Before: 1161 Cambridge Street

After:  1161 Cambridge Street, Cambridge Preservation Award Winner, 2012

Preserving Cambridge

Exhibition Location: 2nd Floor of the Main Library

The Cambridge Preservation Awards Program, inaugurated by the Historical Commission in 1997, celebrates outstanding projects and notable individuals who conserve and protect the city’s architecture and history.  Awards are given each May for projects completed within the previous calendar year.  May is National Preservation month.

Seven project categories are eligible for Cambridge Preservation Awards:  restoration, rehabilitation, adaptive use, neighborhood conservation, landscape preservation, archaeology, and education/outreach.  Awards are based on the following criteria:

  • historical and architectural significance of the property,
  • exceptional quality of the project,
  • extent to which the project contributed to the preservation of the property,
  • impact of the project on the preservation of the city’s historic resources.

Previous award-winning projects have included residential, commercial, institutional, and industrial properties as well as historic landscapes.  The exhibit features before and after photographs of past award winners and demonstrate the hard work of owners, architects, carpenters, and other craftsmen to preserve these buildings for future Cantabrigians to enjoy.

The Cambridge Preservation Awards Program is May 27, 2015.  The public is welcome.   View the invitation here:  Preservation_2015.


On August 21, 1888, the Universalist Church moved from Lafayette Square to its present home on Inman Street.  The picture above shows the church traveling through Central Square.  Today, the church at 8 Inman Street is now St. Mary’s Orthodox Church.

One of the strengths of the Cambridge Room’s holdings is that they gather together published and unpublished resources on or related to a particular topic – Cambridge history – in one place. Most of the published materials in the Cambridge Room are available in our reference collection, which is on open shelves in our reading room and can be browsed anytime the Cambridge Room is open. Volumes in our reference collection are also cataloged in the library catalog. Look for items with a location of CAMBRIDGE/Cambridge Room/Reference or do an advanced search for your topic and select CAMBRIDGE/Cambridge Room from the Collections drop-down menu.

Cambridge Room reference collection

The first aisle of the Cambridge Room reference collection, featuring our MA, GENEALOGY, and CAMBRIDGE groupings.

The Cambridge Room’s reference collection is organized into five main groupings: MA, GENEALOGY, CAMBRIDGE, CITY, and SERIALS. Within each grouping items are shelved alphabetically by author and/or title (and, in the case of serial publications, volume number or year).

MA is for items pertaining to Massachusetts history overall or to towns in Massachusetts other than Cambridge.

GENEALOGY is for items that have particular genealogical interest, such as individual family histories or registers of early settlers.

Items in the CAMBRIDGE grouping provide a wealth of information about Cambridge history and culture. Volumes by or about Cambridge authors such as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Margaret Fuller are also included.

The CITY grouping contains items published by the City of Cambridge or pertaining to the city as a governmental entity, including annual and financial reports for the city overall and its constituent departments, voter lists, and one of our most used resources, the city directories.

SERIALS include publications issued on a recurring basis such as local school newspapers and yearbooks and special interest magazines like Growing Up in North Cambridge.

Items in our reference collection are available anytime the Cambridge Room is open. The materials must be used in the Cambridge Room and do not circulate. Some items are in the general library collection as well, or available from other libraries in the Minuteman network.

Though the books do not circulate, you have several options for getting reproductions of pages. The easiest is to bring your own digital camera (or camera phone) and take photos yourself. Another option, and one that is particularly good for the more fragile items in our collections, is to use our Zeta overhead scanner, which makes color scans in a variety of digital file formats. You place the item face up on the scanning bed, press a few buttons on the accompanying touch screen, and in seconds you have digital files suitable for reference purposes. You can email yourself the results or save them on a USB drive.

Cambridge Room zeta scanner

The Zeta scanner in action.

You may be surprised at how much you can learn about Cambridge history from the carefully selected and curated published reference resources here in the Cambridge Room. You may come with one question, or looking for one specific book, but there’s a good chance that the wonderful serendipity that can only come from browsing will lead you to many more.

The Cambridge Public Library is offering an excellent lineup of events – lectures, author visits, poetry readings, panel discussions, movies, and book displays – for Black History Month. Our social media accounts will also be buzzing this month with facts, quotes, photos, and other content related to black history and culture. Follow @cambridgepl on Twitter, and pay particular attention to the hashtag #blackhistorymonth, to learn more.

One of the originators of African American cultural programming at the Cambridge Public Library coinciding with the nationwide observances then known as Black History Week, as well as our annual Martin Luther King, Jr. celebrations, was librarian Jerome T. Lewis. Lewis was the Associate Director of the Cambridge Public Library from 1970 until his death in 1976. He was a native son, having grown up in Cambridge and graduated from Ridge Technical High School, where he was a dedicated scholar and a track and field star, in 1941. (He was also the grandson of George Washington Lewis, the steward of Harvard University’s Porcellian Club for 45 years, whose portrait still hangs in that most exclusive of Cambridge enclaves.)

Profile of "Athlete of the Issue" Jerome Lewis from the Rindge Register high school newspaper, June 18, 1941 issue

Profile of “Athlete of the Issue” Jerome Lewis, from the Rindge Register high school newspaper, June 18, 1941 issue

After graduating from Colby College with a degree in history and government, he worked in the libraries of Harvard from 1946 to 1959. He earned a degree in library science from Simmons College in 1949. Upon leaving Harvard, he held leadership positions in the Newton Free Library and the library of Bryant & Stratton, a Boston business college, before returning to Cambridge in 1970. In addition to his library work, he was active in a number of community groups and was appointed a member of Cambridge’s Civic Unity Committee.

Shortly before his death from cancer at the age of 54, Lewis created the Jerome T. Lewis Scholarship Fund, to provide funds annually to two Cambridge public high school students on the basis of their contributions to the black community. He is also the namesake of the Lewis Room at the Central Square Branch. It was dedicated, appropriately enough, during Black History Week celebrations in February 1977.

Cover of the program for the dedication of the Jerome T. Lewis Memorial Room at the Central Square Branch of the Cambridge Public Library, February 13, 1977

Cover of the program for the dedication of the Jerome T. Lewis Memorial Room at the Central Square Branch of the Cambridge Public Library, February 13, 1977

As those of us in the Northeast batten down the hatches and prepare for what’s being described as potentially a storm of “historic” proportions, many of us are stockpiling supplies and entertainments to get us through the next 48-72 hours. If you’re looking for something to add to your list of the latter, the Cambridge Room’s Historic Cambridge Newspapers collection provides many hours of distraction, and, in keeping with the preoccupation of the moment, there are plenty of references to past storms and blizzards to be found. Fittingly enough, the Wikipedia article for The Great Blizzard of 1888, known as one of the harshest snow storms ever in the United States, cites one of them.

Article from the Cambridge Press, 17 March 1888


This article suggests that, locally at least, The Great Blizzard of 1888 was not so great and that it was felt to be much worse than it was because of the loss of communication systems, making a side jab at people feeling deprived to not know “every five minutes of the day, what is happening in New York or San Francisco or London.” (One can probably feel pretty confident of what the writer would think of our 24-hour news cycle of today.) We’ll see when we come out on the other side later this week whether Winter Storm Juno lives up to its fearsome advance billing. In the meantime, please stay safe, stay warm, and stay entertained — and why not correct a few newspaper articles or old weather logs while you’re at it?

Our friends at the Magazine Beach Committee of the Cambridgeport Neighborhood Association have asked us to spread the word about an upcoming event they’re hosting that will give past and present users and fans of Magazine Beach Park a chance to reminisce, share photographs and stories, and enjoy a complimentary lunch at the same time. It will take place on Saturday, January 31, from noon to 3:00 p.m. at 344 Broadway. Those who attend will also have a chance to view the exhibit the group created titled Magazine Beach — A Place Apart, which is on display at Cambridge Arts through the end of February. More information about these and other Magazine Beach-related events is available on their website at http://magazinebeach.org/events/.

Invitation for Magazine Beach Memory Party

Alyssa has previously written about some of the history of Magazine Beach and an exhibit she mounted here at the library in 2013 of some relevant items from our collections. One of those items is the Key to the Old Magazine, pictured below.


According to Alyssa’s exhibit labels, this key was used to enter the room in the powder magazine (building) where the gunpowder and ammunition were stored. Probably not the first image that comes to mind when one thinks of a relaxing day at Magazine Beach Park, but a wonderful reminder of its history nonetheless!

While many people enjoy using our digital collections from anywhere they are, as you would imagine, not everything we have in the Cambridge Room is available online. As with most archives and special collections, many of our materials are only available during the Cambridge Room’s regular hours while an archivist is on duty. There is an intermediate category of access, however, and that’s for the materials that we have on microfilm.


Cambridge Room microfilm


Microfilming is a photographic process that makes highly reduced copies of original documents. It has been used in libraries and archives for over 100 years as a method for saving shelf space, reducing handling of fragile materials, and increasing access for on and offsite researchers. Microfilm was for the standard for preservation for decades and is still a very durable format as long as the film is maintained in appropriate storage conditions. Because of the small size of the images and the sometimes inconsistent process by which they were made, it’s not always a thing of beauty, but microfilm does greatly enhance access to large, bulky, and fragile paper materials like our newspapers, in addition to being an eminently useful format for scanning purposes as the difficult work of preparing and photographing the original has already been done. In fact, most of the materials we have online were digitized from microfilm reels, rather than the originals.

The Main Library of the Cambridge Public Library has one microfilm reader/scanner, which now resides in the second floor reference area. The Cambridge Room microfilm is available anytime the Main Library is open, not just during the Cambridge Room’s hours. (Though if you want specialized historical reference assistance, we still encourage you to come when the archivist is on duty.) To use microfilm during hours when the Cambridge Room is not open, please show an ID to the staff member at the reference desk. He or she will retrieve the relevant reel for you and set you up at the microfilm reader/scanner. Library staff are always available to help, but if you want to learn more about how to use our machine, a ScanPro 3000, there are a number of YouTube videos that explain the process. For example, here’s a video on loading film (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jbiFyBc-WCY), and another on navigating it (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HiksVh7rDsI) from the Brooks Memorial Library in Brattleboro, Vermont.

Microfilm reader/scanner at the Main Library

Microfilm reader/scanner station on the second floor of the Main Library

You have two options for getting output from the microfilm using this machine. We particularly encourage you to bring a USB flash drive and save your scans in PDF format as you go. You can also print a limited number of pages to the reference desk printer. Please see the staff person at the desk to retrieve your printouts.

We hope that you too will learn to appreciate microfilm and the ways it can aid and speed your research. And if you use the Cambridge Room’s microfilm when we’re not here, please drop us a line about your discoveries!


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