Now Open: The Simplex Pennant Collection

Until the mid-20th century, the Simplex Wire & Cable Company on Sidney Street was one of the largest manufacturers in Cambridge. Founded in Boston in 1840, Simplex moved to Cambridge in 1916 and manufactured electrical appliances and wire in a multi-building complex near Lafayette Square. MIT bought the property after the company moved to New Hampshire in 1970; University Park now occupies the site.

This collection holds 18 issues from 1945 of the Simplex Pennant, the company’s employee newsletter that gives us an authentic glimpse into daily life in Cambridge during the 1940s.

blog photo #1

Scores from company bowling league and trivia section.

Dedicated to manufacturing wires and cables for electrical use, Simplex Wire & Cable rose in the industry as an innovator, developing a submarine cable with a significantly longer lifespan. This invention came in handy as war broke out once again in 1939. Simplex became a main supplier of telecommunications cable to the US Army and Navy.

blog photo #2

A thank you note to Simplex Wire & Cable Company from US War Department.

blog photo #3

Simplex awarded its Fourth Gold Star from the US Maritime Commission.


Simplex Pennant masthead showing US War Department awards.

1945 was a pivotal year in World War II from Hitler’s defeat to VE Day. Woven into the Pennant’s committee reports are hints as to what was going on in the wider world.

blog photo #5

Entries honoring Franklin D. Roosevelt.


As the war raged on, The Pennant was there to capture the goings-on of domestic life and the war effort. The newsletter included birthday and wedding anniversary announcements as well as updates on enlisted employees or relatives.

blog photo #7

An employee’s letter from his son who had been released from a German P.O.W. camp.

It also featured cartoon reminders of attendance and safety precautions to keep morale and productivity up.

blog photo #7

A newsletter cartoon joking about attendance.

Come take a step back in time and explore the Simplex Pennant Collection! View the collection finding aid here. You can also take a look at selected pages from issues of the Simplex Pennant, digitized and available on our Flickr page.


Now Open: Xonnabel Clark Collection

This post was authored by our Simmons 438 Archives intern, Jacky Martin.

You may have heard of the Clarks before.  Emory J. Clark Square sits at Fern Street and Concord Avenue.  Emory’s Pharmacy was the first Black-owned and operated pharmacy in Cambridge.

But this collection is about Xonnabel.

Xonnabel Clark was a teacher and counselor for various area schools over the years.  She received a Masters of Education from Harvard University.  She raised five children.  She was a very active member of her church, Grace Vision United Methodist.  And I think  – because I’ve not met her – that she is curious and passionate about learning and likes piecing puzzles together.

It’s the last two sentences that are important for this collection.

Clark became the unofficial historian for her church back in the 2000s, when the congregation needed to find the official deed for the church building.  She traveled to the Cambridge Registry of Deeds and successfully located the document.  That adventure sparked an interest in records and the history of her church that led to her working with the CHC to make the church into a historical landmark, and writing a report called The History of Grace Vision United Methodist 1871-2009: 138 Years of Christian Service (yes, we have a copy and yes, I’ve read it).

After spending two weeks with this collection, I understand her interest.

Grace M.E. Church Postcard

A colored postcard of the church

The Grace Vision United Methodist Church was built in 1887.  Its original congregation was an outgrowth of a Sunday School-type program called the Sabbath School, which was run by Baptist, Congregational, and Methodist churches including the Harvard Street Church.  The original congregation was called the Cottage Street Methodist Episcopal Church, due to its location on Cottage Street, before it moved to the Magazine Street building and renamed itself Grace Methodist Episcopal Church.  Since then it’s gone through four name changes (from Grace M.E. to Grace Methodist to Grace United to finally Grace Vision United).  That’s five different names for one enduring congregation.

And by all accounts, the congregation’s focus on community and outreach that started with the Sabbath School didn’t change.  The church sponsored Scout Troops, ran arts programs, and remained an active part of the community.  From the original Sabbath School to Grace Academy, the Grace Vision UMC strove to always contribute to the local community.

Grace U.M.C. Scout Troop 17

One of the many Boy Scout Troops the church sponsored

The collection itself is an interesting mix of official documents and informal photographs.

Grace Church Herald, October 1903

An old church newsletter; note the baseball statistics

The largest part of the collection (aside from the History) are the church programs that Clark kept over the years.  From Martin Luther King Day celebrations to joint Easter Sunday services with other churches to Anniversary services and banquets, these programs run the gamut of the various events that are a constant part of a church’s life.


One of the multiple programs for Martin Luther King, Jr. celebrations

More interesting – to me at least –  are the newsletters and correspondence in the collection.  Much of the collection consists of formal minutes from the multiple inter-church organizations that Grace United Methodist was a part of, but the rest includes church newsletters and messages to the congregation.  My favorite is the “Cakeless Cake Sale” letter, which is written almost entirely in rhyme.

Grace U.M.C. Cakeless Cake Sale

A Cakeless Cake Sale, a novel new way to do bake sales

The collection is a unique snapshot of the life of a church, taken by someone who clearly cares greatly for this church and its history.

Grace U.M.C. Service

A photograph of Sunday service

View the finding aid for this collection here. If you would like to learn more about this collection, please call us at 617.349.4683 or e-mail our archivist, Emily, at to make a research appointment.

“Douglass Day” Transcribe-a-Thon at Northeastern

If you are in the Boston-Cambridge Metro area, consider attending this “Transcribe-a-thon” on February 14 at Northeastern University, in celebration of Frederick Douglass’s 200th birthday. Archives staff members at the CHC will be participating online, which you can do, too. Click here for more information on participating online.

Details on the Northeastern event below:


Please join us this Valentine’s Day for a transcribe-a-thon in celebration of Frederick Douglass! In partnership with the library’s Open Access programming, the NULab for Texts, Maps and Networks and the Women Writers Project, Northeastern University’s Digital Scholarship Group will be hosting a local event at Northeastern’s Snell Library, as part of a much larger celebration organized by the Colored Conventions Project, the Smithsonian Transcription Center and the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Although Douglass was born into bondage, and never knew his birthdate, he chose to celebrate every year on February 14. We will commemorate his birthday by creating Black history together, transcribing at our library while streaming online with the national event. Pizza and snacks will be served!

Participants should bring their own laptops, if possible, but no previous experience is required. This event is free and open to the public. RSVP here: 

Ring in the New Year with Genealogy Workshops (CPL/CCTV)

Happy New Year! We here at the CHC hope everyone had a lovely and restful holiday season. To kick off the new year, we’d like to share a fun event series hosted by our friends over at the Cambridge Public Library (original post at the Cambridge Room’s blog):

Are you looking for something fun to do in the new year?  Join the Cambridge Public Library for our popular 4-week beginner’s genealogy workshop series.   Classes will be held at CCTV, located at 438 Massachusetts Avenue.

Wednesdays, 6-8 PM
January 10, 17, 24, & 31
Instructors:  Alyssa Pacy, Archivist, and Drew Griffin, Senior Librarian
Location:  CCTV computer classroom, 438 Massachusetts Avenue

Join us for a 4-week, beginner’s genealogy workshop. For two hours each week, we will demystify the overwhelming process of sorting through online records as well as give tips for how best to make use of research visits to local repositories. We will help you find ancestors, organize your research, and start a family tree. Come with a new question every week and leave with an answer and something tangible to bring home, such as a copy of a birth certificate. By taking this class, you will be automatically eligible to enroll in a FREE, two-part course on digital storytelling taught by CCTV. Learn how to make a digital film about your family’s history based on your genealogical research. Create a treasured digital keepsake to pass on to family members. Registration is mandatory for the series.  To register, please contact Keaton Fox at

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

Recap: American Archives Month

Yesterday marked the last official day of American Archives Month (October), and we wanted to thank everyone who participated in some of our own celebratory archives events here at the CHC.

In case you missed it (ICYMI):

  • On October 4, the CHC archivist – with the help of the City of Cambridge’s Director of Communications – took over the City of Cambridge Twitter account for Ask An Archivist Day. Anyone with questions about any and all aspects of archives – not just in Cambridge – could tweet to @CambMA and use the hashtag #AskAnArchivist to get a response. Check out some of the great questions and other interesting Cambridge history tidbits here!
  • We featured a couple of “behind the scenes” looks at some interesting collections in our archives via our Instagram.
  • Our new research series, “Researching the History of Your House in Cambridge”, took place from October 16 to today, November 1. This was a collaborative three-week event highlighting house history resources at the Cambridge Room (Cambridge Public Library), the Historical Commission, and the Department of Public Works.


    Research series attendees browsing and learning at the CHC

If you missed this year’s research series, stay tuned, as we’ll be offering it again in a couple of months. And don’t forget, you can always make an appointment with us to research your building or house: or 617-349-4683.

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!).