Concise Encyclopedia of Tufts History
Stearns Village, 1946-1955
|Stearns Village was a temporary housing community constructed by Tufts during the spring of 1946 in an attempt to alleviate the housing shortages that daunted veterans and their families returning to the college on the G.I. Bill of Rights after World War II.
The village was located on the property known as the Stearns Estate on College Avenue, adjoining , facing Stanley Street. George L. Stearns was a local pre-Civil war businessman and supporter of the abolitionist movement. The estate served as a stop on the underground railroad assisting slaves to escape from the south to the north. After World War I, Stearns' widow bequeathed the estate to Tufts. Unfortunately, due to financial constraints, the land remained undeveloped until the college was faced with the housing crisis.
Twelve temporary buildings, housing eighty apartments, were obtained through the Federal Public Housing Administration (FPHA). The units had been previously used to house employees of an aircraft plant in Hartford, Connecticut. FPHA financed the relocation of the complex, which was disassembled, trucked to its new location, and reassembled. Construction began in March 1946. By late April, half of the units were in place and the entire complex was ready for its first occupants for summer school session at the end of June.
At first, preference for occupancy was given to dental, medical and graduate students with a few undergraduate veterans being included. Later, due to a housing shortage in the area, junior faculty members unable to secure living quarters were admitted to the residences.
Each two-story building housed six to seven families. The units were divided into sixteen studio, eight one-bedroom and fifty-six two-bedroom apartments. Each had its own heating, plumbing and cooking facilities. These appliances included an old-fashioned ice-box and an oil heater in each living room. Refrigerators were left to be purchased by the tenants. An elaborate clothesline schedule was set up, exemplifying the cramped quarters and space limitations of the village. FPHA allocated bedding and bath furnishings for the units. Rent ranged from $22.50 to $30.75 a month for a unit, depending on its size. An additional $3.00-$5.50 was charged if the tenants wanted furnishings included.
The initial population included more than forty children, and towards the end of its existence, the village was reported to have the highest birth rate in Middlesex County. This led to the establishment of a cooperative babysitting league. The Tufts Wives Club was also formed in 1946 to provide an outlet for the "book worm widows" that lived in the village while their husbands completed their degrees. Under the club's guidance, the league evolved into a licensed day-care center, the Stearns Village Nursery School, which existed from 1949-1951. It was then absorbed by the Boston Nursery Training School, which changed its name in 1955 to the Eliot-Pearson Children's School.
Technically, the Stearns Village and its activities were under FPHA's jurisdiction, with Tufts being responsible for periodic reports. In 1948, the federal government turned over the entire responsibility for the operation to the college. Due to housing shortages, Tufts asked FPHA for a five year extension of the life of the village, which was also approved by Medford.
Architect Arland A. Dirlam, A1926, had originally proposed plans to make the pre-fabricated homes more attractive. Unfortunately, they were never enacted. The temporary structures were not aesthetically pleasing additions to the campus, nor were they built to withstand an additional five years use. Paved roadways led to each building and provided parking, but no other major landscaping efforts were made. The deterioration of the structures over the ten-year period included the total collapse of one end of one the units. The village was torn down in 1955.
The area was transformed into a parking area, known as Stearns Lot, and provided the land for the Eliot-Pearson Children's School. In 1999, the parking lot became the site of the Gantcher Family Sports and Convocation Center.
Source: LOH1, 698, 650; LOH2, 10; BG13