Harvard Square in the ‘Seventies and ‘Eighties
By Lois Lilley Howe
Read January 25, 1944
This article originally appeared in the Cambridge Historical Society Proceedings, Volume 30, pages 11-27
Reminiscences, which should really have been called Harvard Square and its Environs in the ‘Seventies and ‘Eighties, have been in the back of my mind long enough for me to have verified details by talks with Miss Elizabeth Harris and Mrs. Archibald M. Howe, both of whom have been gone for years.
I have also to thank my old friends Charles F. Batchelder, Frances Weld Garret and George L. Winlock for reading and commenting on my statements — and Walter B. Briggs, always helpful and interested, who almost the last time that I saw him suggested my going to Mr. Edward L. Gookin at the Widener Library, who has shown me many photographs of the Square as I remember it.
At the second meeting of this Society, being its First Annual Meeting, October 30, 1905, Mr. Charles Eliot Norton gave his Reminiscences of Old Cambridge. These went back nearly as many years in his lifetime as mine do now.
He said that in his youth Harvard Square was known as the Market Place. I remember that we were amused because the Misses Palfrey spoke of it as “The Village.” I have seen it change from the focal point of a small town to what it is now, a suburban centre, distinguished from others of its kind only by the fact that the buildings of Harvard University form part of its boundaries and so add to its prestige.
But in the late ‘seventies and early ‘eighties of the last century, Old Cambridge was still a small College town and had an atmosphere of its own. As a child, I was allowed to go to school or anywhere else without any escort other than a contemporary one. I was sent to the Square on errands; I even disported in the College Yard, which lay between Harvard Square and “our house” on the corner of Oxford and Kirkland Streets, now known as the Peabody House.
There were, of course, two ways of going to Harvard Square from this corner, either across the College Yard or around the outside. If you were less than say fifteen, you naturally went across — who would dream of going all the way round? “Alas! Regardless of their doom The little victims play, No thought have they of ills to come Nor care beyond to-day.” I supposed vaguely that “some day” I should be “grown up,” a desirable state when the round comb would disappear, the braided pigtail be “done up” on top of my head, and my dress would be long and flowing. Then of course I should be able to do anything; that I should then be told “You must never go through the College Yard” never occurred to me. It was a great blow when it came.
I don’t think I shall ever forget my amused surprise when I went through the Yard one summer two or three years ago when the girls of the summer school occupied the dormitories and I saw them lying about on the grass — not in Victorian costumes, either.
So across the “Yard” I always went. First across the Delta, and diagonally over to the gateway between Thayer and Holworthy. There is a handsome wrought-iron gate there now, with brick posts and “1879” on the lantern above it, but at the time I am thinking of the members of the Class of 1879, who were eventually to present that gate to the College, were either undergraduates or just adjusting themselves to life in a new, and perhaps bleak, world. The College fence was like that still around the Common, rough granite posts, with squared wooden rails between, except that the Common fence has but two rails and the College fence had three. The Delta had originally had the same kind of fence, but around the Gymnasium, a building dimly reminiscent of an early Byzantine Church, standing where the Fire Station now stands, the fence was diversified by having iron chains instead of wooden rails between the posts. They hung rather loosely but not loosely enough to be comfortable to swing on.
Once inside the Yard there was a real choice of route to make, whether to go left along by Thayer Hall, turning diagonally in front of University, or at once to turn right toward the College Pump, where was presented another choice, whether to go across to Church Street, or again diagonally between Massachusetts and Matthews; and almost everybody but me seems to have forgotten that there was another pump between those two buildings. Pumps have possibilities as sources of entertainment. All the walks were paved with flagstones and of course it was very important not to step on any of the cracks.
In those pre-telephone days the butchers and the grocers kept separate shops. Both came around in their carts every morning and took orders for food which they delivered later. Some butchers to be sure came to the door with the meat in their carts and the customer could go out and look at it and buy it right at her own door. There was a man, named Raymond, with whom my aunt dealt, who did his business this way. He drove a white-canvas-covered cart and wore a white frock. He lived in Chauncy Street, which has come up in the world since then, at number 23. I think he built that house so long occupied by Mr. and Mrs. George H. Browne, and the little apartment house next door was made by the Brownes out of Raymond’s stable. He was a real character and on one occasion, when my aunt had expressed herself with some acerbity about a very tough leg of mutton which he had sold her, he said softly, “Why Mis’s Devens, you do surprise me; Mis’s Storer, she had the mate-leg and she thought it was real good.”
My father ordered the meat himself and he dealt with Mr. Farmer, on the corner of Church Street. Farmer had succeeded to the business of a man named Wallace, of whom it was said that his last dying words were, “Don’t forget Dr. Howe’s Sunday roast o’ beef.”
Opposite Church Street was then, as now, the main entrance to the College Yard, the Gate of Honor, through which the Governor of Massachusetts, escorted by the Lancers, drove on Commencement Day. It was about one carriage wide with dressed granite posts and an iron gate. On each side was a footpath gateway with three turned iron posts in it. All the foot gates had posts in them; some were wooden posts with close-fitting iron caps. The church was of course opposite, but Charles Sumner did not sit presiding over the open space between. He was, I think, sitting on the Public Garden in Boston. His present location is an appropriate one for he roomed in Hollis and Stoughton while in College and boarded with my Grandmother at Number Two Garden Street, now Dr. Norris’s house.
There was a section of the Common, bounded by Garden Street, North Avenue, Holmes Place, and what was afterward named Peabody Street. Through this ran Kirkland Street to Garden Street. It was undoubtedly a relic of the days when the Common was not fenced in, and was part of the road to Watertown. It was the direct road from our house to Two Garden Street. It was not of much interest to the City and my elder brother and sister, who frequently went to see my grandmother, named it “The Slough of Despond.” (They were interested in Pilgrim’s Progress.)
Of the two little Commons thus formed, one was for obvious reasons called “The Flag Staff Common” and the other was to us “The Mad Bull Common.” I think a sick cow had been pastured there once and she probably bemoaned her fate. Now the Subway has taken up most of the space, but the old fence is still left.
Church Street was primarily connected in my mind with going to Sunday School in the ugly old Parish House, or, as we called it, the Vestry, of the Unitarian Church, where Miss Edith Longfellow was my teacher until she married Richard Henry Dana 3rd. But there was more or less of interest in the street itself, in which there were a variety of features. There was no high and forbidding brick wall on the north side but an open space extending all along back of College House. It belonged to the College and had a fence like the College fence, with an opening through which carts could pass to the back doors of the stores. There was also an unpretentious house which had been built for Jones, the College Janitor, a well-known character.
There was a fire in Hollis Hall, in the top story, some time in the early part of 1876. I remember it very well for it was obliging enough to break out in a spectacular manner just as we were having recess at Miss Page’s School on Everett Street. We could see it very clearly all across Jarvis Field and Holmes Field and we went in a body. So did all the students and all the faculty of Harvard College. In the middle of the excitement came twelve o’clock and the sound of the College bell ringing for a recitation which no one was likely to attend. Mr. George Martin Lane was heard to say, “There is Casablanca Jones doing his duty as usual.” Many years afterward, Dr. George P. Cogswell had his first office in this Church Street house.
The other end of the Street really belonged with Brattle Street. On the southwest corner was the Bates house, with its gates, its arbor and its garden, to my mind one of the beauty spots of Cambridge. The house was moved to Hawthorn Street when Church Street was widened in 1929. Samuel Chamberlain has photographed it there. I wish he could have seen it in its original setting. Its north wall was on the street line and was continued by a white board fence which enclosed the garden. There were two or three other pleasant-looking houses on that side of Church Street. At the northwest corner the Francis Dana House also belonged to Brattle Street, but there still stands high up on Church Street what I used to hear called “Dr. Wyman’s old house,” though Dr. Wyman had not lived in it for many years. It has been saved for us by various organizations and is now occupied by the Red Cross. Miss Jaques took boarders there. Miss Harris told me that she had been trained as a tailoress and that her mother used to wear a white turban. Miss Julia Watson lived with her. In the Unitarian Church we thought nobody could arrange flowers as well as Miss Watson. Mrs. Stephen G. Bulfinch, the daughter-in-law of Charles Bulfinch, the celebrated architect, lived here with her daughter, Ellen Susan, who was a friend of my Sister Sally’s and a member of her “Club,” the first of the Sewing Clubs. When I was about fifteen, I took lessons in “sketching” from Miss Bulfinch in the pleasant southwest room on the second floor. I remember a wide upper hall with a figured oilcloth on it.
The greater part of the north side of the street was taken up by Pike’s Stable (afterward Blake’s). It would be difficult to imagine now how important this was to Old Cambridge. From it came numbers of “hacks,” each with two horses, to take the quality to dances, lectures and concerts, to weddings and funerals, day and evening. In the snowy winter days the bodies of the hacks were put on runners to form so-called “booby-huts.” There was a great deal of “seat work” practised; that is, every one paid for his or her own seat, generally twenty-five cents. The driver picked up a load, going or coming. It might be strange to an outsider to hear a maid announce “Carriage for Miss Jones and Mr. Eustis” but we were used to it, and you may be sure that Miss Jones had some other “girl” to accompany her on the perilous ride home, for no young lady was ever allowed to go anywhere in a carriage alone with a gentleman. Muirhead in his book on America, as late as 1893, speaks of the peculiarity of the Boston custom (and that of Cambridge was the same), which did not allow a young girl to go anywhere alone in a carriage with a young man she knew, but allowed her to be chaperoned by any cab driver.
In the middle of the north side of the street you may still see a smug little brick building, now occupied by A. Lavash, the carpenter, and the Cambridge School of Art. This had been the Police Station, and next to it was what had been the fire engine station before both had been moved to the then new City Building in Brattle Square. The engine house had a little belfry at the back overlooking the Burying Ground. I suppose this was where the original fire bell was hung. The site is now occupied by the Cambridge Motor Mart and the sill of one window is of weathered granite, on which is deeply cut “CAMBRIDGE 1,” a relic of that fire engine station whose materials had been used for the Motor Mart.
But the most fascinating thing on Church Street I cannot exactly locate. That was a blacksmith’s shop. Mr. Gookin thinks it was on Palmer Street. Miss Garret thinks there was one on Palmer Street and one on Church Street too, and both she and George Winlock remember a wheelwright’s shop which I do not remember. The latter says that A. J. Jones had a “Carriage Repository” on the corner of Palmer Street, “a narrow, plain building, three stories high, with three large doors and a projecting beam at the top to hoist the wagons and carriages.” Wherever the blacksmith’s shop may have been, I surely did like “to look in at the open door And loved to see the flaming forge and hear the bellows roar.”
Errands for my family usually sent me elsewhere. The path between Massachusetts and Matthews came out of the Yard through a gate with five iron posts in it, just about opposite the centre of College House or University Row, which then, as now, had shops all along its lower story. This gate was approximately where the present gate of the Class of 1875 stands, between Straus and Lehman Halls. Dane Hall, then the Harvard Law School, afterward the first home of the Harvard Co-operative Society, stood just to the south of it.
I cannot remember all the shops that were there but Farmer, the butcher, as I have said, had that on the corner of Church Street. The Post Office, which had a peripatetic habit until it had the present building all of its own, was at one time here. Near where the street bends, the little triangular shop, now occupied by a florist, was that of one of the most interesting characters in the town, James Huntington. “Old Huntington,” as we used to call him, was a watch and clock maker of great skill and a very eccentric individual. Thanks to Mr. Edwin H. Hall, who gave this Society an account of him in 1925, I can tell you that he was a descendant of a signer of the Declaration of Independence. He worked his way through Harvard College, graduating at 30 in the Class of 1852, and trained other workmen and had enough business to maintain another workroom, but always himself worked in the little shop. He disliked publicity and never advertised or had a sign on his shop. He always signed his bills just “J.H.”
A friend of ours, who had a watch she wanted to sell, brought it to him. He offered her something like eighteen dollars, a very disappointing response. Said she, “A man in Washington told me it was worth thirty dollars.” “Did he say he would give you thirty dollars?” was his characteristic reply. He founded a home for orphan children which would have naturally been called The Huntington Home. This he forbade and it was called after the street on which he lived, and so we know it as The Avon Home.
In the middle of the row was one of the — to me — most important shops in the Square. Perhaps I was sent there more often for a yeast cake, a thing very frequently forgotten. This was a grocery store, usually spoken of as “Wood’n Halls,” properly Wood and Hall’s. I think there were two doors, that it was two shops wide, but only one was in common use. The doors were two-fold and on the door posts were signs in bold black letters on white grounds advertising their specialties, among which I only remember W. I. Goods — I suppose rum and molasses from the West Indian Islands. Inside, I remember the shop as dark and rather mysterious. I remember dim gas lights made necessary on rainy or winter days by a broad wooden awning which covered the sidewalk and made it handy to unload or load barrels and perishable wares in bad weather. I think also some of the carts were loaded or unloaded in the rear in that open space that came from Church Street. I certainly have a vision of a wide door there, open in the summer. On the right of the entrance, inside, was a long counter where retail business was conducted; on the left, a mysterious collection of boxes and barrels and the scales on which we children used surreptitiously to weigh ourselves, though probably no one would have minded if he had noticed us. It gave us a feeling of being rather smart and tough, and you must remember that there were no bathroom scales then and it was important to know how our weights as well as our ages compared.
James Wood and Mr. Orrin Hall, two of our finest fellow citizens, presided in person over the business they had built up. They also had an assistant named Norris. They did not wear white linen office coats but long brown linen dusters, and I always think of Mr. Wood as having a black beard and a square derby hat while Mr. Hall, who was a remarkably handsome man, figures in my memory as clean shaven with a Panama hat.
At the end of the Row were the two banks, the Charles River Bank and the Cambridge Savings Bank, side by side, and looking to me just alike, with green leather doors. After them came Lyceum Hall, where the Co-operative Society is now. There was an open space or passage between that and the banks. Lyceum Hall, without being pretentious, had some claim to architectural style. It had a classic portico at the head of a wide and imposing flight of steps. Behind this flight of steps there was, in the basement, an oyster bar of no interest to me. I think a tailor shop occupied the first story. The Hall was on the second and was approached by a flight of stairs as nearly continuous as possible with the outside flight. Up these stairs, on dancing-school days went my little feet in their rubber boots, around to the right at the top, into and across the whole length of the hall to the dressing room at the far end and all to the tune of Mr. Papanti’s fiddle as he coached some special pupil. This was not the original, distinguished “Papanti” but his son, never as good a teacher and really living on his father’s prestige. Still there it was we all learned to dance. Will there ever be a greater thrill than leading the Marching Cotillion at the Dancing School Ball?
Brattle Street begins here, though it always seems a part of Harvard Square to me. The first little fruit stand was tucked into a crack next to Lyceum Hall. Here one Baccilupi sold peanuts and bananas. Then came another triangular store where Ramsay dispensed drugs. This was the shop to which James Russell Lowell alluded in the many times told pun when he said he would rather see Ramsay’s in Harvard Square than Rameses the Great in Egypt.
Further on was the fish store of Alexander Millan, with that marvellous aquarium in the window. I wonder whether it is the same aquarium or its great-grandchild which graces Campbell and Sullivan’s shop on Church now. Do children flatten their noses against the window to see it? I suppose aquaria are now so common in the home that it does not prove as alluring as that did to me, although to be sure there was beneath the window one of those dreadful grilles over an area, which were so alarming — you really knew you could not possibly fall through, but you might catch your toe!
David Brewer kept a butcher shop on the further corner of Palmer Street. His brother Tom, a somewhat noted and notorious character, ran a similar business across Brattle Square. Around on Brattle Street the Worcester Brothers had a furniture store in a new brick block, in which, upstairs on the second floor, was the office of Dr. Andrews, the dentist. My aunt Mrs. Devens once went to Worcester Brothers to give an order, for they were famous people for repairing upholstery and taking up and putting down carpets (this last piece of business being quite unknown in the present day). She said in her forceful way: “I should like to have all the brothers come before me and take this order, so that no one of you can say, ‘You must have given that order to my brother, I never heard anything about it’.”
Between this building and the Bates House on the corner of Church Street were three houses, variously occupied. That next to the Bates House was three stories high, tall and narrow with its end to the street, of the same type as Christ Church Rectory. In this, upstairs was a very good dressmaker, who must have had great courage to adopt that business, as she bore the unfortunate, for her, name of Miss Fitz.
These formed the northwest side of Brattle Square, which had at that time a certain distinction of its own. As you look from Harvard to Brattle Square today, the vista is closed by the Post Office and the Reserve Bank, but then you would have seen the University Press. This was a very large building and as it was always painted a dirty brown, I think we all thought that it was a shabby old hulk. As a matter of fact it was quite a fine piece of architecture, originally built for a hotel, the Brattle House. It was occupied as a dormitory by students for several years prior to 1865, about which time it was taken over by the University Press. Its proportions were good and so was its detail. It was three stories high above a brick basement. The stories were of graduated heights, as was shown by the windows. The walls were divided into panels by pilasters. There was a mansard roof with dormers and it was crowned by a cupola. There was a porch on the Brattle Street side and a portico with Ionic columns on the end toward Brattle Square. There was no more imposing building in the Square. Certainly not its neighbor across Mount Auburn Street, the City Building, bearing all the architectural faults of its period, the Seventies, with a much beturreted mansard roof and an illuminated clock. This was the home of the Police Station, the Fire Department, and the Police Court. The site is now part of the Boston Elevated Railway’s train yard. In the top of this building was Armory Hall, destined to outshine Lyceum Hall as a ballroom and eventually to be cut out for that purpose by Brattle Hall. Here it was that later I and many of my contemporaries “came out” in society.
My first memory of this hall is of an affair there which may have had to do with its own opening to society or perhaps with some one of the spate of Revolutionary Centennial anniversaries which swept this part of Massachusetts in the early Seventies, beginning with that of the Boston Tea Party, in December 1873. At any rate there I was with my whole family (an unusual circumstance in itself) having supper and demanding chicken salad. I can’t think why, nor can I understand why it was refused, but I was much injured by the refusal. Wandering around to amuse myself, I met a schoolmate, Winifred Howells, about to have supper with her father William Dean Howells, distinguished author and fellow townsman. Of course I poured out my woes to them. And wasn’t it wonderful? I had supper again with them and to my surprise I had a plate of chicken salad served to me.
There was on Mount Auburn Street some distance to the west of the City Building, on the corner of Nutting Place, a very pretty old house, similar to the Bates house. It had two very good gates and was set up on a retaining wall. As it was painted an ugly brown it did not receive as much notice as it might have, and no one thought of buying it and moving it away, as was done with the Bates house. On the other corner of Nutting Place was a fine large French roofed house of a type much used on North Avenue (that part of Massachusetts Avenue leading from Harvard Square to Arlington). This was very handsome in its way and was on a terrace with a granite retaining wall and had a driveway to the front door; there must have been a stable somewhere but I do not remember it.
The Cambridge Garage now stands there. A little above this, on the other side of the street, are still two dignified Victorian houses peering sadly around past the cheap apartment houses that have been built in their front yards. All of which shows that Mount Auburn Street once had high hopes and makes us thankful that we were able to keep the electric cars off Brattle Street. It was a tough fight to do so.
At the southeast corner of Brattle Square was a dignified Greek Revival type of house with big fluted pillars across the front. It stood up high, about where the white brick filling-station now is and certainly gave an air to the locality. This was the Humphrey House, in which lived Mr. Francis Josiah Humphrey, Secretary of my father’s class, Harvard 1832. My father sat between him and John Holmes at all lectures for the four years of College. The Commencement Punch of that class was always at our house and Mr. Humphrey always demanded a kiss from “the baby” before he left.
On the way back to Harvard was the Holly Tree Inn on the east side of Brattle Street. Of this I have no recollection, but Miss Frances Weld Garret writes of it as “that picturesque story and a half house with the porch all across the front and the yard all around it. The whole Square on that side was so open with fewer buildings.” Miss Garret lived in Appian Way and probably always approached the Square through Brattle Street, while I came from the other direction. I have also been told that the best beer could be procured at the Holly Tree Inn, but that did not interest me at all. I think however that it was the first public eating place in that neighborhood. The students were supposed to eat at Memorial Hall.
At the point between Brattle and Boylston Streets was the hardware store of I. P. Estes, in a wooden building up quite a number of steps. I have been told that his name was Ivory Pearl. His wife was a nurse and I can testify that she was a good one. In those days there were no trained hospital nurses.
The name of Boylston Street was originally Brighton Street, obviously because it led to Brighton. It was changed because Brighton was not very stylish and moreover it was associated with what we now call the “Abattoir,” then the Slaughter House. When the Abattoir was built, the fire alarm was rung from it and we always called it “the Brighton Bull.” I suppose it was to this bourn that large droves of cattle were led, which came through Harvard Square from North Avenue from time to time at no stated intervals. They were more or less alarming; we sometimes spoke of them as Texan Rangers, but I never heard of their doing any harm. They probably came from the West via Porter’s Station, but, though usually of an inquiring turn of mind, I never asked about them nor connected them with “Dr. Howe’s Sunday roast o’ beef.”
On the south side of the Square, between Boylston and Dunster Streets, were the oldest buildings: three frame houses, with shops built into their lower stories. The two-story house on the corner had an unusually wide gable with an arched window in the middle and a window on each side, all still having blinds. The next, on the other side of what had been a lane across which the shops had been built, was a former farmhouse, end on to the Square and built close against an old tavern. I cannot remember the exact sequence of the shops except the first and last. The first was the grocery store of James H. Wyeth, a friendly rival to Wood and Hall. It had been recently moved here from Brattle Street, near Ramsay’s. Mr. Wyeth was a familiar figure in the town, another good fellow citizen. He retired many years later to grow oranges in Florida. In the second story of that building a young Swede had recently established a shop for framing pictures. His name was J. F. Olsson and his family carry on the business today.
I should say that Richardson’s bookstore was next to Wyeth’s. This became that of Amee Brothers later. Here it was that Lee L. Powers was introduced to Cambridge commercial circles, where he eventually made a reputation as an unusual, if not lovable, character. He graduated from the sale of books to that of antiques in general and furniture in particular. Then there was Mann’s (afterwards Moriarty’s) Boot and Shoe Store, where my earliest shoes, “ankle-ties,” and rubber-boots were bought. All those shops were low-studded and this may have been built into the passage — because I remember a back shop with a ceiling light over it. The Mann Brothers were as like as twins, undersized and always seeming to me like gnomes in a cave. The days of “packaging” had not arrived and when any kind of footwear was desired, the salesman groped in a large deep drawer, containing quantities of shoes of the type desired. When he had got hold of one shoe, he pulled it out. The mate came with it because they were fastened together by a string which ran from shoe to shoe through the stiff part just above the heel. A knot at each end of the string kept the shoes from being disconnected.
Mr. Charles Eliot Norton is my authority for the statement that the last of these compartments, the waiting room of the Street Railroad, was in a part of what had been Willard’s Tavern. It was an unattractive, dingy, low-studded room; very dark, although its whole front was of glass. In winter it was heated by an airtight stove. Next to this building, where the Cambridge Savings Bank is now, was a three-story brick building on the ground floor of which was a confectioner’s shop. This was originally kept by a man named Belcher, a cheerful bearded man with a smiling and bossy wife, but they disappeared from the picture very early, when they sold out to their saleswoman, Miss Martha R. Jones, who became one of the most noted people in the Square. We delighted in her sign on the window, M. R. Jones, and to call her Mr. Jones was scarcely a misnomer. In an age when sport clothes were unknown even to men, and all women were dressed in supremely feminine garb, Martha Jones’s costume was distinctly mannish. She probably would have rejoiced in “slacks,” but at that time it was against the law for women to wear trousers, so she wore a very masculine-looking coat over her long plain dress. Her hat also was more or less like a man’s, of a shocking bad type, and I can not remember her in any other dress. But she sold good candy to the muffled rumble of a printing press on the floor above, on the site of Stephen Daye’s press, the first in the Colony. We must have bought our ice cream from her too.
Down Dunster Street, past the car barns and on the other side of Mount Auburn Street, was Wright’s Bakery. Mr. Wright’s son, George Wright, was another of our leading citizens and a member and benefactor of this Society. Here it was that we bought brown bread for Saturday night or Sunday morning, and we could have bought baked beans too. And we did buy Brighton biscuits, large scalloped cookies with shiny granulated sugar all over them.
Across Dunster Street from Martha Jones’s were two modern buildings, Little’s Block and Holyoke House. These had students’ rooms upstairs, I suppose the first expansion of the College from the dormitories in the Yard; forerunners of Beck Hall and the Gold Coast. On the ground floor were the most modern shops. There was F. E. Saunders’ Drygoods Store on the corner. Here were obtainable all sorts of what are known as “small wares” and many other things. It was said that Edith Longfellow bought her wedding dress here, when she married Richard Henry Dana, Third. That was the first place where I remember buying anything. What it was I do not remember, only that my watchful aunt Miss Mary Howe was supervising the purchase and she reproved me for handing my money to the saleswoman before I received the equivalent. And I remember the money too. It was a twenty-five cents bill, a greenback, like a small dollar bill. I never saw a silver quarter of a dollar until I was as much as twelve years old, when the United States resumed specie payments after the Civil War. We then just said THE WAR.
Mr. Saunders was famous for his Ollendorffian remarks, somewhat like a foreign phrase book. When you asked him for something he did not have he suggested something else which was not usually in the same class. It was possibly his way of stimulating trade. That was the first store where I ever saw a sale of Christmas goods, and more than that, they were Japanese. Probably the first unloading of the products of Japanese cheap labor! Many of them were very pretty and wonderful for a child to buy. I think I still have a Japanese lacquered glove box which must have come from there.
John H. Hubbard kept the apothecary shop next door. The same shop you know as Billings and Stover’s Drug Store. Many years after his retirement, I met him and he showed me a tintype of himself standing beside a big high-wheeled bicycle. He told me with pride that it showed he was a pioneer in two things, amateur photography and bicycling. He had of course developed and printed the tintype himself. I have been told that he played the trombone in the Pierian Sodality orchestra for many years. My acquaintance with a soda fountain began in this shop, but that was some years later. There was no ice cream in the soda, only a sweet syrup. We preferred to go for that to Mr. Bartlett’s store, which was, I think, where the Cambridge Trust Company is now. Probably this was on account of the personality of Mr. Bartlett, who served us himself and liked to talk to us.
The University Book Store was distinguished and stylish. It did not look like a country store as many of the others did. Of course I was proud to go there, because Mr. Sever, who kept it, was the father of my very intimate friend and much of my playtime was spent at his house. He was a handsome man, rather grave and severe, and I held him in awe, though he was always very kind to me.
Probably no one ever thought of Harvard Square as “pretty,” yet if we could see it today as it was fifty or sixty years ago, we should say that it had a certain charm. While many of the buildings were not beautiful, none were hideously commonplace. The low country-like fence around the College Yard and the lawns between that and the College buildings made the Yard all of a piece with the Square and gave a quality and atmosphere which has now entirely gone. Wadsworth House, instead of being huddled in between other buildings, looking as if it had made its last stand at the edge of the sidewalk, had a yard in front of it with a lilac hedge between that and a handsome Colonial picket fence, all of a piece with its old New England charm. There was also a row of trees along that side of the street. (This was Main Street then.) All this vanished when the street was widened, some time in the nineties, I think, on account of the electric cars. Might we call this the first step in “mechanization”? There were trees in front of Lyceum Hall and College House too. I do not remember the big elm with a low stone wall around it, near which stood a watering trough and the hay scales. As far as I can make out from photographs, these stood just about where the subway station now stands. They were removed in the early seventies because they obstructed traffic!
The Square, then, as I remember, had some of the charm of an open space and was not too crowded. But there was one important feature which we never thought even picturesque until it was gone forever — the horse.
Horses were everywhere; on the tradesmen’s carts, on the ice carts, the express wagons, as well as on the private carriages of our more wealthy citizens. Likewise there were the horsecars. Funny little things we should think them now, used as we are to huge electric cars and busses, not to mention streamlined automobiles and enormous trucks. They were low and square and yellow with flat roofs. Each was drawn by two stalwart horses (four when snow was on the ground). These were brought up from the car-barn on Dunster Street all harnessed, with pole and whiffle-tree to hook on to the car whose horses were to be changed. Stout-bearded Irishmen brought them. I remember one jolly “Brian” with a Falstaffian figure, a brown beard and a twinkling eye. He used to bring pails of water for the horses from the watering trough and pump for this purpose in front of Dane Hall.
There was not so much changing of cars in the Square. You took the car you wanted in Boston and came out through Main Street, now Massachusetts Avenue. Some cars went up Brattle Street, some up Garden Street, some up North Avenue, now Massachusetts Avenue. People who lived on Kirkland Street did not have to come to the Square to go to Boston. They could take a Broadway or an East Cambridge car. Each car had a driver and a conductor. You did not pay as you entered; the conductor came through the car to get your fare, no matter how crowded it was.
These officers did not wear uniforms, unless the huge buffalo-skin coats and caps the drivers wore in the winter might be so considered. For these the modern expression “battle dress” would seem to have been appropriate when we think of their driving across the West Boston Bridge, one and a quarter miles long, in stormy winter weather. I think, if you look up the facts, which I give from memory, you will find that even after electric cars came in, the vestibules were not enclosed for several years. There was great discussion about it. Many people thought the motor men would not be able to see as well and were sure reflections on the glass would be confusing and dangerous. Hence the curtains which they sometimes drew across.
The passengers inside the cars, though shielded from the fury of the elements, were also cold. The Company did its best by filling up the floors of the cars with straw, which helped indifferently well to shield the passengers’ feet from drafts from the floors. It was changed quite often but could not be kept very clean when snow melted into it and mud joined the snow. — But what pleasant, neighborly visits we had on those long cold rides, as well as in the summers when the open cars were used.
There were hay scales in front of Dane Hall, then the Harvard Law School, and also a stand, not of cabs, but of express and “job” wagons. Sawin’s Express was the only express, but I remember that Henry Lewis, a tall colored man, who tended our furnace, had a cart there. According to the fashion of the time, it was very high with a high seat across the front, and was for “furniture moving” purposes. Moving, in those days, was not done with discreet closed and padded vans, but in such a wagon as I have described. Some care was exercised to protect the handsomer pieces of furniture, which were put at the bottom of the load and covered with fairly clean cloths. The shabby pieces were on the top, inadequately draped with bits of burlap. This arrangement made a load of furniture, even of one of our most wealthy citizens, look a good deal like a Morgan Memorial wagon on a day when it has made a good haul.
But to return to the shops. There was not really much of interest beyond Holyoke Street. There was to be sure the “Bishop’s Palace” (the Apthorp House, now Adams House, the Master’s residence). Always mysterious to me, it stared across a dead garden where are now shops, instead of a picket fence along the Street. There was another little delta between the foot of Quincy Street and Main Street, with a fence around it. But near the further corner of Holyoke Street was one most important shop. Over it was the sign “Confectionary,” and within, the proprietor, who looked like the knave in a pack of cards, only he did not wear a hat, sold candy and toys. I have been told that he served ice cream in his back shop and that as the floor was cold because there was no cellar, he had straw laid under the woolen carpet.
In the front shop was the candy, sometimes chocolate mice with brown string tails, and more important, paper dolls, with famous or distinguished names. I only remember Clara Louise Kellogg. Was she an opera singer? How illusory is fame! She came printed in colors all ready to cut out and with dresses, too. And there were china dolls of several sizes and prices suited to the infant purse, but all alike, perfectly stiff with only the arms sticking out as if to join in a boxing bout. Sex was determined by the hair — worn in bunches over the ears and a pointed pompadour by the boys, and in curls around the head by the girls. Very valuable and precious these were, and easy to dress with very little material, except that the legs being almost tight together, it was hard to manage trousers for the boys. The dolls were very easily broken and so had to be replaced when one’s budget permitted.
And from this shop I usually skipped happily home along the path between Gray’s and Boylston Halls and past University, taking care, of course, not to step on any crack in the flagstone walk, though some of the stones on that path were very wide and it was extremely hard to manage those with one step each.