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.


The Library Catalog is Live!

We are pleased to announce that our online catalog is nearly complete and is now live to the public. Cataloging the CHC Research Library has been a long process, but entirely worth it. We are especially grateful for the hard work of our cataloging intern, Becky Shea, whose efforts made it possible to complete the catalog.

Check it out (pun intended) at!


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