Matthews Hall

Circling the Square

During Commencement ceremonies in 1913, a middle-aged man shuffled into Matthews, slowly mounted three flights of stairs, and knocked on a door. The room's occupants opened the door, and after a short greeting, stared in amazement as the gentleman pushed a trunk toward the bedroom, climbed on top of it, and ran his hand along the top of the bedroom door. He found what he wanted, a wooden stopper plugging a ten inch hole. The room's occupants helped their visitor take the door off its hinges, and with a corkscrew they removed the plug. Inside, they found a parchment tied up in an orange ribbon.

Unrolling the scroll, the man pointed to his signature on it, Mr. Winthrop Wetherbee '87, and began to read in a dramatic tone of voice. "The first occupant of this room was Harcourt Amory '76, who bored the hole in which this document is to be placed... Any person discovering this transmittendum in after-years will confer a very great favor by communicating with the writer. May all luck be with each occupant of this old room."

Winthrop Wetherbee smiled, left the room, and a few minutes later returned with Mr. Amory. Everyone present wrote of the meeting, and after signing it, replaced the scroll and plug. Now and then, an old man enters Matthews to inspect the door; the document remains there to this day.

Anyone interested in finding more relics of the past might dig up arrowheads in the ground where Matthews stands. In 1666, the Society for Propagating the Gospel built a brick dormitory on the same site to accommodate Indian students. The Indians, however, missed their tepees and left. The building became the college printing house, and a second edition of the Indian Bible was published there in 1685.

Two hundred years later, Nathan Matthews bequeathed $100,000 for a college hall. There was one condition: that half of the net income from rents was to "be used to provide scholarships for students who enter college with the intention of becoming ministers in the Protestant Episcopal Church." So, brick by brick, Matthews rose into Gothic splendor and became "the finest college dormitory in America."


In the days when President Eliot took his morning gallop around the Yard on horseback, there was neither plumbing nor central heating in Matthews. Matthews men hauled big wooden tubs out to the Yard pump at six a.m., filled them with water, dragged them back to the basement of the Hall, and took their baths. Toilet facilities consisted of a large pit, also in the basement. Needless to say, living conditions were severe, especially when the "Med. Fac." blew up the Yard pump in 1901.

As a house of mystery, however, Matthews makes its proudest boast. For instance, while workmen were pealing off four layers of wallpaper and one of burlap in Matthews 6 a few years ago, they uncovered a painting on the plaster. With the aid of a microscope they deciphered the artist's name, Philip L. Cheney '21, who had occupied the room alone in 1917-18 and was known as a recluse. Over the years, the artist has become well known, and his works hang in many museums throughout the country.

With such a wealth of lore, it would be a pity if Matthews went the way of all granddaddy Gothics. Ugly rumors have spread that Matthews and Weld will be the first to go to make way for new construction. Nobody knows for sure, but one thing is certain. Many outraged Matthews mates will be clammering if the old building is threatened with destruction.