Meigs Elevated Railway

An unusual and widely unknown transit experiment took place right here in Cambridge, known as the Meigs Elevated Railway. Born in Tennessee in 1840, Josiah Vincent Meigs was an inventor; spending most of his life inventing and patenting devices from furniture to guns. Throughout his life, he was interested in making public transportation better and more efficient and wanted to remove the “clutter” of elevated railways in cities. From this, he came up with his proposal, the Meigs Elevated Railway.

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With an emphasis on safety, comfort and convenience, the track structure consisted of two rails, one mounted above the other on a line of supports. The single post system would remove roughly four fifths of the structure that darkened streets under other elevated systems of the time. One pair of wheels were angled at 45 degrees and carried the weight of the train; while the other pair, mounted horizontally inside the locomotive, gripped the upper rail and provided driving power. The cars were designed cylindrical to diminish wind resistance and the interiors lined with fireproof material.

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In 1881, to encourage capital investment and fulfill terms of an earlier charter (which had over 64,000 signatures), Meigs and his friends headquartered at 225 Bridge Street (now Monsignor O’Brien Hwy) and raised $200,000 to build an experimental track. A 227’ line of elevated track was built parallel to Bridge Street with varied elevation changes and curves to test the new system. In 1886, engineers deemed the elevated system “practical and safe”.

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Sadly, it was neither capital nor legislation which finally sank the Meigs Elevated, it was the coming of electricity. While the Meigs system could be fitted to run on electrical power, Josiah believed that electric-powered trains were too expensive and could not provide the speed the system needed. Further setbacks occurred when vandalism and the West End Elevated Railway became direct competition and the Meigs took its final run in 1894. Meigs later sold his charter rights in 1896 and his dreams for were disbanded. In failing health from his Civil War injuries, Josiah Vincent Meigs died from a stroke on November 14, 1907 in Charlestown, Massachusetts.

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Much more information and photographs are in our collections!

 

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Focus On: CHC Volunteers

We are back with the latest installment of our blog series on the wonderful CHC volunteers. Today we would like you to meet volunteer (and former staff and Commission member) Allison Crump.

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How long have you been with the Cambridge Historical Commission?

I came to the Commission as an Audubon summer intern in 1975, while attending the Columbia Preservation program.  After graduation, I joined the staff for several years.  Later I was an appointed member of the Commission for 20 years.  Now I’m retired, I’m back to my roots!

What collection have you been working on? Tell us more about it.

The City Clerk’s archives include several boxes of applications to the Cambridge City Council for permission to move structures, which was once a common practice.  The applications I am working with date from 1870 – 1910; these are the ones we have found, but there may well be more. [Editor’s note: We are calling this the Building Removals Collection. Allison has been going through the applications in search of the original and subsequent – post-move – locations of these structures.]

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A building removal form for a property at Broadway and Main, 1888

What is the importance of the Building Removals Collection?

When I am successful at determining the original and subsequent locations, it’s a view into development patterns, as demands for more modern, larger structures in high-value locations created surplus structures available for re-use in various ways, often in areas newly subdivided for development.

What’s challenging is that descriptions of the sites are not always precise, and even when street numbers are used, these have often changed over time.  In some cases, approved removals appear to have never occurred, or were subject to multiple applications as proposed routes or locations shifted.  Another interesting aspect is the activity of specific moving firms at different periods.

It’s most satisfying when the survey files have speculated that a building was moved to its current location, and the removal files tie it to an original site.

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Example of a completed building removal research form (completed by a former CHC staff member)

What is your academic and career background?

In undergrad, I majored in history and art history, specializing in architectural history.  After Columbia and working at the Commission, I gradually migrated into affordable housing and nonprofit finance as my professional focus.  It’s fun to be back in the research game.

How long have you lived in Cambridge?

Over 40 years.  But I’m still a newcomer, and would never presume to describe this as my hometown.  My kid’s a native, though, so that gives me some standing.

What is your favorite thing about historic preservation? (or, your favorite building in Cambridge?)

I’m most interested in the flexibility of structures to adapt to changing needs over time.  That makes it possible to maintain continuity and context in the built environment, even when their original purpose has been superseded.  It’s also deeply satisfying to witness the extent to which preservation values have become accepted and see individual buildings, streets and neighborhoods which once seemed doomed, now in good repair and no longer threatened.  The block of Broadway between Prospect and Inman Streets is a great example of this phenomenon.

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Thank you, Allison!

A Whaleback Barge in the Charles River

Today’s post was written by CHC Executive Director Charles M. Sullivan.


In 1894 the Union Switch & Signal Company installed signals that prevented trains on the Boston & Maine and Fitchburg railroads from proceeding in or out of North Station when the Charles River drawbridges were in the raised position.

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Whaleback barge in the Charles River, ca. 1895. Photographer unknown.

The company publicized the project by distributing this photo of three empty coal barges passing through the drawbridges. The three-masted barge in the foreground was probably built as a schooner, but it retains only vestiges of its original rig. A similar vessel leads the procession.

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Figure 9.5 from Building Old Cambridge: Architecture and Development. Wharves near Harvard Square, ca. 1862. Sargent’s Wharf (foreground) is piled with lumber; four two-masted schooners are tied up beyond the College Wharf.

The second vessel was a steel whaleback barge, a rarity on the East Coast.  This type of vessel was developed to carry bulk cargoes on the Great Lakes. The first, Barge 101, was launched at Duluth, Minnesota in 1888.

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“Whaleback Str. A.D. Thompson [sic],” ca. 1905 by Detroit Publishing Co. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.

The design was a mixed success, but over the next eight years the American Steel Barge Co. built about 40 more whaleback barges and steamships. The company also had two vessels, Barge 201 and Barge 202, built in Brooklyn, N.Y. in 1890 for saltwater service.

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“Loading the Great Whaleback Ship at the Famous Grain Elevators, Chicago, U.S.A.,” ca. 1895. Photographed by George Barker, published by Strohmeyer & Wyman. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.

The Charles River photo shows the 190-foot-long Barge 202 returning to Boston Harbor after delivering coal to a wharf upstream on the Charles River. On June 18, 1892 the Cambridge Tribune noted that the whaleback then discharging 1,400 tons of coal at Richardson & Bacon’s wharf near Harvard Square was “the largest boat that ever came through the Craigie Bridge.”

Even in the late 19th century the Charles remained an important avenue of commerce; in 1893 sixty-four sailing vessels and sixty-one barges called at wharves in Old Cambridge (Harvard Square) and Watertown.

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Figure 9.11 from Building Old Cambridge: Architecture and Development. The industrial waterfront of Old Cambridge, seen from the chimney of the Boston Elevated Railway’s power plant in 1897. Richardson & Bacon’s coal shed is in the foreground. A schooner is unloading bulk cargo at Sargent’s Wharf. The Cambridge Park Commission has moved the Cambridge Casino from the foot of Hawthorn Street to the flats near DeWolfe Street, where it was burned by arsonists. Harvard moved its boathouses downstream below Winthrop’s Wharf in the 1870s to escape the city’s sewer outfall at the foot of Dunster Street.

This photo was taken in 1897, soon after Barges 201 and 202 brought cargoes of coal from Edgewater, N.J. A year later both vessels were sent to the Great Lakes via the St. Lawrence River and the Welland Canal. The last whaleback on the Great Lakes was taken out of service in 1969 and is preserved at Superior, Wisconsin.

Sources:

C. Roger. Pellett, Whaleback Ships and the American Steel Barge Company (Wayne State
University Press, 2018)

Susan E. Maycock and Charles M. Sullivan, Building Old Cambridge: Architecture and
Development
(MIT Press, 2016)

Boston Globe, Boston Post, Cambridge Chronicle, and Cambridge Tribune

 

Focus On: CHC Volunteers

October might be almost over, but it’s still American Archives Month — and in celebration of all things archive-y, we will be highlighting some of our fabulous archives volunteers. This week we would like you to meet Kathleen Fox.

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Kathleen organizing correspondence from the Ellis and Andrews Real Estate Collection

Kathleen began volunteering at the Historical Commission in October 2017, and says she is “driven by curiosity.”  We asked Kathleen a few questions to learn more about her volunteer work, and her life outside of the Historical Commission.

What collections have you worked on at the Commission? Tell us about them.

I began with processing a very large collection of maps and plans in the E.F. Bowker Collection, creating a spreadsheet listing each map or plan, the streets it pertained to, the owner, the surveyor, the date, etc.   Bowker was a mainstream and very successful civil engineer/surveyor in Cambridge. This was interesting work because of the light it shed on real estate development in the city, and because it was the first collection I had processed.

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Plan of St. Mary’s Parochial School, E.F. Bowker Collection

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Bow and Arrow Streets, E.F. Bowker Collection

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What is your academic and career background?

I received my B.F.A. in 1967, and went to work  as a secretary in the Mabel Brady Garvan Collection of American Art at the Yale University Art Gallery. After two years in New Haven I moved to Boston where I worked briefly for an architecture firm, and then as an administrative assistant in the Department of Humanities at MIT. Following that, after two years at a private research commission I spent the remainder of my working life at the Harvard School of Government (1980-2009), ending up as Assistant Dean for Teaching Support.

At the same time as I was working in academe I was a practicing artist, and taught watercolor painting at Brookline Adult Education. In about 1970 I was co-founder of an art studio in Boston next to Symphony Hall – – the Kaji Aso Studio. The studio gave classes in watercolor and oil painting, calligraphy and ceramics. It also had a poetry program and a music program. The Studio continues to this day. I drifted away in the mid-80’s , but continued my work as an artist while I worked in academe to support myself.

Somewhere along the line in the late 1990s I drifted once again – this time away from making art as I got more and more interested in history.

Do you volunteer anywhere else?

I volunteer in the Historical Collections at the Mount Auburn Cemetery and also at the Massachusetts Historical Society. I do whatever needs doing – – mostly background research and elementary preservation work.

What do you like to do in your free time?

After researching the history of my own 1893 house I got interested in researching the history of equally old houses on my block in Arlington.  This haphazardly expanded – – and now people commission me to research the history of their homes.  I am now working on my 29th history . Most have been in Arlington, but I have done two in Cambridge and a couple in surrounding suburbs. In the spring and summer I am also in the garden as much as possible.

What is the best (or your favorite) thing you’ve found in an archive?

At the CHC right now I am processing the papers from the real estate firm of Ellis and Andrews [old finding aid here; new one in progress]. The collection spans the period from c. 1893 to c. 1935.  These real estate transactions provide a very interesting and enlightening view of the cultural and financial values of the time, not to mention the growth of the city of Cambridge in the late 19th and early 20th century . This and the Bowker collection together have completely changed the way I view the cityscape as I walk around Cambridge.

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Correspondence to Mr. Melledge, Ellis and Andrews Collection

At the Massachusetts Historical Society there have been many memorable moments – – finding a flyer for a slave auction, listing the slaves by name;  holding a book printed in 1504 (the oldest thing I have ever held); and a letter from a local Massachusetts businessman to President James Garfield offering to send him the water bed he had developed for good health – – in 1881!! At Mount Auburn there have been more interesting finds than I could possibly list.

Thank you, Kathleen!

Stayed tuned for another installment of our Focus On: CHC Volunteers series.

Newly-Digitized Images – Lois M. Bowen Collection

We are happy to announce the addition of 28 images to our CHC Flickr account. These images come from the Lois M. Bowen Collection. Bowen was a Cambridge-based photographer and entrepreneur who owned a camera shop, Cambridge Camera and Marine, in Harvard Square from the 1940s to 1995.

Kodak film cannister owned by Lois M. Bowen

Kodak film cannister owned by Lois M. Bowen, ca 1960s

Ms. Bowen was a freelance photographer for several organizations and publications around Cambridge and Boston, including The Architects’ Collaborative and Architectural Forum Magazine, as well as advertising agencies and admissions publications for colleges and universities.

Cover: "Architectural Forum: The Magazine of Building"

Cover: “Architectural Forum: The Magazine of Building”, June 1964

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Pages from “Architectural Forum: The Magazine of Building” featuring the work of Lois M. Bowen, June 1964

Bowen’s work was primarily focused on architecture, but her photographic subjects spanned the Northeast and included documentation of her own life and community.

View of Faneuil Hall Marketplace, Boston

View of Faneuil Hall Marketplace, Boston, 4 September 1978

Contact sheet: images of Strawberry Banke

Contact sheet: images of Strawberry Banke, October 1966

In addition to the photographic materials there are business papers and documents as well as personal correspondence and ephemera.

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Interior view of Cambridge Camera and Marine, ca. 1960s

Interior View: 14 Old Dee Road

Interior View: 14 Old Dee Road in Cambridge, ca. 1960s

Visit our Flickr page to view these images and more from this collection.

Event: Cambridgeport Walking Tour

On Saturday October 27th at 1:30pm, the Cambridgeport Neighborhood Association will lead a walking tour of the 12 religious buildings nestled into the neighborhood of Cambridgeport. The tour will meet at the intersection of Magazine Street and Green Street (at the area in front of the First Baptist Church) at 1:30pm and proceed from there, lasting about 2 hours. The event is co-sponsored by the Cambridge Historical Commission and the Cambridge Peace Commission, as well as C-port’s own Gallery 263.

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The tour will end at the gallery (263 Pearl St, Cambridge MA) for some refreshments and an exhibition of architectural drawings of these buildings. During the tour, we will have the privilege of going inside some of these buildings, and we will be joined by representatives from several of the churches along the way. For questions about accessibility or to request accommodations please contact GABE@MIT.EDU

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Building and Structure Documentation Collection: 55 Wheeler Street

Today, we are highlighting a building from our recently opened Building and Structure Documentation Collection. This collection documents buildings and structures in Cambridge that were either demolished or significantly altered. In this case the materials were compiled as a condition of approval by the Cambridge Planning Board for a proposed replacement project.

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55 Wheeler Street: interior view of reception area

For each building or structure, the corresponding box often includes an architectural description of the building or buildings, a narrative history, and archival photographs, negatives, photograph key(s), and/or electronic copies of the files and photographs.

Documented structures in this collection include buildings from the former Boston Woven Hose & Rubber Company, and the Fogg Museum from the Harvard Art Museum Restoration and Expansion Project. Today we are featuring the documentation of the Abt Associates office complex at 55 Wheeler Street.

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55 Wheeler Street: exterior facade

The Abt Associates Office Complex, much of which is less than 50 years old as of 2018, is located at 55 Wheeler Street, Cambridge, Mass. Abt Associates – which relocated to other offices in Cambridge in 2017 – is “a consulting firm that specializes in combining social sciences, computer forecasting, operations analysis and systems engineering to address technological advances and social change.” (Historical Narrative, Westbrook Properties Documentation). The firm grew rapidly in the 1960s and ‘70s, and the complex was repeatedly enlarged to enclose a series of beautifully landscaped quadrangles; almost every occupant enjoyed an exterior view.

The internationally renowned architect and urban planner Imre Halasz (1925-2003) was one of the most important designers associated with the complex. Halasz came to the US from Hungary in 1957 and taught at MIT’s School of Architecture and Planning for forty years. His firm, Imre & Anthony Halasz Inc., operated from 1957 to 1991. Halasz was also responsible for the master plan of the NASA Electronics Research Center (later the Volpe National Transportation Systems Center) in Kendall Square.

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55 Wheeler Street: courtyard view

Abt Associates was formed in Cambridge in 1965 by Dr. Clark C. Abt. The company’s Cambridge location is significant for its associations with an “iconic social sciences research and consulting firm that was forward-thinking for its time, providing child care, a restaurant and recreational facilities for employees.” (Memo, Liza Paden, June 28, 2017).

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55 Wheeler Street: pool, looking southwest

Look for more building and structure documentation in future posts!

Archives 101: This Wednesday 10/10

Celebrate American Archives Month with us at the Historical Commission!

This month we are offering a special tour of our archives, featuring an in-depth look at some of our many historical resources.

Join us this Wednesday, October 10 at 1 pm, OR Monday, October 22 at 6pm. Email egonzalez at cambridgema dot gov to reserve a spot. Tours will run around an hour.


Attendees of the tour will:

  • Get a behind-the-scenes look at the Commission’s archives and library space
  • Get an up-close look at a variety of historical resources, including: atlases, survey files, city directories, historic photographs, postcards, objects, and architectural drawings.
  • Learn how to research their house, building, or organization using the Commission’s files.
  • Receive helpful tips on preserving and caring for their own family papers and photographs.

 

WWII Ration Books

We have recently added a set of WWII ration books to our collection. These books belonged to a Jewish family who lived at 20 Worcester Street, Cambridge, in 1942.

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Hyman Yale Brown was born in Boston on November 2, 1905. Hyman was working as a clerk in Boston when he married Rose Shapiro of Cambridge on August 17, 1930. Rose was born on June 28, 1907. Both were graduates in the Class of 1928 from Northeastern University and received bachelor degrees in law that year.

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War Ration Book One issued to Hyman Brown on 4 May 1942.

During his lifetime, Hyman was a member of the Beth Israel Brotherhood, a District Warden in the civilian defense City Public Safety Program, and aided in the campaign of Republican candidate for Congress, Vincent Mottola. The Browns were devoted members of the former Beth Israel Synagogue at 238 Columbia Street.

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War Ration Book One issued to Edward Mordecai Brown on 4 May 1942.

At the time of their marriage, Rose was a lawyer in Cambridge, and following the ceremony and a camping trip honeymoon, the newlyweds moved in with Rose’s parents at 20 Worcester Street in Cambridgeport. They later had two sons: David in 1932, and Edward in 1937. The couple was living at the Worcester Street address when they and their two sons were issued ration books in 1942.

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War Ration Book Four issued to Rose S. Brown ca. 1942

During World War II, each American was issued a set of ration books. All family members, even children, possessed ration books and a customer would not be able to purchase specific rationed goods without also surrendering a ration stamp.

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Pages and stamps from War Ration Book Four issued to Rose S. Brown ca. 1942

Each ration book held stamps that could be exchanged at a local grocer for rationed items such as coffee, sugar, grains, meat, and canned goods. These small booklets were designed to cut down on profiteering as a result of import restrictions and goods shortages. The program’s goal was to distribute goods evenly among those on the Home Front while maintaining supply for military overseas.

If you are interested in studying these ration books or have other research inquiries, please contact our Archivist, Emily Gonzalez, at egonzalez@cambridgema.gov.

New Collections Available!

We are happy to announce that we have recently processed and updated finding aids from several collections in our holdings. Scroll down for descriptions and sample images from the following collections: Patsy Baudoin Collection of Cambridge Prints and Photographs, Edwin Freeman Bowker Collection, Honors and Awards Collection, Alan McClennen Senior Collection, Cambridge Militia Records, City of Cambridge Veterans’ Graves Registration Cards Inventory, and William Lawrence Galvin Collection.


Patsy Baudoin Collection of Cambridge Prints and Photographs

This collection, sometimes known as an artificial collection, consists of photographs, drawings, and prints of historical houses and locations in Cambridge.  Also included are several page clippings from various books including the Historic Guide to Cambridge, Ever New England, and other area guides to historic houses.

Johnston Gate, Harvard Yard

One (1) pencil sketch: Johnston Gate, Harvard Yard by W. Harry Smith (Artist)

Most of the houses depicted in the prints were built pre-Revolutionary War, from 1660-1763, and have a long history of famous residents, including Margaret Fuller, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and John White Webster.  Additionally, many of the houses are listed as National Historic Landmarks including the seven houses that make up “Tory Row” on Brattle Street.

Longfellow in his Study

Longfellow in his study ca. 1870-1880. Photographer unknown.

Click here to view the finding aid for this collection.

Edwin Freeman Bowker Collection

This collection is composed of five boxes and two flat files containing Edwin F. Bowker’s professional correspondence as a civil engineer and surveyor. Included are surveyor’s notes and records, draft sketches, manual calculations, notes on markers, drawings, plans, transcripts regarding property boundaries from deeds, and correspondence from mid-1886 through 1919.

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Documents related to property at Hasting and Monson Streets, 1920

Click here to view the finding aid for this collection.

Honors and Awards Collection

This collection contains certificates honoring the Cambridge Historical Commission and various Cambridge businesses and organizations for their service to the built environment of this community.

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Plaque and pencil sketch for the City of Cambridge Ruth L. Barron Award for Outstanding Community Service, 2014.

Click here to view the finding aid for this collection.

Alan McClennen Senior Collection

Included in this collection are maps, development studies, town reports, and traffic studies for the City of Cambridge with the bulk of the materials dating from the 1950s to the 1970s. Alan McClennen served as the Planning Director for the City of Cambridge from 1958 until 1968. Researchers interested in viewing the Alan McClennen Senior Collection will be engaged by topics on community development in the City of Cambridge during the mid-twentieth century. We would like to give a special thanks to volunteer Steve Kaiser, for to his contribution to the spreadsheet and box list for this collection.

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Booklet for Alewife Brook Park created by AD Little/Cambridge Corporation, 1968

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Memo on Railroad Grade Separations by the Cambridge Planning Board, 5 December 1950

Click here to view the finding aid for this collection.

Cambridge Militia Records

This collection contains nine record books detailing militia records for the City of Cambridge for the years 1846-1886. Each book contains lists of names recording those enrolled in the Cambridge Militia. At times these lists are accompanied by marginal notes.

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Militia roll: 1877 (“Ward Two Book”)

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Cambridge Militia Ledger: 1846-1859

Click here to view the finding aid for this collection.

City of Cambridge Veterans’ Graves Registration Cards Inventory

This collection contains veterans’ graves registration cards, filed in alphabetical order, for graves in various cemeteries in Cambridge. A majority of the graves are registered at Mount Auburn Cemetery and Cambridge Cemetery, but also include others, such as the North Cambridge Catholic Cemetery and Belmont Town Cemetery.

Click here to view the finding aid for this collection.

William Lawrence Galvin Collection

The collection contains print and photographic materials of William L. Galvin’s professional records and architectural drawings. This collection consists of correspondence, writing, articles, government records, photographs and drawings that depict Galvin’s professional career. The core of the collection consists of drawings for over 1,000 architectural projects, of which about 530 projects in Cambridge have been cataloged.

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Proposed Dormitory – Social and Recreational Center, Lesley College, undated

For the first time, indexes to photographs in the Galvin collection as well as rolled items not related to Cambridge are available. Follow the links above to view PDFs of these lists.

Over a 50-year career, 1927-1979, Galvin made a significant impact on the landscape of Cambridge through his numerous projects and constant support for progressive land use to fit a modernizing Cambridge community. This collection provides valuable insight into Galvin’s personality and professional work that has left a lasting mark on the landscape of the City of Cambridge.

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Drawing of Shea Cleaning Plant and Showroom, undated

Click here to view the finding aid for this collection.

To view the above collections, please make an appointment with our archivist, Emily, at egonzalez@cambridgema.gov. Our research hours are: Monday: 4:00-7:00 pm | Tuesday: 2:00-4:00 pm | Wednesday – Thursday: 10-12 and 2-4 pm.

Stay tuned for more updates as we continue to process collections and make them available for research!