Welcome to Tales from the T! Each week we’ll be diving into a story about the “T” and other components of Boston’s transit system. Hopefully you’ll learn something interesting!
We’ll start off with a story at Harvard, of optimism, turnabouts and ultimate abandonment. The abandoned dreams of thousands of students who decided to switch to econ? Nay (unfortunately), an abandoned station. Looking out the window from an inbound Red Line train departing Harvard, you might see a closed platform in the darkness; this is one of no fewer than four separate abandoned stations at Harvard.
The original Harvard station opened in 1912, as the terminus of the Cambridge-Park Street Under subway, which (shockingly) ran between Cambridge and Park Street. (An events-only station, Stadium, was built past Harvard, serving Harvard Stadium until 1967). This new line (now part of the Red Line) represented the pinnacle of those newfangled subway doohickeys at the time. Designed from the start as a high-capacity commuter line, it boasted widely spaced stations and notably large subway cars which would inspire designs in New York and Philadelphia. Boston’s subway cars even featured smoking compartments, which thankfully weren’t as trendsetting as the other design choices.
As the terminus, Harvard was, from the start, a major transfer point. Commuters could access in-station streetcar tunnels, which enabled easy transfers to then-outlying communities like Watertown and Arlington on routes that still operate today. Harvard was one of many such hubs built to serve Boston’s expanding suburbs, and a decade after the station opened, plans were made to extend subway service from Lechmere along existing railroads to serve Medford and Somerville. Sound familiar?
Much to Tufts students’ annoyance, said Green Line Extension wouldn’t materialize for over a century, and by the end of World War II, proposals were made to extend Red Line service from Harvard as far as Lexington to serve the now-packed northern suburbs. The extension was ultimately truncated to Alewife, and construction began in 1978.
The original Harvard station stood directly on the path of the extension, so it closed in 1981, with two temporary replacements named for nearby streets. Harvard/Brattle, the line’s temporary terminus, consisted of a few wooden planks thrown together in a storage yard. Harvard/Holyoke featured fully finished concrete tunnels and platforms — for only one track. The former ultimately saw Harvard’s Kennedy School built over it; the latter survives as the aforementioned abandoned platform you can see today.
The current Harvard station fully opened in 1985, superseding Stadium, Harvard/Brattle, Harvard/Holyoke and the original Harvard station. It remains a key transit hub, boasting the distinction of being the third-busiest T station and serving the best regional college in eastern Massachusetts. Some abandoned track tunnels still sit behind the walls as remnants of the line’s origins. Legend says if you walk through them on nights with a new moon, you might encounter a fairly annoyed MBTA guard or two.