The Archivists’ Corner: Getting to know your CHC archives staff, Part 2

This month, we are highlighting our fabulous archives staff here at the CHC.  Our part-time archives assistants, interns and volunteers do it all — from processing collections and writing finding aids, to cataloging the research library, taking care of fragile objects and collections materials, and promoting it all on social media.

Our second staff post features Meta Partenheimer, Digitization Assistant.

Hi, my name is Meta, and I work at the Cambridge Historical Commission as a Digitization Assistant. Before beginning my work, I started at the CHC through an internship while taking a course at Simmons, and came back to volunteer over the winter break.


Meta with the survey files!


A quick snapshot of the stacks I took last fall during a tour at the Massachusetts Historical Society.

I grew up in a small town in east-central Illinois, and attended college at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. While attaining my undergraduate degree in art history, I recognized that I loved spending time browsing the stacks and researching, and wanted to facilitate that experience for others.

After school, I moved to Oklahoma City where I worked for The American Pigeon Museum & Library, and the Oklahoma Historical Society. Working at these institutions helped me realize I wanted to become an archivist, and I decided to apply to the Master of Library and Information Science program at Simmons. Currently, I am halfway through my work towards an MLIS with an archives concentration. In addition to working at the CHC, I also intern at the John F. Kennedy Library.


A collection of racing homer photographs from The American Pigeon Museum.

My dream job would be professional beer tester—but I think more realistically I would love to work as an archivist with the Archives of American Art in Washington, DC. When I’m not archiving or catching up on homework, you can probably find me listening to a true-crime podcast, going to the gym, or catching up on my favorite British drama shows.

Fun facts about me:

  • My first paying job was detasseling corn the summer before I turned thirteen.
  • I have a cat named Winslow

Winslow at Christmastime on the farm in Illinois.

  • I am an avid fan of the Oklahoma City Thunder

My first OKC Thunder game vs. the Milwaukee Bucks.

One of the strangest things I’ve discovered during my archival career was with the Manuscripts department at OHS. One summer, we were charged with collecting and preserving items from the State Capitol Publishing Museum, which had been closed for a number of years. While recovering a drawer of documents, I came across a small mummified mouse which my colleagues and I dubbed “Frontier Mouse.”


Each drawer on this wall held a blank book of forms for orders, permits, and other paperwork. I found “Frontier Mouse” in the top row.

So far, my favorite archival find at the CHC is a collection of cyanotypes that were taken during the construction of the subway system in Boston, Cambridge, and surrounding areas.


Cyanotype titled “Kendall Sq. Station” from the Boston Elevated Railway (BERy) Collection, dated 28 March 1910.

Currently, I am working on digitizing our architectural survey files, processing collections, and creating posts on CHC social media.



The Archivists’ Corner: Get to know your CHC archives staff

This month, we are highlighting our fabulous archives staff here at the CHC.  Our part-time archives assistants, interns and volunteers do it all — from processing collections and writing finding aids, to cataloging the research library, taking care of fragile objects and collections materials, and promoting it all on social media.

Our first staff post features Emily Magagnosc, Archives Assistant.

Emily grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs. Her mom is a librarian and her grandma volunteered in her local public library, so clearly Emily was destined to go into libraries. She went to undergrad at Smith College in Northampton, MA, and while there she worked in the Calvin Coolidge Presidential Museum and Library, which was the best job she’d ever had and led her to apply to the Graduate School of Library Science at Simmons College. She just finished her first year there and is very excited about all of her classes.


Emily in her library cataloging corner.

Emily lives with three roommates and three cats in Brighton. The most interesting thing she has found on the job is a collection of recorded (written) confessions from the early days of the church in Northampton. When she is not archiving, she is watching Parks and Recreation on repeat, listening to loud punk music, knitting, doing inappropriate embroidery, reading,  and petting her cat, Russell.


Sushi Russell.


Russell Pt. 2.

Emily is working on cataloging the research library at the CHC. She also recently designed posters for the 2017 Cambridge Open Archives, writes blog and Instagram posts, and gets overly excited about the cool stuff in the archive. Her dream job is working in a women’s history collection like the Sophia Smith Collection at Smith or the Schlesinger Library at Harvard.


A print from the William Galvin Collection, one of many architectural drawings and designs that Emily cataloged and photographed over the past several months.

Boston Elevated Railway (BERy) Photograph Collection

In July 1891, owing to dense streetcar traffic, a result of increasing populations and the industrial strides of the late nineteenth century, a Rapid Transit Commission was created to resolve the transportation dilemma of Boston and its neighboring communities.


Proposed Location, Underground Structures for Main St., 19 May 1909

The commission researched traffic conditions in the city’s densest areas, namely Tremont Street, and presented a report recommending construction of an elevated railway system and a tunnel for streetcars to alleviate congested conditions in Boston and surrounding areas. Citing this report, the Massachusetts Legislature approved the Boston Elevated Railway Company (BERy) for incorporation on July 2, 1892.[1]


Brattle Square Progress on Excavation, 15 November 1909

The Cambridge Historical Commission holds approximately 1,200 glass negatives taken by the Boston Elevated Railway between 1907 and 1912. These images primarily document the construction of the Cambridge Subway in 1909-1912.


South Side of Mass. Ave. from Brookline to Pearl Street, 17 February 1909

The Commission also holds a collection of about 200 cyanotypes donated by Frank Cheney. These prints were made from negatives that are not held in the CHC collections. Many of the cyanotypes in the collection depict the construction of the Charles River dam and viaduct.


Charles River dam, lower side looking toward Cambridge, 31 July 1907


Charles River Bridge, Foundation #4, 1 December 1907

Others document the construction of the underground tunnel on Brattle Street.


Brattle Street, 20 June 1910

General William A. Bancroft was president of the Boston Elevated Railway from 1899 to 1916 and proved a great influence in expanding the lines in Cambridge.[2] In the words of one writer at the Cambridge Chronicle, “No suburban city is more vitally interested in rapid transit than Cambridge.”[3]


Looking down Mass. Ave. incline, 15 November 1911

The Commission holds several boxes of BERy cyanotypes in the archives as well as vertical research files in our main office. To research our BER-y photographs and related collections, please contact our archivist, Emily Gonzalez by e-mail at or by phone at 617.349.4683.


[1] Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, “The Rapid Transit Commission and the BERY,” MBTA > About the MBTA > History. Accessed May 15, 2017.

[2] Susan E. Maycock and Charles M. Sullivan, Building Old Cambridge. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2016.

[3] “What it Means to Cambridge,” Cambridge Chronicle (Cambridge, MA), May 12, 1894. Retrieved from

Researching Your Building at the CHC

May is Preservation Month, and over the next few weeks we will be posting about a couple of preservation-related archival projects that we are working on over here at the Commission.

Here at the Cambridge Historical Commission, our holdings are centered on the built environment of the city, with strong collections on the social, business, and industrial history of Cambridge. Formats include photographs, manuscripts, architectural plans, and books, among other mediums. The most valuable intellectual asset of the Commission is our collection of architectural survey files, documenting the history of every building (over 13,000) in Cambridge.


An example of an architectural survey form from CHC’s files. Between 1964 and 1977, the commission surveyed and photographed every building in Cambridge.

As our largest collection, the architectural survey files contain architectural survey forms, photographs, news clippings, and like materials for buildings in Cambridge.



The Executive Director of the CHC, Charles M. Sullivan, documented interior and exterior conditions before this home underwent renovations in the early 1980s.

Each file holds documents on every current building in Cambridge as well as records of many demolished buildings. An address may contain one sheet or boast an entire file folder depending on its history in the community.


Many files contain a history of the address from its original purchase. These documents contain valuable information including dates and prices of sale or taxes, and a description of the building.

These files are used quite frequently by architects, building managers, or homeowners, and are open for research.


Included in some files are newspaper clippings regarding the building’s history or current projects. This clipping from 1983 details a renovation project at this home on Otis Street.

As these files currently exist only in physical format, a patron must perform any research with our survey files in-person. The Commission is currently embarking on a pilot digitization project to improve access. This project will facilitate the creation of a searchable and browsable database, which will allow us to upload and share our survey files online.


Taken by Alex Beatty in 1988, this image depicts the finished renovation of 67-69 Otis Street. Image courtesy of the Cambridge Historical Commission.

Please feel free to contact the Cambridge Historical Commission to explore the history of your property. Our research hours are Mondays 4:00-7:00pm, and Tuesday through Thursday 9:30-11:30am and 2:00-4:00pm. Check our blog often for updates on our other projects, and for news on when our digital files will be accessible!

Cambridge Recreation Department Collection

The Cambridge Recreation Department Collection is now processed and available for research! This collection was donated to the Cambridge Historical Commission in August 1995 by Curtis Gaines, an employee of Human Services.

The Collection

This collection includes scrapbooks, books, and photographs that once belonged to the Recreation Department, as well as photographs that were already in the possession of the CHC. Much of the materials consist of City Council orders concerning park maintenance and upkeep, as well as department financial matters. The collection also includes budget appropriations materials, planning materials for parks and playgrounds, and department reports.


Preliminary Design for the Proposed Observatory Hill Park, Cambridge Planning Board, March 1950. Courtesy of the Cambridge Historical Commission.

A Brief History of the Recreation Department

The Cambridge Recreation Department was established in 1892 as the Cambridge, Massachusetts Park Commission. The Board of Park Commissioners with chairman General E. W. Hincks were now tasked with providing Cambridge citizens with a worthy park system. Previously, Cambridge only had a few poorly planned and maintained public parks with no public programs.


Cambridge City Council Order March 29, 1892, ordering “…the Committee on Parks be directed to consider and report upon the advisability of purchasing a tract of land…”

The commissioners hired landscape architect Charles Eliot and his firm, Olmsted, Olmsted, & Eliot to improve the existing parks and plan new ones in poorer, more congested neighborhoods. In 1894, the city acquired Donnelly Field in East Cambridge, Rindge Field in North Cambridge, and the entire Cambridge frontage of the Charles River. The latter section gave the department 800 acres of mud flat and degraded salt marsh by eminent domain and by 1914 a park was created along the length of the city’s shoreline. In 1910, the city began to construct playgrounds and to operate recreation programs there, and these functions expanded after the riverfront park was transferred to the Metropolitan District Commission in 1921.


City Council Order asking that the Park Commissioners purchase “Jerry’s Pit” to create a swimming pool. Dated April 7, 1914.

Maypole events were organized by the Cambridge Park Commission in the 1920s and 1930s. After the crowning of a “May Queen,” the young and gaily attired girls of the city would dance around the Maypole. Following this ceremony, there would be music, baskets of flowers, and other spring-themed activities for the children.


This image depicts a scene from a May festival on the Cambridge Common c.1925. Courtesy of the Cambridge Historical Commission.

After World War II, the responsibilities of the Park Commission were divided between the Department of Public Works and the Human Services Department. DPW began to oversee the parks, while Human Services took over recreational programs.


A group of teenagers posing on the ice during the 1940s. Three are holding hockey sticks.

We will soon be adding images from this collection to the Cambridge Recreation Department Collection on the Cambridge Historical Commission Flickr page. Follow us on Flickr and Instagram to stay up-to-date!