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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Brandeis, the University on a Hill

Published: November 2, 2007
Section: Arts, Etc.

Many of us at Brandeis enjoy the observation point in front of Usen Castle adjacent to the old Courtyard Bell. On a clear evening, barring any interference of high branches, one has a gorgeous view of the Boston skyline. We are not the first to enjoy this personal link between our small enclave and our nearby city. The area known as Boston Rock (or Boston Rock Hill) is the point from which John Winthrop surveyed the area in 1632 and is also the highest point of elevation west of the city on the perimeter of the metropolitan area. While sites at Prospect Hill Park (Waltham Highlands, about three miles North of Brandeis) and Blue Hills Park (Milton, MA) are respectively regarded as the second and first highest points of elevation in Eastern Massachusetts, Boston Rock Hill is the closest to Boston.

John Winthrop is known historically as one of the leaders of the early Puritan settlers of Massachusetts Bay and as the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, elected in 1630. He is perhaps most famous for his sermon A Model of Christian Charity, or as it is more commonly known, the City Upon a Hill sermon. A classic primary source in early American History, in this sermon Winthrop describes the religious duties of the colony and the responsibility to set an example for others to follow.

In 1631 and 1632 Winthrop led a small expedition through the Boston area and took advantage of Boston Rocks high elevation to survey the surrounding area, what would eventually become many of todays well known attractions, such as Boston Harbor. Winthrops journal entry from January 27, 1632 describes the following: On the west side of Mount Feake, they went up a very high rock, from whence they might see all over Neipnett (Whipcutt) and a very high hill due west, about forty miles off, and to the N.W. the high hills by Merrimack, about sixty miles off.

Abram Sachar, first President of Brandeis University, notes in his book Brandeis University: A Host at Last, that few people seem to be aware of this historical attribute of Brandeis campus. Sachar even borrows a phrase from Winthrop in describing the beginnings of Brandeis by declaring, We knew we were pilgrims.

In a city and state surrounded by so many prominent historical sites, it can be easy to overlook sites closer to home. The next time you find yourself taking in the view, take pride in knowing others before you have enjoyed it as well, even pilgrims.