History of Harvard Square
Excepted from: Old Cambridge,
written by: Charles M. Sullivan,
Executive Director, Cambridge Historical Commission
“Harvard Square began in 1630 as the Colonial village of Newtowne, which was chosen by the Proprietors of Massachusetts Bay to be the capital of their new colony. The village was the first planned town in English North America, and the streets laid out in 1631 are still in use today. Important structures survive from almost every period since the early 18th century. In few New England cities are the connections to the early years of settlement so apparent to present-day observers, or so threatened by intense pressure for development.”
According to Sullivan, Newtowne differed from other communities in the Massachusetts Bay Colony because of its “well-ordered appearance.” Streets in the village were laid out in squares and during the early decades, Dunster Street was the principal high street where the first tavern and thirteen of the town’s fifty-seven houses stood.
In the early years of the settlement, (today’s Harvard Square) lay on the outskirts of the village. After Harvard College was established in 1636, the center of the settlement gradually shifted.
For a century and a half, the village had been the seat of the Commonwealth’s largest county and most prestigious college, but there was little else to attract the traveler and only a few stores served the students. Even the name Harvard Square did not become commonplace until the middle of the 19th century.
The structures of this period that still exist, such as the overall layout of the streets, the stone retaining walls on Winthrop, Eliot and South Streets, and the wood frame houses on Winthrop, Dunster and South Streets are rare survivors.
According to the Cambridge Historical Commission, streets of 1635 surviving in the Harvard Square National Register District includes parts of Story Street, Church Street, Farwell Place, Massachusetts Avenue, Mount Auburn Street, Winthrop Street, South Street, Eliot Street, Dewolfe Street and Arrow Street.
We encourage you to click here: www.cambridgema.gov/~Historic/hsqhistory1.html for old photos, maps and a walking route that illustrates the original village.
the red house Restaurant….
“Until only recently, the red house at 98 Winthrop Street was a residence. First built in c. 1802, this modest four-room cottage was home to the widow Susannah Cox, changing hands just a few years later to the widow Elizabeth Hicks. Since then, the house has been known as the Cox-Hicks house. Located in the earliest settled section of Old Cambridge, the red house is situated atop an ancient stone retaining wall that dates back to c. 1634. In its initial years, as now, the house sat at the heart of a bustling neighborhood which included the nearby Market Place, the Jail House, several shops, taverns and a blacksmith shop.