Harvard Square is famous for a lot of things.
It is home to the oldest university in America, George Washington took command of the Continental Army here, in the 19th century it was a center of abolitionist fervor, and in the 20th century it was famous for anti-war protests. One thing that has remained true through all these periods of time is the connection between Harvard Square and the printed word. Nearly from the beginning, Harvard Square has been a home and a gathering place for authors, poets, publishers, printers, teachers students and booksellers.
Three hundred and seventy one years ago the first printing press in this hemisphere was carried across the Atlantic with the first American printer, Stephen Daye. Where did they set up shop? In Harvard Square, of course. When Governor John Winthrop crossed the Atlantic on the Arbella, one of his shipmates was Anne Bradstreet, who would later become a Harvard Square resident and the first published American poet. The Daye Press was replaced by the University Press and Bradstreet was followed by giants of 19th and 20th century American poetry such as Longfellow, Lowell, T.S. Eliot and e. e. cummings all of whom lived through and loved the books of Harvard Square.
The archival pages of the Harvard Square Business Association reveal many different chapters in the History of Harvard Square. Many roads, many lives, and many authors have interstected at the area we now call the “Super Crosswalk!” We invite you to view these pages and send us your own contribution and experiences of business in Harvard Square over the last 100 years.
History of Harvard Square
“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.
If you are a serious history buff, be sure to visit the:
Cambridge Historical Society at cambridgehistory.org.
Cambridge Historical Commission at cambridgema.gov/historic/