Getting to Know Your CHC Staff: Part 3

This month, we are highlighting our fabulous commission staff! We would like you all to learn more about our employees and the wonderful work they do here at the CHC. The third post in this series features Sarah Burks, Preservation Planner.


Sarah and canine friend, Penny.

Where did you grow up?

I’m half Yankee and half Texan having grown up between Williamstown, Mass. and Wichita Falls, Texas.  Everything is bigger in Texas but I am happy to have settled in New England where I have lots of family and you can’t cook an egg on the sidewalk in summer.

Where did you go to school? What was your degree?

I got my undergraduate degree in Art History from Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas. My graduate studies Historic Preservation Planning were at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.

What are your interests or hobbies?

I like old things. That’s what drew me to historic preservation as a career so I could work with old buildings. I enjoy collecting antiques and vintage items for the same reason. I keep a toe in the art history side of things by serving on the board of trustees of the Cyrus Dallin Art Museum in Arlington, Mass. Cyrus Dallin sculpted many famous public sculptures around Boston including Paul Revere (North End), Appeal to the Great Spirit (MFA), and Anne Hutchinson (State House).


The Paul Revere Monument in Boston’s North End. Sculpture by Cyrus E. Dallin.

Name some fun facts about you.

I love dogs.  I play bridge.  I like Spurs basketball.

When did you start working at the CHC?

I started fresh out of grad school in the fall of 1996. I was two.

What do you like best about working at the CHC?

It’s something different every day. A different building, architect, or historical topic to investigate.


This photo of Cambridge Street at Third Street (looking east) shows the Lechmere National Bank on the far left. This building was recently designated a Cambridge Landmark by the City Council.

Give us a glimpse into your daily work or a current project.

I type a lot of minutes and process a lot of permits. But my favorite thing is when I can dive into a research project or assist someone else in finding what they need for their own research. Recently I was documenting the diner cars of Cambridge. You can learn more about this in our blog post: New! Lunch Carts and Dining Cars of Cambridge, Mass.


This picture has it all: a Cambridge diner, vintage automobiles, and eclectic old buildings.

What is your favorite photograph, artifact, or collection at CHC?

Soon after I started at CHC, I was invited to join the Cambridge Women’s Heritage Project, an informal group dedicated to documenting Cambridge women, historical events, and women’s organizations. We have a lot of biographical files on women and women’s organizations. I’m currently researching Cambridge suffragists so we can have a good idea of Cambridge’s role in the suffrage movement prior to 2020, the hundredth anniversary of the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment.


Florence Luscomb of Cambridge sells The Woman’s Journal newspaper and advocates for woman suffrage.


Thank you to Sarah for answering our questions–stay tuned for more staff bios coming soon!

MayDay in the Archives (a belated post)

May 1st has become known as MayDay in the archives world. Every year on May 1st, archivists and other cultural heritage professionals take time to assess the preservation needs of their collections and amend glaring problems.

In acknowledgement of MayDay, we would like to take this opportunity to communicate some quick tips for preserving your own archival materials at home. We will focus on relaying basic information for care and storage of the three most commonly saved items: scrapbooks, photographs, and documents.


Albums of photographs, newspaper clippings, and other ephemera weave a narrative of family history. However, the materials from which many scrapbooks are constructed can be harmful. Adhesives, dated plastic sheets, and newspaper accelerate deterioration of photographs and documents.

Harvard Sq trolley men

This image of Harvard Square trolley workers show how over time, adhesive can cause document and photographs to pull and create ripples.

We recommend scanning your scrapbook pages to create a digital surrogate, or removing items in danger of damage. If you want to keep your scrapbooks intact, make sure to store them in a dark area with a lower temperature (at least below 75° and at 65° if possible) and a lower relative humidity (below 65%). Often, linen closets work well for this purpose! Store your scrapbooks in a box made of acid free-materials.


Printed images communicate stories and are seen as proof of events and past existence. Yet, the people and places within these images can quickly fade if not taken care of properly.

Interior View: 33 Washington Avenue

This photograph has begun to yellow, likely due to the acidic paper to which it is mounted.

Photographs should be placed inside acid-free folders or archival plastic sleeves and kept inside in a dark room or closet with a lower temperature and relative humidity.

If your photographs have been rolled for a long period of time and are now stuck, consult a professional who can humidify and flatten your print safely. If you scan your photographs, you will be able to view it whenever you like, and lessen the effects of UV and humidity on your physical prints.


Documents such as letters, postcards, and paper records provide us with descriptions and evidence. Often, these items are unique and become more fragile over time. If you have paper in your family collection, separate pages from harmful materials such as newspaper or staples.


The acidic paper of this Signet Hosiery Company membership book has begun to yellow, and the staples are in danger of rusting if not kept in a cool, dry place.

Like scrapbooks and photographs, make sure to store your documents in a cool and dry location (not an attic or basement). Store documents in acid-free containers, ideally inside folders and a box.

If you would like to learn more about how to preserve documents, photographs, scrapbooks, or other materials you may have, contact our archivist, Emily at or 617.349.4683.

Now Open: Cogswell Collection

This post was authored by our Simmons 438 Archives intern, Elise Riley.

At the turn of the 19th century Cambridge’s built environment entered into a period of flux. New buildings and streets were added as the city developed. Neighborhoods expanded as houses were built into the burgeoning urban landscape. Beginning in 1910, the neighborhood of Shady Hill saw the addition of several streets including Irving Street, Bryant Street, and Francis Avenue.

Charles N. Cogswell Scrapbook Page #23

Top Left: “E” – Bryant St. from corner of Irving St., May 3, 1912. Top Right: View from Irving Street. Bottom Left: View from same point as above, September 1920. Bottom Right: View from same point as above, September 2, 1916.

The Charles N. Cogswell Collection (P014) consists of a scrapbook and loose photographs that depict these changes to the built environment in Cambridge, as well as daily life, in the late 19th century. Charles N. Cogswell, a Cambridge resident and Boston architect, lived at 61 Kirkland Street from 1882 until his death in 1941, aged 76.

Charles N. Cogswell Scrapbook Page #2

Charles’s brother George Cogswell on a penny-farthing.

Cogswell attended Harvard University and went on to study architecture at M.I.T. and at the Ecole de Beaux Arts, Paris. While the bulk of his professional work took place in Boston, Cogswell dedicated his free time to capturing the changing architectural landscape of his Cambridge neighborhood.

Charles N. Cogswell Miscellaneous #17

Top right: April 30, 1910. The beginning of the extension of Francis Avenue through to Museum Street, before the Andover Seminary Building was constructed. Bottom left: 61 Kirkland Street. Bottom right: [Francis Ave.] View from same point on September 2, 1916 [Professor Chas H. Haskins-House in distance]

Shady Hill is located east of Harvard Yard, right next to what is now the Harvard Divinity School. The Cogswell Collection is unique because it captures the in-between moments of growth in Cambridge and shows what the city looked like as construction was happening.


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Cogswell’s neighborhood was also home to several notable Cambridge residents. While Cogswell lived on Kirkland Street, around the block on Irving Street lived Harvard professors William James and Josiah Royce.

Charles N. Cogswell Scrapbook Page #10

Views from Irving Street, 1891.

Charles N. Cogswell Scrapbook Page #3

Aerial view of Irving Street, 1888.

E.E. Cummings and Julia Child would later live on this same block of Irving Street, the Childs in Royce’s former home at 103 Irving Street (above).

In his scrapbook, Cogswell also included snapshots of daily life and events in and around Cambridge.

Charles N. Cogswell Scrapbook Page #5

Cyanotype photographs of a regatta on the Charles River, 1887 or 1888.

Charles N. Cogswell Scrapbook Page #20

Family dog, Kinch, on the Cambridge Common.

Charles N. Cogswell Scrapbook Page #15

Top: View of Holmes Field, 1886 or 1887. Bottom: Shaw Barn on Kirkland Road after the fire, April 7, 1886 (owned by Prof. G.M. Lane).

The finding aid will soon be available on our website. To view photographs from the collection, check out our Flickr page, or email to make an in-person research appointment. The Cambridge Historical Commission also holds files on 61 Kirkland Street and the other addresses mentioned in this scrapbook.

Baking Powder and Vikings

Today’s blog post comes to you from our guest author, CHC volunteer Michael Kenney.

“Was there a city of Norumbega” on the Charles River just upstream from Cambridge? That was the rhetorical question posed in 1891 by Eben Norton Horsford, a chemistry professor at Harvard and developer of Rumford Baking Powder. And he was certain of the affirmative answer.

Horsford’s brook-no-doubt answer is to be found  in his Defenses of Norumbega, now in the library of the Cambridge Historical Commission. It is an answer he proves to his satisfaction with a series of 16th century maps and the journals of an 18th century seaman, with the name itself derived from the Algonquin word for “a quiet place between the rapids.”

As for the “habit of ear” which was a key element of his researches, Horsford notes in an aside that he had spent his childhood among Indians as the son of missionaries.

It is a densely-argued thesis, with excursions into the accounts of voyages from those of Leif Ericsson to Samuel de Champlain, along with the narratives of explorers and merchants who visited the “city of Norumbega.”norumbega006

Should one wonder what remains, Horsford offers, by way of an answer, speculative maps including the one reproduced here (above), as well as the curious photograph (below) of what he describes as “the dam, docks and wharves of the ancient city of Norumbega,” sitting alongside the Charles River at Weston.


And the still-curious will find, tucked into the farthest southwest corner of Cambridge, a collection of Horsford-themed streets — Thingvalla Avenue (named for a kettle-hole which Horsford thought was a Norse amphitheater), Ericsson Street, Norman Street, Norumbega Street, and Vineyard Street.

Stay tuned for a future blog post on the interesting Mr. Horsford and Rumford Baking Powder.


New! Lunch Carts and Dining Cars of Cambridge, Mass.

The CHC is proud to present a new GIS Story Map created by our own Sarah Burks, Preservation Planner, available here! This fun Story Map focuses on the long-gone lunch carts and dining cars in Cambridge.

“From the earliest horse-drawn lunch carts to the streamlined stainless steel cars, diners were once plentiful in Cambridge. But where did they all go? Some diners moved into brick and mortar locations and others relocated to other towns. The recent Food Truck trend appears to be a revival of the portable dining car, but they don’t offer the seating and table service of yesterday.”


Take a tour of Cambridge diner photos and share your diner memories with us at Have you been to any of these diners?

ArchivesSpace and the CHC

Recently, the CHC formed a partnership with the Cambridge Public Library (CPL) in an effort to make our collections more digitally accessible. With the help of CPL Archivist Alyssa Pacy, we have begun to encode finding aids from our repository and upload them into an ArchivesSpace account that the CPL is kindly sharing with us.

Some of our readers may be wondering why this project is beneficial, or you may be unsure about what encoding a finding aid means. Let’s start at the beginning:

After a collection is donated to us, we perform a number of steps to ready the materials for research and use. Among these are physical processing as well as arrangement and description. The final product of this process is an organized collection with an accompanying finding aid, a document that describes the records and their significance.


A typical collection donation–unorganized and waiting to be formed into a usable resource. Source: Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library

At the CHC, we create print and PDF copies of our finding aids to be used in our office and to make available on our website.



PDF finding aid for the Xonnabel Clark Collection

Whereas these versions are text-searchable, encoding a finding aid renders the text machine-readable and gives meaning to each section described. This is achieved by encoding the finding aid in XML (Extensible Markup Language). This process is akin to writing HTML to create a website.


A snippet of the XML document encoded for the Xonnabel Clark Collection using Oxygen XML Editor software.

After our finding aids are encoded, we upload the XML document to a platform that can convert this information to display nicely for human eyes while still retaining the machine-readable “meaning” behind the words. In our case, we are using ArchivesSpace.


The Xonnabel Clark Collection finding aid – available on ArchivesSpace

One example of this capability is in the subjects section. In paper or PDF finding aids, these items are simply words that convey the multiple subjects that may exist within a collection. Employed digitally, these subjects link collections with the same subject by just clicking your mouse.


So, we hope you are as excited about our ArchivesSpace partnership with CPL as we are! We hope to continue to encode both new and existing finding aids to make all of our resources from the CHC more accessible. In the meantime, follow the links below to view our ArchivesSpace page or browse one of our available finding aids: the Cambridge Manual Training School/ Rindge Manual Training School/ Rindge Technical School Collection. We would love to hear your feedback!

Cambridge Archives Test

Rindge School

Dr. Charles E. Vaughan and Radcliffe Yard

The CHC recently opened a small but significant group of materials: the Dr. Charles E. Vaughan Collection.

Charles Everett Vaughan was born into the prominent Vaughan family of Hallowell, Maine on August 24, 1835. By the time he was 15, Charles and his family had relocated to Cambridge. His father, also named Charles, worked as a brush dealer for J. J. Adams & Co. in Boston. Below are two of the company’s advertisements from 1922.


The Vaughans were descended from British merchant and Jamaican plantation owner Samuel Vaughan and his wife, Sarah Hallowell. Charles E.’s grandfather Charles was one of the first settlers of this historic Maine town. His great-uncle Benjamin Vaughan, a well-known political radical in England before settling in Hallowell, was a close friend of Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin.[1]


Image of a historic bridge at Vaughan Woods & Historic Homestead in Hallowell, Maine. The homestead is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and is now a part of the Kennebec Land Trust. Photograph by Norm Rodrigue.

After graduating from Harvard Medical School in 1863, Dr. Charles E. Vaughan served as an assistant surgeon during the Civil War. He later married Elizabeth F. Wells of Cambridge in 1866.


Marriage announcement of Dr. Charles E. Vaughan and Elizabeth F. Wells in Quincy, Mass. Cambridge Chronicle, 28 April 1866.

That same year, the couple moved to a house on Garden Street between Mason Street and Appian Way across from Cambridge Common. Dr. Vaughan also used the home, now known as 8 Garden Street, as the base for his medical practice.


View of the Cambridge Common from the northeast, 1875. Appian and Mason have been highlighted, as well as property between them.

Elizabeth passed away in 1883. Dr. Vaughan lived at 8 Garden until 1886 he moved to 4 Brewster Place in 1886. After the death of his first wife, Vaughan married Alice C. Carter of Cambridge on October 11, 1894. Dr. Vaughan kept his practice on Garden Street until his retirement in 1895.


Plan of land at 8 and 10 Garden Street, pre-1853

In 1895, Dr. Vaughan retired to Santa Barbara, California, and the following year he sold his property on Garden Street to Radcliffe. Dr. Vaughan died on June 24, 1904 and is buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery.

The Dr. Charles E. Vaughan Collection contains correspondence, deeds, maps, leases, and other documents related to the 8 Garden property and its sale by Dr. Vaughan to Radcliffe College in 1896. Documents relate to previous owners of the property including Charles C. Foster of Cambridge and Louisa Higginson of Brattleboro, Vermont.



Pages of Agreement to convey land – Louisa Higginson to C. C. Foster, 1852


Plans regarding the sale of the Garden Street property to Radcliffe College, 1896

To view these and other items from this collection, please stop by the CHC during our research hours: Monday: 2:00-7:00pm, Tuesday: 2:00-4:00pm, or Wednesday-Thursday: 10:00am-12:00pm and 2:00-4:00pm. To make a research appointment with our archivist Emily, please call 617.349.4683 or e-mail

[1] Vaughan family papers, Massachusetts Historical Society.

Now Open: The Simplex Pennant Collection

This post was authored by our Simmons 438 Archives intern, Elise Riley

Until the mid-20th century, the Simplex Wire & Cable Company on Sidney Street was one of the largest manufacturers in Cambridge. Founded in Boston in 1840, Simplex moved to Cambridge in 1916 and manufactured electrical appliances and wire in a multi-building complex near Lafayette Square. MIT bought the property after the company moved to New Hampshire in 1970; University Park now occupies the site.

This collection holds 18 issues from 1945 of the Simplex Pennant, the company’s employee newsletter that gives us an authentic glimpse into daily life in Cambridge during the 1940s.

blog photo #1

Scores from company bowling league and trivia section.

Dedicated to manufacturing wires and cables for electrical use, Simplex Wire & Cable rose in the industry as an innovator, developing a submarine cable with a significantly longer lifespan. This invention came in handy as war broke out once again in 1939. Simplex became a main supplier of telecommunications cable to the US Army and Navy.

blog photo #2

A thank you note to Simplex Wire & Cable Company from US War Department.

blog photo #3

Simplex awarded its Fourth Gold Star from the US Maritime Commission.


Simplex Pennant masthead showing US War Department awards.

1945 was a pivotal year in World War II from Hitler’s defeat to VE Day. Woven into the Pennant’s committee reports are hints as to what was going on in the wider world.

blog photo #5

Entries honoring Franklin D. Roosevelt.


As the war raged on, The Pennant was there to capture the goings-on of domestic life and the war effort. The newsletter included birthday and wedding anniversary announcements as well as updates on enlisted employees or relatives.

blog photo #7

An employee’s letter from his son who had been released from a German P.O.W. camp.

It also featured cartoon reminders of attendance and safety precautions to keep morale and productivity up.

blog photo #7

A newsletter cartoon joking about attendance.

Come take a step back in time and explore the Simplex Pennant Collection! View the collection finding aid here. You can also take a look at selected pages from issues of the Simplex Pennant, digitized and available on our Flickr page.