Concise Encyclopedia of Tufts History
For many years, bonfires were the chosen means by which Tufts students on the Medford campus celebrated sports victories and other good news, despite being forbidden by proclamation of the college administration. The first recorded incidence of a bonfire was from 1875, when students seized a decrepit picket fence along the southern boundary of the Reservoir to fuel the flames. The occasion that prompted the fire is not known. In later years the Somerville Fire Department was quick to douse the fires when they appeared, and bonfires petered out in the years following World War I.
Packard Avenue, between and the Reservoir, was a favorite spot for bonfires. Ready access to the water of the Rez assured that the flames would not get out of control, but the trees in the vicinity suffered. Bonfires were also kindled behind , on the "Old Campus" (Fletcher Field), and on the south embankment of the Rez.
Fuel for the fires came from fences, boardwalks, and any other combustible material that could be located. When the local sources were exhausted, foragers went further afield, occasionally resulting in bills to the college for damages. After a time a pile of old boxes and waste lumber was kept on the slope behind for the tacit use of bonfire-builders.
Billboards erected alongside the college depot were another favorite source of fuel, much to the advertisers' anger. However, they made such a spectacular blaze that they were popular with the students, who reportedly thought the billboards an eyesore. Billboard fires were kindled in 1897 and 1898, both on the occasion of football victories over Tufts' traditional rival, Bowdoin College in Maine.
The use of bonfires diminished and all but disappeared after World War I.