Free Workshop Series: Researching the History of Your House with the City of Cambridge


Close-up of architectural inventory form for an address on Hampshire Street, CHC

Join staff members from the Cambridge Historical Commission, the City of Cambridge Department of Public Works and the Cambridge Room at the Cambridge Public Library for a three-week series on researching the history of your house or building.

Registration is mandatory, though you do not have to attend all three sessions (though we highly recommend it!). For your convenience, each department will offer two days of the same session – one in the evening and one in the afternoon.

To register, please check out the schedule below and contact the person listed. Looking forward to seeing you there!

Session 1: The Cambridge Room at the Cambridge Public Library
This hour-long, hands-on workshop will guide you through a variety of online resources that will help you research your home from the comfort of your home. Discover when your building was built and by who.  Find out who lived in your house and how your neighborhood has changed.  We will provide laptops. Registration is mandatory.

Monday, October 16
6:00 – 7:00 PM
Location: Community Room, Cambridge Public Library

Max. 16 participants


Wednesday, October 18
3:00 – 4:00 PM
Location: Beech Room, Cambridge Public Library

Max. 13 participants

Led by Alyssa Pacy, Archivist at the Cambridge Public Library.  To register, email: or call 617-349-7757

Session 2: Cambridge Historical Commission
The Commission’s research collection is founded on an architectural inventory that contains survey forms, photographs, and documentation on all 13,000+ buildings in the City. Participants will learn how individual homes can be researched using these inventory files, as well as the Commission’s collection of city directories, atlases, maps, photographs, books on the City’s different neighborhoods, and some deed, tax, and building permit records.

Monday, October 23

6:00 – 7:00 PM

Location: Cambridge Historical Commission, 831 Massachusetts Avenue, 2nd floor

Max. 12 participants


Wednesday, October 25

2:00 – 3:00 PM

Location: Cambridge Historical Commission, 831 Massachusetts Avenue, 2nd floor

Max. 12 participants

Led by Cambridge Historical Commission staff.  To register, email: or call: 617-349-4070

Session 3: Cambridge Department of Public Works
The public works collection is primarily focused on sewer & drain utility drawings and plans showing the boundaries of the public rights of way. But many of these and other records, which go as far back as 1840, also include interesting historical facts such as previous building, street, and water body configurations as well as ancient industries, property owner names and assessment values. Participants will learn how individual locations can be researched with geographic, database, and online indexes and they’ll see how those indexes have evolved.

Monday, October 30
6:00 – 7:00  PM

Location: Department of Public Works, 147 Hampshire Street

Max. 12 participants


Wednesday, November 1
2:00 – 3:00 PM

Location: Department of Public Works, 147 Hampshire Street

Max. 12 participants

Led by George Stylianopoulos, City of Cambridge Department of Public Works.  To register, email:

General questions about the series? Call 617-349-4683.


This weekend! Cambridge Discovery Day

Don’t miss this year’s Cambridge Discovery Day — tomorrow, Saturday, September 16!

Discover Cambridge during a day of free tours and events celebrating the city’s history. Enjoy special tours by the Rangers at Longfellow House-Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site and the Fresh Pond Reservation, experience the Revolution from a child’s perspective, and discover the secret history of Cambridge saloons and speakeasies. Explore James Russell Lowell’s Brattle Street, be inspired by stained glass windows at Saint Peter’s Episcopal Church, and delight in the architectural gems of Avon Hill.

View the complete schedule here.


The new Cambridge Archives site is live!

Cambridge is a city rich with so much history, so many museums, libraries, and schools, that it can be hard to know where exactly to go for specific historical materials. The new Cambridge Archives website aims to help researchers, history lovers and curious citizens figure out which Cambridge archive holds what kinds of materials.

The new Cambridge Archives site was created with the generosity of the Massachusetts Society of the Cincinnati (Anderson House), and through a collaboration with the Cambridge Historical Society, the Cambridge Historical Commission and the Cambridge Room of the Cambridge Public Library.   Check it out, and watch for more updates over the next couple of months as we add more archives and collecting institutions to the site (add yours, too!).

Cambridge Open Archives 2017

This post is well overdue, but before the summer officially winds down (!), we wanted to share some photographs from this year’s Cambridge Open Archives event, which took place June 19-22.

This year, seven archives, special collections, and collecting institutions in Cambridge opened their doors to the public to showcase some of their most interesting materials.  The theme this year was “Living and Dying in Cambridge.”

Check out a brief slideshow below of some highlights from this year’s archives tours. Photos courtesy of attendees and archivists.

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A huge thanks to this year’s participants and their fabulous archivists, curators, librarians and staff:

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 at the Cambridge Public Library, and the Harvard Art Museums Archives.

Next year marks the 10th anniversary of Cambridge Open Archives, so stay tuned for updates on what we’ll be planning!

New! Boston Globe Donation

Last week, we received a special visit from Richard Pennington, a former librarian for the Boston Globe. Mr. Pennington and Lisa Tuite, the Globe’s Head of Library, donated seven boxes of newspaper clippings from the Globe’s newspaper clipping morgue. The clippings date from 1900 to around 1977 (with some from the 1980s) and include interesting news stories and information pertaining to Cambridge. The stories come not only from the Boston Globe, but from other newspapers and publications, including the Boston Herald and the Transcript.


The newspaper clippings are arranged by subject, and they run the gamut of topics related to Cambridge history: from specific Cambridge buildings (of particular interest to the Commission), to local politics, to schools, historic riots, and Cambridge businesses.


According to Pennington, “The Globe was clipped from around 1900 until it went electronic in 1977 – it was  the first newspaper to store its content in a computer for retrieval.” The content of the clipped, indexed and filed newspaper clippings often depended on the preference of the librarian at the time.  Pennington also added that, “The city desk also had a decades-long policy of sending ephemera to the library to be added to the clipping files, and this included small photographs. Occasionally odd book chapters and magazine articles were added to the files.”


Pennington helped with the recent and ongoing transition of the Boston Globe Library’s collections to new institutions, as the Globe relocates from their Morrissey Boulevard location back to downtown Boston. Pennington was assistant librarian at the Globe when he left in 2007. The large majority of the Boston Globe clippings collection was transferred to Northeastern University — however, the Cambridge Historical Commission was fortunate enough to receive a great portion of this collection for our research files.

The newspaper clippings will be processed, cross-indexed with our architectural inventory files, and a finding aid will be created for researchers. The collection is currently not open for research.




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.

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.

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.

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.