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: 

New Finding Aids Available

We are happy to announce the availability of three new finding aids and the addition of a subject inventory for one of our collections! Scroll down for descriptions and samples of images from the following collections: Traffic Proposals and Plans – A Supplement to the Cambridge Traffic Department Collection, Daniel White Charity Fund Cash Book, Hugh Russell Collection, and the Boston Globe Cambridge Clippings Collection Inventory.

Traffic Proposals and Plans – A Supplement to the Cambridge Traffic Department Collection

This collection contains report plans, transit reports, and studies prepared by agencies for improvement projects in Cambridge from 1962 to 1990. Subjects in this collection include Relocation/Construction of the Lechmere Station Project, Alewife Boulevard Alignment Study, and the North Point Roadway and Infrastructure Project.





Click here to view the finding aid.

Daniel White Charity Fund Cash Book

This collection consists of one ledger detailing the income, cash account, interest, and other financial aspects of the Daniel White Charity Fund in Cambridge from its inception in 1863 to early 1959. An introduction to the ledger is written by former Cambridge mayor J. Warren Merrill. White gave $5000 to the Mayor and certain Trustees of Cambridge to be held in trust with the following instructions:

Go hold and invest the sum safely and to apply the income thereof from time to time according to the discretion of the Trustees to the purchasing and gratuitous distribution of fuel among the worth and deserving poor of my (his) native City of Cambridge.


Click here to view the finding aid.

Hugh Russell Cambridge Urban Planning Collection

This collection covers the years 1972 – 2011 and is divided into two series. Click here to view the finding aid.

Series One consists of six boxes of Planning Board documents concerning special permit applications. The folder list is a spread sheet, which is arranged alphabetically by street address. The information for each address includes proponent, significant dates, PB number, project name and description, and a list of folder contents. Box 6 contains for the most part information concerning University Park. Click here to view the spreadsheet for Series 1.

Series Two consists of two boxes of reports, meeting minutes, newsletters, proposals, petitions, surveys from a variety of neighborhood committees and organizations as well city departments, all of which concern various urban planning and development issues in Cambridge. The folder list for this series is a word document. Click here to view the spreadsheet for Series 2.

As these materials are housed offsite, please contact our archivist, Emily at or at 617.349.6112 to make an appointment and view the collection.

Boston Globe Cambridge Clippings Collection Inventory

In relation to our previous post, the subject list inventory for the collection of newspaper clipping files from The Boston Globe clipping library is now available online. Click here to access the inventory.



Now Open: The Boston Globe Cambridge Clippings Collection

Last June, the commission received a donation of newspaper clipping files from The Boston Globe clipping library. Although The Globe was clipped from around 1900 until it went electronic in 1977, the clippings in this collection date from around the 1920s with some items dating into the 2000s.


The Boston Globe Cambridge Clippings Collection contains nearly 1,900 individual subject envelopes.

During the time when the clippings library was active, groups of clippings were organized by subject into single or multiple envelopes depending on the breadth of information on a given topic.


A selection of files related to Cambridge restaurants.

Envelopes can include stories of community interest to crime investigations, and originated not only from the Boston Globe, but from other newspapers and publications including the Boston Herald and the Transcript.


Vestiges of the past can be seen through use of less-modern terms, as this 1971 clipping from CAMBRIDGE: MASS: CRIME: FLIM-FLAM illustrates.

Some envelopes even included photographs once published in the newspaper, many depicting prominent Cambridge architecture or buildings that no longer exist.


Cambridge Children’s Museum, 1919.

The newspaper clippings have now been processed and a finding aid will soon be available to researchers on our website. Each title has been transcribed into a spreadsheet, and ordered via separate tabs for quick searching and topic browsing.


A selection of clippings regarding a new bridge over Broad Canal, 1928.

The next step in the Globe clippings collection will be to cross-index relevant clippings about buildings, social clubs, and other pertinent addresses with our architectural inventory files to facilitate an even more comprehensive history of Cambridge.


Mansion House, a restaurant and ice cream saloon once at the corner of Gore and Bridge (now Monsignor O’Brien Highway) Streets, 1905.

We look forward to welcoming patrons interested in researching this collection! To make a research appointment, contact our archivist, Emily at or stop by the CHC during our research hours: Mon: 4:00-7:00pm and Tue-Thur: 9:30-11:30am & 2:00-4:00pm.


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

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 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.

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.