The Harvard Yard, besides being a venerable area, a blessed couple of acres, owns that peculiar charm which belongs to things and institutions which have never known the labelling of a surveying committee, a place with its own ancient and particular name. Rough earthy Anglo-Saxon names, like the "Yard," "Rotten Row," Cape Cod," have an indigenous correctness which latinic titles ("Esplanade," "Boulevard" etc) can never claim, especially when transported to foreign soil.
When the College first opened in 1638, Nathaniel Eaton, a graduate of Trinity College, Cambridge, was appointed headmaster. He shepherded his pupils into a rude wooden building, the foundations of which were uncovered in building the Harvard Square subway terminal. But Eaton's school was a miserable affair, a boarding-school of Oliver Twist pupils and Fagan-like masters, and Eaton himself was removed in two years for assaulting a "Young gentleman" with a club. This rough frontiersman-teacher kept a diary, in which he related how he set out 30 apple trees "in the Yard," literally the backyard of his house. This original Yard extended across the site of Wadsworth House (the yellow wooden building at the corner of the Yard next to Lehman Hall) to about the middle of University Hall and including an extension to "Charlestown Road", (Kirkland Street), covering the site of Holworthy and Stoughton. It was not until 1835, however, after a long-career as a cow-pasture and wheat field that the Yard attained its present dimensions. The term "Campus," heard with revolting frequency by visitors to Cambridge who are not "in-the-know" was a classical affectation introduced at Princeton during the American Revolution, and which gradually spread to other colleges.
"Harvard College" was the name for the first wooden building. It stood on the present site of Grays Hall, and its ground floor was largely taken up by the buttery, where the College bottles, not butter, were kept. All these early buildings down to and including Holworthy were called "Colleges," and up until the Civil War people used to speak of the "Colleges at Cambridge," when speaking of the buildings in the Yard. Here the first Commencement took place in 1642, which included, just as today, orations in Latin and English, elder statesmen and church dignitaries, and hoards of beaming parents. The stock joke of the Latin orations then, as now, was the term, "Pulcherimis puellas," at which the gathering has laughed with boring regularity for 300 years. From 1654 to 1698 Harvard boasted an Indian College a little brick house which stood where Matthews now presents a study in Gothic revival. Indians were rather shy about going to Harvard in those days, and only one ever graduated. The building was finally torn down and its bricks used in building the first Stoughton Hall.
The Yard did not take on its present aspect really until University Hall was built in 1815. Before that time the Yard must have presented a shabby appearance, with an untidy wood-pile of mammoth dimensions where University Hall now stands. The impressive simplicity of University Hall's granite front is an innovation of the last 90 years, for previous to that it was hidden by a massive iron portico of indescribable ugliness. The rabbit warrens in the cellars of this building which minor University officials call their offices owe all their sunlight and air to the removal of this porch. In the middle of the last century this basement was the College Commons, and here a caterer served meals at $2 a week, a practice which gave the cellar the name of "Starvation Hollow." Parenthetically one might say here that the motivation behind almost every important item in the early history of the College, and in a lesser sense today, hras arisen out of grave problems of food supply and demand.