Harvard Mall is one of the coolest places in Charlestown. Literally. On one of the recent hot summer days, while taking photos in the park, I felt a refreshing coolness, and an emptiness there, so different from the noisy, busy streets. There was just one other person there, sitting on a stone bench.
The mall, a ‘tree shaded brick square,’ stands on a hill. This hill, originally Fort Hill, contained a fort built by the first European settlers in a spot ideal for protection and inspection over the land and nearby water. There was a wheat-grinding windmill next to the fort, and eventually a church nearby.
John Harvard built a home at the bottom of the hill, with an orchard spreading upwards. There were more than 150 other small houses on or near the hill, which became Town Hill.
Harvard preached at the church but died young, at thirty, less than two years after arriving in Massachusetts. His house, and all others, were lost in the Revolutionary fire of 1775. His actual burial spot is unknown.
Harvard bequeathed half of his estate and his entire library to what would become Harvard University. In 1828 the University dedicated a memorial obelisk to John Harvard and placed it in Phipps Burial Ground. Town Hill Street became Harvard Street.
One hundred and fifteen years later came the Harvard Mall. A Harvard alumnus bought the land, and created the Harvard Mall as a gift to the City of Boston.
It is unlike any place in Charlestown. Paved in brick, the lower tier is lined with trees, lanterns and benches. The many trees seem to provide perpetual shade. In the upper tier is a playground, adjacent to a wide open area. A 17-ton granite obelisk is etched, somewhat illegibly, with the story of the life of John Harvard. Stone insets along the walls recount the history of Town Hill and the founding of Massachusetts Bay Colony.
Although people seem to use the Mall as a way to get from Harvard Street to Main, it’s so much more than a passageway. It’s a sanctuary.
- Where is it? 18 Main Street
- When was it built? 1943
- Who built it? Harvard University, with funds from an anonymous donor, who also gave the land where the mall is built.
- Why was it built? As a memorial to John Harvard and a public park for Boston.
- How was it built? Paved in red brick, and a perimeter lined with stone benches. Stone steps lead to a walled promenade and to a second tier.
- What are the future plans for the structure? According to an article in PATCH (), City Councilor Sal LaMattina recently announced that the Harvard Mall would receive funds for a complete renovation of the tot lot playground and the surrounding area.
Information for this article was compiled from various research materials, including http://www.news.harvard.edu/gazette/2004/07.22/25-mall.html; http://web.mit.edu/manyan/www/trends.html; http://charlestown.patch.com/articles/10-notes-about-bostons-budget-two-in-charlestown; The College Pump, July-August 2002. Notes from Carl Zellner.