It was for generations the focus of Harvard life... Even the townspeople were beholden, for anyone who lived within a quarter mile could see the face of one of the clocks and hear the tolling of the quarter hour.
Bainbridge Bunting, Harvard An Architectural History
The tower was the last portion of Memorial Hall to be completed. When the building was formally turned over to the Corporation in 1877, the tower soared an impressive one hundred ninety five feet but was far less ornate than as depicted in the architects final rendering of the building.
In 1878, Ware and Van Bunt were fortunate to have the opportunity to modify the tower design with the addition of dormers, pinnacles, and more elaborate cresting.
The most dramatic change to the tower came in 1897 when the class of 1872, upon the occasion of their twenty-fifth reunion, provided funds for an ornate clock tower.
In 1945, the copper detail and iron cresting were removed from the tower, presumably as part of a metal drive for the second world war. In 1956, the top portion of the tower was lost in a fire that was reportedly ignited by a welder's torch during maintenance, reducing the overall height of the building by one third and eradicating the building's great pyramidal shape.
Gifts from Katherine B. Loker and other friends of the University facilitated the reconstruction of the tower in 1999. Historic preservationists supported the architectural team of Childs Bertman Tsekares in a design that reflects the "clockless" tower of 1878. On May 14, 2000, at a ceremony dedicating the reconstructed tower, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Jeremy R. Knowles reflected, "At last, Memorial Hall has grown again, and can have the effect that Henry James wrote about in The Bostonian: 'It looked significant; it covered a large area, and it sprang, majestic into the winter air.'"
Click the image below for an architectual rendering of the tower components.