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Tombstone in the Tar

Circling the Square

By Harry K. Schwatz

Two hundred and ten times a day, the westbound train of the MTA's Cambridge underground roars through the site of Harvard's third oldest dormitory. Somewhere between the Central stop and the Harvard stop lies Goffe College, buried under the asphalt of Massachusetts Avenue. There are no MTA signs to mark it, and nobody has ever gotten off their ignorance, for Goffe College has been off the Harvard Tour since 1677.

Harvard historains have mused about the location of Goffe House for centuries. There seemed little doubt that it existed; various deeds and letters established that much. But as late as 1877, Andrew McFarland Davis, in a paper for the American Antiquarian Society, was still wondering where it was. Somewhere in, or under, or near the College Yard, the remains of a three story stone and timber dwelling lay concealed.

Civil progress, and not antiquarian musings, finally put an cad to conjecture. In 1910 Cambridge began tearing up Massachusetts Avenue to put in a subway line. Under the street across from Wadsworth House, workers came upon a substantial stone and mortar fact--the cellar walls of Cow Yard Row. On the Yard side of the street, looking down from the Square, had stood three houses: Goodman Goffe's, Goodman Peyntree's, said the Revernd Mr. Shepard's. In the middle house, Mr. Peyatree's, Harvard College had its first home in 1638.

In the early 17th century, Massachusetts was still cow country, and the little community of Newtown, later to be renamed Cambridge, was primarily a cow town. The Goffe's were substantial people, owning another house across the street, where Little Hall now stands. Like most of their neighbors, they were in the cattle business. Behind the three houses in Cow Yard Row stretched long narrow lots, fenced in separately and ending in a line of Common Pales which divided the private holdings from the Ox Pasture. The cattle were driven into these yards at night, so that the lookout on Watch House Hill, where the kiosk now stands, could keep his eye on them.

Big Enough to Kill a Horse

Either because he did not fancy himself a cowpuncher, or for some other reason, Goodman Peyntree pulled up roots by late 1637, and moved his family off to Connecticut. In 1638 the little community learned that the middle house in Cow Yard Row had been purchased, and they watched with anxiety as workmen began fitting up the old Peyntree place for a new college.

Learning arrived that same year in the person of a Mr. Nathaniel Eaton. To the Goffe's, who lived next door, the new neighbors must have seemed a curious lot. The Professor, as they called him, showed himself to be no mean handy man around the house; one of his first acts was to enclose his lot with a six-and-a-half-foot timber paling.

Before long, people began to talk. Even Cotton Mather had his share to say about the Professor: "And though his Avarice was notorious, enough to get the Name of a Philagyrius fixed upon him, yet his Cruelty was more scandalous than his Avarice. He was a Rare Scholar himself, and he made more such; but their Education truly was In the School of Tyrannus. . . ."

it did not take long for Harvard's first scandal to break. The Goffe's at least were not surprised when Eaton was hauled into court for thrashing one of his assistants with a "cudgel. . . big enough to have killed a horse." There may have been raised eyebrows across the street; but next-door neighbors usually know about that sort of thing.

With Eaton on the spot, the community began to find out what had been going on behind the six-and-a-half-foot fence. A number of students testified that they had been given 20 to 30 stripes at a time. But the stories from the woodshed were quickly forgotten after Mrs. Eaton revealed the doings in the kitchen. With tearful remorse, the Mistress pleaded ignorance of "their mackeral, brought to them with their guts in them, and goat's dung in their hasty pudding. It's utterly unknown to me," she protested, adding, "but I am ashamed it should be in the family, and not prevented by myself or servants, and I humbly acknowledge my negligence of it."

Plates in the Asphalt

Eaton and his troupe were hustled out of Cambridge, and for a year the house stood empty. Then in 1640 Henry Dunster moved in, and the College got off to a second, less spectacular start. Over the next several years, little is known of the Goffe's. Perhaps they followed the Peyntree clan to Connecticut. But by 1651, the end house on Cow Yard Row went up for sale, and President Dunster added it to the growing College. It was renamed Goffe College, and turned into a dormitory to supplement the space available in Eaton House and a new building to the rear called the Old College. On the first floor there was a "Great Hall" and a lean-to kitchen; two chambers filled the second floor, and above them were three gabled garrets. For the needier schoolers, there was also an undesirable "lowest chamber," presumably in the basement.

No one is quite sure just when Goffe College disappeared. There is proof that the building was still standing in 1671. Professor Samuel Eliot Morison supposed that "Goffe College must have been burned, taken down, or disposed of before 1677." By then, a new four-storied brick building with 12 gables Harvard Hall.

For 230 years, Goffe College had slumbered beneath Massachusetts Avenue, lost to history. Reclaimed in 1910, it slumbers still. Two metal plates, polished by the tires of thousands of buses and automobiles, mark its site in the asphalt, while below, the MTA rattles heedlessly past the stones of Mrs. Goffe's kitchen.

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