Runner along Charles.

A runner passes the banks of the Charles River near MIT.

Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer

Campus & Community

Life along the Charles from sunrise to sunset

Gazette photographers record the life teeming along the waterway on the day's margins

3 min read

On a walk along the Charles River you might encounter an artist painting, a lone man running, or a woman meditating among the sweeping branches of a weeping willow tree. Look up and you’ll see bird formations sweeping across a pastel blue sky. On the water are paddle boarders and crew boats. Breaking the near-silence of the early morning are muffled shouts from motorboats to rowers.

The Charles River, an 80-mile expanse of water, named for a former king of England — by the king himself — is prettiest as the sun sets and rises each day. At these hours, the river feels meditative and restorative, as the woman sitting cross-legged in the weeping willows has surely discovered.

Bridges connect the Charles to Boston and Cambridge. From east to west the bridges are the Longfellow (or Salt and Pepper), the Mass. Ave., the BU, Weeks Footbridge, and the Anderson Bridge at Harvard. Countless more bridges stretch through 23 towns and cities ending in Hopkinton at the river’s source.

Soon the bustling Anderson Bridge, which connects Harvard Yard and Harvard Square via JFK Street to the Harvard Stadium and Business School in Boston, will become even more so with the planned opening of the Science and Engineering Complex next fall.

This river and its bridges, which we’ve traversed many times, have connected us, too. Through beauty in nature, exercise, and social interactions, we celebrate the Charles.

Students return boats.

At dusk, Boston College High School rowers return their boats to the Riverside Boat Club at Magazine Beach. The Charles River is the border between Boston and Cambridge.

Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer

Playing Pentanque, a bocce-like game.

Every Saturday and Sunday on Magazine Beach, these Algerian friends play Pentanque, a bocce-like game that originated in Provence, France.

Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer

Rowers at dawn as seen from the BU Bridge.
Evening view along the Charles River.

Native Americans originally called the river Quinobequin, meaning bending river. A trio of rowers at dawn as seen from the Boston University Bridge. Foliage flourishes on the river’s edge.

Photos by Rose Lincoln (left) and Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographers

A heron searches for its morning snack at dawn.

A heron searches for a morning snack at dawn.

Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer

Cormorants fly across the morning sky.

Cormorants fly upriver across the morning sky.

Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer

Rowers at dawn.

The inspiration for The Standells’ 1966 hit “Dirty Water,” the river’s polluted past was memorialized in the lyrics, “Down by the banks of the River Charles / That’s where you’ll find me / Along with lovers, muggers, and thieves.” Rowers make their way by an overpass of graffiti and autumn foliage as seen from the BU Bridge.

Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer

Rowers at dawn.

Since 1995, when the Environmental Protection Agency launched an ambitious effort to make it both fishable and swimmable, the Clean Charles River Initiative has dramatically improved water quality. Rowers at dawn as seen from the BU Bridge.

Photos by Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer

Walkers stroll past the River Houses with their dog.

The River Houses bask in morning light as walkers stroll past with a dog.

Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer

Autumn leaves surround a runner on the Boston side of the Charles as the sun begins its ascent.

Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer

Dunster House is framed by the Weeks Footbridge .

The Weeks Footbridge frames Dunster House at dusk.

Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer

Evening view along the Charles River.
People along the Charles.

Canada geese drift down the river at dusk alongside Harvard’s Dillon Field House. People come to the riverbank to watch the sunset.

Photos by Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer

Oft in sadness and in illness,
I have watched thy current glide,
Till the beauty of its stillness
Overflowed me, like a tide.

– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow from “To the River Charles”

Morning view along the Charles River.

A runner sprints across the Eliot Bridge.

Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer

Evening view along the Charles River.

At dusk, rowers make their way back to the boathouses downriver.

Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer