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About the Superintendent’s Cottage

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The Superintendent’s Cottage, sometimes called the Gardener’s Cottage, fronts S Street and is located just west of the Service Court gates. The building was originally constructed in the 1920s as a part of the overall Service Court plan crafted by architects McKim, Mead & White and landscape architect Beatrix Farrand. The service buildings were drafted and constructed in 1923–28, and the cottage is the only one that was not designed by Lawrence Grant White. Because White was traveling in Europe for a time, his partner at the firm, William Mitchell Kendall, drew the plans for the cottage.

In 1923, Mildred Bliss suggested to her architects that they build a duplex to house the butler and the head gardener, William Gray and his family. Following her suggestion, they planned the small gabled house to be a part of the Service Court Quadrangle. However, when the Blisses withdrew their request for a stable, Lawrence Grant White was forced to revise the layout of the courtyard. As a result, the construction site for the cottage was moved to its current location on S Street.

 Beatrix Farrand consulted on the design and layout of the house interiors as well as the surrounding gardens. She suggested the low brick wall topped with an iron fence, which separates the house from the street. In the yard, Farrand planted an evergreen hedge inside the wall. Ivy crept over the wall and up the exterior of the house as well. The central panel was planted to grass, but due to heavy shade thrown by the surrounding elms, in her Plant Book for Dumbarton Oaks she suggested that the lawn be graveled over. The gravel and the elms were both gone by the mid-1960s. The backyard simply housed the cold frames and was a utilitarian rather than designed space. Upon construction of the Research Library in 2007, the backyard was truncated and paved to create a path up the steep slope, around the cottage, to S Street.

The cottage has housed many different people over the years. William Gray, James Bryce, and Matthew Kearney all lived in the gardener’s quarters. The other half of the duplex housed research fellows after the Bliss butler was no longer on staff. During the Harvard years, the building became office space, and it continues to serve this purpose today.