The Dogs of Mount Auburn Cemetery

Mount Auburn Cemetery, the first rural cemetery in the United States, is credited as the beginning of the American public parks and gardens movement. Dedicated in 1831 and marked with classical monuments in a rolling landscaped terrain, Mount Auburn Cemetery marked a distinct break with Colonial-era burying grounds and church-affiliated graveyards. The appearance of this type of landscape coincides with the rising popularity of the term “cemetery,” derived from the Greek word for “a sleeping place,” instead of graveyard. The cemetery, shared by Cambridge and Watertown, has evolved greatly in its nearly 200 years but remains one of the most picturesque landscapes in the country.

General view of Mount Auburn Cemetery with monuments, gravestones, and rolling topography.

When strolling Mount Auburn Cemetery, some monuments and funerary art stand out more than others. Attentive visitors may notice numerous sculptures of dogs that seem to watch over their owner’s graves; a contrast to the fact that dogs, living or deceased, are not allowed onto the cemetery’s grounds. These types of sculpture are known as psychopomps whose primary function is to escort souls to the afterlife. Historically, dogs have symbolized guidance, protection, loyalty, and unconditional love, all important roles for a psychopomp.

Here, we will give a brief history of some of the dogs found in Mount Auburn Cemetery.

Perkins Monument Dog

The Perkins Family Tomb, on Central Avenue at Mount Auburn Cemetery, is guarded by this marble dog. The monument commemorates Thomas Handasyd Perkins (1764-1854), “the Merchant Prince” of the China trade. In 1843 Perkins visited the Italian studio of Horatio Greenough (1805-1852), considered America’s first professional sculptor and one of the first to receive a national commission, and commissioned him to carve Perkins’s Newfoundland dog in Florentine marble. The dog seems to have been installed at the family tomb at Mount Auburn a year later. As a young man Thomas Perkins was a slave trader in Haiti, a maritime fur trader who transported furs from the American Northwest for trade in China, and then a major smuggler of Turkish opium into China. Perkins invested in textiles and granite quarries. Among his many philanthropic works, he gave his Boston residence to the Massachusetts Asylum for the Blind, which was renamed the Perkins School for the Blind in his honor. Today, however, we can contextualize the multiple layers of Perkins’s life story, including an examination of how he acquired his wealth. Perkins was originally interred at St. Paul’s Cathedral in Boston; he was removed to the family tomb at Mount Auburn in 1914.

Harnden English Mastiff

Further along Central Avenue, this English mastiff is sheltered from the elements by a Neoclassical monument. This marble watchdog remains in excellent condition, his gaze as vigilant as ever and the sharpness of his claws and loose skin folds still remarkably intact. William Frederick Harnden (1812-1845) was the founder of Harnden and Company, one of the first independent express shipping companies in the United States. Harnden died of consumption (tuberculosis) in January 1845 and was buried next to his 10-month-old daughter, Sarah, who had died three years prior. In 1866 the Express Companies of America erected this monument in Harnden’s memory, replacing his original, plainer marker. The corporation hired Boston sculptor Thomas A. Carew to carve the English mastiff as a symbol of fidelity and security on the journey into the afterlife.

Full view of Harnden Monument.

Wingate Whippet

Located on Olive Path, this sculpture of a whippet is a small decorative element at the rear of the Wingate family plot. The dog lies in a crate-like enclosure, measuring 32″ wide x 16″ high x 18″ deep, which was originally made of glass and bronze and has since been replaced with plexiglass that has become somewhat opaque. The sculpture, which dates to 1866, includes a base inscribed “Their Favorite.” This diminutive whippet protects the graves of Abbott P. and William A. Wingate, Jr. (“Willie”), both of whom died in 1865 at ages 20 and 18, respectively (it is believed that they died in the Civil War). Sculptor Martin Milmore is best known for two prominent local memorials to the Civil War dead: the gigantic Sphinx (1873) facing the Bigelow Chapel at Mount Auburn Cemetery and the Soldiers and Sailors Monument on Boston Common (1877).

Richardson Dog

On Oak Avenue at Mount Auburn, the Richardson Dog serves as a psychopomp to William Taylor Richardson, Jr. (1846-1864), an infantryman in the Massachusetts 33rd Regiment during the Civil War. It is unclear in which battle Richardson died, but over the course of the war his regiment lost 104 enlisted men killed and mortally wounded and 77 enlisted men by disease. Young Richardson was was only 18 years old when he was laid to rest at Mount Auburn Cemetery. His parents commissioned Alexander McDonald, who operated a monument works on Mt. Auburn Street, to carve the dog for his grave.

Francis Calley Gray English Setter

Tucked away on Hemlock Path, you will find this mournful English Setter resting atop a granite slab. The memorial marks the tomb of Francis Calley Gray (1790-1856), who served as private secretary to John Quincy Adams and later became a philanthropist, legislator, art collector, and one of the earliest proprietors of the Mount Auburn Cemetery. His vast collection of early engravings and prints made him America’s first great print collector. In 1837 Gray visited Rome, where he met Joseph Gott (1786-1860), a sculptor who specialized in life-like animal and human sculptures; Gray soon commissioned Gott to carve an English Setter in marble. The sculpture was originally intended for placement at Mount Auburn in an unknown location. However, in 1849 Gray gave the sculpture to his friend and fellow art collector William Appleton. Following Gray’s death in December 1856, Appleton had the dog placed on Gray’s grave at Mount Auburn. The setter appears to be in grief, with its head resting on its front leg and eyes open.

Mary Prentiss Saunders Dog

On Larch Avenue in Mount Auburn Cemetery, the smallest of all the funerary psychopomps can be found in the Saunders Family Plot. The dog serves as a guide to little Mary Prentiss Saunders (1843-1849), who died at just 6 years old. Mary was the daughter of William Saunders and Mary Prentiss; she was their first child, born two years after they married. As a wedding gift, William’s father, a housewright, built the couple a stunning Greek Revival house on Massachusetts Avenue. The house was later moved to Prentiss Street and is now known as the Mary Prentiss Inn.

Cambridgeport Burial Ground (now Sennott Park)

This text was adapted from our Instagram post on 10/14/2020.

Did you know that Sennott Park (Broadway and Norfolk Street) is located on the site of the former Cambridgeport Burial Ground? This has also been referred to as the Broadway Cemetery and Ward II Burial Ground.

Sennott Park

The burial ground was active from 1811/1812 to about 1865. At the time of the its establishment, Cambridgeport was being settled as a district of the city, with the hope of eventually incorporating as a separate city (!). With this in mind, Cambridgeport citizens laid out a town center between Norfolk and Columbia streets, with the burial ground adjacent. 

In 1846, the superintendent of the grounds, Daniel Stone, reported that since its opening there had been an estimated 2500-2600 burials and 30 tombs that were taken up by two or more families. The burial ground was discontinued after 1865, and the graves were excavated and the remains transferred to the present Cambridge Cemetery or to another cemetery selected by the family of the deceased. 

By the 1870s, the area had been landscaped as a public square and renamed Broadway Park. It was re-landscaped in 1894 by the Olmsted firm, and renamed Edward J. Sennott Park in 1939 after a late City Councillor.

Burial Ground Lot, Ward II – Park plans, 1868

The park was redesigned in 1969 as part of the Model Cities program and again in the early 1970s. It remains a highly active public park, and the City has plans to make repairs and modest improvements to the park beginning in spring 2021 (according to their last website update).

The Cambridge Historical Commission has two original plot maps of the burial ground from the Engineering Department, shown below.

The image above is a plot plan for the “Strangers’ Lot,” so-called because this large lot in the northwest corner of the grounds was “reserved for the burial of paupers and strangers” (Lucius Paige, History of Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1630-1877). Superintendent Stone reported that the lot had been buried over “and commenced the second time” by 1846. Stone also wrote that during a Strangers’ Lot burial in 1826, diggers came upon “an ancient Indian fireplace… . That part of town being, according to appearance, formerly a great place for Indian resort.”

The second image, above, is dated 1902 and depicts the then-remaining plots in the “Central Passage” of the burial ground.

You will see names crossed off in both of these plot maps. We speculate that this was done as remains were transferred to other cemeteries in the years after 1865; the same may have happened after the second redesign in 1894. 

Cambridge Chronicle, May 7, 1970

It seems that not enough care was taken during the initial process of transferring remains–over the years headstones have been found in house foundations around the neighborhood, and in 1970 fragmentary human remains were discovered at the site of a playground under construction on the park.

For information on other cemeteries in Cambridge, including research on the Old Burying Ground in Harvard Square, check out an earlier post here.

The 1918-1919 Flu Epidemic Comes Home

 The United States entered the Great War on April 6, 1917. Thousands of Americans were trained and sent overseas, where they mixed with military personnel and civilians from Europe, Africa, and western Asia, creating an ideal environment for the spread of influenza. The first wave of the epidemic struck Europe in the spring of 1918. Demobilized servicemen carried the disease back to Boston, where the deadly second wave began in early September.

Hundreds of sailors in training at the Navy’s Harvard Radio School were billeted in college halls and in temporary barracks on Cambridge Common; they mingled freely with locals and went on day trips to nearby tourist spots. On September 8, alarmed by the high number of cases, Navy medical personnel placed the school under a 10-day quarantine. By then the epidemic had spread into civilian Cambridge.

Young sailors, students at the navy’s radio training school, lounge by the barracks on Cambridge Common and admire the statue of John Bridge. At right is the Harvard Epworth Methodist Episcopal Church on Massachusetts Avenue.

Mayor Edward Quinn vowed to turn the city into a “disease fighting machine.” City schools were closed–“some 3,400 students were reported ill … nearly a quarter of the total enrollment” (Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the 1918-1919 Influenza Epidemic, http://www.influenzaarchive/org). Church services and lodge meetings were banned and soda fountains, ice cream parlors, pool rooms, bowling alleys, billiard halls, and public auction rooms shuttered. Everyone wore masks.

Mayor Edward Quinn responded swiftly and with determination to protect Cambridge citizens from the epidemic.

There was a city-wide shortage of doctors, nurses, and hospital beds; cases multiplied too quickly to count. District and Visiting Nurses were dispatched wherever needed; residents “offered their automobiles and services as operators to get them about. During the next five weeks, from September 25, [the nurses] made 2,527 calls.”

A masked squad of Visiting Nurses gather in front of their headquarters at
35 Bigelow Street. The Cambridge VNA was established in 1904.

On September 27, the Board of Health declared a public emergency, which enabled them to commandeer the Merrill School and convert it, room by room, into an emergency hospital for the seriously ill. Initially, no “nurses or doctors could be found in the usual way and we had to depend on volunteers. It is greatly to the credit of many married women who had been trained in hospital, and to the schoolteachers unoccupied … who cheerfully volunteered their services [and] gave up their homes to assist in this emergency. Others who could not do nursing volunteered for other duty [such as clerks, organizers, and supply managers] and the firemen also gave their days off to assist as the hospital.”

Merrill Elementary School at 2 Fayette Street (present site of the Longfellow School).

By early October every classroom was in use and every bed (more than 105) occupied. The Massachusetts State Guard erected a dozen tents in the school yard, and influenza patients who had developed pneumonia were moved there.

The Red Cross supplied beds, linens, towels, and surgical aprons and donated “all food which may be needed for patients and nurses and again all medicines and drugs.” Navy physicians served with doctors from other parts of the country that had been dispatched to Cambridge by the state health department.

Cambridge citizens rallied, including Mr. J. Frank Facey, chair of the Committee on Public Safety, who neglected his own printing business to arrange transport for people and supplies, including food stuffs. The Cambridge Neighborhood House on Moore Street became a food distribution center, and Alice Moore, the head worker, supplied soups wherever needed.

The well-known Cambridge businessman, Mr. J. Frank Facey.

By mid-October, the peak of the epidemic had passed. The city lifted the ban on meetings and allowed shops to reopen. The outdoor camp at Merrill was dismantled, although the hospital remained open until November 6. Schools resumed on October 28. From October 4 through the end of 1918, 3,014 cases of influenza were reported; by the end of February 1919, Cambridge had lost 688 residents to influenza and to flu complicated by pneumonia.

On November 11, 1918, the Great War came to an end, and Cambridge celebrated.

Wild and Hilarious Scenes Enacted on Monday on Receipt of News of the Signing of the Armistice

Charles Follen McKim and the Radcliffe Gymnasium

Happy Birthday to Charles Follen McKim, who was born on August 24, 1847, in rural Pennsylvania to James M. McKim, a Presbyterian minister and fervent abolitionist, and Sarah Speakman McKim, a Quaker. After attending public schools in New Jersey and Philadelphia for three years, McKim entered Harvard’s Scientific School in 1866, dropping out within a year. Soon after he entered the École des Beaux Arts where he studied architecture and design for three years, from 1867 to 1870, becoming enamored of the Classical architecture of Europe. On his return to America, McKim began working in the architectural office of Gambrill and Richardson in New York City. Here McKim was shaped by the architectural giant Henry Hobson Richardson for two years before opening his own office in New York. His friend William Rutherford Mead soon joined him; they were joined by Stanford White in 1879 to form McKim, Mead & White.

Charles Follen McKim, photo dated 1890. Library of Congress collections

The firm got its start designing large summer estates in Newport and the Berkshires for wealthy families and gained national recognition for their designs. McKim became known as an exponent of Beaux-Arts architecture applied to styles of the American Renaissance, employing Classical and Colonial motifs inspired by both his studies in Europe and excursions in New England. One of his most iconic designs is the Boston Public Library’s McKim Building (1895) on Boylston Street that drew heavily from the Sainte-Geneviève Library in Paris, where McKim likely spent much time studying architecture.

Although McKim only spent one year at Harvard, he was always considered a “Harvard Man.” Almost all buildings at Harvard during the 19th-century were underwritten by donors who selected their own architects with limited input from the Harvard president; two such McKim projects were the School of Architecture Building, Robinson Hall (1900), and the Harvard Union (1901). President Charles Eliot hired McKim to design his most important commission at Harvard, Johnson Gate. He was later commissioned to design many memorial gates and walls enclosing Harvard Yard. McKim selected coarse rejects and glazed headers from a local brickyard to emulate colonial-era masonry, directly contradicting the contemporary preference for perfectly finished, evenly toned brick surfaces. Almost every brick building Harvard put up thereafter, right through the 1980s, used these bricks, which the New England Brick Co. marketed nationally as Harvard Brick (Building Old Cambridge, pp. 774-775).

1904 image of Harriet Hemenway Gymnasium, Detroit Publishing Co. photograph

Before McKim was hired to design any Harvard buildings, he had been commissioned by Radcliffe College, a women’s college, to design a gymnasium for their new Radcliffe Yard between Brattle and Garden streets. Harriet Hemenway, the founder of the Massachusetts Audubon Society, donated roughly $50,000 to Radcliffe for the project, perhaps inspired by her husband’s gift to Harvard in 1878 for their all-men’s gymnasium (since demolished).

Detail of central pavilion of Radcliffe Gymnasium. Featured in BrickBuilder 1901.

The three-story brick building adjacent to Fay House opened in 1898 and presented a Colonial style of architecture desired by Radcliffe. The symmetrical gymnasium building features a slate roof topped by an ornate cupola. At the central bay, the main entrance is framed by a portico supported by four Tuscan columns with a balcony with balustrade above. At the third floor gable, a massive fanlight is framed by a brick arch with Georgia marble accents.

The interior featured a basement level swimming pool and practical and utilitarian spaces such as locker rooms, bathrooms and a director’s office on the ground floor.

Gymnasium basement pool unfilled, ca. 1910. Image courtesy of Radcliffe Archives.

The gymnasium proper on the second floor features maple flooring with a suspended running track that frames the boundary of the room and is accessible by two flights of winding iron stairs. The track is just six feet wide and measures twenty-one laps to the mile. Its suspension by trusses allowed for open space on the gymnasium floor below.

Gymnasium at second floor, ca. 1910. Image courtesy of Radcliffe Archives.
Gymnasium at second floor on elevated track, ca. 1910. Image courtesy of Radcliffe Archives.

The Radcliffe Gymnasium was renovated in 2005 by the Radcliffe Institute, which hired Bruner/Cott to preserve many interior features for its new use as an auditorium space. The basement area, formerly the swimming pool, was converted into a climate-controlled archives storage facility. Elegant marble, salvaged from the swimming pool, has been reused as terrazzo flooring, signage, and exterior paving. Radcliffe received a Cambridge Historical Commission Historic Preservation Award in 2007 for the work. In 2013, the building was renamed the Knafel Center in honor of Sidney R. Knafel and in recognition of the center’s increasing role in the promotion of intellectual exchange across Harvard and with the public.

Gymnasium interior after renovation by Bruner/Cott.
Gymnasium interior from elevated track after renovation by Bruner/Cott.

Harvard Botanic Garden – A Lost Landscape

Harvard Botanic Garden in 1873 atlas showing arrangement of walkways and buildings. (Atlas of the City of Cambridge, G.M. Hopkins & Co., Philadelphia, PA, 1873)

From the early 1800s to the 1940s a botanical garden occupied 7 acres at the corner of Linnaean and Garden streets. Now the site of an apartment complex aptly named Botanic Gardens, Harvard Botanic Garden was one of the earliest botanical gardens in the United States comprising plants from around the world as well as indigenous trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants that were considered “worthy of attention, as being useful in domestic economy, in the arts, or in medicine.” [1] It is also associated with Asa Gray (1810-1888), a prominent botanist, educator, and writer known for his work to help unify the taxonomic knowledge of plants in North America.

View of American persimmon tree (Diospyrus virginiana). (CHC staff)

The only remaining evidence of the botanic garden landscape are several specimen trees including, among others, ginkgo (Gingko biloba), American persimmon (Diospyrus virginiana), amur cork tree (Philodendron Amurense), tea crabapple (Malus hupehensis), and pagoda tree (Styphnolobium japonicum). The history of Harvard Botanic Garden is complex and associated with numerous individuals who have contributed to the science of botany. This post offers a glimpse into the history of the landscape itself that was not only a center of academic study and research but also a popular public green space.

An early conceptual layout designating areas for plant displays, greenhouses, cold frames, hot house, areas for trees and shrubs, and housing. (Harvard University Archives)

The layout of the garden was conceived by Gabriel Thouin, a landscape designer and gardener at the Jardins des Plantes in Paris. William Dandridge Peck, the first professor of natural history at Harvard and charged with starting the botanical garden, met with Thouin on his tour of Europe’s gardens. The resulting scheme consisted of concentric planting beds radiating out from a central pool. The design was later modified to work with the site’s topography, creating formal display beds in the southern portion and locating utilitarian functions to the north, with buildings and greenhouses situated on a terrace overlooking the garden. Peck supervised the construction of the garden and oversaw its management until his untimely death in 1822. Thomas Nuttall, an English naturalist and explorer, then served as curator until 1834 when he resigned to go on an expedition along the Oregon Trail.

In 1842, Asa Gray was appointed the Fisher Professorship of Natural History chair and oversaw the botanic garden. Gray appealed to his American colleagues to send him seeds and specimens from all over North America to grow at the garden and exchange them with European botanists. During his tenure, a new greenhouse and conservatory were constructed as well as a building to house the herbarium he was organizing. In 1871, Gray inaugurated the first Harvard Summer School course with instruction in botany in order to take advantage of the climate to study plants outside. Summer classes in natural history, chemistry, and geology soon followed, and continue today.

View of central pool and display beds from the main walkway below the terrace in 1874. To the right, a wood stockade fence enclosed the property. (Harvard University Archives,

Gray retired in 1872 from teaching and managing the botanic garden to focus on his work at the herbarium. That same year the culture of woody plants was transferred to the newly established Arnold Arboretum in Jamaica Plain. Harvard appointed Charles Sprague Sargent, a botanist and graduate of Harvard, as Director of both the botanic garden and the arboretum. At the botanic garden he continued specimen exchanges, overseeing the garden’s upkeep, and providing plants for the botany classes. In 1876, due to the limited amount of space, Sargent received approval from the College to plant a small arboretum on the grounds around the Harvard Observatory, located across Garden Street, featuring a representative collection of mostly North American species. Sargent still planted specimen trees within the garden to test their hardiness such as American beech (Fagus grandifolia), European beech (Fagus sylvatica), tulip (Liriodendron sp.), cucumber tree (Magnolia acuminata), black walnut (Juglans nigra), butternut (Juglans cinereal), cork elm (Ulmus thomasii), and a variety of maple trees. He also oversaw the installation of a large collection of ferns in the western portion of the site.

As new plants were being introduced into the garden, duplicate trees and shrubs were removed to make more room available. Existing plots were cleared, graded, and laid out in a series of long and narrow beds lined with grass paths. Labeled plantings were organized in botanical order according to a prescribed plan. The ground under the shade of large trees was used for rockeries for spring plants that would bloom before the trees were fully leaved and created too much shade. There were two small ponds for the cultivation of aquatics, and a spring at the corner of Linnaean and Garden Street served as a drinking fountain and provided moisture to a bog garden beside it.

Although the garden was primarily devoted to scientific plant displays, exhibits were created to appeal to the general public, including one display featuring plants referenced in Shakespeare’s works. Other beds displayed native plants that flourished during the time of Harvard’s founding, and another bed featured plants mentioned in poems by Virgil.

George Goodale, who succeeded Sargent in 1879, created an exhibit of economic plants, such as those utilized for textiles, dyes, tanning materials, and drugs. Additional trees were distributed throughout the grounds at this time including Austrian pine (Pinus nigra), tulip (Liriodendron tulipifera), American beech (Fagus grandifolia), and yellowwood (Cladrastis kentukea).

Site plan of both the botanic garden and observatory prepared in1888 from surveys by Harvard engineering students. (Harvard University Archives)

Alterations in the garden in the early 1890s included filling in the large water lily pond near Raymond Street because the water level could no longer be maintained after the construction of a sewer. Some of the original greenhouses were also replaced with a new iron-frame greenhouse. Plants for botany classes at Radcliffe were now being cultivated at the garden, and Cambridge public schools were invited to use plants from the garden for their classes.

View of the Garden House from within the formal display area in 1893. (Harvard University Archives,

In the early 1900s, plant displays along the embankment below the terrace contained white arabis (Arabis caucasica), phlox (Phlox paniculata), English daisies (Bellis perennis), grape hyacinths (Muscari armeniacum), saxifrage (Saxafraga tridactylites), dog-tooth violets (Erythronium dens-canis), yellow daffodils (Narcissus), and a variety of tulips imported from Holland. Landscape architecture students were offered opportunities to gain practical experience by designing planting plans for discrete areas of the garden that were installed by garden staff. In 1910, the Garden House was sold and moved to 88 Garden Street.

In 1917, the border below the terrace was replanted to illustrate the Engler system of plant taxonomy for botany classes. During World War I, residents installed vegetable gardens under the guidance of the head gardener on land adjoining the botanic garden. A model vegetable garden was also installed on the grounds of the botanic garden near the greenhouses for residents to study and imitate.

In 1923, Stephen F. Hamblin, an assistant professor of landscape architecture and horticulture instructor at Harvard, was appointed Director of the garden. The university also formed a visiting committee to plan for the potential use of the garden as a testing ground for all hardy herbs suitable for culture in the region. The collection had 2,000 species, and the committee sought to increase the number to 6,000 and grow 1,000 annuals as well.

Hamblin wrote an article for Landscape Architecture Magazine with this plan illustrating existing and future plant displays. “THE PLAN FOR THE HARVARD UNIVERSITY BOTANIC GARDEN.” Landscape Architecture Magazine 14, no. 3 (1924): 180-85.

Hamblin proposed modifying the grounds utilizing existing trees and shrubs as a background for the herb plantings or provide shade to those in need of it. He also suggested planting annuals in the beds around the central lily pond, installing orchids and ferns in the shade of a large group of trees, planting lilies in a “wild garden” arrangement under tall trees, and placing irises in a long border below the terrace. Additional proposed elements included breeding of new varieties and hybrids of herbs, breeding hardy rose varieties, and planting of American wildflowers.

View of botanic garden with terrace overlooking display beds in the mid 1920s. A display of irises lined the walkway below the terrace. The Herbarium is at the right. (Harvard University Archives, HUA HUV 1200)

Unfortunately, Hamblin was not able to fully realize his ambitious plan. In 1929, Harvard’s administration decided that due to chronic inadequate funding, the botanic garden would cease to function as an ornamental horticulture display area and focus solely on scientific study. Harvard President A. Lawrence Lowell later announced that the management of the botanic garden would be transferred to the Botany Department and he named professor Robert H. Woodworth as Hamblin’s replacement. Hamblin went on to establish and oversee the Lexington Botanic Garden in Massachusetts. Plant collections deemed no longer relevant at the botanic garden were transferred to Lexington, including a rose collection with the understanding that should the Arnold Arboretum start to cultivate roses, cuttings would be provided. In addition, beds west of the herbarium containing the collection of the American Iris Society were cleared after specimens were taken by the Society or transferred to Lexington.

The continued lack of funds and gardening staff also resulted in neglected grounds that were no longer a desirable place to visit. Although the greenhouses were still used to provide plant material for classrooms and research, they were in such a state of disrepair that it was decided to remove them and transfer selected plant material to other facilities. Outdoor plants continued to be maintained for experimental plantings. Prior to demolition, a large shipment of living plants was shipped to the Atkins Institute in Cuba. Remaining plant material was transferred to greenhouses at Harvard’s Biological Laboratory and the Bussey Institution. Other stock was presented to the Massachusetts State College, the Boston Teachers College, Wellesley College, and Boston Parks Department.

In 1937, Harvard collaborated with the Herb Society of America to plant an herb garden on the site of the demolished greenhouse complex, highlighting plants adaptable to New England conditions. The garden staff would care for the collection, but development would be sponsored by the Society. Initially, an evergreen hedge was planted, and a brick retaining wall and paths were constructed. Fourteen planting beds were laid out, and a wrought iron armillary sphere[2] on a brick pedestal was placed in the center. Three benches, each flanked by four-foot rosemary bushes, were installed along with four large flowering trees. Beds were then filled with herbs donated by members of the New England Group of the Herb Society of America.

In 1945, the City of Cambridge considered acquiring the botanic garden site through imminent domain to construct temporary housing for returning veterans. In response, rare plant species were transferred to the Arnold Arboretum. The City did not follow through, but the Director of the garden at the time, Elmer Merrill, suggested that the property be sold or used by Harvard to develop a housing program. Harvard did not reach a decision until 1948, when the demand for housing became acute. The university proceeded to construct new residences on the botanic garden site for faculty as well as returning servicemen consisting of 117 single-family, duplex, and apartment units and was completed in 1949. Today, the landscape of the Botanic Gardens Apartments still features some wonderful and unusual mature specimen trees from its storied past.

View of one of the courtyards at Botanic Gardens Apartments with curving walkway perhaps a nod to the curving walkways and plant beds of the botanic garden. (CHC staff)
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Hints of the botanic garden landscape can still be found including some distinctive trees, left to right, umbrella pine, ginkgo, and dawn sequoia. (CHC staff)

[1] William Dandridge Peck, A Catalog of American and Foreign Plants Cultivated in the Botanic Garden, Cambridge, Massachusetts, (Cambridge, MA: Hilliard & Metcalf, 1818), introductory page.

[2] model of objects in the sky consisting of a spherical framework of rings, centered on Earth or the Sun, that represent lines of celestial longitude and latitude and other astronomically important features

For additional information, please see resources below:

“The Botanic Garden,” Cambridge Chronicle, Volume XI, Number 44, November 1, 1856.

“New Building at the Botanic Garden,” Cambridge Chronicle, April 2, 1864.

“Harvard Botanic Garden, A Beautiful Home of Floriculture Open to the Public,” Cambridge Chronicle, March 30, 1878.

Gamwell, Edward F. “The Harvard Botanical Garden,” Cambridge Chronicle, June 17, 1898.

“Harvard Botanic Garden,” Cambridge Chronicle, May 14, 1904.

Thomas, Richard. “Remember A Lost Garden.” Cambridge Chronicle, Volume 154, No. 47, September 27, 2000.

Goodale, George Lincoln. “The Botanic Garden at Cambridge.” The Harvard Register, Vol.1, no. 1, Cambridge, MA: Moses King, 1881.

Goodwin, Joan W. “A Kind of Botanic Mania.” Arnoldia, Vol. 56, n. 5, 1996-97, pp. 17-24.

Graustein, Jeannette E. “Natural History at Harvard College, 1788-1842.” Proceedings of the Cambridge Historical Society, Volume 38, 1959-1960.

Hamblin, Stephen F. “In Cause of Horticulture, Botanic Garden of Harvard Performs Valuable Public Service.” Parks and Recreation, Vol. VIII, No. 1, The Institute at Minot, SD: September – October, 1924.

Hamblin, Stephen F. “Plan for Harvard Botanic Garden.” Landscape Architecture Magazine, American Society of Landscape Architects, Vol. 14, No. 3, April 1924, pp. 180-185.

Hammond, Charles A. “The Botanic Garden in Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1805-1834.” The Herbarist, Volume 53 (1987), Concord, MA: The Herb Society of America.

Harvard University Catalog, 1903-1904. Cambridge, MA: published by the University.

Ingersoll, Ernest. “Harvard’s Botanic Gardens and Its Botanists.” Century City Magazine, Vol. XXXII, No. 2, June 1886.

Peck, William Dandridge. A Catalog of American and Foreign Plants Cultivated in the Botanic Garden, Cambridge Massachusetts. Cambridge, MA: Hilliard & Metcalfe for University Press, 1818.

Lifting up Cambridge Womxn’s History: Womxn Take the Streets

We are re-blogging this post from The Cambridge Room to share info about two upcoming webinars. Read on and sign up to learn about womxn’s history projects in Cambridge!

The Cambridge Room

Three ongoing projects are writing Cambridge womxn into our city’s narrative – join us to learn about the newly added & updated material!

Mapping Feminist Cambridge, Kimm Topping
Cambridge Black Trailblazers, Paula Paris & Jim Spencer
Cambridge Women’s Heritage Project, Joanna Shea O’Brien



Currently, only 7% of the people commemorated in Cambridge’s street names are women.

Join us for an intergenerational conversation on how to create more just and equitable public spaces in Cambridge; where the lives and voices of Cambridge womxn are uplifted and our streets, monuments, and memorials better reflect the rich diversity of our city.

Councillor E. Denise Simmons
Professor Catherine D’Ignazio, Director of the MIT Data + Feminism Lab
MIT and Harvard Urban Planning students, Clara Amenyo, Osamu Kumasaka, &…

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New Small Collection: Alice Darling Secretarial Service Inc. Ephemera

We have recently processed a collection from our holdings and added its finding aid to ArchivesSpace . Currently, the Historical Commission is offering limited research assistance. Please see our main webpage for the most up-to-date information.

We have digitized a significant portion of this collection, so that it is available from the safety of your home. The items are available for viewing on our Flickr page here. If you would like to research this or any other collections, please email us at


Alice Darling Secretarial Service letterhead. N.d.

Partial booklet of address labels

Partial booklet of address labels. N.d.

The Alice Darling Secretarial Service Inc. Ephemera collection contains records of the business activities supplied by the corporation from 1948 to 1991. The bulk of the items were created between 1948 and 1955 when the Alice Darling Secretarial Services changed management and expanded its Alice Darling Secretarial School. Present are textual records that reflect the legal status, certification process, job descriptions, and financial costs involved in providing the vocational service of clerical work. Also available are draft letterhead designs and other evidence of the products of contracted work for clients, including correspondence and marketing tools. Of particular interest are the correspondence and business transactions connected to members of the Shia sect of Islam, some of which are written in Arabic. Scroll down to learn more about the historical background of this collection.

The Alice Darling Secretarial Service Inc. was started in 1913 at 1384 Massachusetts Ave. in Harvard Square, Cambridge. The founder, Alice Darling, born Azniv Beshgeturian in Turkey in 1883, belonged to a prominent Armenian family of clerks, bishops, professors, and ministers. She was brought to America in 1885 and attended Boston public schools and Bridgewater State Normal School (now Bridgewater State University), where she graduated in 1902. After graduation she taught for several years in Boston.

As a savvy businesswoman, Darling knew she’d find no lack of demand in Harvard Square. Typewriting began to supplant handwriting in business correspondence in the late 19th century. While many employers once employed male secretaries exclusively, women began to find employment opportunities as typists and stenographers, taking dictation in shorthand (coded language) and typing finished documents. Typing and stenography were skills that allowed women access to relatively high-paying office jobs, but were not widely valued by men; throughout the 20th century secretaries were almost always women. Many girls learned to type in high school, but men did not.

Typewriter diagrams and instructions, in Arabic

Typewriter diagrams and instructions, in Arabic. N.d.

While America’s growing businesses and industries were the major employers of secretaries, Cambridge’s academic community offered special opportunities for Darling’s services. Harvard students (entirely male until the 1940s) needed papers typed, often overnight; doctoral candidates required professional typists to prepare flawless dissertations meeting rigid standards for format, layout, and paper quality; and faculty authors needed assistance to prepare their manuscripts for publication. (It was cheaper to have a typist create a draft from an author’s longhand than to commission a printed page proof.) The gendered bias of mid-twentieth-century academia and its “approved” tasks made it undesirable for male students and scholars to type their own work.

In 1920 Darling expanded her business to include the Harvard Square Stenographers Bureau, also known as Miss Darling’s Business Employment Bureau, which facilitated job connections for secretarial services. In 1923 she founded the Alice Darling Secretarial School to provide women and college students with formal secretarial lessons. A person seeking to assume a role in Boston’s competitive secretarial market had to possess this knowledge. In the early years, the secretarial school only offered general stenography and typewriting courses, but it soon expanded its curriculum. In 1928 it introduced training in transcribing dictation from an Ediphone, an early recording machine.

Alice Darling Secretarial School pamphlet_1

Alice Darling Secretarial School pamphlet pages. N.d.

Darling’s school went above and beyond teaching classic secretarial competencies. Her school incorporated a psychological component, business ethics, and personality training. The Alice Darling School implemented a “tutorial system” that integrated office procedures and practical applications. Known for its talented secretaries and stenographers, Darling’s school drew people who wanted to make clerical work their vocation. A Cambridge Chronicle article from June 29, 1928 stated that the school “aside from enabling pupils to have confidence in themselves, which is an essential requisite for ultimate success, is also a means of increasing on a large scale their earning capacity.”

The school grew throughout the first half of the twentieth century. The Great Depression saw a rise in attendance because pupils were drawn to learning viable skills and networking through real world jobs in the public stenographic department. Graduates at this time were likely to earn a monthly income of $100, according to a Cambridge Chronicle article. During WWII, the school expanded again to accommodate war emergency courses. After the war, many women college graduates found that their employment opportunities were limited if they lacked secretarial skills.

Marston’s Office Service business card

Marston’s Office Service’s business card. N.d.

In the late 1940s, Alice Darling Secretarial Services was taken over by Theodora L. and John S. Marston, who had a prior business, Marston’s Office Services, at 1735 Massachusetts Ave. Theodora and John lived at 60 Brattle Street, Cambridge, and later at 17 Spring Street in Lexington. They received their state license to conduct business services in 1949. They were active participants of Cambridge’s Lesley-Ellis School, with John acting as treasurer of the Parents Association in 1954. 

At this time, the Alice Darling Secretarial Services Inc. served as a licensed intelligence service for major clients, including the Internal Revenue Service. Its role as an employment facilitator extended to other state and federal positions because the company provided its workers certification by issuing the Civil Service Exam.

M. Beguel letter to Mr. and Mrs. John Marsto

Letter from M. Beguel to Mr. and Mrs. John Marston. M. Beguel was the private secretary to the Aga Khan. 1959.

In the 1950s, the business served Prince Shāh Karim al-Husayni, the current Aga Khan (IV) of the Imāmate of the Nizari Ismāʿīli Shias, a sub-sect of Shia Islam. He was attending Harvard University at the time and his grandfather, Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah, Aga Khan III, provided the school with an endowment to create the Aga Khan Professorship of Iranian. When Aga Khan III died in 1957, Karim Aga Khan assumed the tenure of the religious leadership position while still attending school. Addressed as Karim Aga Khan in this collection, some of his business transactions are available for research.

Alice Darling published a “semi-autobiography” two years before her death in 1966. She recalled that she had typed papers for Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his sons; Henry Cabot Lodge and his sons; John F. Kennedy; John DosPassos; and many others. She typed so many papers for law students that she became interested in field and took a law degree from Northeastern University, graduating in 1939. Her profession, she said, had enabled her to acquire “a college education, free of charge, in one of the leading universities in the country.”

In 1998 Alice Darling’s long-time location in the Read Block in the heart of Harvard Square was sold for redevelopment. Now operating from an office on Mifflin Place, Alice Darling Secretarial Services offers transcription services via electronic media for “conferences, interviews, focus groups, meeting, film, press conferences etc.”

The North Cambridge Community Church

The North Cambridge Community Church was a predominantly Black church and community center located at 161-171 Walden Street from 1929/1930 until its demolition in 1949. It was a significant part of Cambridge’s Black community during the early-and-mid-twentieth century. 

Entrance to underground church

Circa 1930, churchgoers at the entrance of the new church building on Walden Street. Pictured: Cordelia (Weems) Wilson, Mrs. William L. Crawford, Marie Weems Davis.

The story of the church begins with Samuel O. Weems and his wife, Gertrude Howard. Both Weems and Howard graduated with teaching degrees from Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute in Hampton, Virginia in 1909. After marrying in 1910, the couple settled on a farm in Poughkeepsie, New York, where their first two children were born. Weems found an ad in the paper for the New Church Theological School (Swedenborgianism) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and after writing to the school’s president, he was encouraged to join the school.

Weems and his family moved to Cambridge by 1913, and in 1916 Weems graduated from the school and became the first African American to be ordained as a reverend into the Swedenborgian Church. That year, along with friends and a fellow Hamptonian, William L. Crawford, Weems founded the North Cambridge Community Church in his family’s home at 28 Hubbard Avenue (no longer extant).  

Weems family CHC 4059

Reverend Samuel O. Weems and Gertrude Howard Weems with their first two children, Cordelia and Marie,  leaving 75D Prentiss Street for North Cambridge, ca. 1915.

The North Cambridge Community Church was part of a New Church Mission and was created in line with Weems’ following of Swedenborg philosophy: the church was open to anyone, nonsectarian, and created strong religious and social service programs for the community. By the early twentieth century, Black churches were already established in the Central Square area, but in North Cambridge, Weems’ church was the only local place where Black people could freely worship, and hosted the only social service agency in the area for the Black community.

The church was immediately successful and was especially popular with families wishing to send their children to Sunday School and summer classes. By 1927, inadequate space and an encroaching development forced the family and church to move out of their house. The Weems family moved to 14 Hubbard Avenue, and the church purchased an empty plot of land around 161-171 Walden Street (across from Raymond Park). They contracted the firm of Frohman, Robb and Little to design a new building with a chapel, recreational hall and vocational shop.  

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North Cambridge Community Church, 1930 Bromley Atlas.

Proposed buildings

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Top and bottom images, article from the Boston Evening Transcript, February 19, 1927. Top: proposed church building; Bottom: Image of Reverend Weems working in the machine shop of the Boston and Maine Railroad. Credit: Marie Davis.

In 1930, following a fundraising campaign (including the above article), two stories of the proposed new church were built. It featured a Neo-Georgian triangular-shaped entrance leading downstairs into the interior; this lower level housed an auditorium that could seat 300 people and a large stage that accommodated theatrical and musical productions. The church hosted many musicians and speakers, such as North Pole explorer Matthew Henson; Florence Buck, a Unitarian minister; and John Orth, then the only living student of Franz Listz. 

Walden St North from 161-169

Wedding party and guests coming out of the church, 171 Walden Street, June 6, 1937. Credit: Marie Davis.

Although the full proposed church building was never constructed, the church’s congregation thrived. It hosted two church services each Sunday and year-round programs and activities, many centered around educating local youth: Sunday school, summer school, the Troop 9 Boy Scouts of America, Camp Fire for girls, a church garden, and vocational classes on sewing, printing, music, gardening, and woodworking.  

nc church017

Scouts and Vacation Bible School at summer closing exercises outside of the church building, 1940. Credit: Marie Davis.

Reverend Weems was one of the leaders in the local civil rights movement. In the 1930s, Weems was vocal in speaking out against the treatment of the Scottsboro Boys, nine African American boys who were falsely accused of raping two white women in Alabama in 1931. Weems and his family frequently attended civil rights rallies and meetings, and brought in speakers to the church to discuss peace and current events.

Block image

Cambridge Tribune, December 6, 1935

According to the Weems’ daughter, Marie Davis, the congregation had a positive relationship with the neighborhood. One particular exception involved the actions of a hostile neighbor: on warm days, when the church’s front door was open and Reverend Weems’ voice could be heard outside, the neighbor would call the police on the church. According to Marie Davis, the police would come downstairs to the sanctuary and stand there while her father continued preaching. 

Harvest celebration006

Harvest celebration, 1940. Credit: Marie Davis.

Beginning in 1946 the congregation began to break up, and in 1949 the building was demolished by the Cambridge Housing Authority for the Lincoln Way veterans housing development (built 1950).  Reverend and Gertrude Weems and several of their seven children remained active in community and religious organizations.

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Former site of North Cambridge Community Church, white building (center).

Marie Davis’s recollections of the church and Black spiritual life in Cambridge can be read in “In Our Own Words: Stories of North Cambridge, 1900-1960, as told to Sarah Boyer” (1997). 


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.

Boylston Hall_HU_ca.1870_No source - small

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.

Boylston Hall 1976-002

CHC survey image. 1976

boylston interiors

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.

Viscol Co. P1010883

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.