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Elmwood: Molasses, Gerrymandering and Derek


Along with getting used to the administrative rigmarole of the job, President-elect Derek C. Bok will have to make another sharp adjustment when he takes office this July. Bok will move into Elmwood, the official residence of Harvard's dean of the Faculty, instead of inhabiting the present presidential home at 17 Quincy St.

Good Atmosphere

Bok said last January that his primary reason for bypassing 17 Quincy St. is to have a good atmosphere in which to bring up his three children. Elmwood is situated on Mt. Auburn St. at Elmwood Avenue in the midst of a quiet, shady residential neighborhood, while the house at 17 Quincy St. overlooks the Faculty Club, Lamont Library, and the traffic along Mass Ave.

In a University where history and tradition have perhaps received more than their just due, Elmwood is one of the few truly historic buildings. Built in 1767, it served as headquarters for one of the leading Royalists during the American Revolution, and later, as a hospital for General Washington's troops.


The house was built by Thomas Oliver, a member of the Class of 1753, from the inherited fortune of a wealthy English trader in the West Indies who dealt primarily in molasses and slaves.

Oliver, who used Elmwood to quarter a number of General Burgoyne's British troops, was made to leave the house after the Revolution. It is recorded in his class report that the new government was upset following Olivers eviction when it found an emaciated, undernourished slave child there and had to care for it.

Elmwood was sold by the Commonwealth to Andrew Cabot in 1780, who in turn sold it to Eldridge Gerry, Class of 1792, a politician who spawned the term "gerrymandering." After that, the house passed into the hands of James Russell Lowell, Class of 1838, who turned it into an important visiting place for prominent foreigners.

Most recently the house has served as the home of former dean of the Faculty Franklin L. Ford, and has been used by Dean Dunlop for entertainment purposes. For more than a year, Dean Ford's dog reportedly lived alone in the house in the presence of two servants,.

Though the house at 17 Quincy St. has not nearly so illustrious a past as Elmwood. it has received some measure of fame. Built in 1910 by President Abbott Lawrence Lowell, Class of 1877. it served as a training center during World War II for the Navy V-12 program. During that time, neophyte sailors kept a 24-hour watch and "swabbed its decks" every few days.

Bok's sole worry about Elmwood concerns its small capacity for dinner guests, and he plans to enlarge the dinning area. But. he said recently, he hopes the job can be done at a reasonable price; "After all, I can't preach parsimony to the University and be profligate in my own affaires."

It is unclear at this time just what will happen to the house at 17 Quincy St., though there has been talk of an underground extension of Lamont Library and office room for Bok's enlarged staff. Smiling, Pusey said yesterday that "There are lots of people who have designs on that space."

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