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Historical Cambridge and Harvard University Walking Tour (Self Guided), Boston

Once a quiet New England farming village-turned capital of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, today's Cambridge, MA is a university town that dazzles visitors as the home of renowned Harvard University – alma mater of many intellectuals, literary geniuses, celebrities, and wealthy and powerful. Many of America’s elite have spent some time at Harvard, and their contributions to Cambridge have left a lasting imprint. To explore these and other facets of Cambridge's past and present, follow this self guided walk.
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Historical Cambridge and Harvard University Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Historical Cambridge and Harvard University Walking Tour
Guide Location: USA » Boston (See other walking tours in Boston)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 8
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.5 Km or 2.2 Miles
Author: anna
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Memorial Hall / Sanders Theatre
  • Fogg Museum (Harvard Art Museums)
  • Harvard Square
  • Brattle Street
  • Longfellow National Historic Site
  • Hooper-Lee-Nichols House
  • Elmwood House
  • Mount Auburn Cemetery
Memorial Hall / Sanders Theatre

1) Memorial Hall / Sanders Theatre

Immediately north of Harvard Yard, on the Harvard University campus in Cambridge, stands an imposing brick building in a High Victorian Gothic style. Called Memorial Hall, this National Historic Landmark honors the sacrifices made by Harvard men defending the Union during the American Civil War‍. "A symbol of Boston's commitment to the Unionist cause and the abolitionist movement in America,” this Hall consists of "three divisions," namely: Sanders Theatre – for academic ceremonies; Annenberg Hall (formerly Alumni Hall or the Great Hall) – a vast refectory, covered with a timbered roof, hung about with portraits and lighted by stained windows; and Memorial Transept – a chamber high, dim and severe, consecrated to the sons of the university who fell in the long Civil War. Beneath Annenberg Hall, Loker Commons offers a number of student facilities.

The former of the three divisions – theater – was completed in 1875 and can seat over 1,000 spectators at a time. The venue is often used for concerts, live music shows, and lectures, so feel free to check their program whenever you are in town. And if you do visit, make sure to look out for some of the signature architectural features here that include busts of famous past speakers, as well as statues and pretty stained glass windows. Among the statues you will see those dedicated to Harvard’s slain soldiers in the Civil War, as well as a famous one of John Harvard by Daniel Chester French (who also sculpted Abraham Lincoln in the Washington D.C. Lincoln Memorial).
Sight description based on wikipedia
Fogg Museum (Harvard Art Museums)

2) Fogg Museum (Harvard Art Museums)

The Harvard Art Museum comprises three sub-museums; the oldest and best-loved being the Fogg which houses a rich display of paintings and sculptures that you really must see.

In this wonderful museum, you will find examples of 19th/20th-century Western decorative art, paintings, photos, prints and sculptures, as well as drawings dating back to the Middle Ages. You can admire drawings and paintings from the Italian Early Renaissance, British Pre-Raphaelite, and French and American art.

The Maurice Wertheim collection displays Impressionist and Post-impressionist works by Cézanne, Degas, Picasso, Manet, Van Gogh, and Matisse.

The Grenville L. Winthrop collection plays an important role in research and teaching programmes. This impressive collection includes drawings, paintings and sculptures by notable artists such as Blake, Toulouse-Lautrec, Van Gogh, Sargent and Rodin among many others.

You will also see a lovely collection of silverware made of Neo-classical arts and crafts silver and antique furniture, including a 17th-century Essex County chair, an original Harvard school desk, and an 18th-century intricately carved writing desk.

Why You Should Visit:
Basically an art history textbook you can walk through because each room has an overview of the period and each work has a concise explanation of why it's relevant.
The works on display are incredibly well-lighted and the flow from one room to the next is effortless in a building anchored by an atrium that reaches to the sky.

Make sure to join to the guided tour which educates and illuminates the experience.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10am-5pm
Harvard Square

3) Harvard Square

No trip to Cambridge, Massachusetts is complete without a proper stroll through its storied Harvard Square. The historic center of Cambridge, Harvard Square is the town's oldest neighborhood and a hub of activity adjacent to Harvard Yard, the center of Harvard University. There are small pleasures aplenty, from crowd-drawing contortionists to limited runs at art-house theaters to amazing hot pizza slices to go or cozy, inviting gathering spots to sit for a while.

To hear the old-timers tell it, back in the 1970s, Harvard Square was the grungy, pot-fueled, drum-circled nexus of the bohemian universe. A place where a lot of books mingled with a lot of drugs, and where poets and musicians turned a dirty corner of Cambridge into 1920s Paris (as if 1920s French capital also had 50¢ pitchers of beer and tattoo parlors). That Harvard Square is long gone, replaced by specialty stores that sell $30 leather notebooks, gourmet chocolate shops, and banks. But just because Harvard Square has been cleaned up, doesn’t mean you still can’t have a lot of fun here.

Nowadays, this beautiful area is packed with eclectic boutiques, laid-back sidewalk cafes and coffee shops, as well as bookstores and some of the best restaurants in town, all of which, as such, make it a popular hangout for both, university students and visitors wishing to absorb every inch of ivy-leagued glory on their own. Much of the area is pedestrian so you can stroll around at leisure amid the street performers and musicians present here daily. In the evening, this makes a perfect place to enjoy the outdoors in Cambridge with all the live music and other events spilling out into the square.
Brattle Street

4) Brattle Street

Known initially as the King's Highway and then Tory Row – ahead of the American Revolutionary War, Brattle Street in Cambridge, MA has been one of the finest residential streets in the U.S. for over 200 years. Today, the street is a home to many historic buildings, including the modernist glass-and-concrete edifice that once housed the Design Research store, and a Georgian mansion where George Washington and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the poet, both resided (although at different times). Also on this street, in Elmwood House, centuries later lived another American poet, Robert Lowell.

In 1775, George Washington settled on Brattle Street and established his army headquarters in the abandoned mansions of seven wealthy loyalists – all of which have survived. In 1913, Samuel Atkins Eliot wrote about the seven Colonial mansions of Brattle Street's "Tory Row," calling the area "not only one of the most beautiful, but also one of the most historic streets in America. As a fashionable address it is doubtful if any other residential street in this country has enjoyed such long and uninterrupted prestige.”

Laden with stories of Puritanical trials, British Loyalists, and poetic talent mixed with beautiful architecture and well-manicured green space, over the centuries, Brattle Street has the given the world – courtesy of its residents – baking powder, Fig Newtons, Polaroid cameras, and Sadie Hawkins Day. Quite a remarkable achievement for just one street!
Longfellow National Historic Site

5) Longfellow National Historic Site

Just a few blocks away from Harvard Square, stands a historic house that weaves two prominent figures in American history into the same home. Originally, the property was built in 1759 for John Vassall, who fled the Cambridge area at the outset of the American Revolutionary War because of his loyalty to the king of England.

Later, for almost 50 years, this was the home of noted American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, while previously, for a time, it had served as the headquarters of George Washington. The last family to live here were the Longfellows, and it was here that Longfellow wrote Hiawatha and Evangeline. In 1972, the home was made part of the National Park Service.

Notably, all furnishings within the house are not reproductions or period pieces, but the real deal from Longfellow's days. Filled with the family's possessions, the house makes it feel as if the Longfellows have just stepped out for a walk in their cute little garden outside – the lovely, peaceful spot out back filled with greens and flowers with a pergola to sit for a rest. The first floor is totally intact from Longfellow's time including his personal belongings – the poet's writing desk and papers are there to see, like he was working on a poem just now.

Rather than rope off the rooms, the house has carpet runners that the guides ask you to honor. Wise!
Sight description based on wikipedia
Hooper-Lee-Nichols House

6) Hooper-Lee-Nichols House

The Hooper-Lee-Nichols House is a historic Colonial American house in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and is the second-oldest house in the city. Now headquarters for the Cambridge Historical Society, the house was originally built in 1685 by Dr. Richard Hooper as a typical "first-period" farmhouse, although its ceilings were plastered, which was unusual for a modest dwelling. When Hooper died in 1691, his wife took in boarders and the property eventually started to fall into disrepair.

She in turn died in 1701, and the house continued its decline until 1717, when it was inherited by Hooper's son, Dr. Henry Hooper, who added a lean-to and rebuilt the chimney with cooking ovens. In 1733, he sold the house to Cornelius Waldo, who added a third story and wooden quoins at the corners. Waldo also installed larger windows. The result was a house that looked thoroughly Georgian. The property is open for tours on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 2 and 3 pm.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Elmwood House

7) Elmwood House

Elmwood, also known as the Oliver-Gerry-Lowell House, is a registered historic house in Cambridge, Massachusetts, known for its several prominent former residents, including: Andrew Oliver (1706–74), royal Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts; Elbridge Gerry (1744–1814), signer of the US Declaration of Independence whose political tactics earned the term gerrymandering, and Vice President of the United States; and James Russell Lowell (1819–1891), noted American writer, poet, and foreign diplomat. It is now the residence of the President of Harvard University.

The house was built in 1767 by Thomas Oliver, Lieutenant-Governor of Massachusetts for a short period until he was forced to resign in September 1774. Although parts of Elmwood's interior have been altered, its exterior has not changed greatly over the years. It is a large, square, clapboarded structure in Georgian style with brick-lined walls and two interior chimneys.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Mount Auburn Cemetery

8) Mount Auburn Cemetery

Mount Auburn Cemetery was founded in 1831 as "America's first garden cemetery", or the first "rural cemetery", with classical monuments set in a rolling landscaped terrain. An oasis from the storm of Crazy Intense Cambridge, Massachusetts, this 174-acre cemetery reminds of Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, with notable celebrities buried here, and is important both for its historical aspects and its role as an arboretum.

The area is a favorite location for Cambridge bird-watchers and houses a collection of over 5,500 trees, including nearly 700 species and varieties. Thousands of very well-kept shrubs and herbaceous plants weave through the cemetery's hills, ponds, woodlands, and clearings. The cemetery contains more than 10 miles of roads and many paths. As a sign of respect for the buried, no running/jogging is allowed on the grounds, only walking.

Upon arrival, make sure to stop by the chapel (there are two historic chapels in the area worth visiting) and pick up a map, if you want to find some important graves – as this can be difficult sometimes, because the markings are not distinct. Also, there are audio tapes available for self tours. At the end, you might want to climb to the top of the Tower and have a 360° look of the surroundings.
Sight description based on wikipedia

Walking Tours in Boston, Massachusetts

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Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.6 Km or 2.2 Miles
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Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.1 Km or 1.3 Miles

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