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Not long after purchasing 35 acres in Chestnut Hill on December 12, 1907, Boston College commissioned a topographic survey of its land. The property was commonly referred to as the Lawrence Farm, after Amos Adams Lawrence, who in 1862 had bought more than 100 acres and established a gentlemen’s farm on the site. By the turn of the century, however, the Lawrences were gone, as was more than half of their land, taken by the city of Boston for a new reservoir.
The survey, completed in August 1908 by the Brookline engineering firm French and Bryant, measures roughly 4 x 5 feet. Rendered in ink on a piece of linen now dog-eared, taped in places, and faded to a pale amber, the document describes the area between Beacon Street and Commonwealth Avenue, South Street (now College Road) and the western edge of the new reservoir (now Lower Campus). The detail above shows a two-acre segment surrounding the main residence built by Lawrence, near the future site of Gasson Hall (outlined in white). The curved dotted lines on the map are elevation contours, delineating changes of grade in two-foot increments. They reveal that the farmhouse and adjacent shed are situated on an oblong section of mostly flat ground at the property’s high point, 221 feet. (The other numbers—the cluster behind the shed, numbering 180 to 185, for example—likely indicate small trees.)
To the left of the house, a broad band of dotted lines enclosing the words “loam stripping” runs down the page, with a branch heading to the right (in the direction of Commonwealth Avenue) just below the house. These 45-foot-wide swaths, extended to pass through ground now taken up by Gasson Hall, O’Neill Library, and the Commonwealth Avenue garage, denote two of four streets envisioned in a 50-home development scheme created, presumably, by the previous owner, Sylvester Hinckley, who went bankrupt and died before the plan could come to pass. The topsoil had been stripped in preparation for the roads and stored in 11 “loam piles.” One pile, approximately 60 x 40 feet, is visible just above the house.
The road excavations revealed the Roxbury Conglomerate stone that underlies much of the site. A cluster of eight outcroppings, looking like misshapen potatoes, some crosshatched to suggest their large size, lies along the street running down past the house. Many of the stone outcroppings remain today, but the manmade elements—barns, stonewalls, footpaths, orchards, and drives—visible on the survey have been covered or cleared away as Boston College claimed the land.