Apthorp House, now the Master's Residence, is the oldest part of Adams House. It was built in 1760 for the Reverend East Apthorp of Christ Church (son of British-born merchant Charles Apthorp), the first Anglican congregation in Cambridge. The Reverend Apthorp had recently completed his studies at Cambridge University, where he apparently acquired tastes somewhat more extravagant than early colonists expected to find in an ostensible religious missionary. Apthorp House was one of the largest and most magnificent houses in Cambridge, surrounded by grounds that originally extended toward the Charles River. John Adams wrote that "a great house, at that time thought to be a splendid palace, was built by Mr. Apthorp at Cambridge." Its opulence aroused suspicions among Cambridge's Congregationalists that the Reverend Apthorp aspired to become a bishop. The resulting controversy, in which Apthorp House was dubbed "the Bishop's Palace," forced him to flee to Britain in 1764.
John Borland bought the house and added a third story, but he too was forced to leave Apthorp House when his Tory sentiments became unpopular at the start of the American Revolution in 1775. General Israel Putnam of the Continental Army subsequently stayed in the house and planned the Battle of Bunker Hill there. Later in the Revolution, the British General John "Gentleman Johnny" Burgoyne was held prisoner in Apthorp after his surrender at the Battle of Saratoga in 1777. Like many subsequent tenants in Cambridge, he complained bitterly about the lack of furnishings and the exorbitant rent he was forced to pay. Legend has it that Burgoyne's ghost still haunts the house.
After the Revolution and throughout the nineteenth century, Apthorp passed quietly through a succession of owners until it was incorporated into Harvard's Gold Coast of private dormitories in the early 1900s.
Apthorp House was acquired by the Coolidge brothers (read about Archibald Cary Coolidge) in 1901 and the venerable building became an undergraduate residence. It apparently was a raucous era, complete with indoor rifle and pistol practice, football in the hallways, water fights, and a pet monkey. After almost 30 years of student use, Apthorp had to be completely renovated before it could become the Adams House Masters' Residence in 1931.