Architect Spotlight: Happy Birthday Benjamin Thompson

Today marks the birthday of a locally influential architect, Benjamin Thompson (1918-2002) who was a founding member of The Architects Collaborative (TAC). In operation from 1945 to 1995, TAC was an architectural firm of eight architects who specialized in post-war modernism design. Thompson left TAC in 1966 due to creative differences and he established Benjamin Thompson and Associates (BTA) a year later. He also embarked on an interior design company, Design Research (D/R), which he owned from 1953 to 1970 when it then changed ownership. Thompson’s original store was located at 57 Brattle Street.

thompson image

Thompson, Benjamin. “Let’s Make it Real.” Architectural Record. January 1966.

To celebrate Thompson’s birthday, we want to highlight one of his many projects. We’ve chosen his renovation work on a historic building here in Cambridge since it marks his efforts to combine his modernist sentiments with a conscious effort to retain older architectural design. The choice was further bolstered by Thompson’s personal connection with his client, Harvard University. Thompson was an instructor for the Harvard Graduate School of Design and from 1964 to 1968 he presided as Chair of the Architectural Department. Furthermore, the CHC possesses the Benjamin Thompson Associates Collection (CHC051), which contains booklets, images, and other formats concerning the work of the architecture firm and Thompson’s designs.

So what is the building? Boylston Hall, located at the southwest side of the Harvard Yard. But before we get into Thompson’s renovation, we’d like to give some historical background of the building.

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CHC digital image. Ca. 1870

Boylston Hall was designed and built by Paul Schulze (1828-1897) in 1858. Schulze was a German immigrant who moved to America in 1849. He had previously planned and constructed Appleton Chapel (built 1858) for Harvard University and the success of that venture motivated members of the Harvard faculty to advocate for his continued employment. One spokesperson was Erving Professor Josiah P. Cooke, Jr. who wrote a letter of encouragement to Harvard’s President Rev. James Walker. As part of the Chemistry Department, Cooke’s letter explained how his department was being inadequately serviced in the University Hall.


Items from CHC051 collection. Featuring Boylston Hall and Design Research building

For some time, the Chemistry Department was held in University Hall’s basement. Conversations had begun the spring and summer of 1856 to search for alternative accommodations and it was decided that a purpose-built chemistry laboratory facility was the solution. It would be the first building of its kind in America whose construction was specifically dedicated to chemistry. Schulze completed and submitted his description of Boylston Hall on January 15, 1857.

Boylston Hall received financial patronage from Ward Nicholas Boylston (1747-1828) who posthumously donated a large sum to the University under the agreement that the new construction would adhere to his stipulations. Boylston required that the building would house an Anatomical Museum, a Mineralogical Cabinet, a Cabinet of Apparatus, lecture rooms, and a chemistry lab — the final component aligning smoothly with the University’s needs. To speed up the construction process, a subscription was raised to increase the building fund to $40,000.

Schulze, as part of Schulze & Schoen, constructed the 117’ x 70’ Boylston Hall. Designed in the Renaissance style, Boylston Hall has been labeled as part of the Boston Granite Style and this style became highly influential in Boston’s mercantile buildings and wharf structures, such as Mercantile Wharf, the Custom House Block, and Quincy Market. Boylston Hall has likewise been equated to Schulze’s contemporary and prolific Bostonian architect, Gridley J.F. Bryant, by architectural historians due to their similar material use.


Items from CHC051 collection. Featuring Benjamin Thompson’s interior designs

Nonetheless, Boylston Hall exterior was of Rockport granite set in rough large blocks almost 2 feet thick. The building held curved windows with Italianate tracery and its entrance was centered. Contracted skilled workers included Ebenezer Johnson, master mason; Jonas Fitch, carpentry; Smith and Felton, ironwork; Thomas Haviland, plastering; and John Bates, painting and glazing. The interior was lined with brick and plaster and it was split into two stories of 17ft and 23ft tall. The first floor held the Public Laboratory, the library, the Anatomical Laboratory, and lecture and recitation rooms, which were connected by a central hall. The Anatomical Museum, the Mineralogical Cabinet, the Cabinet of Apparatus, and more lecture rooms were located on the second floor. At the time, the items in these exhibits were under the stewardship of Professor Jeffries Wyman but presently some are now housed at the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology.

Boylston Hall was part of a Harvard trend where buildings were situated in relation to the Yard. The front facade faced inwardly instead of toward Massachusetts Avenue or even University Hall, which was once the center of a campus design plan. Douglas Shand-Tucci states in Harvard University: An Architectural Tour,  “Boylston Hall’s original role as one of the heralds of the New Yard” helped bolster this variant campus nucleus that countered the Old Yard” (151). It also became the site of great expansion to the Chemistry Department under the direction of Erving Professor Josiah P. Cooke, Jr., Professor Charles Loring Jackson, and Professor Henry Barker Hill.

Boylston Hall_HU_1874_Notman & Son Photo

Notman & Son image. 1874

By 1870, the Chemistry Department required more space, and so a mansard roof, incorporating a new third story, was added to accommodate a new laboratory. Peabody and Stearns facilitated the extension and the work was completed in 1871. However, after another twenty years, in 1895 there were again remarks about the space being too cramped for the department’s growing needs. In 1902, a 85’ x 35’ laboratory was adjoined to the basement. According to a Harvard Crimson article, the addition included 8 double benches, 2 single benches, and 14 sinks. Boylston Hall served the Chemistry Department for another twenty years.

In 1929, the Hall was remodeled to house the Harvard-Yenching Institute, an independent public charitable trust founded in 1928 by the Charles M. Hall estate. Still active today, the institute is committed to advancing higher education in Asia in the humanities and social sciences. However, it is no longer headquartered in Boylston Hall; the Institute left in 1958 before another renovation.

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CHC survey image. 1976

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1959 Renovation. Interior views. Image from CHC Thompson collection

1959 interior- CHC collection item

1959 Renovation. Interior Elevation. Image from CHC Thompson collection.

The 1959 renovation to Boylston Hall has been lauded repeatedly. It was the work of the TAC with Benjamin Thompson as principal-in-charge. As mentioned earlier, Thompson was concerned with “adapting spaces to conserve the best qualities of traditional architecture,” as quoted from a booklet available in our CHC051 collection. Coined as “recycling” and cited as the first of its kind in the area, Thompson’s design took great pains to retain the original Boylston Hall. For instance, the new arrangement placed fixed glass sheets in the curved windows. This was intended to improve the visual appeal priorly inhibited by wooden mullions. The new version of glass set in bronze would offset the granite and impose fewer interruptions. Additionally, Bainbridge Bunting stated in Harvard : an architectural history that “the detailing of other new elements, such as the arched metal vestibule at the main entrance, enhances the sense of strength conveyed by the granite masonry” (51). However, the fixity of the windows would prove to be a problem in the future.

Nevertheless, Thompson’s main task for the renovation was to accommodate more office spaces. Over the course of the project, Boylston Hall went from 39,206 sq ft to 53,300 sq ft, allotting 40% more floor space. This was achieved by remodeling the interior by adding a mezzanine between the first and second floors and another floor, making 5 levels total. The project cost about $880,000. Additional interior images can be seen in the items of the CHC051 collection.

Years later, in 1992 upgrades were issued to the exterior granite and six years after, a major renovation occurred. The 1998 project cost $8.3 million and was completed by Robert Olson and Associates, who were tasked with updating Boylston Hall for its current inhabitants.

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Dan Reiff photo. CHC files

The space was now occupied by humanities departments as part of a larger strategic plan that made a Humanities Arc from Quincy Street to the Yard. Departments included Classics, Literature, Comparative Literature, Linguistics, and Romance Languages. Robert Olson and Associates addressed many of their particular concerns, including making the windows functional to improve air quality.

Boylston Hall_HU_Hollis Image Current

Hollis image. Exterior. North Side [Ralph Lieberman photograph, 2012). Photographer: Ralph Lieberman, 2012. Image ID: olvsurrogate991681

hollis-interior view of lecture hall (2013)

Hollis image. Interior view of lecture hall (2013). Photographer: Ralph Lieberman, 2013. Image ID: olvsurrogate1032227

hollis- interior view of reading room

Hollis image. Interior view of reading room (2013). Photographer: Ralph Lieberman, 2013. Image ID: olvsurrogate1032221

The firm also achieved brighter, more open corridors by installing glass partitions. One of the most notable themes of the renovation was the emphasis on social spaces. Boylston Hall now sported a mezzanine cafeteria (C’est Bon cafe), common spaces and meeting rooms (Ticknor Lounge), and a 144 seat stadium-style auditorium (Fong Auditorium).

On the first floor, two prior large classrooms were split into three more usable classroom sizes. Although the redesign was applauded by most, not everyone praised the changes. News articles quoted people remarking on inferior workmanship and the loss of office space– it seems Ebenezer Johnson and the other contracted skilled workers of the first build were greatly missed! Additionally, as we’ve moved to the twenty-first century, the glass partitions between classrooms have caused logistical problems with audiovisual equipment due to the presence of glare. Nonetheless, Boylston Hall’s exterior has retained most of its visual integrity. Today, the building still serves the Departments of Classics and Linguistics but also Women, Gender & Sexuality.


  • Bunting, Bainbridge. Harvard: An Architectural History. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1985.
  • Cambridge Chronicle. 24 August 1895.
  • Eliot, Charles W. Harvard Memories. Cambridge, 1923.
  • Harvard Crimson. 25 September 1902.
  • Harvard University. “About: Boylston Hall.”
  • Harvard University Gazette. 12 March 1998.
  • Henry, Stephen G. “A Brand New Boylston.” Harvard Crimson. 30 October 1998.
  • Powell, Alvin. “Boylston Hall Gets a Facelift.” Harvard University Gazette. 17 September 1998.
  • Shand-Tucci, Douglas. Harvard University: An Architectural Tour (The Campus Guide). Princeton Architectural Press, 2001.
  • Thirty-Second Annual Report of the President of Harvard College to the Overseers, Exhibiting the State of the Institution for the Academical Year 1856-1857.Letter of Professor Cooke to Rev. James Walker. December 24, 1857.” Cambridge: Metcalf and Co, 1856.
  • Image from Thompson, Benjamin. “Let’s Make it Real.” Available in CHC051 Collection.


Torn Down Tuesday: Viscol Manufacturing Co., 200 First Street

Located at the intersection of Binney and First Streets in East Cambridge, a man named Adolph Sommer lived and died for his business. Adolph Sommer, born and educated as a chemist in Germany, later worked as a druggist in California, where he first studied and then taught at UC Berkeley. There he discovered the formula from which he afterwards made his principal product, Viscol. By about 1890, he removed to Cambridge, and opened a small wooden factory building in the rapidly developing industrial area of East Cambridge. The history of “Viscol” as a trademark began by Adolph Sommer in 1889, as “leather-grease”. Sommer was at the time a resident of California, and the product to which the mark was applied was a liquid preparation made principally from vegetable or animal oils and chloride or sulphur. There is evidence that this preparation was being advertised in California as early as 1891 for sale in cans as “Viscol dressing” for softening, waterproofing and preserving boots, shoes, harness, belting, etc.

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Viscol can, CHC Objects Collection.

Viscol Co. P1010877

Viscol box and can, CHC Objects Collection.

Sommer was actively engaged in the operation and development of the Viscol business in Cambridge and during this period of over 40 years, the product was advertised nationwide under the “Viscol” mark in shoe and leather journals and in Montgomery Ward catalogs. Sales during the period were made in small cans to merchandising outlets for retail distribution, and in 5-gallon cans and 50-gallon drums to tanneries for use in processing leather. Sommer oversaw the expansion of the company which coincided with the need for more manufacturing space and employees. The complex consisted of three buildings along First Street.


1930 Atlas map showing extent of Viscol Mfy in blue.


Undated flyer depicting multiple uses of Artgum, an artificial rubber developed by Viscol Company. Original located in CHC Ephemera Collection.


Undated flyer depicting multiple uses of Artgum, an artificial rubber developed by Viscol Company. Original located in CHC Ephemera Collection.Enter a caption

In Cambridge, Adolph lived alone, had no social relations, worked an unusual number of hours everyday, never took a vacation nor allowed his employees to take any, permitted no conversation or cooperation among his employees, and even lived in the manufacturing plant. He was known as being industrious, alert, keen, strong willed and stubborn; yet, he was kind to his employees when they got into financial difficulties, and many worked for him for decades. In 1922, when seventy-one years old, Sommer married a widow of fifty-one, Emmeline Harnden, who had worked in the factory for more than twenty years. At the time of their marriage, Sommer was actively looking for someone to take over his business and generated a written contract with his new wife that upon his death, the company and all holdings would go to his legal heirs, which apart from his widow, were two children of a deceased sister in Germany.

First Street 200

200 First Street, built for Adolph Sommer and Viscol Manufacturing Co. Building constructed in 1904, razed in 1986. Photo taken 1970, CHC Survey Photo.

First Street 185

185 First Street, built for Adolph Sommer and Viscol Manufacturing Co. Building constructed in 1913, razed in 1986. Photo taken 1970, CHC Survey Photo.

On October 1933, 82-year-old Sommer and his plant superintendent, Hans Bloomberg, picked up over $1,000 from the Lechmere Bank on Cambridge Street before driving back to the factory to pay the workers. Upon arriving to the factory, five robbers with pistols trapped the car and demanded the money. One man pointed a gun at the face of Sommer, who was sitting in the driver seat of his vehicle. When he saw the pistol, 82-year-old Sommer is said to have swung the door open and lunged at the robbers gathering his pistol from his pocket. Upon lunging he was shot three times and died, but not before shooting one of the thieves, who got into a get-away car and fled over the Prison Point Bridge to Charlestown.


Boston Daily Globe clipping from October 21, 1933 detailing crime scene.


Boston Daily Globe clipping from October 21, 1933 depicting Mr. Adolph Sommer.

There were few leads besides the witnesses, one of which identified the gunman to Cambridge Police as James Deshler. It was soon after unveiled to the public that Edward Galvin of 22 Lambert Street, was the witness who placed Deshler as the gunman. Within a week of the arrest, three men attacked Galvin in a parking lot, seemingly as retribution and were never identified. Two men were eventually imprisoned for the robbery and murder of Mr. Sommer, James Deshler and Marshall “Hickey” Bowles. After the death of Sommers, the company and properties were sold in 1936 to the Stamford Rubber Supply Company, a Connecticut corporation located at Stamford, Connecticut, which operated the business as one of its own departments until January 1937, later selling again. The complex was used for other industrial and storage uses until they were razed in the mid 1980s.


Boston Daily Globe clipping from October 31, 1933.

Torn Down Tuesday: 17 Frost Street

Welcome back to Torn Down Tuesday! Today’s feature is the house that once stood at 17 Frost Street in Mid Cambridge. Known as the Ward-Lovell house, the 2½-story home was built in 1886 by Sylvester L. Ward, a Roxbury oil merchant, for his daughter Mary when she married Frederick Lovell, a North Cambridge grocer.

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17 Frost Street, CHC survey photo (1965)

The house was designed by architectural firm Rand and Taylor in the Queen Anne Style. In contrast to East Cambridge, where the buildings of the nineteenth century had to be crowded between and behind older structures, there was room in Mid Cambridge for large buildings and for new streets and subdivisions. Sixty percent of the area’s houses were built after 1873. While there are larger and more important Queen Anne houses in other parts of Cambridge, nowhere in the city is there such a range in scale and importance, in type and development, as in Mid Cambridge.

PanasonicMECH=KV-S7075C SIDE=F

17 Frost Street, B. Orr photograph (ca. 1967)

As described in the CHC’s Survey of Architectural History in Cambridge, Vol. 2: Mid Cambridge, “The most exuberant manifestations of Queen Anne style were dying down by the end of the 1880’s, and in the last decade of the nineteenth century two trends appeared. One, the shingle style, with its continuous surfaces and curvilinear shapes, had originated a decade earlier in the work of H. H. Richardson and other architects but made its first appearance in Mid Cambridge at this time.” A late shingle style house, 17 Frost exhibits a continuous surface of shingles sweeps lightly over the house, and the shapes melt into each other, emphasizing the generous ornament on the porch gable.


Detail of 1930 Cambridge Bromley Atlas

By 1906, the home was owned by Ferdinand Schuyler Mathews (1854-1938), artist and author of several field books describing the flowers, trees, and wildlife of the eastern United States.


Familiar Flowers of Field and Garden by F. Schuyler Mathews, (1897 edition)

In 1913, the Cambridge Tribune described Schuyler as follows:

“…the artist, is equally well known as an ornithologist, although he insists that the latter study is merely a hobby. Mr. Mathews, however, has become an authority on birds and their music. His stories of the feathered tribe and his imitations of their notes are always a source of much delight to his hearers. He interprets the bird’s songs and is responsible for the assertion that the oriole is a first-rate ragtime whistler.–Globe”


Page from Field Book of Wild Birds and Their Music by F. Schuyler Mathews, Biodiversity Heritage Library (© 1904, 1921)

For decades, Mathews worked to transpose bird songs into notes, and published his work in a guide titled Field Book of Wild Birds and Their Music, A Description of the Character and Music of Birds, Intended to Assist in the Identification of Species Common in the United States East of the Rocky Mountains (1904; expanded and reprinted in 1921). Ferdinand was not the only person in his family pursuing the sciences. After receiving her A.B. from Radcliffe in 1912, Mathews’s daughter, Genevieve, worked at the Harvard College Observatory as a computer where she studied new and variable stars.


Harvard University Archives: Harvard College Observatory. [Observatory Data Analysis by Women Computers], 1890.

The house remained in the Mathews family until the late 1930s, and was later purchased by Harry P. Frost, who rented out the home. Known as “Doc Frost”, he was a well-known trainer of boxers and worked with such greats as Harry Wills and Maxie Rosenbloom. In the 1940s, Frost worked for the City of Cambridge park department running a youth boxing program and trained the youths at the Rindge Field Playground. Frost’s widow, Sally, owned 17 Frost until the late 1960s. The home was demolished in November 1967 for a parking lot, and in 1988 a series of five pastel-colored houses were built on the lot. These homes stand today.


7-17 Frost Street, Google Street View (March 2016)

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Cambridge Chronicle, 19 February 1942
Cambridge Tribune, 20 December 1913
Maycock, Susan E., and Charles Sullivan. Building Old Cambridge: Architecture and Development. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2016.
Cambridge Historical Commission, Survey of Architectural History in Cambridge, Vol. 2: Mid Cambridge. Cambridge, MA: Charles River Press, 1967.

Meet Phebe Mitchell Kendall of Nantucket and Cambridge

Mitchell House

The Mitchell Family House. The roof deck is a later addition.

The Mitchell Family of Nantucket

In celebration of Preservation Month, Preservation Massachusetts has announced fourteen projects that will receive grants for exterior restoration of their historic properties. The Maria Mitchell Association, which owns and operates the 1790 Maria Mitchell House on Nantucket, was awarded an $8,250 grant. The house has been a museum since 1903.

Maria Mitchell (1818-1889) was the third of ten children, half girls, half boys. Her sister Phebe, ten years her junior, lived and worked in Cambridge. Maria was America’s first professional female astronomer. The Mitchell house website,, has more information on the family and a wonderful collection of photographs.

Phebe Mitchell

Phebe Mitchell was born on Nantucket on February 23, 1828, into a Quaker family. William and Lydia (Coleman) Mitchell believed in equality in education, and all the children (Phebe was the seventh of ten) were educated in public schools and at home.


The original Nantucket Atheneum. Initially open to members only, the Atheneum offered lectures and meeting space, as well as a small lending library. Many of the notable speakers–Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and the education reformer Horace Mann–dined with the Mitchells. Photo courtesy Nantuck Atheneum.


The second Nantucket Atheneum, 1848. The original building had burned in an 1847 fire; all books and many records were lost, but Maria Mitchell had compiled a catalogue of holdings. She became the institute’s librarian and relied on her list to rebuild the collections. Photo courtesy Nantucket Atheneum.

Lydia Mitchell was a librarian and often brought books home for the family to read. Phebe described her mother as:

a woman of strong character, very dignified, honest almost to an
extreme. … She … kept a close watch over her children, was clear-
headed … and an indefatigable worker. It was she who looked out
for the education of the children and saw what their capacities were.

Her father, “a man of great suavity and gentleness,” was a teacher, a banker, and a well-known amateur astronomer.


Nantucket Pacific National Bank. Photo Bank of America

For almost twenty-five years Mr. Mitchell was the cashier at Nantucket’s Pacific National Bank, where he kept a suite of rooms in which the family occasionally lived. He constructed a small observatory on the bank’s flat roof, and everyone took part in watching the sky and calculating complex astronomical formulae. One night in 1847, Maria (allegedly escaping a dull dinner party) went up to look at the stars and discovered a comet, “Miss Mitchell’s comet.”

Phebe and Joshua Kendall

Phebe Mitchell and Joshua Kendall were married on Nantucket on September 14, 1854; the groom had been born in Cambridge in 1828 and graduated from Harvard College in 1853. The couple moved to Meadville, Pennsylvania, where Joshua served as the second president of Meadville Theological Seminary, which was then a Unitarian institution. Their only child, William Manning,, was born in 1856 when Joshua was the master of a private school in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts. In 1860 he became the chief academic officer, or principal, of the Rhode Island State Normal School, then in Bristol; the 1860 census records Joshua, Phebe, and four-year-old Willie living in a boarding house. The state cut back funding for the school, and it was forced to close in 1864.

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First notice of Joshua Kendall’s new school. Note the impressive references!Cambridge Chronicle, January 18, 1865

Joshua moved his family to Cambridge, bought the house at 123 Inman Street, and opened Kendall’s Day and Family School, a private preparatory school for boys, at 13 Appian Way. In 1906 the family took up room in the school.

The 1878 Total Eclipse of the Sun

Phebe and her sister Maria, who had become Vassar College’s first astronomy professor in 1865, visited frequently and wrote often; the three Kendalls and Maria travelled together in Europe four times in the early 1870s. In 1878 Maria invited Phebe to come with her to Colorado to observe a total eclipse of the sun that would be best viewed from sites along the spine of the Rocky Mountains, from southern Wyoming Territory through Colorado to Texas. Professor Mitchell, Mrs. Mitchell, four Vassar graduates, and their equipment traveled by train to Denver.American Eclipse cover

David Baron, a science journalist, chronicles the eclipse excitement that swept across the United States in American Eclipse: A Nation’s Epic Race to Catch the Shadow of the Moon and Win the Glory of the World (2017).

Astronomers and their assistants vied for the best viewing spots. The Mitchell crew arrived at their site with little time to spare.


Maria Mitchell chose for her observation post … a hill on the edge
of [Denver], just beyond the reach of suburban development. …
Once there, the Vassar party had no time to make elaborate
preparations. The women set out wooden chairs, erected a small
tent for shade, and mounted their three telescopes on tall tripods. (Mitchell had  brought … the same telescope she had used … to
discover her famous comet.) The view east offered an endless,
empty expanse of plains. To the west lay Denver and the Rockies
behind it. Immediately to the south sat a three-story brick building topped by a gabled roof and an ornate cross. It was St. Joseph’s Home,
a Catholic hospital operated by the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth, Kansas. The nuns, … spying the astronomers in dresses, came over to tea.


Maria Mitchell, her crew, and their equipment. The individuals are not identified, but Phebe may be pictured. Photo courtesy Maria Mitchell Association.

The Cambridge School Committee


In 1879 the Massachusetts General Court enacted legislation giving women the right to vote in school committee elections. That year, Phebe Mitchell Kendall and Sarah Sprague Jacobs became the first women elected to the Cambridge School Committee. Mrs. Kendall served for fourteen years, advocating for equality of education in elementary schools. A longtime member of the Cambridge Women’s Suffrage League, she served as its president for many years. She resigned from the school committee in 1894 to concentrate on organizing and editing Maria’s personal papers. Maria Mitchell: Life, Letters and Journals was published in 1896.




Phebe Mitchell Kendall died in June 1907. The Cambridge newspapers all published laudatory encomiums, including a letter in the Tribune from “one who knew her.”



Joshua Kendall died in February 1913. William Mitchell Kendall (Willie) enjoyed a successful career at the distinguished New York architectural firm, McKim, Mead & White.

Small Business Feature: Abroad Modern

During these trying times for our community, we are committed to helping local businesses. To do our part, every week in May we have been highlighting locally-owned small businesses right here in Cambridge! Today, we will spotlight Abroad Modern along with the history of the building in which the shop is located at 260 Concord Avenue in Northwest Cambridge.

Concord Ave 260_001

260 Concord Ave, 4 August 1985. Photographer: Frank J. O’Reilly.

Although the storefront is closed, Abroad Modern is open for online business, and its founder is even offering free gloved-hand delivery to locals! “Modern utility sourced globally” is how owner and founder, Greer Goodman describes the products, sourced from India, offered in her shop. Goodman’s passion for her entrepreneurial goals is apparent: “…I started this business to help others, to partner with people around the globe and make space for a cultural awareness that will hopefully, in tiny but meaningful ways, make the world smaller and better.”

View the website here:


Owner and founder Greer Goodman. Image via

The history of the building from which Abroad Modern is operated is as unique as the store itself. The property, which contains 360 square feet, is a remnant of a larger property that was divided when Appleton Street was laid out the it in 1871. The ‘heater piece’ or ‘gore’ as these leftovers were known, shows up in city atlases in 1894 as the property of Francis J. O’Reilly. In 1908, O’Reilly obtained a building permit to put up a one-story wood-frame store, 8′ wide on Concord Avenue, 30′ deep along Appleton Street, 4′ wide at the back, and 14′ high.

Concord Ave 260_survey

260 Concord Ave, ca. late 1960s. CHC Survey.

The 1910 Cambridge Directory lists shoemaker Cosimo Carfagno as the occupant at 260 Concord. Carfagno operated his business from the small building until at least 1931, his last directory listing. The next directory, in 1937, lists the property as vacant and according to directories, remained so until at least 1972.


Detail of 1930 Cambridge Bromley Atlas.

The adjoining property to the east, once the house and land of ice dealer H.H. Eames, was subdivided by his heirs in about 1900 into four house lots. Andrew N. Lewis, a carpenter, built houses on each lot, including the present house at 256 Concord Avenue once owned by Boston-based contractor Garrett Lambert.

Concord Ave 256-260

256-260 Concord Avenue, 20 August 1983. Photographer unknown.

The neighborhood lore is that this is a ‘spite’ or ‘grudge’ building. This may be a reasonable inference from the store’s proximity to 256 Concord Avenue, since one can easily imagine O’Reilly buying this otherwise useless property with the intent of selling it to the eventual abutter, but there is no documentary evidence to support this. In the absence of zoning, which was not adopted until 1926, many property owners were quick to put waste ground to any productive use, and it is equally logical that this structure was built by O’Reilly specifically for Carfagno to occupy as a shoe repair shop.

Concord Ave 260_002

260 Concord Avenue as seen from Appleton Street, 13 August 1983. Photographer unknown.

We hope you enjoyed today’s post, and we also hope you take time to explore the small businesses in your neighborhood!


Cambridge Historical Commission survey file: 260 Concord Avenue

National Get Caught Reading Month – New Library Holdings

Here at the CHC we are constantly updating our library holdings and our researcher resources. Since the beginning of last year, we’ve added 196 new entries to our database! We aim to accrue the most complete collection of resources on Cambridge and its history that we possibly can. Scroll down to learn about our latest and newest offerings. They may inspire you to Get Caught Reading this month. All of the books listed here were published in 2019.


The front covers of some of the books we chose

Maria Baldwin’s worlds: A story of Black New England and the fight for racial justice by Kathleen Weiler

Written by a local Tuft’s professor, this nonfiction biography recounts the life of Maria Baldwin (1856-1922), an African American educator in Cambridge and Boston. After growing up in Cambridge, Baldwin had to seek out employment in Maryland before returning to Cambridge where she gained a position at the Agassiz school. In 1889 she was promoted to principal of the school, making her the first female African American principle in Massachusetts. Some of her other major contributions included her efforts within many civic and educational organizations in the Boston area, including the literary Omar Khayyam Circle, the Women’s Era Club, the Cantabrigia Club, and the Boston Literary and Historical Association– but those are just to name a few. Weiler’s book offers insight into the challenges Baldwin faced and how she was able to surmount racialized barriers and achieve significant feats in both her professional and personal life.


Here are some of our favorite plates from The Atlas: Plate 13. Boston in 1800; Plate 17. Literary Boston, 1837-1891; Plate 27. Streetcar Suburbs, 1870-1900; Plate 32. Sports and Recreation, 1895-1903.

The atlas of Boston history edited by Nancy S. Seasholes

A pictorial and textual work, this book contains 57 spreads of Boston’s landscape throughout its history. Detailing the evolution of the terrain over time, this resource shows the trajectory of change in one convenient resource. Containing both this geographic topic as well as explanations of the visualized history, readers can gather a well-rounded overview of Boston’s history. However, this work is not just about the physical changes of the city over time. As stated on the book’s official page, it contains “a wide range of topics including Boston’s physical and economic development, changing demography, and social and cultural life.”

Splendid Epworth: How a chapel in Old Cambridge became a pillar of liberal New England methodism by Lane Lambert

Check this book out to learn about the history of Harvard Square’s Harvard-Epworth United Methodist Church. The first on this subject matter, the book chronicles the church’s congregation from its creation in 1868 as the North Avenue Methodist Society as well as the built environment of the church’s location at 1555 Mass Ave. If you visit us to reference this book, you can read about notable members and pastors, including pastor Daniel C. Whitsett (active 1958-1963) and pastor Edward L. Mark (active 1964-1996). Lane Lambert offers a unique perspective as both the author and a church member of this book.


Genealogical extract of the record books of the Charles River Baptist Church of Cambridge, Massachusetts renamed in 1895 the Emmanuel Baptist Church

Genealogical extract of the record books of the Charles River Baptist Church of Cambridge, Massachusetts renamed in 1895 the Emmanuel Baptist Church by Glenn Berry

This publication is a great source for anyone seeking to do local genealogical research! It covers the church’s baptisms from 1876 to 1955. Currently the Cambridgeport Baptist Church after it was purchased in 1982, this church was once located at 459 Putnam Ave.


The colonial records of Kings Chapel 1686-1776 edited by James B. Bell and James E. Mooney

We pulled the book blurb from the University of Virginia Press to give you an idea as to what this book is about:

“The story of the origins of the first Anglican congregation established in Boston and New England, Kings Chapel, is significantly shaped by the gradually emerging imperial policies of the government of Charles II during the late seventeenth century. It is a transatlantic account influenced largely by two forces, one in London, driven by the members of the Board of Trade and Plantations, and the other in Boston, driven by a handful of merchants with active and productive commercial ties with London and Bristol trading firms. Extending the Church of England to Puritan Boston after the revocation in 1684 of the Massachusetts Bay Colony’s first charter and the creation of the province as a royal jurisdiction was received reluctantly by the town’s residents, who considered it a novel, abrupt, and unwanted political and ecclesiastical act. This was not merely the extension of a religious group from the Old World to the New, for the Church of England was granted great political and cultural authority through the laws of England’s unwritten constitution.”

Bonus! The book’s seller on Amazon does not deliver to the United States so this is your chance to read the book easily.


The arts and crafts houses of Massachusetts: A style rediscovered. Can you point out the Cambridge homes?

The arts and crafts houses of Massachusetts: A style rediscovered by Heli Meltsner

Do you like architecture and local buildings? Then you’ll love this new addition to our library. A great resource on this 20th century aesthetics movement in our state, this book highlights local places you may have walked by without even realizing it. Additionally, as the book’s official site states, “it is also the first book to explore the use of this cutting-edge style in designing buildings for estate servants, transit workers, and renters—groups that historically lacked access to professionally designed homes.” Written by a local resident who has been the curator of the Cambridge Historical Society as well as a contributor to various planning and preservation efforts, this book is a fantastic read.

Sources consulted:

“The Arts & Crafts Houses of Massachusetts.” Bauhan Publishing. May 22, 2019.

“The Atlas of Boston History.” The University of Chicago Press Books. Accessed March 6, 2020.

“Harvard-Epworth Church releases book on church history.” Wicked Local. December 3, 2019.

“The Records of Kings Chapel, Boston.” The University of Virginia Press. Accessed March 6, 2020.

University of Massachusetts Press. “Maria Baldwin’s Worlds.” University of Massachusetts Amherst. Accessed March 6, 2020.

The Cambridge Visiting Nursing Association

In honor of National Nurses Week, today we are sharing the story of the Cambridge Visiting Nursing Association (CVNA), once headquartered at 35 Bigelow Street. The CVNA was established in 1904 by twelve Cambridge women in response to the community’s dire need for skilled home nursing care.  As cities like Cambridge grew rapidly during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and with neighborhoods becoming denser, it became even more necessary for nurses to travel to individuals to provide healthcare – especially at a time when most healthcare was provided in the home.  An article in the Cambridge Chronicle states that the CVNA started when “a few ladies of old Cambridge supported a nurse who visited the very poor.”


“On this day in 1922, the Cambridge VNA kicked off a highly successful fundraising campaign for home health care. Nurses gathered in front of the agency’s 35 Bigelow St., Cambridge, office for this photo.” Caption and image used with courtesy of VNA Care’s Facebook page, 1/16/2020.

During the CVNA’s first year, $5000 was raised to provide for the salary of three visiting nurses to make house calls to Cambridge residents, and for the fitting up of a nurses residence. From 1904-1908, the CVNA took quarters at 35 and 48 Bigelow Street, where the first two or three nurses employed were housed. By 1906 there were seven or eight nurses in residence, and in 1908, the CVNA purchased the entire home at 35 Bigelow for their official use. They remained headquartered there until 1987, when they relocated to 186 Alewife Brook Parkway. In 1995 the CVNA merged with VNA North Shore and the parent companies of Visiting Nurse Associates to create the VNA Care Network, “a nonprofit home health care, palliative care, hospice, and wellness provider serving more than 200 communities in Eastern and Central Massachusetts.”

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From the CVNA Seventh Annual Report, 1911.

From the beginning, the CVNA worked with people of all ages, though in its earlier days the nurses were chiefly involved with pre-natal care and home-births, instruction in infant care, and the treatment of tuberculosis, as well as polio and influenza. The CVNA supervisor would assign each nurse to a different case or neighborhood, discussing cases and patient plans with them.


Call for nurses – Cambridge Chronicle, February 14, 1920.


Educational lantern slide, used with courtesy of the VNA Care Twitter account.

By the 1920s the CVNA collaborated with the Cambridge Anti-Tuberculosis Association in maintaining a health center at the Thorndike School in East Cambridge. The center offered a wide range of services, including “a nurse who gives all of her time to the district, a children’s clinic…a posture clinic…and an evening health clinic for adults.” The center also offered nutrition and hygiene classes, “training girls in the care of their younger brothers and sisters,” classes in physical exercise, mothers’ meetings, “and moving pictures and lantern-slide lectures on health subjects.”


Cambridge Chronicle, Aug. 17, 1920

The CVNA also participated in numerous citywide activities and programs, such as educational health exhibits at the YMCA and plays put on by local school children centered around health lessons.


“Visiting Nursing Association Makes 16,000 Visits Yearly.” Cambridge Chronicle, December 22, 1938.

As the needs of the community and healthcare delivery changed, the CVNA expanded their services to aid with the elderly and hospice services, and later added therapists, home health aides, social workers, and office personnel to their staff as well as the visiting nurses.



Cambridge Chronicle, May 6, 1971

In 1971 it was reported that the CVNA made 19,647 visits to 987 patients of all ages that year. They had 29 nurses on staff and worked alongside doctors and 35 other health services, including the Boston Visiting Nursing Association. The CVNA also provided disaster nursing relief alongside the Red Cross and were major caregivers during the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Thank you to all nurses and caregivers!


Cambridge visiting nurses biking to patients’ homes in 1974, used with courtesy of VNA Care’s Facebook page, May 3, 2018.

About 35 Bigelow Street:


35 Bigelow Street today. Cambridge Property Database.

A three-story mansard style house with a handsome side porch/piazza, built in 1869. In 1908 there was a first-floor addition built for the CVNA, followed by a second-floor addition in 1916 by the firm of Howe & Manning. In 1927 the brick garage was built for the CVNA and was changed to a two-story dwelling in 1985, now 35r Bigelow. Today the home is divided into condos.



VNA Care, as well as their Twitter and Facebook accounts

CHS Proceedings, v. 18, 1925

Numerous articles from the Cambridge Chronicle, particularly 7/17/1920 and 3/28/1991

For photographs of other Cambridge community nurses, check out the Benedict Daniels Scrapbook on our Flickr page.

Torn Down Tuesday – Harvard Botanic Garden Greenhouse


View of the greenhouse complex from within the garden, 1867.

From 1805 to 1948, Harvard University operated a botanic garden under the direction of its botany department.  In addition to its role in scientific research and education, the garden was open to the public and became a very popular park. Located on seven acres at the corner of Linnaean and Garden streets, the garden featured a greenhouse filled with exotic tropical plants. The structure was one of several buildings organized in a line on the northern, elevated portion of the site, including the professor’s residence, a herbarium, a library, and a lecture room.

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1886 Hopkins atlas showing the layout of the botanical garden buildings and walkway circulation. The greenhouse complex is circled in red.

The greenhouse was designed by Ithiel Town who also designed the professor’s residence (now located at 88 Garden Street).  Known for his Greek Revival designs, Town also developed a truss system for bridges, which is named after him. The dimensions of the greenhouse are not known. The structure consisted of a semicircular central block with a pitched roof and lower wings that also had pitched roofs. Cold frames were located along the southern foundation, and a toolshed/workshop was located at the north wall. Wooden shutters slid up and down on tracks. Two cisterns inside the greenhouse were filled with water from a nearby spring, and two wood- and coal-burning stoves heated the structure. The greenhouse featured a traveler’s tree of Madagascar (Ravenala madagascariensis), Indian bamboo (Bambusa bosa), an extensive collection of cacti and palm plants, and over 200 orchids.


View of greenhouse to the right, along with library and herbarium situated on a terrace overlooking the botanical garden, 1867.

An article in a publication called The Century Illustrated Monthly from 1886 described the greenhouse complex:

“From the lecture room, you may pass directly into the conservatory, or what is pleasanter, you may walk out around the big hickory on the terrace and enter the rounded front of the central greenhouse, where an ambitious bamboo almost fills the doorway with masses of dark green drooping leaves … . There are several distinct compartments so as to suit the different requirements of the tropical and sub-tropical plants here brought together from all parts of the world. The 1400 species grown insure a goodly supply of blossoms at all seasons of the year, and hundreds of kinds not found in other greenhouses.”

The structure was razed in the late 1940s to make way for a new residential development for Harvard faculty and students, as well as returning military servicemen.

With the establishment of the Arnold Arboretum in Jamaica Plain in 1872, research on woody plants was moved to that location.  The herbarium collection continues to be maintained by Harvard at a facility at 22 Divinity Avenue. The former herbarium building, now known as Kittredge Hall, is the home of Harvard University Press.

Below are several illustrations of the greenhouse and plants in The Century Monthly Illustrated drawn by Roger Riordan, Harry Fenn, Francis Lathrop, and E. P. Hayden.



Ernest Ingersoll, “Harvard’s Botanic Garden and Its Botanists,” The Century Monthly Illustrated, 1886, pp.242-243.

Susan E. Maycock and Charles M. Sullivan, Building Old Cambridge, 2016.

Charles A. Hammond, “The Botanic Garden in Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1805-1834,” The Herbarist, Vol. 53, 1987, The Herb Society of America.

Modern Monday – Botanic Gardens Apartments

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Architects’ rendering of new residential development at the corner of Garden and Linnaean streets, 1948.

In 1949, to meet the acute demand for housing, Harvard University constructed new residences for faculty as well as returning WWII servicemen. According to an article in the April 29, 1948 issue of the Cambridge Chronicle, the primary purpose of the new residences was “to reduce the pressure on Harvard faculty and families and on veterans living and working in the community.” Located at the corner of Linnaean and Garden streets, the site had been the University’s botanic garden and herbarium under the direction of the botany department. In addition to its primary role as a scientific collection, the garden had also been a very popular public green space.

6.243 Botanic Garden Apts

View of two-story apartment building and walkway with stone retaining wall, and mature trees.

The planned community consisted of 117 single-family, duplex, and apartment units. The architects, Des Granges and Steffian, integrated their plan with the existing terrain and preserved landscape features where possible. Along the site’s northern boundary, single-family and semi-detached houses adjoined Gray Gardens East, while two-story buildings along Linnaean and Garden streets created a transition to the higher density three-story apartment blocks that occupied the center of the complex. Following old garden paths, two new streets were constructed for the development, both named after past curators of the herbarium, Benjamin Robinson and Merritt Fernald.

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Original brochure highlighting typical 2-bedroom apartment layout.

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The multi-unit buildings were organized around courtyards incorporating existing mature trees. Due to the sloping site, three-story buildings transition to two stories on the south sides of the courtyards, so they receive ample sunlight even in winter. Mortared stone and concrete retaining walls and concrete steps negotiated levels within the varied topography. Buildings were constructed of red brick with flat roofs, simple squared-off cornices, and casement windows. The main entrances were designed as focal points with flat-roofed canopies below projecting two-story bay windows. More extensive use of glass flanking the entry door and extending up the bay windows was in contrast to the more austere and opaque brick facades.

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View of one of the courtyards.

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View of courtyard with mature multi-stemmed tree and building with altered entrance including added columns and new canopy.

In the 1990s, Blackstone Block Architects was commissioned to renovate the complex including  new accessible entrances, signage, outdoor seating, brick sidewalks along Fernald Drive, and new plantings.  The residences remain under Harvard University Housing.

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View from Fernald Drive.


Cambridge Chronicle, April 29, 1948.

Building Old Cambridge, Susan E. Maycock and Charles M. Sullivan, 2016.

Torn Down Tuesday: 280 Harvard Street

Happy Torn Down Tuesday! As a follow up to our Modern Monday Instagram post yesterday, today we are featuring the house that once stood at 280 Harvard Street in Mid-Cambridge.


280 Harvard St, ca 1965-66 (Photographer: B. Orr)

The February 19th, 1887 edition of the Cambridge Tribune stated that the home was commissioned by Mrs. Caroline Marshall, wife of Boston merchant Moses M. Marshall for their son, Moses Sylvester. The article included a detailed description of the house and it’s building materials:

The house is set slightly back from Harvard Street and the exterior is very handsome; a piazza extends around two sides with a tower at the corner. The brick chimney is outside and is decorated with terra cotta panels. The house is clapboard, with the exception of the tower, which is singled, and the roof is covered with Brownville slate. The windows are of plate glass, while the front door has stained glass. This front door is of cherry, which is the main material used for finish the other outside doors, however, being of pine, with five panels and raised mouldings. From the vestibule one enters a hall measuring 16×9. On the right of this hall is the parlor, finished in cherry, with a large bay window formed by the tower. Back of the parlor is the library, also finished in cherry, from which opens a well arranged conservatory.


Stairway, 280 Harvard St, ca 1965-66 (Photographer: B. Orr)

On the left of the ball, through an arch, one enters the reception hall, with stairs, the latter of cherry, with a find landing measuring 11×9. Back of the reception hall is the dining-room, while in the rear of the house are the kitchen and pantries. A pleasing feature of this house is that almost every room in it contains a bay window. On the second floor are five chambers, bath-rooms, cedar closer for furs, and on the third story two chambers, a store-room and large billiard room, measuring 32×23. The house will be tastefully furnished and will have elaborate mantels.


Mantelpiece, 280 Harvard St, ca 1965-66 (Photographer: B. Orr)

It will be completed about the end of March. The architect is Mr. G. J. Williams of Boston, and the builders, Messrs. Mead, Mason & Co. of Boston.

280 Harvard was the first residence in Cambridge designed by architect. G.J. Williams. This was one of Williams’s only single-family projects in the city, and is more stylized compared to his simpler multiple-occupancy dwellings at 86-88 Webster Ave or 62-68 Plymouth Street, designed the same year as 280 Harvard. However, the house’s design was echoed in others built in the following years on Harvard Street, such as those at 284 and 298.


284 Harvard St, ca. 1965-66 (Photographer: B. Orr)


298 Harvard St, ca. 1895

According to a piece highlighting Boston markets and their proprietors, Moses S. Marshall began working for his father’s meat market in 1878 at age 18 and by 1893 was a senior member of the firm. The company, Marshall and Taylor, operated from 28 North Faneuil Hall Market in Boston.


Faneuil Hall, ca. 1860s (Boston Pictorial Archive, Boston Public Library)

Moses S. Married Grace Clark on June 18, 1884 and the couple had a daughter, Dorothy Frances, on February 8, 1889. The family attended the Austin Street Unitarian Church (demolished in 1949), and Mrs. Marshall held church sewing meetings at the family residence. After a long illness, Grace Marshall died June 26, 1903 at 42 years old. Moses Sylvester Marshall died of a cerebral hemorrhage on October 24, 1909, at 49 years old. Caroline Marshall became head of the family after the death of her son, and continued to live at 280 Harvard Street with her daughter, Ella Stimson, and three granddaughters, including Dorothy.


Detail, 1888 Sanborn Atlas (

The house was later occupied by Suffragette Mabel A. Jones, and for many years was home to members of the Manning family. The house continued as a single-occupant dwelling, and for decades saw many residents come and go. The house was demolished in 1971 to make way for the 18-story apartment building that stands a 280 Harvard Street today. For more information on the current building, see our Instagram post from Monday, April 20th.


280 Harvard St, ca 1965-66 (Photographer: B. Orr)