The Land on Which Lowell was Built


Because of the foresight shown by Edward Waldo Forbes, grand son of Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Class of 1895 at Harvard, the University eventually owned all the land between Mt. Auburn Street and the Charles River. [See Sidebars 1-6 at right.]

Even before entering Harvard as a student Forbes had shown a keen interest in land conservation in the environs of Boston and was a member of Trustees of Public Reservations in 1902. After college he spent two years at Oxford, traveled in Europe and began collecting fine arts. Upon returning to the United States, he formed, in 1903, the Harvard Riverside Associates later to become the Harvard Riverside Trustees. These were his vehicles for land acquisition. He assembled all the land not already owned by Harvard or private clubs between Mount Auburn Street and the River north to south and Bow Street and Boylston Street [now Kennedy Street] east to west. He gave part of the assembled land to Harvard in 1912 and the remainder in 1918. Lowell House stands on land conveyed partly in 1912 and partly in 1918. In 1909 President Eliot appointed Forbes Director of the Fogg Museum, a title he retained until 1944. [Sidebar 7]

Forbes wrote this memoir in 1960, at the time, 87 years of age.


I remember fairly distinctly that about the year 1945-6-or 7, ... I happened to be asked about it [the history of the Harvard Riverside Associates either] by Charles Coolidge of the Corporation ....[or by] Bill Claflin, Treasurer of Harvard.

I told them the story, I think; and I have thought that at that time I wrote a careful account of what happened. ----The facts were pretty well burnt into my mind. So I think that even now nearly sixty years later I think I can give a fairly accurate account of the main facts.... Of course I have forgotten a great many details.

[This is] my story -----of the Harvard River[side] Associates.

I will begin by two facts that really did not have much to do with the story. One year Mr. [.Dudly Pickman ] ---- happened to tell me that when he was an undergraduate, Longfellow, the poet, entered the room in which he and his companions were sitting and said to these college boys that Harvard and its land ought to extend down to the river. This was told to me, I am pretty sure, after I had begun my work [assembling the land], but it has stuck in my mind that Longfellow was the first, so far as I know, to have this idea.

When I was an undergraduate at Harvard, I used to belong ... to a group of 12 who had all their meals together at a boarding house. The mass of students had their meals in Memorial Hall, as I remember it, for about $4.50 a week. ... We, more fortunate fellows, had our meals in these boarding houses. In my freshman year the house where we had our meals was on Mt. Auburn Street near Boylston St. [JFK Street] In the sophomore and junior years we ate at a house on Brattle Street near where Longfellow's "Spreading Chestnut Tree" where the blacksmith worked that was near Church St [Site now marked by a plaque and a tree at # 40 Brattle Street] In the senior year we had our meals on Mt. Auburn St. ... It was a superior place; I think the best of them all, it only took seniors and was a little more expensive, I think $7 instead of $6 [a week].

It was in one of those years when I daily walked towards the river that Cam [Cameron Forbes, brother of Edward Forbes] , who was a graduate, said to me ... "Harvard ought to own all the land toward the river."

.... while I was still an Oxford student in the years 1900-1902, my brother wrote to me ....That a group of Harvard men thought that Harvard ought to have a dignified boulevard as [an] approach to the college. So this group had banded together and started to buy a strip of land beside DeWolf St. to make a dignified boulevard as an entrance to Harvard. He asked me to join and give some money; and I think that I promised something between $1,000 ad $5,000, probably not more than $1,000. [Sidebars 8,9]

When a year or so later I started the [Harvard] Riverside Associates [H.R.A.] as I remember it, this "approach plan", was abandoned in favor of my large plan, and gave the H.RA. the money that they had raised. I am not sure of this---[The funds were in fact transferred at a later date] I think that Mr. George Dorr, [treasurer of Harvard] and Cam were the leaders in this movement.

[When] I was an Oxford student ...from 1900 -1902 I enjoyed greatly the river, and the little canals running off the river, where occasionally we students used to get a boat and pole along through these shallow little canals. Once I remember hiring a small sailboat, and taking her up the Thames for a mile or two and then sailing back before the wind. I know also of the use that Cambridge University made of its river. I think that my friend, Harry Fletcher, took me up to spend one Sunday at Cambridge.

I had studied in Oxford-English literature. I was at that time more interested in literature than in art and I wanted to begin as a school teacher of English. However, in the autumn of 1901 while playing full back on the New College rugby football against the Bristol School---I received a serious concussion----. That had greatly injured my second year studies.----I was put into a nursing home for six weeks ---and was unable to return to Oxford for the last few weeks of the college year. [After recuperating in Florence, Forbes returned to the United States.]

After a summer at Naushon [Where the Forbes family compound was located] I came up [to Milton] but it was too late to get a job in school. .....I became convinced that it was an important and valuable thing to buy up that land and have it available for Harvard.

....... I felt keenly the difference between the splendid use that the English universities made of their rivers and the pitiful use that Harvard made of the Charles River.

Of course at that time the Charles River had tidal water.[Sidebar 10]

I believe that the drainage in those days of Waltham and Watertown went into the Charles River and was carried down to Cambridge--[L]et us say at low tide when the narrow stream came down between ugly mud banks which I well remember. Then the tide would come running in and bring this undesirable cargo refuse including typhoid, scarlet fever, and diphtheria germs up over the mud banks and over the marshes on the south side of the river. [Sidebars 11-15]

When the tide would recede and the southwest wind, I suppose, would blow those undesirable disease germs up into[the] Mt Auburn St. region. I remember that my older brother, Ralph, who had delicate health as a freshman, started to live in boarding house near Mt. Auburn St. so I was told, and [he] became sick. He was moved up toThayer Hall, No.34, where he lived through his college and law school course. His brother, Cameron, joined him as a freshman, and three years later, after Ralph had graduated, I joined Cam when he was a senior and I was freshman.

So in those days the Mt. Auburn St. region was thought to be a very undesirable part of Cambridge. Now I think it was rather a slum like place yet the land in that part of Cambridge nearer Somerville was cheaper and more healthy and the Corporation of those days was definitely spreading out there. The Divinity school, the Agassiz Museums and the Hemenway and the Law School and other buildings were examples.

I think my memory is correct in saying that when I began to think of getting the land near the River---I was told that a dam was to be built and that the whole River basin could be improved. I believe the actual dam was not built till a few years later . [Planning for the dam was begun in1902 and construction, starting soon there after, was completed in 1910.]


[President Eliot had written about the River in 1892] "In the first place the so called "River" was not a river. It was a tidal estuary, shallow and muddy trough, broad in its seaward part, narrow and torturous in it's inward extension and filled and almost emptied by the tide twice a day. Except at the extreme inland part of its course the natural rim of this tidal trough is the ragged edge of a salt marsh. The marshes are planes of mud overlying gravel or clay covered with salt grasses and penetrated by numerous crooked and narrow creeks" [Sidebar 16]

[It is clear that Edward knew about the scheme Cam had developed for he wrote to Cam while still at Oxford, on May 6, 1902] "I am much interested in the Harvard approach scheme. If I were at home I believe I would try to push it through. But I hardly like to come early for it as I have such a futile winter's work" [And again he wrote on May 9,] "I have just written to Dorr [George B. Dorr, treasurer of the Corporation] telling him I might be able to give a small contribution and asking him if he wants me to give Harvard men in London a poke."

[As early as September 27, 1902 Forbes had written to his brother Cameron,] "I have talked over the matter of Harvard land with various people and I hope to get to work at it some time this winter."


Here begins the real story. I knew nothing about business affairs I went either to my brother, Cam, or to Mr. Augustus Hemenway for help and advice. I think it was Mr. Hemenway who told me that I ought to form a company with a title and trustees. He told me that the firm of Loring and Coolidge had done an excellent job in buying land for the South Station a few years before. They had hired several different real estate men separately and privately to buy the houses one after the so that the owners of those houses would not know or suspect other that [it] was all one concern and jump the prices way up.

So I went to Messers Loring and Coolidge and asked if they would do the same for us. I do not remember in exactly what order the events took place, but we formed ourselves into the Harvard Riverside Associates.


[It is not clear when the Harvard Riverside Associates was formed, but in the fall of 1902 Forbes began to raise money and acquire land . Formal incorporation did not take place until July, 1903.]


I do not know at what stage I approached the Corporation but I did write to President Eliot and asked if he would join us. In any case I remember well that he sent a courteous reply saying, "No."


[In 1943 Cameron, recalling the events of 1902-03 wrote as follows:] He [Edward] presented his plan of doing this to the members of the Corporation and then included President Eliot and Mr. Henry Walcott, secretary of the Corporation, among others. All Edward got was a rebuff. He was told to forget it and that the Corporation had enough difficulties with the City of Cambridge due to removing areas from regions capable of paying taxes.


Thereupon I wrote him [President Eliot] another letter asking if he minded having us go and do it on our own. To that he replied "yes." [Sidebar 17]


[Forbes also wrote to LeBaron Briggs, Dean of Harvard College, who replied on November 26, 1902,] "I have been talking to the President this morning about your suggestion in regard to the land between the University property and the river. The President knows of no one who has had in mind forming such a syndicate...... but he does know that there are persons or sets of persons, who have their eyes on the land....."

[By early December of 1902 Forbes had recruited the assistance of Thomas Perkins, H'91 & L'94 a senior partner in the Boston law firm of Ropes Gray and Gorham, and soon to become a member of the Corporation.]


So we started in and I think that Mr. Hemenway and Cameron and I and other members of our family subscribed. I forget what we raised at the start, perhaps $30,000 or less. We set [the real estate firm of] Loring and Coolidge to work[probably early in December--Coolidge H '92 ,L '96] to begin to buy the land but I understood that the neighborhood were all so near to each other that the word got around quickly that Harvard was at the bottom of this, and the prices began to rise quickly which increased our difficulties but we kept on and I started going around to other people to give or to join us.


[Inquiries about the availability of land must have started as early as December of 1902, for Perkins wrote to Forbes on December 18, 1902 that two lots, the Bocher estate and the Harris estates, roughly the area comprising of the present day Lowell House, were available only by purchase and cautioned Forbes against buying them until]"you have made sure that the whole scheme is going through."

[On January 17, 1903, Loring and Coolidge provided the first specific details of the project. The land between Mt. Auburn Street and the River not owned by Harvard or Harvard Clubs amounted to 468,114 sq. ft., had an assessed value of $413,100 and could probably be purchased for $655,050,] "provided all the owners were willing to sell" [Some time later it developed that there were 81 individual owners of 93 parcels in the section of Cambridge under consideration.]

[On March 3d Forbes wrote again to his brother, now in the Philippines, where he was Governor General:]"Things are moving slowly in the right direction with me. I am getting letters from Pres. Eliot +Prof. Norton. Nelson [Perkins] has got a good letter from Mr. Higginson. The prospectus is written, but one or two changes may be made. I will send you word of the progress when things get definite. We talked the plan matter out to a finish in Nelson's office (he, J. Burden, Wetmore and I). We fixed it as necessary to show Wetmore's plan. He is having it made, and I have just had a large new plan of the region as it now is and sent to him."

[Wetmore was a real estate speculator and builder from New York. Forbes had met with him in New York and got the feeling that Wetmore wanted to take over the project. Wetmore owned two dormitory buildings on Cambridge and had drawn up plans to develop the area between Massachusetts Avenue and the River. Perkins tried to reassure Forbes on the matter and had written to him as early as February 12:] "If you get Frank Appleton and some other men in New York who are leaders both socially and financially, they can make Wetmore come into camp without any possible doubt. Wetmore would not at all care to put himself in the position of working against the wishes of such men, especially when they are working for the best interests of the College."

[Forbes letter to Cameron of March 3, continues:]"It seems that Wetmore for some reason told --the whole story. I suppose because he [Perkins] trusts him. You know [he] is a skunk. I find that he has been spreading the report among.... people that boundless millions are behind the scheme and that another Yard is to be put there to make the place like Oxford. W--F. E's-land lady told him this. We are looking about for the best metaphorical axe to hit [Wetmore] ---over the head with-----He has been getting our options at 3+ [or] four time the assessed value.---In spite of[Wetmore] every thing is going pretty well. We have got options on about 270,000 sq. ft. Several more pieces are in line. It is just a matter of bargaining." [Wetmore succeeded in publishing hi development plan in the Atlantic Monthly, January 15, 1910.]

[On March 12,1903 he wrote again to Cameron,]..."All goes well. I have got about $100,00....I have only been at it since Monday actively. President Eliot you know has written a strong letter expressing the views of the Corporation. He told me today that the reason the Corporation threw it down at first was that they thought it impossible.....We have got a large part of the Cambridge land now; and hope for more soon."


I remember that I asked Mr. Henry Higginson [an overseer, donor of $100,000 toward the purchase of Soldiers' Field and major patron of the Boston Symphony Orchestra] of the Corporation, and I think President Eliot himself if they would write short letters of approval for our pamphlet which I think that they did. [Sidebars 17-18]


[On March 30 Forbes wrote to Eliot thanking him for his strong letter of support. He went on to say:] "I sent you a prospectus and a plan of the region which I have colored roughly. The red represents what is owned by the College and Clubs. The blue represents what we have secured options on or bought......We are practically assured of getting many of the pieces of land that are not colored in blue. In some cases it is merely a question of price. ...I have made no progress lately in raising money for I have been obliged to stay home with a cold."[Sidebar 19]


At times things went smoothly...[but] in the winter, February-March I had a bad case of the grippe that the doctors thought that my lungs might have been infected.

In the meanwhile. I have just found a letter which I wrote to my brother, Cameron, I think about the year 1945. That has a number of facts which I have forgotten and tells the story on the whole well. I read it several days ago and now cannot remember all the exact statements in it. But I will continue my story as I remember it now putting some facts that I have relearned from that letter, and adding a few stories that were not recorded in that letter.


  [In early February, Perkins had advised Forbes to appoint trustees of The Harvard Riverside Associates Trust which he did in early April. In addition to him self and Perkins, his board included Robert Bacon of New York (H '80 and the Secretary of State in the administration of Theodore Roosevelt), James Abercrombie Burden (H '93 and a man with access to the capitol markets of New York), and Agustus Hemenway (H '75, an Overseer, and donor of the Gymnasium in 1875). Although formed early in the year, the Declaration of Trust was filed only on June 30, 1903. The trust was designed to secure $400,000 from subscriber and authorized to secure mortgages up to $600,000. The plan for the subscription was to raise $200,000 from New York and a similar sum from Boston. The trust was to buy land, hold it for five years at which time further plans for the land would be developed. When plans developed, the College could buy the land from the Trust at cost plus interest.]

[By publishing a memorial volume in 1971 the Fogg Art Museum chose to celebrate the contribution Edward Forbes had made to fine arts, to Harvard and to city planning. This volume made clear that in the years 1903-04, Forbes, though consumed by fund raising, was also concerned with the utilization of the land that might be acquired by the Harvard Riverside Associates. Forbes had obtained "a large detailed map of Oxford, England showing the layout of the buildings, parks and fields in relation to the river as they existed in 1902..... Forbes... had obtained it from his friend Apthorp Fuller of Christ Church College, Oxford. His motivation... (Forbes' was> that someday Harvard would enjoy a new yard which would be at least reminiscent of the charms of Oxford and Cambridge. Forbes had (also) requested information about the population of the different colleges at Oxford as well as the acreage of the meadows, fields, and parks associated with these colleges".]


I remember well Jay Burden of New York, (H '93) who had once been Nelson Perkins' room mate in college, joined us and became a trustee. He made two important successes which went a long way towards making the plan succeed. As I remember it He had raised some [$]200,000 or [$]300,000 largely in small gifts of [$]5,000,[$]10,000 or so as I remember it. Jay boldly went to ten rich New Yorkers and got one of them [each of them] to put in $20,000 making $200,000 an enormous addition. For this money they each had shares of the H.R.Association.

I have always remembered morning in New York while Jay Burden was rounding up the 10-$20,000 men, that there was a the office of Mr.(I have forgotten the name). Cam and I were both invited to be present. I was so amused at seeing 12 accomplished magnates and my poor little country boy self seated among them that I was very nervous. My nervousness on some occasions caused me to have "the giggling" as my brothers called it. But though I was nervous as a witch at finding my self sitting is such company yet, fortunately I did not disgrace myself and wreck my plans by a fit of the giggles.


[Forbes had asked Perkins to develop the Prospectus for the fund raising and draft the Deed of Trust. Probably unbeknownst to Forbes, Perkins was in correspondence with President Eliot as regards statements in both documents. On February 28, he wrote to Eliot, "I hand you a new draft of the prospectus..... I have changed [it] to meet your views," and on March 5th, said in another letter to Eliot: "I note the suggestion you made on the second page [of the draft Prospectus] and will incorporate it."

[In the meanwhile, Forbes was experiencing difficulties in raising his portion of the subscription. He was asking donors for small sums, $1,00 to $5,000. Perkins wrote to him at the end of March, "You can get the money from Boston in small amounts. I must confess it seems to me necessary that we shall get some big subscriptions." Perkins at the same time wrote to Eliot: "Mr. Loring spoke to me on Friday.... He has succeeded in getting options on nearly all the really important land and now the question of getting money has become immediately pressing. It has become evident that someone with more experience than Edward Forbes is needed. Men who should be subscribing at least $10,000 are giving only $1,000." He then suggested that Lawrence Lowell should not only subscribe but get money as well and wrote, "what is needed is a man of property and sufficient age to be on intimate terms with other rich men." It is ironic that Eliot rejected the idea of engaging Lowell to assist in raising funds in the Boston area. Lowell, as President of Harvard was eventually the principal beneficiary of the land acquired by the Riverside Associates.]

[Perkins, still concerned, wrote again to Eliot: "I think Edward Forbes can be a great deal of use as he has time and is very zealous, but with $500,000 to raise at a time when money is so hard to get as it is now we have to get men who will give more than $1,000."]

[The plan was to raise money by selling shares in the Harvard Riverside Associates to subscribers. The largest subscribers were the ten men "on Wall Street" each of whom came in for $20,000. Forbes considered shares in H.R.A. an investment paying 3% per year. Eventually the capitol was to be returned to subscribers when the land was sold to Harvard at the original cost to H.R.A. A number of the New York subscribers did not really expect repayment on their $20,000, and many waived their interest payments. On the other hand, J.P.Morgan, among others, writing in 1908 felt that the Associates had been rather high handed in this matter and caused both Forbes and Perkins to scramble.]

[Jay Burden took charge of fund raising in New York and since he needed only ten subscribers, action moved with expedition and was probably complete by the end of March. Before he left to assume his responsibilities in the Philippines, Cameron Forbes had collected $40,000, to implement his proposal to build a park and boulevard along De Wolf Street from Quincy Square to the River. The plan had been held in abeyance in favor of the more extensive proposal of the Harvard Riverside Associates. Edward succeeded in getting the trustees of the De Wolf funds to divert them to his plan through the intervention of Dorr, Concomitantly, Dorr obtained a release for Harvard from the obligation to construct the boulevard which had previously been approved by the Cambridge City Council. Though negotiations for the transfer of these funds to the H.R.A had begun early on, but the actual transfer, now $50,000 was not executed until 1908. At the same time, Eliot promised the City of Cambridge that the land assembled by the Associates would not be takes off the tax roles. This proved to be true only during his presidency since no land title was transferred to Harvard until 1912 when Lowell was in charge.]


We had to borrow a large sum of money from some banks.[Sidebars 20-22]


[To assemble the parcels, Loring and Coolidge had used both purchase and options with considerable success. On March 16, Loring was able to tell Forbes that he had already bought 322,709 sq. ft leaving only 135,405 more to be secured.]

[Arrangements were made to obtain additional cash. The Mutual Life Insurance Company of New York agreed to mortgage at four and a half percent the parcels as acquired for three fifths of the purchase price. Eventually, when land acquisition was reasonably complete these small mortgages would be combined under a single financial umbrella. This point was not reached until the summer of 1906.]

[It became obvious by April that expenses were mounting; cash was needed to buy or renew short-term (three month) options, interest on the moirtgages for taxes, as well as for maintenance of property. Malignly, as the Associates improved their property, the City of Cambridge increased the assessed valuation and hence the taxes. The original plan had been to service the mortgages from rental income from the parcels that contained rentable housing. In the event, the income from rents failed to cover expenses.]


We had to find money to pay interest.... on these loans. Jay Burden suggested that I should find a large number of guarantors, some promised 100 a year for 10 years, some 100 a year for 5 years and some 50 a year for ten years and some fifty a year 5 years. I spent a great deal of time principally in Boston and New York in finding a large number of guarantors.


[On May 3, 1903 the Trustees initiated what was called the "Guarentee Fund" to be managed by the City Trust Company of Boston. The subscribers, eventually 100 in number, committed their sums as a maximum amount which could be called up annually by the Trustees to meet any deficiencies in the accounts of the H.R.A.. Apparently the guarantor program was successful. Account books of the H.R.A show substantial income from the guarantors.]

[On the 29th of June, 1903, George Baker in a letter to Forbes, acknowledged that the subscription of $400,000 was complete. By the time that the Trustees registered the Harvard Riverside Associates Deed of Trust on July 17, 1903, the trustees had spent $865,000: $400,000 collected from subscribers in Boston and New York, and $465,000 from mortgages and acquired 78 parcels. While in letters and some documents Forbes speaks of stock to be issued to subscribers, neither the Forbes files nor the Harvard Archived contain any paper that could be considered a stock certificate. It is questionable that such ever existed.]


At times things would move along smoothly. I was able to get a job of school teacher at Middlesex School in the winter of 1903-04. During those lonely weeks I thought of my interests and decided that I did not like school teaching.....However, the spring of 1904 I decided to ......go from literature to art. I had for nine years or so felt that English literature would be my field and I had gone to Oxford to study that. However during the lonely years of the spring of 1904 I decided to change and go from literature to art. I went abroad that summer with my mother and aunt and [then] spent November again at Naushon on account of my health. In the next two years I went abroad to study art from February to June, all that my health would stand. And worked on Harvard R.A. while at home.

In the summer of 1908 [it was actually 1906] my mother invited me to go with her and four girls to visit my brother in the Philippines. Before setting out, I got engaged to one of them, Margaret [Laighton of Boston] We were all to start in November but a crisis came in the affairs of the H.R.A. so I could not go with them, and stayed and begged money until well into September. [It turned out that he continued fund raising until December 7] 

We were all to start [on our trip to the Philippines] in November, but a crisis came in the affairs of the H.R.A., so I could not go with them, and stayed and begged money until well into December when I had got enough to make Nelson Perkins and Harold Coolidge allow me to go to join the others and get married in my brother's house in Manila.


[The record here is not clear and several versions of the events are available. In 1990 the Cambridge Historical Commission contracted with Sharon Cooney to write a detailed history of the Harvard Riverside Associates. Her excellent rendering when read in conjunction with details found in the Forbes Memorial published by the Fogg Museum in 1971 are helpful in gaining a useful picture of a very complex series of events .Both documents agree that in the fall of 1906 there was what Forbes saw as a crisis in the affairs of the H.R.A. demanding immediate and protracted fund raising. Income was insufficient to carry the large mortgage. Forbes' letters to Cameron and to his fiance written during the fall of 1906 give a perspective of events that no historian has been able to capture.]


I have told in the 1945 version of my story how dismayed I was that J. Burden disregarded our appeals to notify the ten New Yorkers that we were about to give away their shares to Harvard. I begged Nelson and Harold to let me go down to tell the New York helpers what was happening as Jay did not do it. But for some reason they would not let me do it. [His letters indicate that he did finally go to New York.]


[Records of that period indicate that the concern of Forbes was that there were insufficient resources to service the mortgage. The danger was that and the Mutual Life Insurance Company which held a mortgage of $485,000 might foreclose. The solution was to pay off the mortgage . Coolidge had paid $865,000 for the property. New York and Boston had given a total of $400,000. If Harvard could be persuaded to provide a $300,000 mortgage, execution of this plan meant that the H.R.A. had to raise $185,000 That was where Forbes came in.]

[This letter, appears to have been written in late summer, 1906, to Cameron, who presumably was awaiting his boat to carry him to Manila to take up his post as Governor General of the Philippians."I am trying to get the DeWolf money. All the committee [men] that I have seen so far are in favor of the idea; but there is a complication in as much as Pres. Eliot has told the city authorities that the sum was ready and he will have to tell them that the plan is being withdrawn. We are not quite ready yet to have them know so much. But I think there will be no trouble eventually. I have been trying to get the University Associates to help us..... The best I have been able to get out of them at the present is that they will buy, if we like, such land as we cannot afford and verbally agree to let us have it at a reasonable price. An agreement that would not bind their successor. If that is the best they can do I think that we can only use them as a last resort,....Give my love to any San Francisco investor who want to come in on the ground floor of a hot stuff four percent investment".]

[To Cameron, now in the Philippines, September 3, 1906..."But the Harvard Riverside Associates will probably keep me hard at work for the next three months or so this winter and I ought to have a good long spell in Germany working on their language and their galleries. The H.R.A. thing is a thing that has got to be done; and I may be kept at it till the time when I must dash straight to Europe. Then there is the art museums, and my work in general. So, I do not yet see much chance of a loop hole." ]

[To Cameron. "Boston, Oct. 25th 1906 ..... I do not remember just how much I told you. I have since sent you a telegram telling of my engagement to Margaret Laighton. I asked you not to reply by cable because I do not want it known for some weeks. Margaret goes off with Mama and I have got to take of my coat and work for some weeks on the Harvard Riverside matter. Also, I am going to beg for the Art Museum [presumably the Fogg Museum]. I hope I can catch one of these boats Nov. 20 Nov.30 or Dec 7th or at worst Dec.14 or 21"]

[Forbes had written this note: "Letters from E.W.F. to Margaret Laighton who had gone to Manila with his mother who was waiting for him to come so that they could be married."]

[Pride's Crossing Nov.,1906 "Yesterday afternoon I came down here and spent an hour or two with your mother at Mrs. Swift's. Then she drove over with me to Harold Coolidge's where I spent the night"]

"I started in to beg day before yesterday. I made a bad beginning by getting 4 refusals. But one of them telephoned that he had changed his mind after Harold Coolidge had got after him. So that I got $10,000 the first day.... The second day I got 12,000 but 9000 came from our family...... I had rather an amusing time in the evening. I asked Harold and his wife whether there any people along the North shore who might give me money. Mrs. C. took to it like a duck to water and canvassed the whole shore in their minds telling me who had money."]

["As a result of my evening's entertainment I decided not to go to Boston in the morning... and went to Topsfield...... So I planned a novel day of dashing about among these swell houses. It proved to be a delicious clear cold northwest day. I took the train to West Manchester and walked up to the house of Cam's friend...... I ought to have phoned first. But it worked out well.... Wasn't home; but his mother came down. She offered me the automobile to take me to two other places which was just what I wanted. So, I gaily set forth talking French with the chauffeur. At one of the places I got 3,000 from a Philadelphian who would have been hard to catch elsewhere. At the other place I got nothing......... I telephoned Mrs. Proctor to tell her I planned to hired an automobile at Beverly Farms She said, "Oh no, I will send mine over" Of course I was duly surprised and humble, but again it was just what I wanted !!! You did not know what a horrible schemer you had accepted. So, I lightly leapt into the "bubble" and sped off through Wenham and Hamilton which I had never seen before, and stopped at two houses; alas- to find the victims out.."]

"He [Peter Proctor] took me out for a drive to the village of Topsfield and had just showed me the house of his great grand father, Emerson, the brother of my great great grandfather, Emerson, when the pair of horses took fright at something and got the jump on P and ran into the sidewalk throwing him out of the wagon. The horses started to run across an open common. I leaned way out forward over the dasher to try to catch the reins from the horses' backs; but just as I was almost touching them the horses wheeled at right angles, and of course I was off my balance so I was thrown out too. I landed on my hands and knees and bruised one knee..... I ran to Peter who was lying on the ground semiconscious and dazed. But he was not badly hurt. A kindly man took us into his wagon and drove us towards the house and presently the automobile came out flying to the rescue."]

"So, I did not have a very successful day as I missed several of the people I was trying for..... It must seem to you as if money was my only interest. I am thinking and talking money so much.... But I am like the person who is determined to get to a place and whose horse baulks and bucks and kicks and so perforce pay attention to the horse rather than to the distant city he sees ahead and longs to reach".]

[Milton, November 2,1906 "I wrote yesterday about my expedition in automobiles etc. and my well deserved retribution for my sins. My knee is very much better today. It was lucky that I did not hurt my tongue, n'est-ce pas? I can get along without my knee much better than by tongue just now. Think what a sad plight I would be in if I had dislocated my tongue and sprained my outstretched hand with the hat in it I had a record day and got $19,000 which brings me to $44,000, 4 ahead of time (time consists of ten a day).... I have now got up to $57,000 at the end of 5 day's work. It looks now as if I really might get off on the Dec 7th boat I go to New York on Wednesday night, and hope to have $100,000 before I start and to get $100,000 in three days there !!!. Nothing like having modest expectations."]

[New York, November 8th, 1906. "I have just arrived in here in New York + waiting for J. Burden our New York trustee to come and talk with me. I hope pretty definitely in a few days how things are going. I have got about $70,000 so far in Boston and several are undecided, I have not seen. So, I expect to get $100,000 out of the guarantors with some foundation. If so, all should go well"]

["New York, November 9 th My first day in New York was not a great success. I found only a few and only got one to accept. So, $1500 was my pitiful little day's work I hope for better things today."]

"November 10, .....I have only got $2,500 definitely as the result of three days work. But many are thinking it over and I think my three days work is really more $20,000 when they all decide I shall have to stay here at least two or three days longer. I have got only about $75,000 definitely promised, but I think I know where about $40,000 more is coming from among the people I have seen and others who are pretty sure to say "yes". And I want at least $200,000. When shall I be able to come ? I still hope for Dec. 7th."]

["November 13th I am doggedly working away and getting tired of my job" ]

[Also on November 13 to "Cam: I am at Mary Amorey's struggling away with my Harvard R.A. proposition. You know we are trying to put the thing on a sound basis. We have a $485,000 mortgage out, and if they foreclose we are likely to lose everything."] ["Milton, Nov.20th, I am disgusted tonight. Nelson Perkins and Harold Coolidge say it will be out of the question for me to go on the seventh...... About $110,000 raised---$140 more to raise. Desperation. Where is it all going to come from ? How can I do it even before the 14th ?? I am beginning to feel blue about it."]

[The money is coming in steadily and I am pretty sure I can succeed. But that is just the trouble. I foresee that by the 1st (when I should have to leave to sail on he 7th). I shall probably have about 130,000 or 150,000. On the 7th I shall probably have 180 or 200,000"]

["And then I fear it will drag on very slowly and if it proves that I must stay up to 250,000 it may take two or three weeks more to get that"]

["Concord, Nov. 20th, Despair? I don't think I can escape till the 14th."]

["Nov 30th, When will this end ? How long must I be sacrificed to this wretched great white elephant of a land ? It rides me like Sinbad's old man of the sea. If I could only meet it on a dark night ! But what is the use of bemoaning ? The only thing to do is to achieve, to accomplish, to arrive..."]

["The situation is very complex now,+ big interests are involved. I am so tired of talking and thinking about it that I will not say much; but you and Cam may like to know the outlines. I will give you the more technical part of the facts for Cam's benefit.]

[I had expected great things from J. Burden in New York about 10 days ago; perhaps 50,000 in two or three days. At last, word came that Mr. Twombly, and some of the original subscribers objected to our prfound [? proposed ] organization. Thereupon Nelson said he would force J. to bring them into line when he saw them at the Yale game. But he didn't. J. Made a proposition for the Harvard corporation to help us.]

[Nelson on the following day brought that to the Corporation and they refused and made another which we could not accept.. Then I went to New York to try to make J. Burden work. He said the situation was rather serious, that the rich men of Wall St. were rather hot with the Corporation. They have given very generously to the Teacher Endowment Fund and to this scheme, and they feel that the Corporation is small petty and narrow. They say that the Corporation must come forward and help us, and J. Burden says the Corporation must at least give us a mortgage of 300,000 at 3 1/2% to satisfy the New Yorkers."]

["He talked over the phone to Nelson and said Nelson seemed to understand and favor his point of view. So, I returned + then came thanksgiving. To day I have seen Nelson + he got Charlie Adams, the treasurer to come in and I point[ed] out to them the danger they were in from a row with Wall St."]

["Charlie is so very conservative that he saw all sorts of objections to the plan that didn't seem to me to have much force. Oh, if only they would brace up and do something or if the Wall St. people would not be insistent just at this point on small matters what a blessing it would be for me."]

["But here is a matter of some importance; in a way brought about by me and I have got to see it through. The principal thing that worries me and makes me mad about it is that it takes so much time. I am going to see the President (Eliot) to morrow and try to convince him and to make him hurry up."]

["The next Corporation meeting is not till Monday Dec. 10th so unless I can force them to have a special meeting before, I can not sail on the 14th. Damnation- And if the Corporation decides the wrong way I don't know when I can come. Hell Please excuse the above."]

["Of all pieces of miserable luck Nelson has just gone off an a vacation till Tuesday night. He says he will probably have to see the New Yorkers before the Corporation meeting. So, I don't see how we can have that meeting before Thursday in any case."]

["If the Corporation accepts the proposition however, I can go off flying for I have raised about 125,000 and can soon get some 20,000 more I think and J. Burden can easily get the remaining 20,000 or 30,000 that will be necessary."]

["Milton, Dec. 2nd I saw President Eliot yesterday + had an interesting talk. I hope I had some effect on him. I had the nerve to ask him to call a special Corporation meeting about this matter. He gave me leave to ask Charlie Adams to do it. If all goes well I may yet sail on the 14th..... I am now a little cheered up. I see by looking at the sailing list that even if I don't get off till Dec. 23 I can still get to Manila by Jan.26."]

[ At the end of this letter Forbes made the following notation
   "December 6: Corporation Meeting
                    7: $130,000 promised
                    8: RR train
                    14: Sailed in the S.S. China"

[On the 6th of December 1906, the Corporation did indeed convene a special meeting and voted that the "the treasurer was at liberty to take a three and a half percent mortgage of $300,000 on the real estate held by the Harvard Riverside Associates" There is no record to indicate whether or not Forbes was privy to this information before he left for Manila. Certainly Perkins must have known. Two years had to pass before Harvard executed the mortgage and the Associated had to soldier on during that period .In 1908, the Income from rentals was $28,942 and guarantors paid $18,139, but fees, taxes and maintenance expenses continued to make foreclosure of the mortgage a threatening possibility.]

[On January 29,1907 Forbes married Margaret in Manila and set off on a European honeymoon. From Florence, ever attentive to the H.R.A.,he wrote to Cam in May of that year: "I have telegraphed home from Rome to ask if the H.R.A. needed me this June and the reply came to stay till July if I chose. So, I suppose things have either turned out well; or else it is not the best time for me to get to work owing to the panic [of 1907]"]

[Apparently, until the H.R.A had obtained all of the $185,000 in order to retire the New York mortgage Harvard was reluctant to proceed with its own mortgage of $300,000 .. When he left for Manila and for his wedding and European honeymoon, Forbes thought he had in hand $130,000 which he had so desperately collected along the North Shore of Boston and in New York. When he returned from abroad in early July, this sum had dwindled to $20,000, many of the promises of gifts apparently unfulfilled.]

[One explanation for this apparent difference is that of the $130,000 only $20,000 was deemed as a gift and the remainder was merely a pledge. In a letter, January 26,1907, which must have reached Forbes in Manila, or perhaps chased him as he traveled toward Europe with his new bride Perkins says "when you get home [you must] see whether you can turn about $100,000 of the $130,000 .... that you raised into an absolute gift".]

[Soon after he was back in the United States, Forbes began to consider his responsibility for "begging" for contributions. One of his first acts was to write to all the guarantors, asking that they fulfill their pledges immediately rather than waiting for five or ten years as originally intended.]

[In a letter to Cam, Forbes now in Milton, summarized the situation as he visualized in early March 1908: "I am going to telegraph you about the Harvard Riverside Associates, today probably. Nelson tells me I must be back to beg in spite of bad times; because an opera house is being started, and I must get ahead of it. I wish the opera house subscription would wait for another year because I can't wait." ]

["Our scheme is this. Last year you remember I worked on a scheme for keeping the thing going indefinitely by issuing preferred stock for new money and getting the University to take the mortgage. Twombly and others killed that just on the verge of success., Now. We propose once and for all to get rid of the land and have the College take it.]

["The mortgage is $485,000. The college will take 300,000. We have on hand $20,000. I must raise $165,000. Mr. Hemenway and I decided to start by trying to get 20 men at $5,000. So far I have only been at it a few days. I have begun with people I felt pretty sure of, so as to have an amount to start with that will encourage the others. I have got so far $30,000. I feel pretty sure I can get sixty or seventy thousand fairly quickly. Then will come the tug."]

[Perkins and Forbes considered letting the mortgage be foreclosed and then buying back the land at "fire sale" prices. They had paid $865,000 for the properties which in 1906 were worth only $515,000.This approach was rejected on several scores.]

[March 19,1908: Perkins decided that it was in the interest of Harvard to get the subscribers to assign their stock over to the trustees of the H.R.A because reorganization was about to occur when the Trust would expire in coming summer. " I have just gotten the paper which Nelson prepared. It was sent to Washington and New York for Bacon's (now Secretary of State) and Burden's signature. I am expecting it back from Amory Gardner today with signatures Then I can really take my coat off and start in."]

[March 19,1908 "We have at present $85,500"]

["We have got only 99,000 to raise. I feel sure the College will pay 25,000 more than their 300,000 though they have not committed themselves. I am trying to get 20 men at 5,000 but I doubt that I can. I think it will probably come in smaller units. We have decided that it is best to have the Trustees hold the land and the University the mortgage."]

[Letting the trustees hold the land reflected the desire on the part of the University to avoid exacerbating the tussle with the City of Cambridge whenever land was takes off the tax roles. At this time the H.R.A welcomed receiving the $50,000 remaining from Cameron's DeWolf project.] Concomitantly Coolidge had written to Forbes that the Associate controlled all but 17,500 sq. ft. of the original plan to acquire 468,114sq. ft.]


[On Independence Day, 1908, Forbes wrote to Cam: "The Harvard River Associates is practically finished. I had hoped to be able to telegraph you that all the money was raised but owing to J. Burden's failure to do anything we have not got all yet. I have raised about $154,000 and J. Burden 1,000. On Class Day J. told Nelson that he thought he could get ten thousand more. But I have not heard from him since. Though I have written to him begging him to let me know what he had got."]

[In the summer of 1908, the Harvard River Associates expired, and on July 11, the trustees turned their holdings over to a new entity, the Harvard Riverside Trustees. Bacon resigned as a trustee and three new trustees were added: Harold Coolidge (of Loring & Coolidge,) Frank Appleton of New York and Samuel Vaughn. The purposes of the H.R.A.Trust continued:...."to ensure the management and development of the Trust estate in such a manner as the trustees believe to be for the best interests of Harvard University; but the authorities of the said University shall have no right to direct the trustees or control their actions except as herein expressly provided." The Harvard River Trustees now controlled the parcels assembled by the Harvard River associates.]

[Perkins wrote to Forbes in early August 1908 that approximately $165,000 was in the till. In the fall, Coolidge had reduced the New York mortgage to $345,000 a debt which Harvard had assumed at a rate of 4%. The Harvard mortgage was later reduced to $300,000. At this point, the debt in New York was cleared.]

[In early November, 1908, President Eliot announced his retirement and six months later, Lowell became acting President. His accession to the "throne" on, October 9, 1909, marked a new and helpful attitude in University Hall. Lowell had building plans.]


I cannot remember why, but I do remember that occasionally we had meetings and ....Lowell was with us.

Speaking of President Lowell, the first time that I met him was while President Eliot was still at the helm. I had not known Mr. Lowell, but somebody told me that he was rich and generous. So, I called on him and begged for money. He immediately promised $5,000 ( or is it $8,000 ). Then we fell to talking. He had even then the idea of Freshmen Dormitories I am quite sure. That was surprise to me; for I had thought in terms of the Oxford Cambridge Colleges. But we both agreed that we ought to have the land. [Sidebar 23]


[The new Trustees made arrangements to convey part of their holdings to Harvard on January 5,1911 This first trench covered the property from Mill Street east to west from Boylston Street ( now J.F. Kennedy Street ) to De Wolf Street and south to the River This is the current northern boundary of Lowell House. This portion of the Trustees' holdings provided the land upon which President Lowell could build his long sought after Freshmen Dormitories.]

[By deed in 1912, the Trustees turned the remainder of their holdings to the College and this property included the land upon which Lowell house was built.] [Sidebar 24-25]


Cambridge, MA
February 20, 2002

Dr. Charles U. Lowe ’42

The following photographs are Courtesy of the Cambridge Historical Commission:

[4] Bainbridge Bunting and Robert H. Nylander, Survey of Architectural History in Cambridge: Old Cambridge.(Cambridge, Mass., 1973)
[5] Cambridge Planning Board Collection, Cambridge Historical Commission
[6] Cambridge Historical Commission
[10] Cambridge Historical Commission
[14] Cambridge Historical Commission
[15] Cambridge Historical Commission

The following photographs are courtesy of Harvard University Archives:

[1], [7], [13], [16]

The following photographs are courtesy of the Cambridge Historical Society:

[2], [3], [9], [12], [13], [19], [20], [21], [22], [24], [25]