100 Years on the Heights: The Move, 1913

Prize-winning design for BC campus, Box 29, Folder 6, Boston College Building and Campus Images, BC.1987.012, John J. Burns Library, Boston College. 

The 2012-2013 academic year will be celebrated as the 150th year since the chartering of Boston College, but the university has another milestone to commemorate this year as well: 100 years on the Heights. Planning for the move from Boston College’s first home on Harrison Avenue in the South End to a site that would permit expansion began as early as 1907. Yet, prolonged negotiations, fundraising, and construction meant that the first students to attend classes on the Chestnut Hill campus did not arrive until the spring of 1913.

Anticipating the significance of relocating Boston College to its current site in Chestnut Hill, alumni wrote poetry to tout the new campus and to pay tribute to the old buildings. Timothy Wilfred Coakley (of the class of 1884) envisions the architecture that will grace University Heights in his poem, “The College Beautiful,” which begins as follows:

“Because fact is born of vision, because faith makes all things whole,
We have prayed that our eyes be single and swerve not from the goal.
Look! On the grass-clad hilltop, where chestnut and maple blow,
And the groping elm-trees yearn to the mother-green below,
Embodied in the marble and granite, throned on the lake’s clear blue
Real as the sky and the sunshine, the Dream that we dared is come true.

It is builded, our stately cloister, where Wisdom makes her home,
The stem-like columns flower into arch and sculptured dome,
The pillared halls are vaulted and lofty like the night,
And each embrasured window is a rose of rainbow light.
Behold the court of science, and yonder the house of art;
And higher yet, God’s altar, aflame with the Sacred Heart.”

In “Our Mother’s House,” Edward F. Burns (of the class of 1880) celebrates the structures of Harrison Avenue but still looks forward to the next step of his mother-college:

Boston College at Harrison Avenue, Box 2, Folder 111, Boston College Building and Campus Images, BC.1987.012, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

“Mast and wheel are at her door,
Short her paths to rail or street;
Traffic’s breakers ’round her roar,
Dust of tombs is at her feet.

Vistaed elm or colonnade,
Lawn or hilltop, grove or grot,
Stream that glides through golden glade,
Sylvan arbor, she hath not.

Yet, if knolls or woodland dells
Should entice her from the sea,
Wheresoe’er my mother dwells
Is my mother’s house to me.”

Fr. Gasson breaking first sod for the Recitation Building (subsequently Gasson Hall) at Chestnut Hill, June 19, 1909, Box 5, Folder 23, Boston College Building and Campus Images, BC.1987.012, John J. Burns Library, Boston College. 

Finally, the class of 1913, the pioneer class on the new grounds, arrived on March 28, 1913. They joined Father Gasson, SJ, for his brief speech dedicating the first campus building on University Heights. (That building would later bear the college president’s name—Gasson Hall.) On that occasion, Father Gasson said:

“Gentlemen of the Class of 1913; this is an historic moment. We now, in an informal manner, take possession of this noble building, which has been erected for the greater glory of God, for the spread of the true faith, for the cultivation of solid knowledge, for the development of genuine science, and for the constant study of those ideals which make for the loftiest civic probity and for the most exalted personal integrity. May this edifice ever have upon it the special blessing of the Most High, may it ever be a source of strength to the Church and her rulers, a source of joy to the Catholics of Boston and its vicinity, a strong bulwark of strength for our Country and a stout defence for the illustrious State of which we are justly proud.”

“Boston College’s New Home.” Boston Globe 23 Mar. 1913: 60. ProQuest. Web. 11 May 2012.

The following day, the Boston Globe published the following in its account of the senior class’s move:

“The class met on James st, Boston, yesterday morning and made the trip to the new college, headed by Pres Thomas I. Gasson and Thomas L. Gannon of Beachmont, class president. The interior decorations and furnishings of the new building have not been completed, but sufficient has been done to accommodate the class of 1913, which has long hoped to be the first to be graduated from the new college.

The young men and their instructors made a tour of the grounds and an inspection of the new building. Fr Gasson told the students of the plans regarding the disposition in the grouping plan of the remainder of the buildings which are to be erected.

Before the beginning of class work Fr Gasson made a brief address in which he congratulated the class of 1913 on being the first to graduate from the New Boston College and expressed his hope that the work of the new college would be as successful as that in the past had been.”

Shortly thereafter, the aforementioned Thomas L. Gannon wrote of the new college from his post as Editor-in-Chief of the Stylus. In his editorial in the April 1913 issue, he expresses particular appreciation for all those who contributed to the fundraising and building efforts:

“This is the wish of the Stylus: May the new college building and all the others that are to follow remain long upon their proud eminence to do the work which the history of the world shows has not been done and is not now being done by any other type of college in existence. May it continue to send out into the world each year ever increasing armies of men who realize the great truth carved in the arch above the students’ entrance (Omnis Sapientia a Domino Deo Est.) May each and every one of those who have made possible the erection of this noble structure realize that whatever he has done, be it great or small, he has well aided in a great work, and he will share the boundless happiness that comes with the knowledge of sacrifices made for the grandest of all causes.”

As Bennet J. O’Brien noted in his section of the Stylus, the arrival of the class of 1913 at the Chestnut Hill campus on that day, March 28, 1913, very nearly coincided with a significant milestone for Boston College:

Class of 1913. First class to graduate from Chestnut Hill.

“It lacked but two days of the fiftieth anniversary of the granting of the charter, on April 1, 1863. In fifty years the faculty have done much, and have done it well. Now should that famous question, “Where is Boston College?” be asked once more, we can point proudly to the lofty towers on the heights and say, ‘There is Boston College.'”

The rest of the college students would follow the class of 1913 in September of that year, and the 1913-1914 academic year would be the first with the entire Boston College student body on University Heights, leaving the South End academic building to Boston College High School.  For more information on Boston College’s history, please see the Sesquicentennial Digital Library research guide or contact the Burns Library at 617-552-4861 or burnsref@bc.edu.  Don’t forget that Boston College yearbooks and The Heights are now both available online.

  • 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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