Johnson Gate, Harvard

Johnson Gate, Harvard

McKim, Mead & White, 1889

For most of its first 250 years, Harvard Yard was open to the city and susceptible to visits from "vagrants, hand-organists, beggars, and characters still more objectionable." A post and rail fence added in the 1840s helped keep livestock at bay, but by 1870 President Eliot set out to enclose the yard more seriously. Donor Samuel Johnson finally provided funding for a gate at the main ceremonial entry to the yard in 1889, and Eliot awarded architect Charles McKim the commission.

McKim's design turned out to have far-reaching consequences. First, it was in the Georgian Revival style, in concert with Bulfinch's Massachusetts Hall just inside the gate. In rejecting the recent Victorian additions to the campus such as Austin Hall (Richardsonian Romanesque), Memorial Hall (Ruskinian Gothic), and Weld Hall (Queen Anne), Johnson Gate became a landmark in the American Colonial revival, and helped relaunch the style at Harvard and beyond. And second, McKim's painstaking selection and placement of over- and under-fired brick in various shades to mimic the wood-burned brick of 200 years earlier established a specification for "Harvard brick" that would be used across the growing campus for decades.

Inscribed tablets on either side of the gate recall the words of the religious and civic founders of the College (images below).

Johnson was the first of twenty-seven gates funded by alumni classes that, along with the connecting Memorial Fence, finally enclosed the yard by 1936. A 2013 collection of essays, "Gates of Harvard Yard," edited by Blair Kamin, tells the stories of each of the gates and the Yard.

Sources: "Buildings of Massachusetts," Morgan, 2009; Harvard University, Shand-Tucci, 2001; "Building Old Cambridge," Mayfield and Sullivan, 2016.