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Call No.: HUV 32
Repository: Harvard University Archives
Title: Photographic views of Holden Chapel, 1855-1982
Quantity: 0.5 cubic feet
Quantity: 84 photographs
Abstract: Built in 1744, Holden Chapel is Harvard University's first building dedicated to serving as a chapel. After church services were moved to Harvard Hall in 1766, Holden Chapel served a variety of purposes, from utility space and barracks for the Continental army during the Revolutionary War, storage for the college fire engine, classrooms for the medical school, chemical laboratories, an anatomical museum, lecture rooms, and classrooms for fine arts, French, and elocution faculty. At the time of this writing, Holden Chapel is a large classroom that is also used for choral rehearsals. The Photographic views of Holden Chapel provide a visual record of Harvard University's first dedicated chapel, its grounds, and the surrounding area, including the Class Tree, from 1855 to 1982. All images are photograph prints, and processes include salted paper prints, albumen prints, letterpress halftone prints, and gelatin silver prints. The 84 images have primarily been gifts of several individuals or contributed by the Harvard Film Service.
Collections in the Harvard University Archives:
- Drawings for renovation of alumni room in Wadsworth House, ca. 1935 (HUB 1873.5)
- General information by and about Holden Chapel (HUB 1451.2)
- Harvard University. Corporation. Records of early Harvard buildings, 1710-1960:http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.ARCH:hua50010
- Harvard College Papers, 1st series, 1636-1825, 1831: http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.ARCH:hua62011
- Harvard University Archives Photograph Collection: Views:http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.ARCH:hua21004
- Harvard University collection of reference materials relating to plant and property, 1820- (HUB)
- See also Harvard University's Visual Information Access (VIA) system for more images of Holden Chapel from the Harvard University Archives.
Built in 1744, Holden Chapel is Harvard University's first building dedicated to serving as a chapel. After church services were moved to Harvard Hall in 1766, Holden Chapel served a variety of purposes, from utility space and barracks for the Continental army during the Revolutionary War, storage for the college fire engine, classrooms for the medical school, chemical laboratories, an anatomical museum, lecture rooms, and classrooms for fine arts, French, and elocution faculty. At the time of this writing, Holden Chapel is a large classroom that is also used for choral rehearsals.Before Holden Chapel was built, students and faculty attended Sunday services at the nearby Cambridge meetinghouse and held daily prayers in Old Harvard Hall. Located on the western edge of Harvard Yard, Holden Chapel was built with £400 provided by the widow of Samuel Holden, an English dissenter, member of Parliament, and governor of the Bank of England, after his death in 1740. As well as being named after Holden, the Holden coat of arms is displayed prominently above the main entrance of the chapel. It has been suggested that the designer of Holden Chapel was British, possibly John Smibert, though the identity has not been confirmed. The chapel was designed in a Renaissance style similar to that which chapels at English colleges were built at the time. The main entrance to Holden Chapel was originally on the west end of the chapel, opening out toward the Cambridge Common, until the University began to enclose the campus in what is now known as Harvard Yard. In 1880, the west door of the chapel was walled in with brick, leaving the door unusable but intact, and a new entrance on the east end was cut into the wall. In 1920, a duplicate of the Holden coat of arms was added above the east door.Holden Chapel was only used as a chapel for 22 years; services ceased when the chapel on the ground floor of Harvard Hall opened upon the building's completion in 1766. Its usage after 1766 is varied. It was used by the Continental army during the Revolutionary War as a general utility room and as barracks. After the war, Holden Chapel was declared unfit for use by students due to the damage caused by the army, and it was used to house the college fire engine. In 1782, the building was transferred to the newly established medical school, then called the Medical Institution of Harvard University, and it housed medical and chemistry faculty such as John Warren, Benjamin Waterhouse, and Aaron Dexter, until the school moved to Boston in 1810. In 1825, a second floor was inserted, and each floor was divided into two rooms, with the lower floor housing chemical labs and a lecture room, and the upper floor accomodating an anatomical museum and a second lecture room. The partitions were removed in 1858, and by 1870, the upper floor was converted into the Everett Athenaeum, which was used by fine arts and elocution faculty, and the lower floor was used by French faculty and for examinations. In 1880, the second floor was removed and the building was assigned to elocution faculty. In 1999 during renovations to Holden Chapel, construction workers dug up an underground cistern or well that had apparently been used as a garbage dump; archaeologists found shoes, pottery, laboratory glassware, and human remains that were probably cadavers used for teaching purposes by the medical school. Currently, the building serves as a classroom and choral rehearsal space.Beside Holden Chapel was an elm tree designated as the Class Tree, around which the Tree Rush, a Class Day exercise, was performed throughout the nineteenth century. Before the exercise began, a circle of flowers was placed on the tree trunk at a location high above the senior students' heads. When signaled to begin, the seniors raced with each other to climb the trunk and retrieve flowers from the circle, which they would then present to members of the audience. The Tree Rush ceased in 1898 when the faculty determined it was too disruptive. The Class Tree, also sometimes referred to as the Liberty Tree, stood at its location next to Holden Chapel until the tree was removed around 1912 after it died from leopard-moth blight in 1909.
- Bunting, Bainbridge. Harvard: An architectural history. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1985.
- Education, Bricks and Mortar: Harvard Buildings and Their Contribution to the Advancement of Learning. Cambridge, Mass.: The President and Fellows of Harvard College, 1949.
- General information about the Class Day Tree. HUB 3289, Harvard University Archives.
- Gewertz, Ken. "Mysterious Bones Found in Holden Chapel." Harvard University Gazette, July 15, 1999. http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/1999/07.15/bones.html
- "History of Harvard Medicine." Harvard Medical School, accessed February 11, 2016, https://hms.harvard.edu/departments/office-registrar/student-handbook/history-harvard-medicine
- King, Moses. Harvard and its surroundings. Cambridge: Moses King, publisher, 1884.
- Morison, Samuel Eliot. Three centuries of Harvard: 1636-1936. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1936.
The photographic views of Holden Chapel has a legacy arrangement reflecting over 100 years of interfiling individual photographs of the structure from many sources into one collection. The images are arranged into ten folders, with the photographs loosely arranged in chronological order. This collection is part of the Harvard University Archives Photograph Collection: Views, in which Archives staff compiled images, whether acquired individually or removed from larger collections, and arranged them in categories based on locations, buildings, or landscape features for ease of reference.
The Photographic views of Holden Chapel provide a visual record of Harvard University's first dedicated chapel, its grounds, and the surrounding area, including the Class Tree, from 1855 to 1982. All images are photograph prints, and processes include salted paper prints, albumen prints, letterpress halftone prints, and gelatin silver prints. The 84 images have primarily been gifts of several individuals or contributed by the Harvard Film Service; one is from the studio of William Notman.Exterior photographs show the chapel, the Class Tree, and the grounds from a variety of angles. The images show exterior changes to the chapel, such as the addition of the east entrance in 1880 and the installation of a duplicate Holden coat of arms over the east entrance in 1920. Photographs of the Class Tree include an 1889 view of the audience on Class Day during the Tree Rush and a view of the tree before it was cut down but after many limbs were removed due to leopard-moth blight. The surrounding area and buildings are visible, showing the Class of 1870 Sundial in front of Holden Chapel, neighboring University buildings in Harvard Yard, people standing or walking in the Yard, and the Cambridge Common. There are no interior photographs in this collection.
This document last updated 2016 July 12.
- Notman, William
- Harvard Medical School
- Architecture, Colonial--New England
- Architecture--Massachusetts--Cambridge--18th century
- College buildings--Massachusetts--18th century
- Harvard University--Buildings--History
- Harvard University--Buildings--Photographs
- Harvard University--Grounds--History
- Harvard University--Religion
- Class Day Tree (Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.)
- Harvard Yard (Cambridge, Mass.)
- Holden Chapel (Cambridge, Mass.)
Formats and genres
- Albumen prints
- Gelatin silver prints
- Letterpress printing
- Photograph collections
- Salted paper prints