Time Travel Tuesday: Printing and Publishing in Cambridge

Part 1: Henry Oscar Houghton, the Riverside Press, and book publishing in Cambridge


Welcome back to Time Travel Tuesday, a series focusing on Cambridge history illustrated with objects in our collections. In this episode, we’ll be discussing the history of printing and publishing in Cambridge. Let’s dig in!

The story of the printing industry in Cambridge begins in the earliest days of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. While printing in England was tightly controlled, New Englanders largely escaped the oversight of the English companies – at least in the beginning. Early printed volumes were primarily religious texts. The Bay Psalm Book contained the versions of the Psalms sung by the colonists. First and second editions of the Psalms were printed in Massachusetts, but later editions were printed back in England, due in part to a tightening of control over the Colonies by the English.

In addition to religious texts, early Massachusetts printers published almanacs, programs, and law texts. Later, especially the period leading up to and during the American Revolution, pamphlets were popular. As printing technology grew more sophisticated, so too did the materials that came off those presses. By the turn of the 19th century, an unprecedented number of people in the newly-formed United States had access to printed materials.


Title page: Chronicles of the First Planters of Massachusetts Bay, from 1623-1636. Published by Charles C. Little and James Brown, Boston. Printed in Boston by Freeman and Bolles, 1846.

Henry Oscar Houghton

Born in Vermont in 1823, Henry Houghton got his start in publishing as an apprentice typesetter in a print shop. In a letter dated November 16, 1848, he wrote to his parents:

I have recently had and offer to go into business here which seems to me very favorable. Mr. Freeman, of the firm Freeman & Bolles, who are among the best printers in the city, if not the very best, has offered to sell me one half of the office… Messrs. Little & Brown, who are the most extensive publishers of law books in New England, if not in the United States, propose to make a contract with us to do all their printing that we can do… They are building a large office in Cambridge, the rent of which is to be about half Freeman & Bolles are now paying in the city.

This was a somewhat risky venture. Houghton required notes of credit to raise the funds to buy his half of the firm, with a down payment of $100 and yearly payments of $250 thereafter. Little and Brown purchased the old alms house along the river and converted it to a printing plant, adding a steam power plant and a store room.


Exterior of the Riverside Press building, ca. 1893. Photographer unknown. In the Riverside Press collection, Cambridge Historical Commission.

Printing operations at the Riverside building began in 1852 and Houghton quickly gained a reputation as a “printer of discrimination.” The Press continued to grow through the Civil War with little negative effect from the conflict, as Houghton and Company already had an extensive client list. In 1867, Houghton purchased the building from Little and Brown and undertook extensive additions, doubling the size of the plant.


Title page: Harvard Graduates Whom I Have Known by Andrew Preston Peabody, 1890. Published by Houghton, Mifflin and Company. Printed at the Riverside Press, Cambridge.

As printing technology continued to advance, the printing industry continued to grow. Offset printing, a process by which the image to be printed is transferred to a rubber blanket before printing on the final surface, was first developed for printing on tin in 1875 and adapted for printing on paper in 1904. Paper making technology also advanced throughout the Industrial Revolution, with machines like the cylinder making the process faster and cheaper.

The Riverside Press was by no means the only printing company in operation in Cambridge during this period. Other printing companies of the late 19th century represented in our collections include: John Ford & Son…


Title page: A Brief History of the First Baptist Church in Cambridge with the Declaration of Faith, the Church Covenant, and List of Members, printed by John Ford & Son, 1870.


Thurston, Miles, and Pritchett…


Title page: A History of the Cemetery of Mount Auburn by Jacob Bigelow. Published by James Munroe and Company, Boston, 1860.


Verso of title page including copyright information: A History of the Cemetery of Mount Auburn by Jacob Bigelow. Printed by Thurston, Miles, and Pritchett, Cambridge.

…and publisher Moses King.


Title page: King’s Hand-book of Boston, Profusely Illustrated. Fifth edition published by Moses King, Cambridge, 1883.


Front cover: King’s Hand-Book of Boston.

Publishing is still a major industry in Cambridge. Though Houghton Mifflin eventually moved across the river to Boston, several printing and publishing companies are headquartered in Cambridge, including MIT Press, Harvard University Press, and Barefoot Press, a publisher of books for children.

Join us next month for part 2, a look at newspapers in Cambridge!


Amory, Hugh. First Impressions: Printing in Cambridge 1639-1989. Cambridge, Mass.:  Harvard University, 1989.

Ballou, Ellen B. The Building of the House: Houghton Mifflin’s Formative Years. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1970.

Cambridge Historical Commission. Survey of Architectural History in Cambridge Report Three: Cambridgeport. Cambridge, Mass.: Cambridge Historical Commission, 1971.

Scudder, Horace Elisha. Henry Oscar Houghton: a Biographical Outline. Cambridge: Riverside Press, 1897.


Notes On Discovery: Brief Archival Thoughts From A Recent Intern

As a Simmons student, one of the requirements for the Library & Information Sciences program, regardless of where you fall on the dual-major spectrum, is a minimum 60-hour internship at an archival institution located either in or around Boston, Mass.  I honestly didn’t know what to expect when I was assigned a post at the Cambridge Historical Commission: although I’ve been living in the Cambridge area for a little over a year, I have to admit that I don’t necessarily know much about the actual history of it beyond some superficial knowledge. I’m from Western New York! Cambridge, to me, was where Harvard and MIT had their campuses, the backdrop of The Handmaid’s Tale, and literally nothing beyond that. What could Cambridge possibly have in their local history archives that could interest me at all?

The answer? A whole lot.

Continue reading

Address Highlight: Michael J. Lombardi Municipal Building, 831 Massachusetts Avenue (formerly the Brusch Medical Center)

The CHC shares space at 831 Massachusetts Avenue at the corner of Bigelow Street in Cambridge with other city departments. Our neighbors include the IT Department, Inspectional Services, License Commission, and Weights and Measures, among others. However, this building was not built to house offices for the City of Cambridge.

In fact, the early history of this property indicates it was well-suited to medical professionals. It was originally the site of two Mansard houses; number 825, on the corner of Bigelow Street, built by soap manufacturer Franklin Brazier in 1869, and 837, built by Rev. Joseph W. Eaton in 1871. Both men had died by about 1875, and their houses soon proved attractive to medical doctors.

Mass Ave 831_low_arow

Before the Brusch Medical Building was constructed two Mansard houses occupied the site. 825 Massachusetts Avenue stood on the corner of Bigelow Street and 837 Massachusetts Avenue was next door.  Photo ca. 1925.

Dr. Augustus Clarke, an 1860 graduate of Brown University who served as a surgeon in the Civil War and was a pioneer in antiseptic surgery, occupied the corner house until his death in 1925. His daughters, Drs. Genevieve Clarke and Inez Louise Clarke, both Tufts Medical School graduates and gynecologists who practiced with him, remained in the house. After Genevieve died in 1930 Inez became a recluse. She allowed the building to decay, and died alone in 1942; her house was demolished in 1944.

Next door, 837 Massachusetts Avenue was the home and office of Canadian-born physician Dr. Joseph S. Lockhart. For a brief period, a relative of Dr. Lockhart’s, Dr. James Proctor Lockhart, a dentist and 1902 graduate of Tufts College, also lived and practiced in the house.

Mass Ave from City Hall

View of Massachusetts Avenue and City Hall. 837 Mass Ave can be seen in the background. Photo ca. 1940

Joseph Lockhart continued his medical practice at 837 Massachusetts Avenue until his death on March 1st, 1927. Soon after, Dr. William C. Archibald moved into the house and opened his own practice. Dr. Archibald had also relocated to Cambridge from Canada just a few years prior and soon shared his office with Dr. Ralph Gross, a local dentist. The house was demolished in 1949 to make way for a brand-new medical facility.


Proposed layout of Drs. J&C Brusch Medical Clinic, Drawn by Don Tibbetts, scale app. 1/16” = 1’ – 0 (30 October 1949)

Construction for the two-story cast stone building to be known as The Brusch Medical Center was commissioned by Dr. Joseph A. and Dr. Charles A. Brusch. Charles was John F. Kennedy’s doctor while he was a Massachusetts senator.


Basement Floor Plan (2 February 1950)

In the first week of October 1950, the Cambridge Chronicle reported that ground had been broken for the new center with final costs estimated at over $400,000. As you can see from the basement floor plan, there were rooms for physical therapy, soaking, cystoscopy, and radiography, among others.

Drs. Brusch were known for incorporating treatments that were thought of as revolutionary for the time such as prescribing herbal remedies and providing acupuncture. Dental offices were housed on the first floor, along with a fountain centerpiece.


First Floor Plan (2 February 1950)

In addition to several offices, treatment suites, and exam rooms, architect Edward T.P. Graham made plans for a pharmacy to be included on the first floor. The Medical Arts pharmacy was considered “outstanding” by some residents as it offered comfortable waiting room accommodations, such as rocking chairs and air conditioning.


Clipping from Cambridge Chronicle, July 10th, 1952

The Brusch Medical Center closed in 1980 and the family sold the building to the Catholic Foreign Missionary Society of America (better known as the Maryknoll Fathers), which used it as a residence. The City of Cambridge acquired the building, along with the adjoining house at 8 Bigelow Street, in 1987 and renovated it for municipal offices. When it opened in 1988 it was named the Michael J. Lombardi Municipal Building after the former state representative who died in 1988.

Currently flanking the front entrance of our building are two lions that were carved by Cambridge sculptor Gaetano Schipilliti. According to our architectural inventory form for this address, the lions had previously been housed inside the building lobby.

Mass Ave 831 IMG_20160912_105048

Lion statues and Brusch Medical Center sign at 831 Massachusetts Avenue, 2016

Mass Ave 831 1965

Exterior of 831 Massachusetts Avenue, 1965

If you would like to learn more about our building or research other buildings around Cambridge, please call us at 617.349.4683 or e-mail our archivist, Emily, at egonzalez@cambridgema.gov to make a research appointment.

A big thanks to CHC Executive Director Charles Sullivan for aiding in the research and composition of this blog post.