the turret; ” the latter being probably the portion of the hall beneath and in the rear of the stairs, which was inclosed and utilized as a study.

What were these studies, of which there were three in some chambers and four in others, whose walls were “ daubed,” or “ plastered and whitened,” or “ ceiled with cedar ” ? It is plain that they must have been small, and it is not improbable that the partitions which separated them from the chambers did not reach to the ceiling. In one of the volumes, containing miscellaneous papers, now in the archives of the college, there is a plan for a college building which is attributed to Thomas Prince, in which studies are plotted which were apparently about five feet square. The building of these separate compartments for study, connected with rooms in college buildings allotted for sleeping purposes, at a time when so great economy had to be practiced in every department of life, requires some explanation. It is perhaps to be found in the fact that similar arrangements existed in the colleges in England. Readers of Froude will recall Anthony Dollaber’s account of his arrest in 1528. Dollaber says, “ I shut my chamber door unto me, and my study door also.” Each student who lodged in the first college building at Cambridge was, like Anthony Dollaber at Frideside College, provided with a study for his separate use; and although the size of these private rooms must have been exceedingly diminutive, still he had a place where he could be secluded, and carry on his studies without interruption.

In the table of incomes, two studies are enumerated as having fires in them. These must have been rooms of fair dimensions, otherwise the fire would have been unendurable. The situation of those rooms which enjoyed the privilege of a fire must have been determined by the chimneys. One of them is mentioned in the charges against Bulkley, and is described as “the study with the fire, the highest over the kitchen.” Where there were several studies in one chamber, the latter must of course have been jointly occupied by the tenants of the several studies. It does not appear in what chambers the students lodged who occupied the studies in the turret, but it is probable that provision had to be made for them in the larger chambers. The rule, however, was that to each chamber as many students were assigned as there were studies, as will appear from the orders of the Overseers approved in 1667, among which was the following : “ In case any shall leave a Study in any chamber, wr in some doe yet remaine, such as remaine shall stand charged with ye care of ye vacant Studies.”

In the chambers were “ cabins,” or closets, which were specifically assigned. Sometimes the cabin allotted to a student was not situated in the chamber where he lodged; thus Bradford’s study carried with it “ the right to a cabin in the great chamber.”

Three of the chambers were designated as the “ low east chamber,” the “east middle chamber,” and the “highest east chamber.” There were, therefore, three east chambers, one over the other. In other words, the eastern end of the building was devoted to lodgingrooms. The “ low ” and the “ middle ” east chambers each had four studies. On the lower floor, the first in order of mention was “ ye study of ye hall; ” then came the “ middle study in the same row; ” then the “ northernmost study; ” and after that the “lower study over against it.”

The studies in the second story were classified in a similar way, except that the first is designated as the “ southernmost.” In the “ highest east chamber ” there were three studies, the “ southernmost,” the “middle,” and the “northernmost.”

It is probable that the structure was a two-story building, with an attic sufficiently high to admit of rooms being finished off in it. Westward of the “ low east chamber,” and “ betwixt it and ye turret,” was another “ low chamber.” The turret was therefore separated, on the ground floor, from one end of the building by the width of two chambers. There were on the ground floor, beside these chambers, the hall, the kitchen, the buttery, and the pantry. Hence it may be assumed that the front of the building was broken by a turret in the middle. There was no “ highest ” chamber, or study, mentioned as being in the turret. Perhaps the architectural finish of the turret did not permit a chamber at that elevation. There is a charge in the glazier’s bill fur glass in the “ lanthorn.” The use of this term would seem to point to an ornamental finish to the top of the turret. On the other hand, it appears from the records that, “ in 1658, John Willett gave the college a bell, which was placed in the turret.” From this, it may be inferred that there was, at any rate, an open belfry in the turret.

With the detailed enumeration of the rooms given in the table of incomes, it would seem as if we could almost trace the footsteps of the person who made up the list, as he passed from room to room, and noted, by descriptive title, each chamber, and located each study within it. There are, however, difficulties in the vagueness of such phrases as “ the corner study over against it,” and the “ sizer’s study over the porch of that chamber,” etc., which are insuperable. If any meaning can be attached to the “ east chamber,” it would seem that the building must have faced to the north or to the south. If the site of the building be accepted as on the Eaton lot, then it must have faced to the south, towards Harvard Street. The kitchen, buttery, and pantry were at the west end, the hall in the middle, and the east end was devoted to chambers.

A comparison of this suggestion as to the plan of the first building with the description of the first Harvard Hall, given in the life of Timothy Pickering, will show that the same general plan was followed in the new building, although the occupation of the eastern and western wings was reversed, the kitchen and buttery in the new building being in the eastern wing.

It has already been suggested that the building was partially occupied before it was finished. The glazier’s bill was not rendered until the spring of 164 3/4, while the magistrates and elders dined at commons in 1642. It is not unlikely that, for a time at least, oiled paper was used as a substitute for glass, in some of the windows. If we needed proof that this conjecture is within the range of probability, it is to be found in the statement, made by Dankers and Slayter, that they looked into the Indian College through a broken paper sash. The sum allowed by the commissioners of the United Colonies for the construction of the Indian College was £120, exclusive of the cost of glass, showing an intention to have some glazing in the building. The charges in the glazier’s bill against separate studies in the first college building were from one to two shillings each, sums inadequate for much glass.

The phrase “ covered with cedar shingles,” as used by Randolph, probably referred merely to the roof. He describes the new building as “ covered with tiles,” an expression that we should naturally limit to the roof. That does not, however, militate against the possibility of the sides having been finished in the same way. It was, at that time, a common method of construction employed in Boston. Dankers and Sluyter described the Boston houses, in 1680, as “ made of thin small cedar shingles, nailed against frames, and then filled with brick or other stuff.” Clapboards, we know, were exported from early times ; and in Shepard’s account, he charges himself with one payment made to him in clapboards. All that we can say is, that the finish might have been either shingles or clapboards.

Without other knowledge of the external appearance of the building than has already been given, we must rely upon the prevailing custom of the times, if we assert that the rudely constructed little building was two stories high, and had a gambrel roof, with dormer windows in the attic story. It will require no great feat of the imagination to picture such a building, having its front broken by a projecting turret or tower, the top of which was finished off with a belfry.

We can look into the kitchen and see the busy scene as the modest meals were prepared, which were to cost the members of the synod not above sixpence apiece. The luxury of “ turnspit Indians,” for whose services charges are made in the steward’s accounts, can only be associated with the first Harvard Hall, if we rely exclusively upon the dates of these charges ; but it is not improbable that the primitive simplicity of the meals which were served to the synod gave place to luxuries like those indicated in these charges, even during the life of the first building. We can see the hall with its “ sanded floor,” now in use for religious services, now with tables spread for commons, and again occupied as a recitation room. As the scene of commons is brought before us, we note that each student receives his sizing of food upon a pewter plate, and his beer in a pewter mug. These are delivered by the butler to the servitor, and from the buttery hatch the former keeps watch to see that no vessels or utensils belonging to the college are borne from the hall. Forks are as yet unknown at Cambridge, and each student feeds himself with the knife which he carries upon his person.

If we think of the scene in summer, we imagine the students, with the windows of their chambers and studies swung open, and fastened in position by the “ window-hooks,” enjoying to the full the fresh, cool sea-breeze, which sweeps unpolluted across the plain described as like a bowling-green. The very defects of the building made it comfortable in warm weather ; but when the cold blasts of winter swept through the cracks caused by the shrinking of the timbers as they seasoned, openings disclosed themselves which no calking or daubing could keep closed, and the scene presented for our consideration is far different. At such times as these, the chambers and the studies must have been deserted ; and the students must have collected within the “ settle,” where, by the light of the “ public candle,” cowering over the “ public fire,” they found the only place where they could with any sort of comfort pursue their studies during the long winter evenings.

I have said that it requires no great stretch of the imagination to recall mentally an approximate picture of the lost building, which for a little over a third of a century was known as Harvard College. However rude the building, and however uncomfortable it may have been, still it was a college building, containing dormitories, life in which must have yielded to the students many experiences which characterize student life to-day. If we should undertake to recall the scene of the adjustment of accounts between the steward and the students, the task would be much more difficult. The wildest fancy could not conceive of the treasurer of Harvard College receiving his pay to-day in live cattle and sheep; in grain, malt, and apples ; in beef, pork, and bacon; in sugar and salt; in wool and sacking. The adjustment of the value of an “ old cow,” and the settlement of the allowance for “ her hide ” and for “her suet and her inwards,” would hardly be considered within the range of the duties of the financial officer of an institution of learning. Charges for sending twice for the same cow might perhaps be regarded as reasonable, but it would be difficult to justify a charge for pasturage while the animal was awaiting appraisal. We can understand how the college might to-day make use of cattle, of grain, of sugar, and of suet; and we know the use which in those days was made of the malt and the runlets of sack which figure as credits in the steward’s accounts; but what could have been done with 14s. 6d. worth of rose water, or with a sword valued at 8s. 6d. ? How many accountants would it take to keep track of the students’ bills, if the college assumed such personal charges as those for cutting hair, and for making and mending clothes and shoes ? Yet these charges and credits figure in the steward’s account-book, and bring before our eyes more vividly the evils endured by the infant colony, through lack of circulating medium, than does the attempt of the General Court to supply the deficiency by making wampampeag a legal tender, “ the white eight to a penny, the black at four, so as they be entire without breaches or deforming spots.” They mark more distinctly the difference between student life then and now than would any comparison between the modern buildings and the one which is the subject of this article.

It has been already stated as probable that timber which was standing on the stump when the first college building was begun entered into its construction. Of course, a building so constructed could not last long, and we can readily believe that Dunster spoke the truth when, in his petition to the Indian commissioners in 1649, he said, “ Seaventhly, seeing the first evil contrivall of the college building, there now ensues yearly decaye of the rooff, walls, and foundation, which the study rents will not carry forth to repaire.” From that time forth until 1677, when a portion of it fell down, complaints as to its condition are frequently encountered.

Hubbard, writing in 1679, merely refers to the building in the past tense. Cotton Mather, a quarter of a century later, finds nothing worth saying about it, except that it bore the same name as the new building.

The wish was expressed by the editor of Winthrop’s New England that he could exchange fifty pages from a wellknown will, probated in the early days of the colony of Massachusetts Bay, for one which could be identified as from that of John Harvard. Cotton Mather graduated at Cambridge in 1678. He was therefore in college when the old building became unfit for occupation. If to what he wrote in his Magnalia concerning the college he had added but one page devoted to a description of the first building, and of student life therein, who shall measure the exchange that we would gladly pay in pages selected from other parts of this ponderous work ?

Andrew McFarland Davis.