Local Park Is Rich in Harvard History

* 'John Harvard Mall' is nestled in a quiet Somerville neighborhood

While Cambridge is home to Harvard Yard, Harvard Square, and Harvard College, Somerville boasts the one and only John Harvard Mall.

The mall, a small park in a residential neighborhood, is full of Harvard history. It is located at the site of the meeting house where John Harvard preached and on the spot where he built his house.

"John Harvard came from England to this town hill," reads the inscription below the park's flagpole. "Dying 1638, he left half his estate and all his books to the College founded in 1636."

These tidbits of university lore are the stuff of Crimson Key tours, and seem a bit out of place in the sleepy, middle-class neighborhood that is home to the park.

Timmy Gillgun, who was playing with his young niece on the lone swing set and jungle gym in the park's corner, is a resident of a nearby housing project. He said he visits the park to get away from his neighborhood, but says the local community doesn't use the park very much.

"This is more like a professional section," Gillgun said.

Most of those in the park yesterday afternoon seemed to be using it as a short-cut as they walked home from work.

The park's construction was funded by an anonymous member of the Harvard community who bought the property and paid for its conversion to a playground. The benefactor then gave the property to the President and Fellows of Harvard College, who in turn handed it over to the City of Boston, which is still responsible for the park today.

Over the years, the mall has not changed much, and it still resembles the photos taken at its dedication ceremony in 1943.

The playground is paved and enclosed with red bricks that match many of the surrounding homes, and is dotted with stone benches and tables.

At one end of the park, a flagpost bears inscriptions discussing the life of John Harvard and quotations from the dedication ceremony at which Harvard President James B. Conant spoke. The post is surrounded by plaques discussing the area's history.

Across the street from the mall is a small memorial to those who fought in the Korean and Vietnam Wars.

The Charles River and Somerville's recently renovated City Square are just a few blocks away.