Society of St. John the Evangelist, 980 Memorial Drive


View of chapel from the street with bell tower in the back

Located along Memorial Drive across from the Charles River is the Society of Saint John the Evangelist monastery and chapel  designed by Ralph Adams Cram (1863-1942). Completed in 1936, the complex includes a monastery with a two-tiered bell tower, a chapel, and a guest house. A proponent of Gothic Revival and Collegiate Gothic architecture, Cram was inspired by Gothic architecture in England and furthered those ideas in his designs of numerous churches in the U.S., including St. John the Divine in New York, as well as libraries and academic buildings. Isabella Stewart Gardner, the great philanthropist and patron of the arts in Boston, helped select the site and provided financial support for the purchase of the property.


View of courtyard and brick arcade

Dedicated to St. Mary and St. John, the chapel’s exterior is constructed of seam-face granite block with buff limestone trim, and an arcaded brick cloister supporting the stucco monastery.

Pages from AR June 1941-3

Plan of the chapel published in Architectural Record, June 1941


The interior features Indiana limestone pillars and arches, marble floors in the choir and sanctuary, green slate floor in the ante-chapel, and stained glass windows designed by Charles J. Connick. The trussed roof beams were originally part of a wooden bridge over the Mystic River that was removed at the same time the chapel was being built. Cram’s meticulous attention to detail extended to the design of the crucifix and candlesticks for the high altar.

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View of Chapel interior with slate floor in foreground, photo by C. Ripman and L. Sturm

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View of limestone arches and stained glass windows, photo by C. Ripman and L. Sturm

The chapel is open to the public for prayer services, and the monastery hosts retreats.


View of stained glass windows including the rose window above which depicts heaven


Vintage postcard


Society of St. John the Evangelist,

Architectural Record, June 1941, pp 54-56.

Davis, Karen, “The Society of Saint John the Evangelist Monastery and Chapel, Architectural Tour,” May 10, 1998.

Chapel interior images courtesy of Lumen Studio Architectural Lighting Design, Lowell, Massachusetts,

Exterior images and stained glass window image,

postcard from





Katharine Weems: Sculptor


Katharine Lane Weems, circa 1915 / unidentified photographer.

Sculptor Katharine Lane Weems was born into a wealthy Bostonian family on February 22, 1899. After studying art at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts from 1918 to 1922, Weems became one of the most highly-recognized animal sculptors of her era.


Katharine Weems with ‘Dolphins of the Sea’, ca. 1975 / unidentified photographer.

Her observations of animals, as seen through her meticulous sketches, underscore her dedication to representing an animal’s biological makeup. In doing so, she conveyed their physicality in stunning reality.


Sketchbook, 1913-1915

Weems’s work can be viewed throughout the Boston area, from the Lotta Crabtree Fountain on the Charles River Esplanade to the Dolphins of the Sea at the New England Aquarium. She donated a collection of 30 bronze animal sculptures to Boston’s Museum of Science, demonstrating the connections between sciences and the arts.


Elephant frieze on the biology lab at Harvard, not before 1933 / Paul J. Weber, photographer.

Her largest project was a commission for the Biological Laboratories at Harvard University, now the Harvard University Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology (MCB). The project included carved bronze doors at the lab entrance, a series of wildlife friezes, and two large bronze rhinoceros scultpures standing guard on either side of the doors of the lab.


Katharine Lane Weems at work on ‘Rhinoceros’, circa 1935 / unidentified photographer.

Named Bessie and Victoria, these rhinoceros sculptures were modeled after two female rhinoceri Weems studied at the Bronx Zoo. Both are composed of bronze and weigh 3 tons each. After years of work, Bessie and Victoria were unveiled on May 12, 1937. Despite this great accomplishment, Weems’s work was given little local fanfare.


Katharine Weems being introduced at the unveiling ceremony for her rhino sculptures at Harvard, 1937 May 12 / Harvard Film Service, photographer.

Weems continued to sculpt and create art throughout her long life. She later married her longtime friend Fontaine Carrington “Canny” Weems in 1947. Katharine Lane Weems died in Rockport Massachusetts on February 11, 1989.


Katharine Ward Lane Weems seated with a dog, circa 1935 / unidentified photographer.

Images and captions come from the collection Katharine Lane Weems papers, 1865-1989. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Modern Monday: McCormick Hall and Katharine Dexter’s Legacy at MIT

In the year 1960, just 22 women were admitted to MIT, in comparison to 914 men. President James Killian and his Chancellor Julius Stratton made the decision not only to admit more women to the university, but to actively work to improve the environment and resources available for female students.

Women at MIT Enrollment

The shift to admit and provide better education to young women was described years later in 1970 in a report written by Professor Emily Wick, Associate Dean of Students and the first woman promoted to tenure at MIT:

“Until the Institute could commit itself to educating women in significant numbers, and could provide suitable living conditions, coeds were not overly `successful.’ … Before 1960 women entered MIT at their own risk. If they succeeded — fine! If they failed — well, no one had expected them to succeed. … The class of 1964 entered in 1960 knowing that MIT believed in women students. It was the first class in which coeds, as a group, matched the proportion of B.S. degrees earned by their male classmates!”

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Emily L. Wick talking with students circa 1963. Photo courtesy of MIT Class of 1964.

Katharine Dexter (1875-1967) graduated from MIT in 1904 in biology. She married Stanley McCormick whose mental illness emerged soon after. Throughout her life, she tried to find a biological basis and cure for schizophrenia as well as supporting women’s right to vote as a strong proponent of the suffrage movement. Later in life, she turned her full attention to the construction of the first women’s dormitory at MIT, which coincided with the Institute’s newly established goals for admitting more women. She donated her house at 120 Bay State Road for a women’s dormitory (the only such dormitory for female MIT students), and it housed approximately 19 graduate and undergraduate women students from the early 1950′s until McCormick opened. Katharine even funded a taxi service to shuttle the students to campus on poor weather days.


Katharine Dexter McCormick in 1913. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia.

In 1963, the west wing of Stanley McCormick Hall was dedicated and named after her late husband. Just three years later, the second wing (a second tower) was constructed and dedicated just after her death. Both phases of the building were bankrolled by Katharine Dexter McCormick and were to house women studying at MIT. McCormick Hall was designed by Herbert Beckwith, a member of MIT’s architecture faculty and principal of the firm Anderson, Beckwith and Haible. The dorms could today be classified as “Brutalist” in design. The two concrete and glass towers front Memorial Drive and are connected by a low-rise community space. The buildings are used today as all-female dorms housing upwards of 255 students.

Katharine McCormick at Hall dedication 1963_MIT Alum Class 1964 website

Katharine McCormick speaking at McCormick Hall dedication ceremony. Photo courtesy of MIT Class of 1964.

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McCormick Hall West Wing. Photo courtesy of MIT Class of 1964.


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Image located in McCormick Hall Survey File at CHC. Photo circa 1966.

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Image located in McCormick Hall Survey File at CHC. Photo circa 1967.

Aerial 2017

2017 aerial view of McCormick Hall and surrounding structures.

To learn more about McCormick Hall, feel free to make a research appointment with us by emailing

The Asa Porter Morse House

In relation to yesterday’s #ModernMonday posting on Woodrow Wilson Court (click here for that Instagram post), today we are highlighting the former Asa Morse Estate at 81 Magazine Street. Asa Porter Morse (1818-1906), the son of Daniel and Sarah Morse (first cousins), moved to Boston in 1840 and began business life as a bookkeeper in the house of Hayward & Morse, who were involved with West India trade. After accumulating enough capital to start a business for himself, Morse continued working in commerce and trade and moved to Cambridge in 1845. He served as a member of the Cambridge School Board, as an alderman, and as a state senator in 1879-1880.


Morse became involved with developing sections of Cambridgeport near his home. In 1861, he built a large Italianate-style mansion with a central tower on Magazine Street, which was lined with large homes and churches frequented by some of the city’s elite.

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Asa and his wife Dorcas Louisa Short (1822-1864) lived at home with their three children. Upon Asa’s death in 1906, the house passed to his daughters Velma and Mary, who lived at home. Velma, the last living Morse, died in 1934 and the direct Morse line ended.

The 17-room mansion on Magazine Street, with its massive rooms, frescoed ceilings, crystal chandeliers, oak furnishings and paneling sat empty. In 1935, the Cambridge Chronicle reported that neighborhood boys were breaking in and removing items from the water heater to the slate roof.  Outside, the garden with its once prim walks and flower beds became an overgrown tangle of vegetation, obscuring the once proud estate. The house was razed in 1940 and the lot was redeveloped into Woodrow Wilson Court years later.

Photographs taken of the interior by Charles Darling in the 1930s show the interior before it succumbed to vandals and the elements. The images were digitized by Historic New England.

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A major event in Morse’s life – and one that has often been omitted from his biographies – is his relationship with Anna Van Houten, a woman around 30 years old, who arrived in Boston from Spokane, Washington. Her life story is unclear, but it seems she grew up in South Carolina and San Francisco, and was married to a Mr. Van Houten, whom she divorced in 1889.

Van Houten and Morse met, and after a brief courtship, Morse proposed to Van Houten in 1891, buying her a $500 engagement ring and wedding dress.  In 1892, however, Morse suddenly ended their engagement, claiming that Van Houten had concealed her earlier divorce. Van Houten sued Morse for $60,000 in damages for “breach of promise.” In 1893 she won her case and was awarded $40,000.


Headline from the Boston Daily Globe, October 5, 1893

Later that year, however, Morse appealed, citing other reasons for breaking off the engagement. According to Morse, Van Houten had hidden her African-American ancestry from him. Van Houten denied this and presented photographs of her family in court to prove her white ancestry. Morse’s attorney contended that evidence showed that both Van Houten’s parents were black and that Van Houten was at least one-eighth black, and therefore that she had deceived Morse in the presentation of her lineage.


Boston Daily Globe, November 19, 1893

The appeal was heavily reported and sensationalized in newspapers, and November 1894, the original verdict was overruled by the court. Van Houten returned to Spokane, and Morse died in 1906. The overruling would have a wide-ranging effect on future cases, however, in particular Plessy v. Ferguson (1896)*.

As this blog post only briefly covers this story, feel free to make a research appointment with us to find out more information on the trial.

*Miletsky, Zebulon V., “City of amalgamation: race, marriage, class and color in Boston, 1890-1930/” (2008). Doctoral Dissertations 1896 – February 2014. 931. 171-172.

Susan Butcher

This post is one in a series of stories we will be sharing about Cambridge women, in honor of Women’s History Month.

Susan Howlet Butcher was born in Cambridge on December 26, 1954. As a child growing up in Avon Hill, Susan grew to relish the outdoors and often preferred the company of dogs over playing with children of her age. Susan first became interested in sled dogs around age 16. Speaking about this time in her life during an interview with the Academy of Achievement, Susan remembers:

“I really feel I had a strong sense of myself from the earliest memories that I have. I knew very much who I was, approximately what I wanted to do. I didn’t know I wanted to be a dog musher. And I feel there are many things in life I could have done and had as much satisfaction as I am having. But I knew the type of things that I wanted to do, and I also knew that I wasn’t going to let anybody come in the way of that. When I got my second dog, and I was living in my mother’s house in Cambridge, and she said, ‘You will not get a second dog. I won’t let you have two dogs in the house.’ Instead of saying, ‘Okay, I won’t get a second dog,’ I got my second dog and moved out. So it was always a matter of… (being myself) and happily, and with a good relationship with my mother. This was not a negative thing towards my mother. This was not something that she even took as… I was very lucky to have parents that supported my ability to be responsible.”


Susan Butcher with her sled and dogs. Credit: Paul A. Souders/Corbis, 1991

At just 20 years old, Susan relocated to Alaska where she moved into a log cabin in the remote wilderness. She began teaching herself to become a professional musher, dog breeder and trainer. Susan’s family had a long tradition of self-determination and autonomy. Her great-grandfather, Charles Butcher (1846-1916) emigrated to New York from England in 1867. He and his wife, Mary, moved to Boston a few years after the birth of their son, William Laramy (1875–1952).


Undated image of Charles Butcher. Yankee Magazine, 1955.

Charles was a carpenter by trade, but according to an account by his granddaughter, Helen Elizabeth “Betty” Butcher (1914–1994), was appalled at the typical Bostonian’s method of cleaning the wood floors he installed–scrubbing with soap and water. With this in mind, Charles set out to manufacture a wax for cleaning floors, much like the product and technique employed in Europe.


Photograph of Butcher’s Wax. Sample provided by the MFA Objects Conservation Lab. Photo credit: Keith Lawrence, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

This led to the development of Butcher Polish Company. Charles began manufacturing the product in the barn behind his property at 197 Lakeview Avenue near Fresh Pond. Butcher’s Wax was first sold in Boston in 1880.


Undated image of 197 Lakeview Avenue published in Yankee Magazine, 1955.

After Charles passed in 1916, his sons William Laramy and Charles Howlett (1884-1951) inherited the company and ran it much in the same way as their father. Later, their sons, including Charles’ son, Charles II (1916-2004) took over the business. Charles II, known as Charlie, married Agnes and together they had a daughter, Susan Howlet Butcher (1954-2006).


Undated images of Charles H. Butcher and William L. Butcher. Yankee Magazine, 1955.

Above: Charles II (Charlie) portrait at Harvard (1939) and Susan Howlet (no date, Alaska Sports Hall of Fame)

Susan Butcher became known as a highly-skilled dog musher and in 1986 became the second woman to win the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, an annual sled dog race of around 1,100 miles. In 1990, she became the second four-time winner and the first to win four out of five sequential years. Butcher died in 2006 at age 51 after being diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia in 2005. Two years later, the Alaska state legislature established Susan Butcher Day, observed every year on the first Saturday in March.


Susan Butcher with her lead dog, Granite (no date, Alaska Sports Hall of Fame)

New Collections Available

We have recently processed four small collections from our holdings and are currently working on updating their accompanying finding aids. Scroll down for sample images and descriptions from these collections. They include:  the Hurley Family Photograph Collection, the Benedict Daniels Photograph Collection, the Harry Bagan Photograph Collection, and the Alfred E. Vellucci Snapshot Collection.

Hurley Family Photograph Collection

This collection consists of copy prints and original photographs donated by Virginia Hurley in 1994. Virginia lived at 5 Ellsworth Park in Cambridge and she was an active participant in city politics. As the secretary of the Gold Star Wives of America Inc., she helped protect widows from increased property taxes after the deaths of their husbands. For a period, she worked for the City of Boston as a secretary for Judge David Nelson and then for the Elder Affairs office. She later passed away in 2011.

The photographs in this collection are of the Hurley family’s ancestry, including the Moran, Graves, Welsh and Ward families. The images comprise of group and individual portraits of family members ranging from the late 1880s to the 1920s.



Joseph C. Moran Sr. posing in full Colonial militia attire for the 150th Anniversary of Washington taking command under ‘The Elm.’ Photographer unknown.

While some of the people in the photographs are unidentified, we do know that the Morans were an East Cambridge family of glass workers who were employed by the New England Glassworks company until 1888. Interestingly, on the other side of the Hurley ancestry, David Gregory Welch was known as Peter McGurr during the Civil War.


Portrait photograph of David Gregory Walsh. Photographer unknown.

Additionally, there is an outlying photograph of Marshal Ferdinand Foch at the Cambridge Parade after WWI. He was a French general and he served as the Supreme Allied Commander during the war.


Marshal Ferdinand Foch at the Cambridge Parade. Photographer unknown.

Benedict Daniels Photograph Collection

This collection contains scrapbook pages donated by Helen Benedict Daniels in 1980. Helen was a member of the Young People’s Society of Christian Endeavor (Y.P.S.C.E.) and a volunteer for the Red Cross. After she received her degree in natural history from Radcliffe College, she married and moved to Orange, New Jersey. The scrapbook was created by her sister Miriam Benedict, who was a nurse in Cambridge during the 1920s.


A page from the Benedict Daniels scrapbook. Photographer unknown.

Miriam probably worked for the East Cambridge Health Center, which directed attention towards programs that taught young mothers how to care for their newborn children. The unidentified people in the photographs were probably affiliated with the center.


A page from the Benedict Daniels scrapbook. Photographer unknown.

Harry Bagan Photograph Collection

This collection includes three photographs with Harry Bagan, a Cambridge police officer. The collection was donated by Maria Sousa in October 1995; little information has been found on Sousa.


Photograph of Harry and Helen Bagan. Photographer unknown.

Harry Bagan was married to Helen Bagan, who is showcased in one of the photographs. They were known to be close to the Roosevelt family. He was also a prominent member of the Fat Men’s Club in Cambridge. The Fat Men’s Club was a widespread trend that began around 1910 which celebrated physical girth and required a weight qualification of over 190 pounds.


1951 Fat Men’s Club Outing at Silver Lake, Thompson’s Grove, Wilmington, Mass. Photographer unknown.

Alfred E. Vellucci Snapshot Collection

Included in this collection are mounted photographs conveying a “day in the life” of Cambridge Mayor Vellucci. He became a Cambridge School Committee member in 1951 and by 1955 he began his 34-year position on the City Council. This snapshot collection comes from 1976 and it displays Vellucci’s daily activities, such as conducting desk work, holding meetings, drinking coffee, and attending city council meetings. Vellucci later retired from public office in 1991. The collection was donated by Juliet Turner from the City Hall’s Finance Department in 2011.

Images forthcoming.


The finding aids for these collections will soon be made available online. Please check back soon to access them. Stay tuned for more updates as we continue to process collections and make them available for research!

Most of these photograph collections were donated in the 1980s but we are always accepting personal donations and family memorabilia related to Cambridge, Mass. We encourage you to contact the Cambridge Historical Commission if you have items you wish to offer. Please contact with any inquiries about the process.

To view the above collections, please make a research appointment at Our research hours are: Monday: 4:00-7:00 pm | Tuesday: 2:00-4:00 pm | Wednesday – Thursday: 10-12 and 2-4 pm.

The Cambridge Trotting Park: Part 4

This post is the fourth and final in a series of four written by guest author, Dan Sullivan, owner of The Book Oasis in Stoneham.

What do I think about the track? It did offer, at least at times, an extremely high level of competition from both horses and the human athletes. Hiram Woodruff, for instance, is in the Trotting Hall of Fame as an ‘Immortal.’ (As is Lady Suffolk.) Besides managing the Cambridge track for a few years, he was also a trainer, driver, and horse owner and wrote a book on the sport. It was said that his “honesty was unimpeachable.” Woodruff was not the only person associated with the track who made his home in the area. Dan Mace, another leading driver, lived in the Cambridge track neighborhood. A study of the city directories shows several people living near the Trotting Park who list their profession as something that is most likely linked to the track, such as horse trainer.


“The celebrated trotting horse Judge Fullerton, as he appeared, driven by Dan Mace” published by Currier & Ives, 1874

Because of the drinking and gambling the park was held in very low esteem by its contemporaries. Was it immoral? It is always dangerous to judge another era’s morals. It was seen that way by many locals but other sections of the country embraced such tracks. Was it rowdy? Certainly it could be, but when you compare the number of these types of stories to the way that they were played up, I believe there was an imbalance. Yes, the majority of stories on the track dealt with negative activities and yes, I am sure not all were covered. But if you consider that the track spanned eighteen years there were not actually that many of them. I see the dangerous driving on city streets as a real problem that needed to be dealt with, but I think that the drinking and gambling might have been overblown by the press, considering how isolated the track was. I have to ask myself, “Did the average resident come in contact with many of the rowdier activities?”


“Celebrated trotting horse ‘John Stewart’ as he appeared on the twentieth mile: In his great match against time over the fashion course L.I. Tuesday Sept. 22nd 1868. When he performed the unparalleled feat of trotting to wagon 20 miles in 59 minutes and 23 seconds” published by Currier & Ives, 1868

Also, once the park was no longer allowed to collect ticket revenue, the money from betting was their main source of income. Could gambling have been less of a necessary evil if ticket sales had been allowed to continue?

As often happens with such things, as decades passed the disdain for the track lessened. Several rather nostalgic articles were written after the park closed. I wonder if by that time some of the ‘Young Bloods’ that enjoyed going to the track had become staff members of the Chronicle.


Clipping from the Cambridge Chronicle, 24 March 1924

I said at the beginning that the Cambridge Trotting Park had not left much of a mark on today’s map of Cambridge. That is true in the sense that one would not know it existed by just looking at a map. It did affect the way the map of Cambridge looks, in an odd way. Almost a century after the original park had opened, a greyhound park was proposed for Cambridge in 1935. It got approval from the state. It would have been built near Concord Avenue and Fresh Pond, completely changing that section of the city. After much debate, that track was built in Revere rather than in Cambridge. What stopped it? The trotting park closed in 1855. To prevent anything like it from ever coming back, the city enacted a new law in 1856 that gave the mayor and the council veto power over any new racing facility.

The Dunbar Associates

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The Dunbar Associates with President and founder, Ernest Collins, in the front row, third from right, and Vice President, Nelson Ambush, to his left

The Dunbar Associates was an African American social club started in 1937 by Ernest Collins who also founded the Dunbar Quartet, a music group noted for their beautiful singing of spirituals. Collins named the group in honor of Paul Lawrence Dunbar, a poet, novelist, and playwright in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, who received international acclaim for his work including Majors and Minors and Lyrics of Lowly Life. The Quartet performed in churches, at teas and parties, and on the local radio. The Dunbar Associates organization featured other musical groups including the Dunbarettes, a women’s group; the Dunbar Juniors, a singing group made up of boys from the neighborhood; and the Dunbar Serenaders. The club organized sports and recreation teams including basketball and bowling, and they sponsored inter-club whist tournaments. Initially located at 52 Brookline Street, the clubhouse headquarters moved to 185 Franklin Street in 1939 and remained there until the early 1960s. The property had a large yard providing children the only play area in the neighborhood at the time. The clubhouse hosted a variety of events such as weddings, birthday parties, and lectures, as well as a rally supporting John F. Kennedy in his 1952 race for U.S. Senator.


Ernest Collins seated with his singing group, the Dunbar Quartet

The Dunbar Associates also sponsored dances all over New England, engaging many big-name swing bands, starting with Chick Webb and Ella Fitzgerald in 1938. Held at the Cambridge Elks Lodge Ballroom, this event was also a celebration of the organization’s first year anniversary. An article in the Cambridge Chronicle credited the Dunbar Associates for bringing to Cambridge “its biggest dancing attraction in history.” In a reminiscence written by Ernest’s wife, Gertrude, she explained, ”the dances in those days were really enjoyable, happy, pleasant evenings, something to take the stress of the days away. It was a time to dance and enjoy each other’s company, make new friends and see old acquaintances.”

185 Franklin St 01

View of 185 Franklin Street, headquarters of the Dunbar Associates from 1939 to the early 1960s

Di Natale Family Papers
Cambridge Chronicle, May 19, 1938, and May 26, 1938, June 15, 1939, May 1939
Poetry Foundation,


The Cambridge Trotting Park: Part 3

This post is the third in a series of four written by guest author, Dan Sullivan, owner of The Book Oasis in Stoneham.

Most of the local stories related to the track dealt with the dangerous riding and driving of the patrons on their way home. It seemed that after spending a day watching others race on the track many people would race each other on the streets of Cambridge causing a safety hazard. To make matters even more scandalous, some of the racers were women! “Their mouths poured forth clouds of smoke, from cigars they were puffing, and boisterous songs, while urging their horse to his speed.” Headlines cried out, “Nuisance” and “Furious Driving.”


Clipping from the Cambridge Chronicle, 13 December 1849

Police blotters also made mention of illegal alcohol and card playing at the hotels on and near the track. There were also a few prominent stories about fights at the track..

The longest story in the Chronicle that even mentioned an event dealt with Lady Suffolk racing a mile on June 14, 1849. It was stated that: “It was considered a great occasion by those who take pleasure in such amusements…. One of the horses on the Course beat anything ever before heard of – trotting his mile in two minutes and twenty-six seconds!” Not only is the horse not named but she is referred to as ‘he’. Most of the remainder of the article dealt with how congested and ‘dusty’ the roads leading to and from the track were. The Chronicle even reported the highest single-day volume of alcohol ever consumed in Cambridge. It was obviously not seen as a proud milestone for the city!


Lithograph featuring ‘Lady Suffolk’ and announcing her win over ‘Mac’ Mile at the Cambridge Course on 14 June 1849. Published by Currier, ca. 1849.

A similar coverage was given for the Stetson-Grindell ten-mile race. The paper dealt more with traffic and how much was taken in tolls on the West Boston (now Longfellow) Bridge that day. Volume was so high on the bridge that extra men were called into work.

Even as the property was put up for sale it still caused a scandal as a rumor spread that the property would be purchased by the Catholic Church.

A few decades later a local Baptist church, in looking back on its early days and its neighbors, the course and the hotels, recalled a fire at one of the hotels as “the great purifier” for the area.


Clipping from the Cambridge Chronicle, 26 October 1848

The two boxing events that were held there met with the same disdain by the Chronicle: “We are of the opinion that those whose business it is to look after such matters, will cry ‘enough’ before these persons are allowed to test the skill they possess in pounding each other to a jelly. Let not Cambridge be disgraced by any such proceedings!”


“John L. Sullivan, champion pugilist of the world. Born in Boston, October 15th, 1858” published by Wm. M. Clarke, ca. 23 November 1883.

Check back next week for Part 4, the conclusion!…

A Cambridge Entry in the Green Book

Today’s post was written by CHC Preservation Planner, Sarah Burks.

You likely have heard a lot of talk recently about Green Book, the award-nominated movie starring Mahershala Ali as Dr. Don Shirley, a world class pianist on a performance tour in the southern states during the Jim Crow era. The name of the movie derives from a U.S. travel guide for Black tourists. The Negro Motorist Green Book offered lists of restaurants, automobile service stations, hotels, parks, and other sites that would be safe and welcoming to African Americans traveling for work or leisure. The books were published by Victor H. Green between 1936 and 1967. A new documentary, The Green Book: Guide to Freedom, will air on the Smithsonian Channel on Monday, February 25 at 8:00 P.M. The original books have been digitized by the New York Public Library and can be viewed online here.

Green Book, 1947 cover

Cover of the 1947 edition of The Negro Motorist Green Book. Digital Collections of the New York Public Library.

Although Boston had a couple dozen sites listed in the Green Books, Cambridge only had one, a “tourist home” at 26 Mead Street with the contact name of S. P. Bennett.

Green Book, 1947, detail of Cambridge entry p 43

Detail of the Cambridge entry in the 1947 edition of The Negro Motorist Green Book. Digital Collections of the New York Public Library.

Satyra Pearson Bennett was a Cambridge resident who rented out rooms to travelers in her family home. She worked as a linotype operator for several newspapers and was on the board of multiple charitable organizations and city committees. Satyra Pearson was born in 1892 in Rock Hill, Jamaica to Frances and William Pearson. In 1894, Satyra and her parents departed from Kingston and arrived in New York City. The family moved to Massachusetts in 1903, first residing in Worcester and then settling in Cambridge on Mead Street.


1916 Bromley map showing the Pearson residence at 26 Mead Street in Northwest Cambridge

According to Satyra’s 1926 Petition for Citizenship, the family arrived in Boston from St. John, New Brunswick aboard the U.S.S. Calvin Austin in 1913.


Steamboat Calvin Austin in Boston Harbor, ca 1906. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Satyra’s father was an ordained minister and was the pastor for many years at St. Paul A.M.E. Church at 37 Bishop Allen Drive in Cambridgeport.

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St. Paul AME Church in the late 1800s

In 1919, Satyra married Cyril Bennett. Cyril was also a Jamaican-born minister, and following their marriage, Satyra moved with him to Detroit. Together they had one son, George B. Bennett in 1920, but the couple soon divorced. By July 1921, Satyra had moved back to Cambridge and lived with her parents at 26 Mead Street. Satyra advertised her dress-making services in local newspapers, and in 1926 began the process to attain her U.S. citizenship.


Clipping from the Cambridge Chronicle, 23 July 1921


Frances Satyra Bennett’s citizenship card, 1933

Mrs. Bennett was a founding board member of the Cambridge Community Center, the Citizens Charitable Health Association, and an officer of the Boston chapter of the NAACP. She died in 1977. Her sister, Mrs. Ozeline Pearson Wise, was the first African American woman to work for the banking department of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. She was interviewed in 1978 as part of the Black Women’s Oral History Project. You can listen to their story here and view their entries on the Cambridge Women’s Heritage Project.

26 Mead St Cambridge Assessor's photo 2017

Bennett House at 26 Mead Street, Cambridge, MA. Cambridge Assessing Department photo, 2017.