Posts Tagged ‘Cambridge Historical Commission’

Our fellow archivists at the Cambridge Historical Commission have just launched a new blog.  On it you will find highlights from collections, staff and researcher favorites, and stories about Cambridge history.

One of our favorites is a post about the Cambridge Historical Commission Architectural Survey File.  The Commission has a file on every address in the city, a resource that is unique in New England and perhaps in America.  Between 1964 and 1977, the Commission surveyed and photographed every building in Cambridge.  These files contain architectural survey forms, photographs, newspaper clippings and anything of interest relating to the current building or demolished building on the site.  These survey files are a priceless resource.  We often send patrons to the Commission to search these files and soon they will be available online.

An example of an architectural survey form from CHC’s files.




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From the Glass Plate Negatives (002).

We recently came across a mystery in our photo collection.  The photograph above was described as the Inman House, although we were doubtful after comparing it to known images of the Inman House (see below).

From An Historic Guide to Cambridge, complied by members of the Hannah Winthrop chapter, National society, Daughters of the American revolution, opposite page 179.


So we asked Charles Sullivan, Director of the Cambridge Historical Commission, to confirm that our photograph was mislabeled.  Charles got back to us immediately with the following information:

“The photo…is definitely not the Inman House; the only resemblance is the wrap-around porch.  I think the location is 1445 Cambridge Street, an 1839 house on the corner of Line Street that was razed in 1927.”

Charles then went on to detail his research path.  He forwarded me the 1900 Sanborn Atlas, noting that the atlas shows porches and foundation footprints, and that the three-sided wrap-around porch that stands out in the plan was rare for the time.  He continues, “Also, the topography matches, and the tree-decker at the extreme right is in the right position.”  He then goes on to astonish by finding articles that describe the house at 1445 Cambridge Street and its sale: Cambridge Tribune 10 March 1900 and 18 June 1904.

Thank you again, Mr. Sullivan, for your help.  We will be sure to send you more challenging questions soon.


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Fosgate’s Groceries and Provisions, circa 1904-1909, From the Glass Plate Negatives, circa 1904-1909 (002).

Thanks to Charles Sullivan, Executive Director of the Cambridge Historical Commission, we have an answer:

“The Fosgate picture [above] dates between 1894, when the street was renumbered, and before 1902, when the building was moved to the rear so the present building could be built. The bridge in question is the Mass. Ave. bridge over the MBTA’s Fitchburg line, just outside the right margin if the photo.”

Cambridge is lucky to have the Cambridge Historical Commission.  The depth of knowledge that the CHC staff has about the history of Cambridge, especially its built environment, cannot be matched.   Thank you Charles Sullivan!

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93 Inman Street (1870), Before.

This year’s Preservation Awards are being highlighted in a special exhibition on the library’s second floor case. Winners include the Lesley University’s Lunder Arts Center, Harvard Art Museum, and the NEGEA Building at 130 Bishop Allen Drive among many other commercial and residential projects. The Cambridge Historical Commission presented the awards on May 27th. View the fantastic slideshow here and see how the buildings have been transformed.

93 Inman Street (1870), After.

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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.

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I love a reference challenge, but it’s also gratifying to get a question and be able to give the asker the answer almost immediately. Though when we archivists do this it may seem like magic, most of the time it’s just knowing where to look and to what resources to point people. My time in the Cambridge Room is helping me immensely when it comes to performing this parlor trick with Cambridge-related queries.

For example, do you ever walk down a street in Cambridge and wonder for what or for whom it was named? The Cambridge Historical Commission has you covered with their comprehensive list of the origins of Cambridge Street Names. If your wonderings/wanderings take you further and you want to know about a particular address, the myCambridge database about which Alyssa told you in an earlier post and the database of Cambridge Buildings and Architects maintained through Harvard are great resources for delving a bit more deeply into the history of Cambridge addresses from the comfort of your computer or mobile device. And if you’re of an analytical bent, there’s a fun set of maps over on Bostonography based on the latter that provide a visualization of the types of Cambridge street names and where they are in the city.

 streetsnearCPLStreets near the future site of the Main Library of the Cambridge Public Library, from the Atlas of the City of Cambridge, Middlesex Co., Massachusetts, by G.M. Hopkins, 1873

So you’ve found the namesake for your street – where next? If you’re really lucky, your street is named after someone well-known enough to have his or her own Wikipedia page, or has a sufficiently unusual name to be easily Google-able. Though you’ll have to vet the results for yourself, the resources you uncover are a great place to start and can lead you down many fascinating paths. You may also want to check WorldCat, to see what relevant material has been cataloged at libraries around the world, and ArchiveGrid, for material in archival repositories. If your person is a pre-20th century Cambridge celebrity, the Proceedings of the Cambridge Historical Society, which the Society has put online, can be really helpful; check the index for references in papers published between 1905 and 1979.

And if you’re stumped, how about contacting your friendly local archivist and giving her or him a shot at it? Like I said, we love a challenge.

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2 Appleton Street, , circa 1960s, copyright Bertram Adams.

Cambridge Historical Commission’s Charlie Sullivan helped us out with our last photo mystery.  Thanks to everyone who participated in our challenge.

2 Appleton Street, circa 2013, from Google Maps.

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