Cambridge Open Archives 2017: Living & Dying in Cambridge

Join us for the 9th Annual Cambridge Open Archives, June 19-22, 2017! 

This event is FREE but registration is required. Sign up here.

What is Open Archives? For four days, seven Cambridge repositories and special collections will open their doors to the public to showcase some of their most interesting materials — and the tales that go along with them. This year, our participants will present collections materials that fit with the theme of “living and dying in Cambridge.”

Our participants this year: Mount Auburn Cemetery, The Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology at Harvard University, the Harvard Semitic Museum, Longfellow House – Washington’s Headquarters, The Cambridge Historical Society, The Cambridge Room (Cambridge Public Library), and the Harvard Art Museums Archives.


William Lawrence Galvin Collection Architectural Drawings

In today’s post, our archives assistant Emily shares some of her favorite drawings from an enormous architectural collection in our archives. While this collection is still undergoing conservation work, much of it is available for research.

William Lawrence Galvin was an architect prominent in Cambridge during the mid-twentieth century. A native of Roxbury, his family moved to Cambridge so Galvin could prepare for Harvard. He graduated with a BA in Fine Arts in 1925 and a master’s degree in architecture in 1931. Galvin’s interest in architecture began during his undergraduate education. He opened a real estate office while still at Harvard and launched his own architecture firm following his graduation from the Harvard School of Architecture. Over his 50 year career, Galvin deeply impacted the landscape of Cambridge, contributing several well-known buildings to the city, including the Cambridge Federal Savings and Loan building which is no longer standing.


Cambridge Federal Savings and Loan Ass’n front elevation, n.d. Negative photostat. William Lawrence Galvin Collection, CHC.

Over the last 6 months, I have worked extensively with this collection, reprocessing and cataloging Galvin’s architectural drawings. Many of the buildings he designed were never built, including his proposal for a high-density apartment building at 680 Huron Avenue overlooking the Fresh Pond golf course.


Apartments Overlooking Fresh Pond… Proposed apartment building at 680 Huron Ave, n.d. William Lawrence Galvin Collection, CHC.

My favorite drawings, however, are student work. As part of his degree program, Galvin created several large scale drawings of buildings, like this “Bank for a Small City” which includes a cross section, front elevation, and floor plan.



Bank for a Small City, n.d. Ink and watercolor on heavy paper. William Lawrence Galvin Collection, CHC.

This front elevation was submitted to the Boston Society Competition.


Boston Society Competition, n.d. Ink and watercolor on heavy paper. William Lawrence Galvin Collection, CHC.

Another front elevation is labeled “Municipal Employment Bureau” as part of the design of the building.


Municipal Employment Bureau, n.d. Ink and watercolor on paper. William Lawrence Galvin Collection, CHC.

Galvin’s thesis project was a design for a Cambridge Memorial Auditorium to be built in Cambridge Common. Several drawings exist of his design, which he later revised to submit to the mayor Cambridge.


Cambridge Memorial Theatre, ca. 1931. Ink on paper. William Lawrence Galvin Collection, CHC.


Cambridge Memorial Theatre, ca. 1931. Photostat. William Lawrence Galvin Collection, CHC.


Cambridge Memorial Theatre, ca. 1931. Photostat. William Lawrence Galvin Collection, CHC.


Cambridge Memorial Auditorium, Expanded for Mayor Russell, n.d. Original drawing. William Lawrence Galvin Collection, CHC.

This unlabeled front elevation, probably of an apartment building, is a beautiful example of Galvin’s student work.


Unlabeled front elevation, n.d. Watercolor on paper. William Lawrence Galvin Collection, CHC.

My favorite of Galvin’s student works is this “Byzantine Church.” The detail is exquisite, especially the inclusion of frescoes in the dome of the church.


A Byzantine Church of the First Golden Age, n.d. Watercolor on paper. William Lawrence Galvin Collection, CHC.

Many of the drawings in this collection show evidence of damage due to the poor conditions they were found in. Galvin stored his drawings in rolls, and after his death in 1983 they were left untouched. The collection was donated by property developers Martin Hill and Lauren Harder who acquired the building from Galvin’s daughters in 2011. Several of the damaged drawings were in such poor condition that they couldn’t be restored, however efforts were made to restore many other drawings.

Processing and cataloging the collection has been a long process, and there is still more to be done. For more information, see the finding aid for this collection.

The Ellis & Andrews Real Estate Collection

For the past several weeks, our Spring 2017 Simmons archives intern, Chun Yu Tsui, has been working on re-processing the Ellis & Andrews real estate collection. This collection was donated to the CHC in 1994 by Helen Moulton, owner and president of the Ellis & Andrews real estate firm from 1979-1994.

As part of the re-processing project, Chun Yu has reorganized the first two boxes from the collection; mainly, changing a box of real estate correspondence from chronological order to alphabetical order. Since so many of the letters received by Ellis & Melledge (the original company name) mentioned specific streets and addresses for sale, we thought reorganizing the correspondence alphabetically would be much easier for researchers.

In addition to finding out about the history of the oldest real estate firm in Cambridge, researchers might now be interested in finding information on the history of their home or building lots. The reorganization of the real estate correspondence will now allow researchers to search for their street or address by name.

Below, read about the collection and Chun Yu’s experience reprocessing a huge box of correspondence from 1893-1896.

Background on Ellis & Andrews*

Established in 1888, the firm of Ellis & Andrews was Cambridge’s oldest real estate company.  First located at 910 Main Street (now Massachusetts Ave.) in Quincy Square, it was founded by William Rogers Ellis as the Ellis Real Estate & Insurance Company.  In 1893, Cambridge native Robert Melledge joined the firm, which was renamed Ellis & Melledge, it moved to the Lyceum Building (now the Harvard Cooperative Society).  In 1903 William Ellis died and Melledge extended partnership to Ellis’s son, Benjamin Pierce Ellis.  Two years later Benjamin left the company to work independently, and in 1913 Melledge moved his firm to its present location in the Brattle Building at 4 Brattle Street, Cambridge.  In 1917 Robert Melledge died and Benjamin Ellis returned to succeed his father.  In 1920 he joined Cambridge real estate veteran Edward A. Andrews in business and the firm became Ellis & Andrews.  Seven years later Edward Bowditch joined the company as an agent; by 1928 he was a co-owner.  Edward Andrews died in 1936, and the firm was subsequently renamed Ellis & Bowditch.  His son, Dwight Andrews, continued to work as an agent until he was called to duty in World War II.  After the war, Dwight Andrews returned and the firm was again called Ellis & Andrews.  In 1955, Andrews became sole owner; in 1961 John Norris joined as a partner; and in 1979 Helen Moulton bought the agency and became the president.  The agency lost its independent status when it merged with another firm in 1994.


This is an example of correspondence to Ellis & Melledge from a Cambridge resident, Mrs. Charles Goodhue. In the letter, Mrs. Goodhue writes, “I want a house with 8 or 9 sleeping rooms – including servant’s room.”

The Collection*

The Ellis & Andrews Collection contains both business and personal correspondence from c. 1889 to 1986, with the bulk of the material from 1890-1935. These materials are organized in several individual archival boxes, which are then stored in five larger boxes. The collection contains various forms of printed material, including correspondence (business and personal); interviews from local newspapers; real estate advertisements; sales ledgers; a daybook (business transactions); postcards; invoices; and notes on a history of the Ellis-Andrews Insurance Agency.

The files of a personal nature contain correspondence between Edward and Elizabeth Andrews, and information on the estate of Edward Andrews. Biographical information (including obituaries) can be found on William Rogers Ellis, Benjiman P. Ellis, Robert J. Melledge, and Edward A. Andrews. There are also two files on Dwight Andrews which contain a variety of materials, but most of the information is from the 1980s.


This is an example of correspondence to Ellis & Melledge from a Cambridge resident. The resident writes, “I wouldn’t advise being too stiff on prices for rooms. Don’t refuse a reasonable offer from good man.”


This example of correspondence to Ellis & Melledge from W.A. Mason & Son shows the scenario of three surveyors measuring distances for engineering work, indicating how the city of Cambridge was developed in the late 19th century.

Reorganizing the Collection

The “Scope and Content” note in the original finding aid created by Matthew Hall in April 1995, and reformatted by Megan Schwenke in April 2012, only describes one of the small document boxes located in one of the collection’s five huge white storage boxes. Therefore, apart from double-checking the box that was already processed, five weeks ago I as an intern started sorting through another box of documentation and correspondence from the collection, marked “1893-1896”. Those materials were originally sorted by year, but this form of arrangement might not be very helpful for researchers to find the desired documentation, especially for this box containing materials only within such a short period. With the guidance given by my supervisor, I decided to alphabetize the correspondence by address in order to foster easy searching, and then to rearrange the series and update the finding aid accordingly. Unfortunately, I could not finish processing everything in that box before the end of my internship, since that box contains too much documentation, many of it written in illegible or complex handwriting. Yet, this valuable experience really opens my eyes to approaching archival materials in the late 19th century.



This business postcard shows notes from W.A. Mason & Son, located in Central Square, Cambridge, a civil engineering and surveying company which Ellis & Melledge partnered with in the late 19th-century.

Click the following text to open the Ellis & Andrews Collection finding aid. Please note: this collection is currently being reprocessed, and the finding aid linked here may not be the most recent version. The collection is still open for research, however, so please contact the Archivist for more information.

*The background and collection notes are taken from the collection finding aid.

Ella Jepson Nylander Photograph Collection

In this post, our archives assistant Meta shares highlights and images from the recently processed and digitized Ella Jepson Nylander Photograph Collection. This collection is open for research at the CHC.

This collection consists of photographs found in a trunk that belonged to Ella Jepson Nylander. Mrs. Nylander was born Rozella Josephine Jepson in New Sweden, Maine in 1883 to Swedish immigrants Mons and Elna Jepson. Ella and her husband Olof Conrad Nylander lived within the closely-knit Swedish-American community in Cambridge for many years, and a number of the photographs in this collection were taken by photographers in Cambridge and across the water in Boston. Members of the Nylander and related families are represented in the images, in addition to friends and fellow church-goers of the Swedish Baptist Church located at the corner of Washington and Columbia streets.


Portrait of Anna Nyman (left) and Ella Jepson Nylander (right), c. 1890-1905.

Cambridge began seeing a rise in Swedish immigrants during the late-nineteenth century, and by 1905 the population had reached 1,645. Many Swedes were employed in trades and as craftsmen, but quite a few members of the younger generation began working in a more professional capacity. The Swedish and Swedish-American community in Cambridge was a close-knit and religious group during this time, and many of their activities centered on their religion.


Portrait of Olof Conrad Nylander (left) and Otto H. Anderson (right), c. 1900-1910.

Ella Jepson married Olof Conrad Nylander in Cambridge, Massachusetts on May 30, 1908, and the ceremony was performed by Reverend C. (Carl) E. Johnson, the couple’s first pastor in Cambridge. Reverend Johnson became the pastor for this congregation in 1899. During his time in Cambridge, Reverend Johnson performed wedding ceremonies for various friends of the Nylanders and was very active in organizing church social events.


Portrait of Reverend Carl E. Johnson, c. 1900. 

By 1902, the Swedish Baptist congregation in Cambridge had expanded to over 100 members and began taking bids to create a new church. Many members of the congregation were said to be poor or working class immigrants, and the surrounding community of Cambridge was encouraged to aid in fund contributions to the new church. Construction began in late 1902, and during this time the congregation worshiped in the YMCA building. The cornerstone for the new church was laid on March 8, 1903 and dedicated the following May in 1904. As it stands today, the building at 77 Columbia Street is a substantial improvement to its predecessor and embodies the spirit of community and fellowship of the Swedish community in Cambridge.


Swedish Baptist Church at 77 Columbia Street, Cambridge, c. 1903-1915.

For a more in-depth history of this collection and the individuals photographed, click the following text to open the Ella Jepson Nylander Photograph Collection finding aid.

To view the full collection of digitized images, visit the Cambridge Historical Commission Flickr page.

“Ancestry,” Retrieved from
“Death of Iowa Rev. Olof Lindh.” Cambridge Chronicle, October 12, 1912. Accessed October 7, 2016.——-en-20–1–txt-txIN——.
“Harvard Square.” Cambridge Tribune, June 15, 1907. Accessed October 11, 2016.——-en-20–1–txt-txIN——.
“Midsummer Festival.” Cambridge Chronicle, June 29, 1918, Accessed October 11, 2016.——-en-20–1–txt-txIN——.
“Midsummer Festival by Swedish Church.” Cambridge Chronicle, June 28, 1919. Accessed October 11, 2016.——-en-20–1–txt-txIN——.
“New Swedish Baptist Church.” Cambridge Chronicle, July 19, 1902. Accessed October 7, 2016.——-en-20–1–txt-txIN——.
“Over 600 Present at Annual Swedish Night.” Cambridge Chronicle, March 10, 1923. Accessed October 11, 2016.——-en-20–1–txt-txIN——.
“Proposed Swedish Baptist Church.” Cambridge Tribune, March 7, 1903. Accessed October 7, 2016.–1846—1935–en-20–1-byDA-txt-txIN-%22swedish+baptist+church%22+columbia—–#.
“Prospect Union.” Cambridge Sentinel, January 7, 1911. Accessed October 11, 2016.——-en-20–1–txt-txIN——.
“Swedish Baptist Church.” Cambridge Tribune, June 13, 1896. Accessed October 7, 2016.——-en-20–1–txt-txIN——.
Woods, Robert A. and Albert J. Kennedy, The Zone of Emergence: Observations of the Lower Middle and Upper Working Class Communities of Boston, 1905-1914. Abridged and Edited with a Preface by Sam Bass Warner, Jr., 70-74, Cambridge: The M.I.T. Press, 1962.

New archival collections now available for research!


Thanks to the hard work of our archives interns and assistants, many of our archival collections are now available for research at the Cambridge Historical Commission.  We are constantly processing new and existing collections, so check here often for updates.

Click here to discover full finding aids for the collections listed below (as well as many other collections in our archives):

  • Cambridge Engineering Department Collection
  • Cambridge Ephemera Collection (Updated). This collection contains ephemera related to Cambridge industry and business, institutions and organizations, local history, photographs and published materials.
  • Cambridge Traffic Department Collection
  • Cambridge Women’s Commission Collection. The collection is comprised of photographs, negatives, and planning materials relating to Cambridge Women’s Commission activities between 1979 and 1993.
  • Charles W. Eliot 2nd Collection. Eliot was a landscape architect and early advocate of urban planning.
  • Corcoran’s Department Store Collection
  • Doyle Family Photograph Collection
  • Frederick Hastings Rindge Collection (includes materials from Cambridge Rindge & Latin and Rindge/Cambridge Manual Training School)
  • Gladys G. Boyce Photograph Collection
  • The Electronics Corporation of America Collection (Updated)
  • Ella Jepson Nylander Photograph Collection
  • Harvard Naval Radio School Collection
  • Henry Deeks Photograph Collection
  • Latino History and Culture in Cambridge Research Collection
  • Lois M. Bowen Photograph Collection (Updated). Cambridge-based photographer and entrepreneur.
  • William Lawrence Galvin Collection (Updated). Cambridge architect.


Above Image:

Corcoran’s Department Store, new store opening, 615 Mass Ave, 4/13/1940. Corcoran’s Department Store Collection. 

About our archives:

The Cambridge Historical Commission maintains an archive of material on Cambridge buildings, organizations, and people. The primary collection is the Inventory of Cambridge Buildings, which documents every building in the city. Other collections include materials on Cambridge businesses and industries, transportation in all its forms, local government, biographical files, ethnic and minority groups, social history, and more.


Welcome to the blog of the Cambridge Historical Commission Archives & Library, where we share highlights from existing collections; staff and researcher favorites; new donations; and tell intriguing tales about Cambridge history. The Commission Archivist maintains the space and Commission staff, interns and archives assistants contribute regular updates.