|Gore Hall in an early 1900's postcard view|
Harvard's Gothic Revival Gore Hall is a stand-out among 19th century college buildings. Built in 1838 by architect Richard Bond, this was the first building at Harvard specifically meant for a library. While Harvard possesses many fine buildings, many tend to the heavy and rectilinear, so it was a shame that the lively Gore Hall was torn down in 1913, on its seventy-fifth anniversary.
Gore Hall was named for famed Harvard alumnus Christopher Gore, 1758-1827, patriot and politician, who in his will left Harvard an exceptionally generous $100,000 (one third of the eventual cost of the library). Gore is known to many because of his exceptionally fine Federal house in Waltham, Massachusetts called Gore Place, built in 1806. I don’t know whether Gore meant specifically to build a library for Harvard, but the honor was appropriate, as Gore was interested in student welfare, was known to be scholarly, and had assembled an extremely fine personal library at Gore Place.
|Christopher Gore, painted by John Trumbull (via Wikipedia)|
|Elegant Gore Place, Waltham Massachusetts (via Wikipedia)|
While I have collected many photographs of Gore Hall, my favorite is the one below by famed Boston photographer George Kendall Warren, 1824-1884. In this very fine c.1860 architectural portrait, the details are crisp and the contrast is dramatic, with the silhouetted elm branches echoing the Gothic curves of the building.
|Gore Hall, c.1860 by George Kendall Warren|
|Another early view, angled to show front as well as side (via Wikipedia)|
The architectural inspiration for Gore Hall was the 15th Century King's College Chapel at Cambridge University in England. The Chapel is a much grander building, while Gore Hall is more friendly and intimate, and in my opinion some of its proportions are perhaps more pleasing. Incidentally, this was not the first or last time the American architects would look to the King's College Chapel. While all three buildings created much different effects, the original building of New York University (built 1833, demolished 1894) and the Old Library at Yale (built 1842, still standing) do share a noticeable family resemblance to Gore Hall.
|King's College Chapel, Cambridge, early Carte-de-visite view|
|Gore Hall was a popular subject for 19th Century Stereoviews|
In 1877, Gore Hall had outgrown its storage space, and a large addition was built. While not quite as handsome as the original building, the new wing was important because it was the first library in which the metal book stacks formed the architectural structure of the building, actually supporting the floors and roof as well as the weight of the books.
|Cabinet view c.1880, showing the Addition|
|c.1900 colored postcard showing addition.|
Gore Hall was specifically described in Henry James’ 1886 novel The Bostonians: “This edifice, a diminished copy of the chapel of King's College, at the greater Cambridge, is a rich and impressive institution… suffused with the odor of old print and old bindings…the high, light vaults that hung over quiet book-laden galleries, alcoves and tables, and glazed cases where rarer treasures gleamed more vaguely, over busts of benefactors and portraits of worthies, bowed heads of working students and the gentle creak of passing messengers…” (Thanks to the Library of Congress for pointing out this passage.)
|Interior of Gore Hall, from a Harvard View Book, exactly matches James' description.|
Gore Hall itself has been gone for more than 100 years, but its image still adorns the seal of the City of Cambridge, designed in 1846 by then Harvard president Edward Everett. The other image on the seal, the Washington Elm, only survived a few years longer, until 1923, so Cambridge is ironically symbolized by things that are no longer there—this presumably comes under the rubric of Progress.
|Seal of the City of Cambridge, Massachusetts. The Washington Elm was not actually adjacent to Gore Hall.|
In 1913 Gore Hall, having once again outgrown its capacity, was razed to make way for the current Widener Memorial Library, built to honor Harry Elkins Widener, who went down on the Titanic. Although the Widener is one of Harvard’s most important buildings, it seems a shame that they could not have found another site for it, and that no greater effort was made to save sprightly Gore Hall, by then steeped in University tradition.
|Gore Hall under demolition. Structural stacks in addition may be clearly seen.|
When tearing down this building, several of the spires were saved and installed at Appleton Farms, now a public park in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Another vestige of Gore Hall came to light when recently some repair work was being done to the Widener Library, and part of the original foundation of Gore Hall was excavated.
|Spire from Gore Hall on Appleton Farms, courtesy of Photographer Chris Rich|
This final atmospheric image of Gore Hall that I want to leave you with will come as no surprise to those who recall my fondness for night postcards. The beckoning lights glowing within the building would not have been a feature of the library's early days. Look again at the Warren photograph, and note the high proportion of window space in the walls; during the oil lamp and gaslight era, the administrators were so terrified of fire that no artificial lighting was allowed, and Gore Hall had to close each day at dusk.
|Gore Hall at Night|
(All images and original photographs, except as credited differently, are the property of the author.)