100 Years on the Heights: Acquiring University Heights

On December 12, 1907, Father Thomas I. Gasson, SJ, and the Trustees of Boston College completed the paperwork that brought four parcels of land into the institution’s possession. The acquisition of these Chestnut Hill properties allowed for the expansion Father Gasson envisioned for Boston College.

In the week following the purchase, Boston newspapers made this pivotal development public. The Boston Globe took notice and published the following article on December 20, 1907:

The New Boston College

For some time Boston college has had under consideration the question of its own physical expansion, which was rendered necessary by the notable growth of its educational influence and responsibility. The progress of the church in New England constantly has added to the demands of education in the higher departments, and the college will remove to Chestnut Hill in Newton, where a 35-acre site has been purchased, overlooking the reservoir.

It would be difficult to find a more appropriate site than that which has been selected, for quiet academic charm. The buildings to be erected thereon, work upon which will begin in the spring, will be used for the distinctively collegiate life of the institution, while the present structure on Harrison av and James st, will be retained for academic instruction.

Fr Gasson, who became president this year, has given his effective advocacy to the new plans for the college, and there is no doubt that the project will command enthusiastic support, embracing, as it does, the broadest ideals for an institution of the higher learning.

Soon after the news started to circulate, Father Gasson began to receive letters from well-wishers. Alumni and friends of the college wrote of their support, and many sent donations to contribute to the project of building up the new campus. Some of these letters are kept at the Burns Library, including the three from which the following excerpts are taken.

Class of 1877, including Patrick H. Callanan (as well as Collins, Millerick, and Donovan). Stylus, February 1908, p. 18.

From Patrick H. Callanan, a member of Boston College’s first graduating class in 1877:

The first public announcement of the glorious news, regarding the new site for the new Boston College, appeared in the daily papers, of Dec 18th. It was an auspicious day for the class of ’77 of Boston College, for on that day, 1880, several members of this historic class were ordained to the Holy Priesthood. Twenty seven years ago on Dec 18th, 1880, the Holy Priesthood was conferred on John Galligan, Daniel Collins, Wm. Millerick, and John Donovan, and myself.

From John B. Doyle, an alumnus of the class of 1899:

It would be hard to find another spot in the East comparable with the site you have chosen for the new home of Alma Mater. Fortunate, indeed, the fellows who will have the privilege of studying amid such surroundings: theirs will be days of noble inspiration and beautiful memories.

Letter from D. J. Wholey, 16 December 1907, Box 1, Folder 3 (L1, U1, B3, S1), Thomas Ignatius Gasson, SJ, President’s Office Records, BC.1986.020E, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

From D. J. Wholey, a priest at the Church of the Sacred Heart in Newton Centre:

I need not assure you that you and your confreres have come into possession of one of the most desirable estates in the suburb of Boston. It is an ideal place for a College – yes, and for a University…. To my eye there is no more beautiful place in this part of the country, and I congratulate you and your confreres on your good fortune in securing it.

Certain students of Boston College at the time, for their part, showed enthusiasm regarding the possibilities prompted by the purchase of the Chestnut Hill land on the pages of the Stylus. The issue printed in January 1908 included the following responses from students.

Editorial by Joseph F. O’Sullivan regarding the new campus. Stylus, January 1908, p. 25.

Joseph F. O’Sullivan, Editor-in-Chief, writes:

Nearly fifty years ago, the present site of Boston College [in the South End] was the land of promise for Catholic education. We who look at the College buildings now, and think them small for their requirements can hardly imagine how mighty a work they made for those who planned their founding. It was a heroic task. …

Now again—as westward the course of empire has its way—the site for the new buildings is on the line of Boston’s most promising growth—there above the picturesque reservoirs, between Beacon street and Commonwealth avenue. Glimpses of the Roman Campagna—as Ruskin saw it—are there, and there, too, are bits of scenery equal to portions of the far-famed Lakes of Killarney.

John T. O’Hare, writer of the “Domi” section of the Stylus, describes the landscape of University Heights:

Present site of Boston College, photo taken around 1870 (prior to BC’s acquisition), Box 1, Folder 4 (L1, U1, A3, B3, S3), Louis J. Gallagher, SJ, President’s Office Records, BC.2004.020, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Looking from the boulevard the land is elevated somewhat above the grade of the street, which is itself a roadway cut over a continuous line of hills, and extends in this manner for several hundred feet back to the old Hinckley mansion, a stretch of ground admirably adapted for the purpose of setting off the stately group of buildings which the trustees intend to erect here. From this old mansion the land slopes gently back in the same direction to a pretty, little brook which fusses and foams over rocks and roots on its zigzag course to the reservoir; and on the other side of this brook extend several acres of level meadow land which, with but little further change, can be converted into an ideal campus and athletic field.

Present site of Boston College, photo taken around 1870 (prior to BC’s acquisition), Box 1, Folder 4, (L1, U1, A3, B3, S3), Louis J. Gallagher, SJ, President’s Office Records, BC.2004.020, John J. Burns Library, Boston College. 

From behind the old Hinckley home, looking toward the east, a most magnificent panorama stretches out before the eye. In the valley below lie the clear waters of the reservoir, while on either side arise gentle, wooded slopes; and towering beyond are the sunny hills of Brookline…. A more healthy or picturesque location cannot be imagined. In the minds of some it cannot be duplicated in this country as a college site.

  • Trista Doyle, Burns Library Research Assistant & B. C. Doctoral Candidate in the Department of English

About John J. Burns Library of Rare Books and Special Collections at Boston College

The University’s special collections, including the University’s Archives, are housed in the Honorable John J. Burns Library, located in the Bapst Library Building, north entrance. Burns Library staff work with students and faculty to support learning and teaching at Boston College, offering access to unique primary sources through instruction sessions, exhibits, and programming. The Burns Library also serves the research needs of external scholars, hosting researchers from around the globe interested in using the collections. The Burns Library is home to more than 200,000 volumes and over 700 manuscript collections, including holdings of music, photographic materials, art and artifacts, and ephemera. Though its collections cover virtually the entire spectrum of human knowledge, the Burns Library has achieved international recognition in several specific areas of research, most notably: Irish studies; British Catholic authors; Jesuitica; Fine printing; Catholic liturgy and life in America, 1925-1975; Boston history; the Caribbean, especially Jamaica; Nursing; and Congressional archives.
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