Historic Building Feature Friday: Austin Hall, Harvard Law School

Designed by Henry Hobson Richardson and completed in 1884, Austin Hall at Harvard University stands out as one of the best examples of Richardsonian Romanesque architecture in the world.

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Austin Hall in 2012 showing circular stair and arched entry. Courtesy of Harvard University Fine Arts Collection.

Austin Hall was constructed thanks to Edward Austin who was born to a commercial family. He entered the shipping business at a young age and later turned to management of railroads, ending up as the Director of the Boston & Worcester (later Boston & Albany) railroad. In 1880, without ever attending Harvard University, he inquired then Harvard President Eliot on how he could provide for the greatest immediate need for the university while also erecting a memorial to his deceased brother Samuel. Eliot replied that the Law School required expanded facilities. Austin then replied to Eliot that he detested lawyers, but later offered funding for the structure.

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Edward Austin circa. 1860.

In 1882, after already hiring H.H. Richardson, settling on a location for the building, and approving a design, Austin offered Harvard $135,000 to construct his building, with the stipulation that no other structure stand within 60 feet of this new Law School building. The former Harvard Branch Railroad Station and the ca. 1717 Moses Richardson house were razed immediately. The building was constructed with the Hastings-Holmes house  nearby, until Austin insisted that the house be sacrificed and offered Harvard an additional $3,000 to have it removed. Holmes Place, which Austin Hall fronted, was eliminated.

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Austin Hall (left) shortly after completion with Hastings-Holmes house (right) in front before demolition.

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Austin Hall in early 1900s. Courtesy of Library of Congress.

The elaborate structure known as Austin Hall is planned in a T-shape with the two-story reading room serving as the shaft of the T. The main façade is dominated by a triple-arched entry porch and a circular stair tower. The checkerboard and floral patterns in the stone work are comprised of light and dark sandstone, and were not complete until after the formal opening of the new building.

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Plan for Austin Hall. Courtesy of Harvard Law School Library.

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Exterior sandstone detail with floral pattern. Courtesy of Harvard University Fine Arts Collection.

The interior is just as stunning as the exterior with continuation of arches and supports in the hallways to the delicate layering of brick and sandstone. The reading room (since remodeled into the Ames Courtroom in 1954), features exposed tie beams carved with the heads of dragons and boars as well as a massive fireplace with ornate detailing to match the rest of the building.

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Interior detailing. Courtesy of Harvard University Fine Arts Collection.

For more information on this building, feel free to schedule a research appointment with us at histcomm@cambridgema.gov.


Fig Newtons and the Kennedy Biscuit Company

Today is National Fig Newton Day!

In 1892, Philadelphia native and bakery machinery expert James Henry Mitchell patented a device that could simultaneously create a cookie dough and its filling–a small pie with jam or preserves surrounded by dough. Mitchell persuaded the Kennedy Biscuit Company of Cambridgeport to try his new machine and shipped one to Massachusetts. Soon, the company began mass-producing the fig cakes at their factory. The company dubbed this new concoction, then marketed as a nutritional cake, the Fig Newton–so named after the town of Newton, Massachusetts. Later, the Kennedy Biscuit Company and the New York Biscuit company merged to form Nabisco, which still manufactures the cookie as simply “Newtons.” Following Nabisco’s move to New Jersey, the plant was occupied by Fenton Shoe Company and was later purchased by MIT. Today, the building has been converted into mixed-income housing and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.


Entrance to the courtyard of the Kennedy Biscuit Lofts at 129 Franklin Street

The Bakery Oven
One of Frank Kennedy’s many innovations was the use of the reel oven. This type of oven allowed a continuous baking process which both increased production capacity and improved product quality. The original reel ovens were powered by a 50-horsepower steam engine. Located directly in front of you is one of the original six ovens with a new internal assembly suggestive of the very first reel oven.


Rendering of the Kennedy Biscuit Company reel oven introduced in 1869 by Frank Kennedy. The oven was incorporated in the building’s renovation and can still be seen today.


The Bakery Buildings
In 1875, the first brick structure was erected on this site. Cambridgeport was experiencing rapid growth as it shifted its economic base from trade to heavy industry. Twelve separate additions were erected between 1875 and 1937, and the 250,000-square-foot complex employed up to 650 people.


North side of the Kennedy Biscuit Lofts in 2019

Nabisco moved its operations to New Jersey, and the Fenton Shoe Company occupied the building from 1956 through 1986. The building was subsequently listed on the National Register of Historic Places and won the 1990 Preservation Award for its conversion from a factory to mixed-income housing.


Gate post of the Kennedy Biscuit Lofts featuring a cracker-like design plaque.

The Biscuit Company
In 1805, the Kennedy family started in the bakery business. Forty years later, Artemas Kennedy moved the business from Milton, Massachusetts and built a wood frame building on the Cambridgeport site. Steam power was introduced to the production process in 1855. Artemis’s son, Frank A. Kennedy, took over the business shortly thereafter, and the bakery was renamed the “F.A. Kennedy Steam Cracker Bakery.”

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Kennedy Steam Bakery card, ca. 1910. CHC Postcard Collection.

In 1890, Frank Kennedy merged his bakery with the New York Biscuit Company, which later merged with the National Biscuit Company (Nabisco).

Frank Kennedy served on Nabisco’s Board of Trustees until his death.

The Bakery Products
The Kennedy Bakery product line consisted of three cracker types – soda, butter, and sugar – as well as several varieties of cakes and cookies. Familiar names include Lorna Doone, Arrowroot and Social Tea. Other Nabisco products include the still-popular Oreo cookie.


Gate post of the Kennedy Biscuit Lofts featuring cracker and cookie details.

In 1892, a device that extruded dough into a continuous tubular shape was purchased by the company. After experimenting with various fillings for this cookie sandwich, Frank Kennedy finally selected a brand of his fig preserves. It had been the company’s custom to name its new products after local towns – Fig Cambridge and Fig Shrewsbury were considered as possibilities for this new invention. However, an employee who lived in nearby Newton suggested the name of his hometown instead. Thus, a famous snack was born, the “Fig Newton.”


Fig Newton advertisement, date unknown. From The New York Times article “The Newtons Cookie Goes Beyond the Fig” (30 April 2012).


Cahn, William. Out of the Cracker Barrel: The Nabisco Story, From Animal Crackers to Zuzus. Simon and Schuster, 1969.

Historical exhibit located in the lobby of the Kennedy Biscuit Lofts, 129 Franklin Street, Cambridge.

Modern Monday: Putnam Furniture Company

For today’s #ModernMonday post, we are highlighting 1045 Mass Ave, the former Putnam Furniture Company store in Cambridge. The building was constructed in 1946 from plans by well-known Cambridge architect, William L. Galvin. The design could be classified as early International-style architecture with influence from Art Deco and Moderne designs-built pre-WWII. The white plaster, glass blocks on the second story and neon signage immediately drew in shoppers who were looking to furnish their homes during the post-WWII housing boom. Interior programming of the store separated furniture departments into rooms from bathrooms and kitchens to “Storkland”, which offered a complete assortment of baby and children’s accessories and furniture.

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Putnam Furniture Company circa 1946. Photo courtesy of Carl Barron.

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Putnam Furniture Company storefront lit up at night circa 1946. Photo courtesy of Carl Barron.

Putnam Furniture Company began in 1939 when founder, Carl F. Barron created the first furniture leasing company in the United States. The business began in two adjacent 1,200 square foot spaces in Putnam Square, one being a showroom and the other providing storage. Barron personally bought, uncrated, leased and delivered furniture which was very appealing to consumers. Due to the growth of the company, Putnam added a third story to the building in 1957 and eventually moved out of its headquarters in Putnam Square in 1974. The company transitioned to solely leasing of furniture in 1974 and expanded all over the region as far as Hartford, CT. Putnam Furniture Company was later sold to CORT Global Furniture Rental Network which operates all over the globe.

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Putnam Square in late 1940s, Putnam Furniture on right.

After Putnam Furniture moved out of the space in 1974, the building was renovated, and well-known furniture store, Crate and Barrel moved in. Most recently, the store has been occupied by Design Within Reach, another furniture store specializing in modern home décor.

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Existing store presently used by Design Within Reach. Third floor added previously.

For more information on this building or architect William L. Galvin, email us at histcomm@cambridgema.gov.

New Small Collection: The Coleman-Cutting Family Photographs

The Historical Commission recently accepted a donation of eight photographs depicting members of three Cambridge families in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The photographs were donated by a descendant of these families. Scroll down to read snapshots of these people and their connections to 19th century Cambridge industries.

Coleman Family: Police and Coal

This family collection’s story begins with a tintype of John Coleman, likely from the 1850s.

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John Coleman, ca. 1850s.

Coleman was born in Birmingham, England, in 1827. Around 1847, he and his wife Elizabeth Harper Whitehouse immigrated to the U.S. and settled in Cambridge, where John became a well-known policeman. In 1878, John and his son Walter started a coal and wood business at the corner of Broadway and Sixth Street in Cambridge; in 1881 son James also became part of the firm. After John’s death in 1883, Walter and James took over the firm, naming it Coleman Brothers. Their company did business at 428 Massachusetts Avenue until a merger with the Massachusetts Wharf Coal Company in 1923.


A (barely visible) newspaper image of the Coleman Brothers coal factory, Cambridge, Mass. Cambridge Chronicle, July 22, 1893. https://cambridge.dlconsulting.com/

Cutting Family: Firemen and Markets

John Coleman’s daughter, Fannie Coleman, married Charles H. Cutting. Charles was born in Boston but, like Fannie, grew up in Cambridge.

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Fanny Coleman Cutting, n.d.

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Charles H. Cutting, n.d.

The Cuttings had four children: Elizabeth Swanton, Henry Arthur, Herbert Harper, and Ida May. Sadly, Fannie died from complications of childbirth in 1889.

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The Cutting children, 1889

Charles Cutting’s occupation was originally listed as an iron molder, but he was later listed as a fish dealer and eventually owned his own provisions store at 885 Main Street (now on Mass Ave near Harvard Square). Charles may have taken over ownership of this store from E.A. Burroughs, proprietor of The Old Rockport Market, selling fish, oysters, and canned goods.

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The Cutting family outside of their store at 885 Main Street, n.d.

Charles would also serve as a volunteer fireman with the Cambridge Fire Department for 37 years, retiring in 1915.

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The Cutting family inside their store, n.d.

The three eldest Cutting children seem to have helped with the family store, especially son Henry, who later took over running the store after Charles died in 1920. Henry also worked for the Cambridge Fire Department at River Street from 1920-1942.

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Henry Cutting, n.d.

Kemp and Nowell Family: Soap

Charles Cutting’s daughter Elizabeth Cutting married Bowman Nowell, the son of Lucy Ann Kemp and Charles Nowell. Lucy Ann was the daughter of Lysander Kemp, owner of a Cambridge soap manufacturing company and brother-in-law to Curtis Davis of the Curtis Davis Company (a large soap manufacturer that was later bought by Lever Brothers).


Lysander’s original company, which manufactured laundry soap, was Kemp & Sargent, later Lysander Kemp & Sons.

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To see these photographs or to learn more about any of the industries mentioned here, make a research appointment with us at histcomm@cambridgema.gov. If you are interested in donating photographs or materials on your Cambridge ancestors, please feel free to contact Emily, egonzalez@cambridgema.gov. 

The Cambridge Historical Commission has a rich collection of both family photographs and historical materials on Cambridge business and industry, and we are always excited to add more to the collection.