Note: separate walking tours cover Harvard Yard, Brattle St, and Mt. Auburn Cemetery, and include a selection of sites in this neighborhood.
Old Cambridge, as the neighborhood around Harvard is called, is a cosmopolitan place filled with leading intellectuals and students from around the world. Its mythic college hangout, Harvard Square, is a bustling modern tourist destination.
Though Old Cambridge is at least as old as Boston, you’d hardly know it. While downtown Boston abounds in urban seventeenth-century lanes that retain their narrow width, tight building sites, and small scale, Cambridge streets are nineteenth-century size or larger. Outside Harvard Yard, there was relatively little reverence for the historic environment until the late twentieth century. That said, the area offers a remarkable richness of architecture, from the Colonial period to the present - not unlike Harvard's campus.
Of particular note, Harvard Square's diverse mix includes a strong collection of modern buildings, particularly around Design Research and Architects Corner. The Cambridge Public Library combines an historic structure with a state-of-the-art contemporary addition. Brattle Street provides an unparalleled destination for residential architecture, with homes representing virtually every period and style (see separate tour).
For those interested in digging deeper into this area's rich history thorough the lens of architecture, "Building Old Cambridge" by Susan Maycock and Charles Sullivan of the Cambridge Historical Commission (MIT Press, 2016) is an incredible resource. Its building-by-building, square-by-square accounts are remarkable, and the photographs and maps are fascinating.
Cover image: Longfellow House / Washington's Headquarters, ©Yonward