Circling the Square

Hicks House

Of the many historical treasures that have been assimilated into the body of a great University, few have become as routine a part of undergraduate goings and comings as Hicks House. Far from gathering dust and receiving little attention save that of baedekering schoolmarms, this old Cambridge landmark is functioning today as a comfortable and busy library for members of Kirkland House. In the very place where idle upperclassmen now lounge in the midst of an 18th century philosophy collection," a forebearer of the Hicks family once slipped out of a winter's night to dump taxed tea into Boston Harbor; in the midst of what is now the renaissance collection, General Washington planned the abortive attempt to bottle up English forces in New England.

A life span of 184 years will tell on a house as thoroughly used as this old colonial structure. Much of the dated furniture now in place over the library was added by one of the four owners. The first of these, and the householder who played a large part in the Revolutionary saga of this area, was John Hicks, who built and occupied the house in 1762. Hicks was a carpenter by day and a burning patriot by both night and avocation. Although carpentry took his work-time, his days were rounded out by tax-collecting for the colonial government. Hicks' activities with the colonial treasury were cut short when funds intended for the British governor never reached Boston, and Hicks, more patriot than larcenist, was arraigned for alleged irregularities. Records of the trial have never been found, but the story has a logical and revealing conclusion in 1775, when Hicks, along with two comrades, were slain by the advancing redcoats in the April fighting that ignited the colonies.

Unable to maintain the large house after the death of her husband, Mrs. Hicks later moved her family two streets north to the present Winthrop Street. The house, now a relic at the tender age of twenty-two, was allowed to fall into disrepair. A new owner was found, Foxcroft by name, who enlarged the building with an ell to the back that included a kitchen that new houses Kirkland's collection on political theory.

The Foxcrofts gave way to the Fultons, who gave the house its longest span of single ownership, from 1839 to 1902. The Fultons were progress-minded people who changed the interior of the house completely. More than progressive, the Fultons were practical, and in the later years of the century, Hicks House was opened as a boarding house. The authorities of the New England Historical Society state that rumors had it that the place "was used as a fraternity house." Students who study Economics in 1946 may verify this by counting the pegs in the ceiling of the Economics room, pegs on which hung heavy pewter beer mugs.

From 1902 until the present day Harvard University has been the owner of the house. The University's record is not a proud one. For the first twenty years, the House was a vacant and tumbledown relie, inhabited at the close by a group of religions ascetics who wanted no more than a roof over their heads. In 1922 the last lessee of the building removed the cobwebs, burlap sacks over the fireplaces and the accumulation of fourteen layers of wallpaper and set out to make Hicks House a replica of what it was in 1762. This was done--only to have the building appropriated by a mushrooming College for its present use.


After dividing the building into two parts, the College movied it bodily from its site on Dunster and South Streets to its present grounds on Boylston and South. There in 1931 the men of Kirkland came in to make academic use of the old building. Today its beer-mugs, low ceilings, and kitchen with a social conscience make it a museum that has come to life.