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Old Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States

Harvard Yard Tour

Take a tour around the oldest university in the United States

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Difficulty: Easy
Length: 1.3 miles / 2.1 km
Duration: Half day
Family Friendly • Dog Friendly
 
Overview: Harvard University, founded in 1636, is the United States' oldest university. Over the years it has graduated some of the most brilliant minds in the world. Nearly 7,000 undergraduates and nearly 15,000 graduate and professional students attend the university.

As you'll see by taking this tour, Harvard has a long history of "firsts." This guide attempts to serve as a walking tour through the history of the many buildings within Harvard Yard. When possible, historical photos have been used to illustrate the changes in the Yard over the years.

Although it doesn't cover the full extent of the much larger university, this tour will give you a better understanding of its rich history. By the end you'll understand why this Ivy League school has a reputation as one of the most prestigious universities in the world.


Tips: The best place to park for this guide is the parking garage underneath the Holyoke Center, which can be accessed from Holyoke Street; rates are hourly. You'll want to head to the information center on the ground floor of the building.

To get to Harvard take exit 26 off Interstate 93 and continue on Storrow Drive for four miles to the Harvard Square Exit. At the end of the exit ramp turn right and go straight over a bridge and through a set of lights onto JFK Street. At the next set of lights take a right onto Auburn Street and then the second left onto Holyoke. The parking garage will be the first left off Holyoke.

Points of Interest

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Info Center

The events and information center is located on the ground floor arcade of the Holyoke Building, built in 1961. This is where you will want to start your tour. Feel free to grab any brochures that are available to learn more about the historical buildings you will be walking by on your tour. Some of the illustrated booklets may have a price.

There are entrances to the building both on Auburn Street and Massachusetts Avene. While you are in the building take the time to check out art from local residents that may be on display in the exhibition space, which is in the arcade.

If you are driving here to start your tour you should park in the Holyoke Center parking garage; its entrance is on Holyoke Street.
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Information center hours
Monday-Saturday 9am-5pm
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Lehman Hall & Dudley House

Dudley House is located within Lehman Hall. Lehman Hall is the adminstrative building for nonresident and off-campus students. Lehman and Dudley are referred to as one in the same.

Dudley House was named after Thomas Dudley (1576-1653), who was the second governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Dudley House was established in 1935 and now serves as a house for undergraduates; it also contains the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Graduate Student Center.

Dudley House is home to the Cafe Gato Rojo and the Dudley Cafe (both closed in the summer) as well as a game room, library and meeting room.

In the photo you can see the house behind the Harvard Square station.
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Matthews Hall

Matthews Hall was built in 1872 as a gift from Nathan Matthews, who stipulated that half of the net income from the dormitory be given to aid students who needed help paying for tuition and board. This established 15 annual Matthews Scholarships, which have been used throughout the years to assist incoming Harvard students.

This dorm is believed to be built on the site of the Indian College (look around for a small plaque that provides information about the Indian College). When this building was being constructed, workers had to move Dane Hall 70 feet to the south to make room for it.

Matthew Halls was home to Harvard students such as Chuck Schumer (U.S. senator from New York), Matt Damon ("Bourne Identity" actor), Barney Frank (U.S. representative from Massachusetts) and William Randolf Hearst (newspaper magnate).
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Massachusetts Hall

Mass Hall is the oldest surviving building at Harvard and also the country's oldest dorm. The building, which was designed by two Harvard presidents (John Leverett and Benjamin Wadsworth), was built between 1718 and 1720.

Over the years it was used as a safe house for 640 American soldiers during the Seige of Boston and also as an informal observatory with a 24-foot telescope donated by Thomas Hollis.

Today the building houses a small number of freshman as well as offices for upper level administrators such as the president, provost, treasurer and vice president.

This hall was the residence of several United States Founding Fathers such as John Adams, John Hancock, Samuel Adams, Elbridge Gerry and James Otis. Other notable Mass Hall residents include members of the Weld, Thayer, Eliot, Lowell and Wigglesworth families.
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Straus Hall

This dormitory was built in 1926 by the three sons of Isidor and Ida Straus in memory of their parents, who were New York department store entreprenuers who died on the Titanic.

All the suites in the dorm have wood-burning fireplaces (look at the number of chimneys on the roof—it's same for many other dorms such as Wigglesworth, Lionel, Mower, etc). The dorm has a large common room complete with leather chairs, Oriental rugs, entertainment center and kitchen with room for more than 30 students.

This must have been a great place for Mark Zuckerberg (founder of Facebook) to kick back and think about code during his freshman year while he resided in this hall. Other famous residents include William S. Burroughs (American novelist), Tom Ridge (campaigned with Republican presidential nominee John McCain in 2008), María de la Soledad Teresa O'Brien (former host of CNN's "American Morning"), Pulitzer Prize-winner Joseph Lelyveld (former editor of the New York Times), John Roberts (chief justice of the Supreme Court), David Souter (associate Supreme Court justice 1990-2009) and filmaker Darren Aronofsky ("Requiem for a Dream," "The Wrestler," "Black Swan").
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Harvard Hall—Three Times Is the Charm

The original Harvard Hall was constructed in Cambridge in 1642 and was known as Harvard College or Old College, but the building collapsed in the 1670s.

Harvard Hall was then built within Harvard Yard between 1672 and 1682 and lasted for nearly a century before a fire destroyed it in 1764 during a fierce storm known as a northeaster. The hall had housed the college library and a collection of books donated by John Harvard (who the college and hall were named after). All but one of the books were consumed by the fire. Legend has it that a student had taken the book from the library the night before and upon hearing of the fire returned it to the president, knowing it was important, only to be expelled for taking it without permission in the first place.

Not giving up on the name or location, the university and designer Sir Francis Bernard built yet another Harvard Hall in the same location in 1766. The building has since undergone massive additions, including a central pavilion added in 1842 and wings on either side added in 1870.

Today the hall holds classrooms and several large lecture halls.
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Hollis Hall

Hollis Hall was built in 1763 and is one of the oldest buildings at Harvard. Like Massachusetts Hall, it was used to house many of George Washington's soldiers during the Revolutionary War.

Hollis was home to some of Harvard's most famous alumni, including Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Wendell Phillips, Charles Francis Adams, John Updike, Charles Sumner, William Weld, Horatio Alger, Jim Cramer and Charles W. Eliot, a past president of Harvard.

Hollis Hall is the oldest Harvard building still used as a dormitory. Look for a bronze plate on the building that tells its history.
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Holden Chapel

Holden Chapel, built in 1744, is the third oldest building at Harvard University. It is nestled in the center of a group of freshman dormitories and is recognizable by its blue roof facade and small size.

The building was built after Mrs. Samuel Holden, widow of a former governor of the Bank of England, offered 400 pounds sterling for the construction of a chapel on the campus. The chapel opened to students in 1745 and housed morning and evening prayers from 1744 to 1772. From 1783 to 1825 the chapel was also used by the Harvard Medical School and its founding father John Warren. Throughout the 1900s the chapel was home to the Harvard Glee Club, followed by the Radcliffe Choral Society and the Harvard-Radcliffe Collegium Musicum (the Holden Choir).

In 1999 it was remodeled to become a classroom and rehearsal space for the Holden Choir, which exists to this day.
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Stoughton Hall

The original Stoughton Hall was built in 1700 at a different location through funds from William Stoughton, the Massachusetts lieutenant governor who presided over the Salem witch trials. The original Stoughton Hall was constructed out of bricks from the Indian College building, which was abandoned in 1698 after it graduated just one Native American in 1665, a Wampanoag named Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck. The original Stoughton Hall was torn down in 1781.

The new Stoughton Hall standing before you was built in 1805 and houses freshman. Past famous residents of this hall include Horatio Alger, Oliver Wendell Holmes, actress Amy Brenneman ("NYPD Blue," "Judging Amy"), Edward Everett (city named after him), Arne Duncan (current U.S. secretary of education) and Paul Attanasio (executive producer of the TV show "House").
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Holworthy Hall

Holworthy Hall was built in 1812 and named after Sir Matthew Holworthy, who gave 1,000 pounds to Harvard in 1678. It was the largest donation to Harvard at that time.

The dorm has a unique floor plan that connects double bedroom suites via a 10-foot-long hallway and shared bathroom. When the bathroom doors are open they create a "megasuite," which Harvard students really like, making this a popular dorm.

Famous past residents of this dorm include Cornel West (American philosopher), Conan O'Brien ("Late Night Show" host) and Horatio Alger Jr. (American author).
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Thayer Hall

Thayer Hall was built in 1870 and now houses freshman who share double and triple rooms. The dorm was originally a solution for students who had trouble affording housing outside the university.

Past residents of the hall include poet e.e. cummings, Steve Ballmer (Microsoft CEO), Arthur Schlesinger Jr. (Pulitzer Prize-winning author and advisor to Presidents Kennedy and Johnson), His Royal Highness Crown Prince Hamzah bin al Hussein of Jordan, Walter Isaacson (CEO of CNN and editor of Time magazine) and Jonathan Taylor Thomas ("Home Improvement" actor).
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Littauer Center of Public Administration

Built in 1939, this building was once the home of the Harvard Kennedy School. It now houses the government and economics departments as well as the graduate school of public administration.

Until 2007 the building also held the Littuaer Library but it has been relocated and replaced by the Fine Art Library on the first floor. The Fine Arts Library is a wonderful resource for Harvard Students to study the history of art with more than 1 million items in its space.

In 1874 Harvard named its first professor of art history and when the Fogg Museum opened in 1895 the collection of art holdings was part of its mission. The Littauer Center is built out of the same white granite used for University Hall.
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Science Center

Built in 1973, this is where undergraduate science and mathematics are taught. The building was designed by Josep Lluis Sert, dean of the graduate school of design at the time, and financed by Edwin Land, who invented the camera. False rumors said the building was designed to resemble a Polaroid camera.

History of science, mathematics and statistics are all housed within the building as well as the Cabot Science Library. The building also houses two telescopes, a cafeteria, a museum and the very cool Tanner Fountain just in front of the building. Mists of water often create beautiful rainbows over the rock garden beneath the fountain.
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Memorial Hall

The architecture of Memorial Hall is, by far, the most amazing you will will see on this tour. The track purposefully goes around the entire building so you can really get a feel for how amazing this structure is.

The building was erected in honor of Harvard graduates who fought for the Union in the Civil War. Fundraising was conducted between 1865 to 1868, with $370,000 raised. At the time that amounted to 1/12 of Harvard's total endowment, which made it one of the costliest university projects at the time. Charles Sanders also donated $40,000 toward the construction of the Sanders Theatre in the hall.

The design for the building was chosen via a competition, which was won by William Robert Ware and Henry Van Brunt, classes of 1852 and 1854. The cornerstone was laid for the building in 1870 and the building opened in 1874, with the theater completed the following year and the tower finished in 1877.

The hall is divided into the 1,166-seat Sanders Theatre, a great room (9,000 square feet) called Annenberg Hall and a Memorial Transept (2,600 square feet) with a 60-foot-high Gothic vault above a marble floor and 28 tablets commemorating 136 Harvard Civil War casualties.

The building is full of stained-glass windows designed by famous artists and the wooden trusses high above Annenberg Hall, now the freshman dining hall, are not to be missed. If the building is open to the public it is highly recommended that you take a tour of the inside.
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Harvard Art Museums

In this area you will find three distinct art museums— the Fogg Museum, the Busch-Reisinger Museum and the Arthur M. Sackler Museum—each with a particular focus.

The oldest museum, Fogg, opened in 1895 at the site of where Canaday Hall now stands. It was moved to its current location in 1927. The museum is known for its collection of paintings, sculptures, drawings and photographs from the Middle Ages to present.

In 1903 the second museum, the Germanic Museum, opened in Rogers Hall but was moved to Adolphus Busch Hall in 1921 and renamed the Busch-Reisinger Museum in 1950. In 1991 the museum moved to its current location in Werner Otto Hall. The museum is known for its collection of medieval art plaster casts, post-war German contemporary art and the Flentrop pipe organ, which is played at concerts within the building.

The Arthur M. Sackler Museum was completed in 1985 to hold an enormous collection of Asian, Islamic, Indian and ancient art. Currently only the Sackler is open to the public as the Fogg and Busch-Reisinger museums are being torn down to build a massive museum to unite all three museums under one roof.

See the links in this guide for more information on the transformation. For now it is advisable to walk on the opposite side of Quincy Street away from the construction area.
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Robinson Hall

Robinson Hall, completed in 1904 to house the Harvard architecture department, held the Harvard graduate school of design before the construction of Grund Hall in 1972. Now the building houses the history department.
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Carpenter Center for Visual Arts

This building, built in 1962 by the famous architect Le Corbusier, was made possible by a $1.5 million donation from the Carpenter family.

The building houses the environmental studies department as well as the Harvard Film Archive, which is the largest collection of 35mm film in New England. It screens films on a regular basis.

The building's modern design seems a bit out of place among the older buildings of Harvard Yard. It has five floors of working spaces for design, painting, sculpture and drawing, all visible as you ascend the ramp through the heart of the building. The Sert Gallery showcases contemporary artists at the the top of the ramp; a street-level gallery exhibits student works.
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Harvard Faculty Club

In 1931 Harvard President Abbot Lawrence and Dean of Faculty Clifford Herschel Moore created this facility on the site of the former home of William and Henry James. It served as a meeting place for male faculty members complete with food, drinks and beds. Long tables, meant only for distinguished faculty, were a main feature of the dining rooms where horse meat from Suffolk Downs was often served (yes, you read that correctly, horse meat).

Women were initially confined to the Ladies Dining Room, which is now the North Dining Room, until 1968 when the Club Board voted to admit women to full membership.

Over the years the club fell into disrepair and members moved out the area. In 2009, under the direction of Sally Zeckhauser, vice president for administration, the club was united Harvard University hospitality and dining services—a long fall for a club that was started by the most affluent Harvard associates.
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Dana Palmer and Warren House

The Dana Palmer House, built in 1822, is a small white house nestled between much larger campus buildings. It is being remodeled for office space.

The Warren House, built in 1833 for Harvard Latin professor Charles Beck and owned by Henry Clarke Warren, a Sanskrit scholar, is a Greek Revival home nestled between much larger academic buildings. The building was actually moved 130 feet north of its original location in 1900 to accommodate the construction of the Harvard Union, now the Mahindra Humanities Center. The house is open for public tours.
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Mahindra Humanities Center

Formerly known as the Freshman Union, the Harvard Union and the Barker Center, what is now the Mahindra Humanities Center still serves as a social center of sorts.

It was built in 1900 by McKim, Mead & White through a gift by Henry Lee Higginson to provide a social space for students not associated with the exclusive Final Clubs made famous in the movie "The Social Network."

As a union, it had a massive hall, reading and dining rooms, and even a library but never caught like the Final Clubs.

The new Mahindra Center now serves as a location for lectures, interdisciplinary discussions, conferences, readings and workshops on a variety of topics to foster collaboration between the humanities, social sciences and sciences.
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Lamont Library

This building was the first university library in the United States. Through funding from Thomas W. Lamont at the end of World War II, the undergraduate library was completed in 1949.

As the library collection grew and space became limited, much of the collection was transferred to other libraries on campus, specifically to the much larger Widener Library.

Now the building houses a cafe and research services, which is the starting point for Harvard students researching the social sciences and humanities. Although many of the books are gone, the Lamont Library still holds major collections of government documents and microform collections for all disciplines.
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Houghton and Pusey Libraries

The Houghton Library opened in 1942, making Harvard the first American university to construct a separate research facility to house delicate rare books and manuscripts. This air-conditioned building has controlled temperature and humidity to help preserve the collections.

Upon opening the library won many architectural awards for its innovative construction. Over the years the library's collection doubled in size through contributions and gifts, leading to the creation of the Pusey Library at the underground level.
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President's House (Loeb House)

The Loeb House, built in 1912, was donated to Harvard by then Harvard President A. Lawrence Lowell. During World War II, Harvard President James Bryant Conant let the U.S. Navy use the house as a virtual ship for its V-12 college training program.

The building served as the primary residence for Harvard presidents until 1971, when President Derek Bok decided to live off campus at Elmwood on Brattle Street, where Harvard presidents and their families now live.

In 1995 the building was renamed Loeb House after constant benefactors John Langeloth Loeb and Frances Lehman Loeb. The Loeb house is now used by Harvard governing boards and its first floor, which is a huge ballroom, can be rented out for special events.
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Emerson Hall

Emerson Hall, built in 1905 and named after Ralph Waldo Emerson, is home to the philosphophy department. Make sure to read the philosophical inscription over the entrance to the building. This is where William James, the famous philosopher, taught while at Harvard. The building was designed by the famous architect Guy Lowell, who also designed the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.
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Widener Library

This is the largest library at the university. In memory of her son, Harry, who died on the Titanic in 1912, Eleanor Elkins Widener donated $3.5 million for the creation of the library, which opened in 1915.

Widener holds more than 5.7 million volumes on more than 50 miles of shelves. By the 1930s the library found itself filled to capacity, which led to the creation of smaller libraries to hold specialized collections.

The building underwent a massive renovation from 1999 to 2004 to ensure the protection and care of the old collections held within; it now has fire suppression (apparently learned from Harvard Hall's past), humidity control and security systems.
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Harvard Yard

Harvard Yard is about 25 acres and holds some of the most historic Harvard University buildings. It contains 13 of Harvard's 17 freshman dorms, four libraries, five classroom buildings, central administration offices and several academic departments.

The western third of the Yard near the Johnston Gate onto Massachusetts Avevnue is called the Old Yard; most of the older dorms are there.

A lot goes on underneath the Yard: A network of heating tunnels and and utilities run under the grass, which becomes apparent during the winter as snow melts faster in these areas.

The main gates into the Yard are seen in the photos as well as a great fish-eye view of the Yard and Harvard Square.
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Sever Hall

Sever Hall, built between 1878 and 1880 and designed by H.H. Richardson (who also designed the Trinity Church in Copley Square), is used mostly for general purpose small classrooms and larger lecture halls. The building was constructed with about 1.3 million red bricks and is known for the elaborate carvings in the brick.

The exterior facades used more than 100,000 red bricks composed of 60 different varieties. This style is now known as the Richardsonian Romanesque style.
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Memorial Church

Harvard has a long history of building churches and chapels. Having quickly outgrown Holden Chapel, the university built a chapel inside Harvard Hall in 1766. That chapel was quickly outgrown (and Harvard Hall was needed for other uses), so a chapel was built in University Hall in 1814.

Appleton Chapel was built in 1858 thanks to a large donation by Samuel Appleton. Appleton Chapel served as the primary worship location for the college until 1931, when it was torn down due to low attendance.

In its place Harvard University President Abbott Lawrence Lowell decided to build Memorial Church as a place of worship as well as a memorial to the 373 Harvard men and women who died in the first World War.

Since then memorials to Harvard alumni who have died in WWII, the Korean War and the Vietnam War also have been added to Memorial Chapel. If the building is open, take a peek at the memorials.
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Weld Hall

Weld Hall, built in 1870 as a gift from William Fletcher Weld in memory of his brother Stephen Minot Weld, is a freshman dorm that holds 53 suites of double and single rooms. The dorm is known for its two towers with clerestory windows and has been home to famous people such as President John F. Kennedy, author Michael Chrichton, economist Daniel Ellsberg, playwright/actor Christopher Durang and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke.
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Boylston Hall

Boylston Hall, Harvard's first scientific building, was designed by Schultze and Schoen and built in 1858 for $50,000. In 1871 it was remodelled to add the top two floors. Originally chemistry was taught on the top floor. Chemistry lectures moved to the basement after a professor accidentally let molten iron escape from a crucible, which burned through all three wooden floors.

In 1929 the hall was remodeled to house the Yenching Institute, which moved in 1958. In 1959 the building was renovated and now holds the classics and linguistics departments as well as the 144-seat Fong Auditorium on the first floor.

This building would have been torn down in the 1950s if it hadn't been for Boylston family will, which stated that Harvard would only continue to receive significant donations as long as the walls of the hall stood.
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Wigglesworth Hall

Wigglesworth, the second largest freshman dorm, was built in 1931. Harvard President Lowell wanted to shield Harvard Yard from the traffic of Massachusetss Avenue, so this dorm was built as three buildings, which almost look like three disconnected walls of chimneys.

The dorm is so close to Mass Ave and the trains that go by that the walls are known to shake whenever.

Apparently the noise and shaking didn't harm the great minds who once resided here. They include Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, Sen. Ted Kennedy, composer Leonard Bernstein, actor John Lithgow, Sen. David Vitter, author Naomi Yank and National Public Radio's Melissa Block.
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Grays Hall

Grays Hall opened its doors to freshman students in 1863, becoming the first building in Harvard Yard to have water taps in the basement and thus giving it the nickname "Harvard Hilton."

Today the dorm is still considered the most luxurious freshman dorm on the Yard with large common rooms and other expensive amenities. The dorm also has a room that houses high-security freshman. Past residents include author Norman Mailer, Harpoon Brewery founder Daniel Kenary and actress Natalie Portman.
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University Hall & John Harvard Statue

University Hall, designed by Bulfinch and built in 1815, contained the Commons Dining Room until 1849. It is built out of white granite cut at the Charlestown Prison, making it Harvard's first stone building.

The building originally held the dining room, a library and a chapel but over the years all have been repartitioned into classrooms. It also holds the administrative offices of the faculty of arts and sciences.

In 1884 Daniel Chester French's statue of John Harvard was placed in front of the western facade of the building. The statue is the only one in Harvard Yard, making it a common place for students to meet. It is tradition to rub the statue's shoes for luck when you pass it.

The statue is often called the "Statue of Three Lies," as depicted in the film "The Social Network." French had no way of knowing Harvard's features, so he used a student as a model—the first lie. The second lie is that Harvard founded the school—he was a major contributor, not a founder. The last lie is that the school was founded in 1638; the actual date was 1636.

Check out the article in the link section from the Crimson about the statue being peed on.
Pictures in this guide taken by: Photo by GiovaneScuola2006 @ Wiki Commons released to the Public Domain, Photo by Nat Friedman @ Wiki Commons, available under a Creative Commons Attribution - 2.0 Generic License, Photo by Daderot @ Wiki Commons released to the Public Domain, Photo courtesy of Hood/Anderson @ Flickr, Photo courtesy Sabeena Jalal @ Flickr, Photo by Mr. Littlehand @ Flickr, available under a Creative Commons Attribution - NoDerivs 2.0 Generic License, Photo by Jaci Gresham @ Flickr, available under a Creative Commons Attribution - 2.0 Generic License, Photo by Muns @ Wiki Commons, available under a Creative Commons Attribution - ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License, Photo courtesy of Ian Lamont @ harvardextended.blogspot.com, Photo courtesy of Amy O'Brien @ Flickr, Photo by Daderot @ Wiki Commons, available under a Creative Commons Attribution - ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License, Photo from the National Park Service in the Public Domain, Available from the Library of Congress, Photo by Infrogmation @ Wiki Commons, available under a Creative Commons Attribution - 2.5 Generic Licese, Photo courtesy of AndyDiluvian @ Flickr, Photo by Doc Searls @ Flickr, Available under a Creative Commons Attribution - 2.0 Generic License, Photo by David Baron @ Flickr, Available under a Creative Commons Attribution - ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License, Photo by Jonathan Ellinger, Photo by Richard Barrett-Small @ Flickr, available under a Creative Commons Attribution - 2.0 Generic License, Photo by Jacob Rus via Wiki Commons, available under a Creative Commons Attribution - ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License, Photo by Oo64eva @ Wiki Commons, available under a Creative Commons Attribution - ShareAlike 3.0 License., Photo by chensiyuan @ Wiki Commons, available under a Creative Commons Attribution - ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License, Photo by Ken Mayer @ Flickr, available under a Creative Commons Attribution - 2.0 Generic License, Photo by Dudesleeper @ Wiki Commons, available under a Creative Commons Attribution - ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License, Photo by Jacobolus @ Wiki Commons, available under a Creative Commons Attribution - 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Jonathan Ellinger

Harvard Yard Tour Map


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JonathanEllinger
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Although I have climbed over 250 mountains from various places around the U.S. and have hiked in Europe...

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