The following article engaging in the historic significance of the site now being prepared for the new Gymnasium, was written for the Crimson by W. S. Thomas '32.
Roar of steam and clank of steel have long made many conscious of the excavation going on for the new University Gymnasium on the plot of ground bounded by Dunster, South, Holyoke, and Winthrop Streets. The digging attracts scores who are awed by the work itself. Few however, realize the historical significance of this ground, which hour by hour, week by week, is being scooped up in the huge jaws of the steam shovels, and carried away by a never ending stream of trucks. For some time the workers of the Hegeman, Harris Co., of New York, the contractors have put much effort into the task.
A minority of persons still remember that the house Theodore Roosevelt occupied during his four Harvard years from 1876 to 1880 stood until last fall at the corner of Holyoke and Winthrop streets. Many witnessed the sensational moving of the historic Hicks house, which remained for the first 166 years of its existence on the Dunster-Winthrop Street corner of the plot. But these two buildings stood witness to but a small portion of the rich history this remarkable ground has borne upon its surface.
The site of New Towne, now known as Cambridge, was selected in the early summer of 1630 by a little group of Puritans under John Winthrop and Thomas Dudley. These zealous people, just arrived from England, formed the nucleus of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and proudly carried the royal charter for their new settlement. The party divided, however, and Winthrop with his following removed to Boston, while Dudley remained in Cambridge with his supporters. Where the new gym is to rise was one of the first settled portions of the little village.
Major Simon Willard, one of the founders was apparently the first to build on the site where the shovels are now digging. He located in 1634 where later the Hick's house was to stand. On the other corner of the area, another more eminent man settled directly opposite Dudley's home, the site of which is marked by a polished granite slab on the corner of Dunster and South. This prominent person was John Bridge, whose statue now stands so commandingly on the Cambridge Common. Bridge was a public man of ability, serving as selectman, school supervisor, deacon, and court representative. His quaint little house, though remodeled, was demolished only last autumn. Thomas Fisher who built in 1635 was the first resident on the Holyoke-South Street corner. Also, in 1635, William West wood, a town official constructed his house on the spot where Roosevelt was later to live.
For almost three centuries generation after generation has been born, has lived, and died on this land which is now so rapidly disappearing. A search of the records shows here and there an unusual incident which has occurred over that long period, but it is easy to conjecture how many unrecorded events took place on this restricted but fascinating area. In 1653 John Betts who lived on the Holyoke-Winthrop corner was tried for murdering his servant with a plough-staff. We can imagine the master's feelings when, although not found legally guilty, he was made to stand at the gallows for an hour with a rope about his neck, and then submit to a severe whipping.
Several of the early dwellers on this spot were not content with their condition in the new land. Still more religious freedom than they enjoyed was their goal and they moved out with the first pastor. Thomas Hooker. More grazing territory for their cattle, and a plan of keeping the Dutch out of Connecticut was their excuse for moving to Hartford, but a more vital purpose lay within. Nevertheless, others moved in to fill the vacant places, and the houses on this particular area remained inhabited. These were, in turn, handed down in the family, sold to strangers, or new structures built in their stead. All the dwellings which were here up to last fall with the exception of the Hicks and Bridge houses, dated back some eighty or ninety years. Now as we see truck load after truck load of the precious earth rumbling off, some to the Law School, some to the site of the Dean's House at the Business School, and some to Soldiers Field, we are witnessing a great ending. The bones of the old town seen will be scattered to the four winds.