J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Friday, May 11, 2018

Massachusetts Hall to Be Renovated

The Harvard Gazette has an article looking ahead to this summer’s renovation of Massachusetts Hall and looking back on the history of the building—the oldest surviving building of Harvard College.

I particularly liked the deft use of digital graphics to enliven the article.

Massachusetts Hall was built in 1720. It survived because it didn’t really catch fire until 1924. By then American culture had decided that having an old building was a Good Thing, the Colonial Revival was still strong, and Harvard had lots of money to restore it.

When walking around Harvard Yard, I recognize Massachusetts Hall by the plainness of its brickwork compared to similar buildings. There’s also the clock on the street side, and of course the signs saying how historic it is. But several other college buildings date from the mid-1700s.

Among the items quoted and shown in the article is the bill from Harvard to the Massachusetts General Court for renovations necessary after the siege of Boston, when the building housed Continental Army troops.
Account of the damages done to the Colledges by the Army after April 19th, 1775, which remain to be made good after the first repairs were made previous to the return of the Scholars to Cambridge, after estimate of the subscribers committee appointed for that purpose by the General Court.

Damages to Massachusetts Hall

27 brass knoblocks for chamber doors

1 knob latch for D[itto]

60 box locks for studies

1 large stock lock for a cellar door

62 rolls of paper

60 yards of paint

Other damages
Why so many locks and latches? Were they broken to gain access to the building early in the siege? Or did soldiers pilfer those devices—which in the eighteenth century were expensive precision products—on their way out?


G. Lovely said...

Apparently a yard of paint is equal to about 2.4 pints. I learn something new ( or in this case, old) every day.

J. L. Bell said...

Same as a yard of ale, it looks like. Except probably not as tasty.

Don Carleton said...

Interesting piece, but why did the author keep anachronistically referring to the 18th-century plans for Mass Hall as "blueprints?"

Doesn't the Harvard Gazette have competent copy editors?!

Also frankly I did find it annoying that the piece just skips over the first 50 years of the building's history as though nothing of note occurred there until Provincial/Continental troops showed up in 1775/6. As your own blog (despite its title) demonstrates, plenty of interesting and consequential stuff was playing out throughout the colonial period, and I'll bet Mass Hall "witnessed" more than a few interesting colonial moments....

J. L. Bell said...

Now I wonder whether today's architectural drawings are technically “blueprints.” Will that term for a detailed, measured building plan have to be explained to young architects one day?

Mike said...

I imagine the reaction being something like this:

What? You actually drew stuff on paper? That must have taken forever! How did you guys ever get anything built?

Don Carleton said...

Regarding your musings on architectural drawings in the 21st century, John, according to Wikipedia, at any rate, "whiteprints" (dark lines on white paper as opposed to white lines on blue) supplanted "blueprints" in the 20th century, but nowadays large format photocopiers are what's used.

To go back to the Gazette piece, though, the author/editor could have avoided all this by using the fancy, highly-technical architectural term for what is so gratingly called the "original blueprint from 1718": That term? "PLAN!"