Depicted on postcards, walking tour brochures, souvenirs, book covers, Boston-area travel guides, and college catalogs, as well as in numerous family albums, Harvard’s famed Johnston Gate is often incoming students’, parents’ and visitors’ first impression of the world-famous University campus. It is one of Harvard’s most-often-photographed architectural features.
Situated along busy Peabody Street just north of bustling Harvard Square in the heart of Cambridge, Massachusetts, Johnston Gate is the primary and most heavily-used entrance to Harvard Yard. From the local transit (T) stop and the nexus of city traffic — both vehicular and pedestrian — It provides ready access to more than a dozen freshman dormitories, five classroom and office structures, four libraries, and the rambling 25 acres of the Yard’s grassed and tree-shaded lawns and pedestrian ways. The statue commemorating John Harvard, the college’s first major benefactor, is directly across Old Yard from the Gate, in front of stately University Hall. The Johnston Gate is also flanked by two of the oldest campus structures. Immediately inside the Gate and to its right stands Massachusetts Hall, erected in 1720. That Hall provides freshman housing and also contains the University President’s offices. Harvard Hall, just inside the Gate and to its left, was built in 1766. Formerly housing a chapel, dining room and library, it now provides classroom space. Johnston Gate’s prime location makes it a favorite meeting and drop-off/pick-up place for friends, family and campus connections.
One of more than two dozen gates opening onto the sprawling Harvard campus, Johnston Gate is the oldest, having been erected in 1890 under the university presidency of Charles William Eliot. Prominent local businessman and namesake Samuel Johnston, of the Harvard class of 1855, provided $10,000 in funds for the Gate’s construction in his will.
The architectural designer of the Johnston Gate was the famed turn-of-the-century New York City firm of McKim, Mead & White. Founded in 1881 by the triumvirate of Charles McKim, William Mead and Stanford White, the firm had made its name with the completion of the Villard Houses on Manhattan’s Madison Avenue within just three years of the partnership’s formation. Throughout the firm’s successive four decades, it created many of the nation’s more significant architectural landmarks, including The Morgan Library and Museum, The New York Herald Building, Manhattan’s Pennsylvania Station, Bellevue Hospital Center, Madison Square Garden II, the Newport Casino, Harvard Business School, and the Boston Public Library, among many others.