Tuesday, July 19, 1853, was a typically warm midsummer day in the Boston area. By midmorning the thermometer registered almost 90 degrees in the valleys, and a bright sun shimmered on a large tent pitched on a rocky and treeless hilltop a few miles northwest of the city. Beneath the tent, from the top of which three American ensigns floated in a light breeze, sat more than 1,500 men and women. They had just listened to an “able and eminently appropriate” address by a prominent Boston clergyman and were watching attentively a diminutive gentleman in a frock coat and with a fringe of graying hair. Silhouetted against the sky was a section of red brick wall about 20 feet high, and at one corner a few feet away lay a block of Connecticut sandstone. The aforementioned gentleman made sure that the stone was placed “plum, level and square; and then standing upon it, he pronounced it properly laid.” The location was Walnut Hill, on the outskirts of the town of Medford, Massachusetts; from this eminence, the highest in the Boston area, the Bunker Hill monument was clearly visible, and it was said that seventeen towns and villages could be distinguished in the distance. The occasion was the laying of the cornerstone of the main building for “a literary institution devoted to the higher cultivation of the mind,” already christened Tufts College by its Board of Trustees. The occupants of the tent were clergymen and laymen of the Universalist Church, who watched with pride and satisfaction the tangible results of almost twenty years of effort.
The clergyman standing on the cornerstone that summer day was the Rev. Hosea Ballou 2d, D.D., first president of the new institution. Somewhat belatedly (nearly half a century later) the building, of which only a part of the wall had been erected in 1853, was to bear his name. Prominent in the assemblage was
Charles Tufts, who had donated the land on which the College Edifice was being constructed.
Russell E. Miller Light on the Hill: A History of Tufts College, 1852–1952