Susan Butcher

This post is one in a series of stories we will be sharing about Cambridge women, in honor of Women’s History Month.

Susan Howlet Butcher was born in Cambridge on December 26, 1954. As a child growing up in Avon Hill, Susan grew to relish the outdoors and often preferred the company of dogs over playing with children of her age. Susan first became interested in sled dogs around age 16. Speaking about this time in her life during an interview with the Academy of Achievement, Susan remembers:

“I really feel I had a strong sense of myself from the earliest memories that I have. I knew very much who I was, approximately what I wanted to do. I didn’t know I wanted to be a dog musher. And I feel there are many things in life I could have done and had as much satisfaction as I am having. But I knew the type of things that I wanted to do, and I also knew that I wasn’t going to let anybody come in the way of that. When I got my second dog, and I was living in my mother’s house in Cambridge, and she said, ‘You will not get a second dog. I won’t let you have two dogs in the house.’ Instead of saying, ‘Okay, I won’t get a second dog,’ I got my second dog and moved out. So it was always a matter of… (being myself) and happily, and with a good relationship with my mother. This was not a negative thing towards my mother. This was not something that she even took as… I was very lucky to have parents that supported my ability to be responsible.”

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Susan Butcher with her sled and dogs. Credit: Paul A. Souders/Corbis, 1991

At just 20 years old, Susan relocated to Alaska where she moved into a log cabin in the remote wilderness. She began teaching herself to become a professional musher, dog breeder and trainer. Susan’s family had a long tradition of self-determination and autonomy. Her great-grandfather, Charles Butcher (1846-1916) emigrated to New York from England in 1867. He and his wife, Mary, moved to Boston a few years after the birth of their son, William Laramy (1875–1952).

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Undated image of Charles Butcher. Yankee Magazine, 1955.

Charles was a carpenter by trade, but according to an account by his granddaughter, Helen Elizabeth “Betty” Butcher (1914–1994), was appalled at the typical Bostonian’s method of cleaning the wood floors he installed–scrubbing with soap and water. With this in mind, Charles set out to manufacture a wax for cleaning floors, much like the product and technique employed in Europe.

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Photograph of Butcher’s Wax. Sample provided by the MFA Objects Conservation Lab. Photo credit: Keith Lawrence, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

This led to the development of Butcher Polish Company. Charles began manufacturing the product in the barn behind his property at 197 Lakeview Avenue near Fresh Pond. Butcher’s Wax was first sold in Boston in 1880.

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Undated image of 197 Lakeview Avenue published in Yankee Magazine, 1955.

After Charles passed in 1916, his sons William Laramy and Charles Howlett (1884-1951) inherited the company and ran it much in the same way as their father. Later, their sons, including Charles’ son, Charles II (1916-2004) took over the business. Charles II, known as Charlie, married Agnes and together they had a daughter, Susan Howlet Butcher (1954-2006).

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Undated images of Charles H. Butcher and William L. Butcher. Yankee Magazine, 1955.

Above: Charles II (Charlie) portrait at Harvard (1939) and Susan Howlet (no date, Alaska Sports Hall of Fame)

Susan Butcher became known as a highly-skilled dog musher and in 1986 became the second woman to win the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, an annual sled dog race of around 1,100 miles. In 1990, she became the second four-time winner and the first to win four out of five sequential years. Butcher died in 2006 at age 51 after being diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia in 2005. Two years later, the Alaska state legislature established Susan Butcher Day, observed every year on the first Saturday in March.

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Susan Butcher with her lead dog, Granite (no date, Alaska Sports Hall of Fame)

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The Cambridge Trotting Park: Part 4

This post is the fourth and final in a series of four written by guest author, Dan Sullivan, owner of The Book Oasis in Stoneham.


What do I think about the track? It did offer, at least at times, an extremely high level of competition from both horses and the human athletes. Hiram Woodruff, for instance, is in the Trotting Hall of Fame as an ‘Immortal.’ (As is Lady Suffolk.) Besides managing the Cambridge track for a few years, he was also a trainer, driver, and horse owner and wrote a book on the sport. It was said that his “honesty was unimpeachable.” Woodruff was not the only person associated with the track who made his home in the area. Dan Mace, another leading driver, lived in the Cambridge track neighborhood. A study of the city directories shows several people living near the Trotting Park who list their profession as something that is most likely linked to the track, such as horse trainer.

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“The celebrated trotting horse Judge Fullerton, as he appeared, driven by Dan Mace” published by Currier & Ives, 1874

Because of the drinking and gambling the park was held in very low esteem by its contemporaries. Was it immoral? It is always dangerous to judge another era’s morals. It was seen that way by many locals but other sections of the country embraced such tracks. Was it rowdy? Certainly it could be, but when you compare the number of these types of stories to the way that they were played up, I believe there was an imbalance. Yes, the majority of stories on the track dealt with negative activities and yes, I am sure not all were covered. But if you consider that the track spanned eighteen years there were not actually that many of them. I see the dangerous driving on city streets as a real problem that needed to be dealt with, but I think that the drinking and gambling might have been overblown by the press, considering how isolated the track was. I have to ask myself, “Did the average resident come in contact with many of the rowdier activities?”

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“Celebrated trotting horse ‘John Stewart’ as he appeared on the twentieth mile: In his great match against time over the fashion course L.I. Tuesday Sept. 22nd 1868. When he performed the unparalleled feat of trotting to wagon 20 miles in 59 minutes and 23 seconds” published by Currier & Ives, 1868

Also, once the park was no longer allowed to collect ticket revenue, the money from betting was their main source of income. Could gambling have been less of a necessary evil if ticket sales had been allowed to continue?

As often happens with such things, as decades passed the disdain for the track lessened. Several rather nostalgic articles were written after the park closed. I wonder if by that time some of the ‘Young Bloods’ that enjoyed going to the track had become staff members of the Chronicle.

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Clipping from the Cambridge Chronicle, 24 March 1924

I said at the beginning that the Cambridge Trotting Park had not left much of a mark on today’s map of Cambridge. That is true in the sense that one would not know it existed by just looking at a map. It did affect the way the map of Cambridge looks, in an odd way. Almost a century after the original park had opened, a greyhound park was proposed for Cambridge in 1935. It got approval from the state. It would have been built near Concord Avenue and Fresh Pond, completely changing that section of the city. After much debate, that track was built in Revere rather than in Cambridge. What stopped it? The trotting park closed in 1855. To prevent anything like it from ever coming back, the city enacted a new law in 1856 that gave the mayor and the council veto power over any new racing facility.

The Cambridge Trotting Park: Part 3

This post is the third in a series of four written by guest author, Dan Sullivan, owner of The Book Oasis in Stoneham.


Most of the local stories related to the track dealt with the dangerous riding and driving of the patrons on their way home. It seemed that after spending a day watching others race on the track many people would race each other on the streets of Cambridge causing a safety hazard. To make matters even more scandalous, some of the racers were women! “Their mouths poured forth clouds of smoke, from cigars they were puffing, and boisterous songs, while urging their horse to his speed.” Headlines cried out, “Nuisance” and “Furious Driving.”

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Clipping from the Cambridge Chronicle, 13 December 1849

Police blotters also made mention of illegal alcohol and card playing at the hotels on and near the track. There were also a few prominent stories about fights at the track..

The longest story in the Chronicle that even mentioned an event dealt with Lady Suffolk racing a mile on June 14, 1849. It was stated that: “It was considered a great occasion by those who take pleasure in such amusements…. One of the horses on the Course beat anything ever before heard of – trotting his mile in two minutes and twenty-six seconds!” Not only is the horse not named but she is referred to as ‘he’. Most of the remainder of the article dealt with how congested and ‘dusty’ the roads leading to and from the track were. The Chronicle even reported the highest single-day volume of alcohol ever consumed in Cambridge. It was obviously not seen as a proud milestone for the city!

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Lithograph featuring ‘Lady Suffolk’ and announcing her win over ‘Mac’ Mile at the Cambridge Course on 14 June 1849. Published by Currier, ca. 1849.

A similar coverage was given for the Stetson-Grindell ten-mile race. The paper dealt more with traffic and how much was taken in tolls on the West Boston (now Longfellow) Bridge that day. Volume was so high on the bridge that extra men were called into work.

Even as the property was put up for sale it still caused a scandal as a rumor spread that the property would be purchased by the Catholic Church.

A few decades later a local Baptist church, in looking back on its early days and its neighbors, the course and the hotels, recalled a fire at one of the hotels as “the great purifier” for the area.

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Clipping from the Cambridge Chronicle, 26 October 1848

The two boxing events that were held there met with the same disdain by the Chronicle: “We are of the opinion that those whose business it is to look after such matters, will cry ‘enough’ before these persons are allowed to test the skill they possess in pounding each other to a jelly. Let not Cambridge be disgraced by any such proceedings!”

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“John L. Sullivan, champion pugilist of the world. Born in Boston, October 15th, 1858” published by Wm. M. Clarke, ca. 23 November 1883.

Check back next week for Part 4, the conclusion!…

The Cambridge Trotting Park: Part 1

This post is the first in a series of four written by guest author, Dan Sullivan, owner of The Book Oasis in Stoneham.


Part 1

Just a casual glance at an 1854 map of the city makes it clear that North Cambridge was a very different place than it is today. Now the map is crowded with streets, and the houses on them are built on small lots. Massachusetts Avenue is lined with businesses. By contrast, 1854 shows an area with very few streets. Most business in the area consist of a few farms and the brick industry. The one area that is beginning to show some ‘crowding’ is the village of Dublin, which is made up of Rindge Avenue, Sargent Street, and Dublin (now Sherman) Street. Few landmarks would be recognizable by a modern visitor. The most prominent feature on that map is something that has left little trace on today’s landscape; the Cambridge Trotting Park.

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Aerial view of Northwest Cambridge, 2019

From 1837 until 1855 North Cambridge had a sports arena that often drew thousands of spectators and had such a high level of talent that it regularly generated national news. Famous horses such as Black Hawk and Lady Suffolk raced on the track. The strange thing is, it got almost no coverage from the Cambridge Chronicle, and the stories that did appear in that paper seldom focused on the actual sporting events. Many did not even mention them.

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H.F. Walling & Co. map of Northwest Cambridge, 1854

The course was one mile around and followed a route that was just inside what are now Rindge Avenue, Harvey and Cedar streets, and about one hundred feet beyond Clifton Street. The name ‘Trotting Park’ is slightly misleading. Yes, that was the principal type of event held on the course but not the exclusive type. Besides being the site of multiple types of horse racing, the park also hosted many foot races, or what was known at the time as ‘Pedestrianism.’ I have found descriptions of a greased pig chase, two boxing matches, and multiple mixed event ‘handicapped’ races. In addition to these there was one event that came close to what we would call a track and field meet today. It consisted of a hammer throw, a mile run, and the one-hundred–yard dash with other less traditional events.

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Beadle’s dime hand-book of pedestrianism : giving the rules for training and practice in walking, running, leaping, vaulting, etc., etc. Together with a full account of the great Weston feat, 1867

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Detail of ‘Running’ section, Beadle’s hand-book, 1867

My principal sources for information for these events are out of state newspapers. Why, you might ask, would these papers cover the events at the Cambridge Trotting Park and yet the hometown paper almost completely ignore them? The answer was an ethical one. You see, the principal activity at the Park was not sports competition, but rather the gambling that took place on those events, and Cambridge in the 1800’s would rather have ignored that.

Check back next week for Part 2…

Building and Structure Documentation Collection: Wolcott Gibbs Memorial Laboratory

Today, we are highlighting a building from our Building and Structure Documentation Collection. This collection documents buildings and structures in Cambridge that were either demolished or significantly altered. In this case, the materials were compiled as a condition of approval by the Cambridge Planning Board for a proposed replacement project.

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Close-up view of south facade of Gibbs Memorial Laboratory, Naito Chemistry Complex is under construction at the left of the photograph, 1999-2000.

For each building or structure, the corresponding box often includes an architectural description of the building or buildings, a narrative history, and archival photographs, negatives, photograph key(s), and/or electronic copies of the files and photographs. Today we are featuring the documentation of the Wolcott Gibbs Memorial Laboratory.

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Copy photograph of Wolcott Gibbs circa 1895. Original in Harvard University Archives.

The Wolcott Gibbs Memorial Laboratory, named to honor Harvard University Rumford professor Oliver Wolcott Gibbs, was originally constructed in 1913 to address issues of limited laboratory space at Harvard.

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View northwest, perspective view of Wolcott Gibbs Memorial Laboratory in 1913. Original in Harvard University Archives.

Located at the head of Frisbie Place, the building was designed by architect and 1876 Harvard graduate Alexander Wadsworth Longfellow Jr., nephew of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, for research in physical and inorganic chemistry.

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View into cold storage room and laboratory, second floor, Gibbs Memorial Laboratory, 1999-2000. This room was not part of the original building plan.

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View west from east side entrance into Gibbs Memorial Laboratory basement, 1999-2000. Note autoclave in center of photograph.

 

The laboratory cost $85,000 to build. During its construction in 1912, the Harvard Crimson noted that “The Wolcott Gibbs Laboratory will be unique in this country, and in fact will be the foremost institution of its kind in the world. The proposed group of buildings, which will cost a million dollars, would give the University an unrivaled place in the field of chemical science.”

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View of vestibule from front hall, first floor of Gibbs Memorial Laboratory, 1999-2000. Note the six light transom set above the doors. An arch at the top frames the individual lights and mullions delimit them. The frame around each light resembles a pier arch.

The building was constructed with a high degree of integrity of design including elements derived from classical, Roman, medieval, late Gothic and Corinthian architecture. In the 1960s, the laboratory was remodeled for inclusion of biochemistry laboratories, and in the early 2000s, the building was demolished.

Look for more building and structure documentation in future posts!

Focus On: CHC Volunteers

We are back with the latest installment of our blog series on the wonderful CHC volunteers. Today we would like you to meet volunteer (and former staff and Commission member) Allison Crump.

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How long have you been with the Cambridge Historical Commission?

I came to the Commission as an Audubon summer intern in 1975, while attending the Columbia Preservation program.  After graduation, I joined the staff for several years.  Later I was an appointed member of the Commission for 20 years.  Now I’m retired, I’m back to my roots!

What collection have you been working on? Tell us more about it.

The City Clerk’s archives include several boxes of applications to the Cambridge City Council for permission to move structures, which was once a common practice.  The applications I am working with date from 1870 – 1910; these are the ones we have found, but there may well be more. [Editor’s note: We are calling this the Building Removals Collection. Allison has been going through the applications in search of the original and subsequent – post-move – locations of these structures.]

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A building removal form for a property at Broadway and Main, 1888

What is the importance of the Building Removals Collection?

When I am successful at determining the original and subsequent locations, it’s a view into development patterns, as demands for more modern, larger structures in high-value locations created surplus structures available for re-use in various ways, often in areas newly subdivided for development.

What’s challenging is that descriptions of the sites are not always precise, and even when street numbers are used, these have often changed over time.  In some cases, approved removals appear to have never occurred, or were subject to multiple applications as proposed routes or locations shifted.  Another interesting aspect is the activity of specific moving firms at different periods.

It’s most satisfying when the survey files have speculated that a building was moved to its current location, and the removal files tie it to an original site.

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Example of a completed building removal research form (completed by a former CHC staff member)

What is your academic and career background?

In undergrad, I majored in history and art history, specializing in architectural history.  After Columbia and working at the Commission, I gradually migrated into affordable housing and nonprofit finance as my professional focus.  It’s fun to be back in the research game.

How long have you lived in Cambridge?

Over 40 years.  But I’m still a newcomer, and would never presume to describe this as my hometown.  My kid’s a native, though, so that gives me some standing.

What is your favorite thing about historic preservation? (or, your favorite building in Cambridge?)

I’m most interested in the flexibility of structures to adapt to changing needs over time.  That makes it possible to maintain continuity and context in the built environment, even when their original purpose has been superseded.  It’s also deeply satisfying to witness the extent to which preservation values have become accepted and see individual buildings, streets and neighborhoods which once seemed doomed, now in good repair and no longer threatened.  The block of Broadway between Prospect and Inman Streets is a great example of this phenomenon.

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Thank you, Allison!

A Whaleback Barge in the Charles River

Today’s post was written by CHC Executive Director Charles M. Sullivan.


In 1894 the Union Switch & Signal Company installed signals that prevented trains on the Boston & Maine and Fitchburg railroads from proceeding in or out of North Station when the Charles River drawbridges were in the raised position.

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Whaleback barge in the Charles River, ca. 1895. Photographer unknown.

The company publicized the project by distributing this photo of three empty coal barges passing through the drawbridges. The three-masted barge in the foreground was probably built as a schooner, but it retains only vestiges of its original rig. A similar vessel leads the procession.

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Figure 9.5 from Building Old Cambridge: Architecture and Development. Wharves near Harvard Square, ca. 1862. Sargent’s Wharf (foreground) is piled with lumber; four two-masted schooners are tied up beyond the College Wharf.

The second vessel was a steel whaleback barge, a rarity on the East Coast.  This type of vessel was developed to carry bulk cargoes on the Great Lakes. The first, Barge 101, was launched at Duluth, Minnesota in 1888.

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“Whaleback Str. A.D. Thompson [sic],” ca. 1905 by Detroit Publishing Co. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.

The design was a mixed success, but over the next eight years the American Steel Barge Co. built about 40 more whaleback barges and steamships. The company also had two vessels, Barge 201 and Barge 202, built in Brooklyn, N.Y. in 1890 for saltwater service.

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“Loading the Great Whaleback Ship at the Famous Grain Elevators, Chicago, U.S.A.,” ca. 1895. Photographed by George Barker, published by Strohmeyer & Wyman. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.

The Charles River photo shows the 190-foot-long Barge 202 returning to Boston Harbor after delivering coal to a wharf upstream on the Charles River. On June 18, 1892 the Cambridge Tribune noted that the whaleback then discharging 1,400 tons of coal at Richardson & Bacon’s wharf near Harvard Square was “the largest boat that ever came through the Craigie Bridge.”

Even in the late 19th century the Charles remained an important avenue of commerce; in 1893 sixty-four sailing vessels and sixty-one barges called at wharves in Old Cambridge (Harvard Square) and Watertown.

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Figure 9.11 from Building Old Cambridge: Architecture and Development. The industrial waterfront of Old Cambridge, seen from the chimney of the Boston Elevated Railway’s power plant in 1897. Richardson & Bacon’s coal shed is in the foreground. A schooner is unloading bulk cargo at Sargent’s Wharf. The Cambridge Park Commission has moved the Cambridge Casino from the foot of Hawthorn Street to the flats near DeWolfe Street, where it was burned by arsonists. Harvard moved its boathouses downstream below Winthrop’s Wharf in the 1870s to escape the city’s sewer outfall at the foot of Dunster Street.

This photo was taken in 1897, soon after Barges 201 and 202 brought cargoes of coal from Edgewater, N.J. A year later both vessels were sent to the Great Lakes via the St. Lawrence River and the Welland Canal. The last whaleback on the Great Lakes was taken out of service in 1969 and is preserved at Superior, Wisconsin.

Sources:

C. Roger. Pellett, Whaleback Ships and the American Steel Barge Company (Wayne State
University Press, 2018)

Susan E. Maycock and Charles M. Sullivan, Building Old Cambridge: Architecture and
Development
(MIT Press, 2016)

Boston Globe, Boston Post, Cambridge Chronicle, and Cambridge Tribune

 

Focus On: CHC Volunteers

October might be almost over, but it’s still American Archives Month — and in celebration of all things archive-y, we will be highlighting some of our fabulous archives volunteers. This week we would like you to meet Kathleen Fox.

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Kathleen organizing correspondence from the Ellis and Andrews Real Estate Collection

Kathleen began volunteering at the Historical Commission in October 2017, and says she is “driven by curiosity.”  We asked Kathleen a few questions to learn more about her volunteer work, and her life outside of the Historical Commission.

What collections have you worked on at the Commission? Tell us about them.

I began with processing a very large collection of maps and plans in the E.F. Bowker Collection, creating a spreadsheet listing each map or plan, the streets it pertained to, the owner, the surveyor, the date, etc.   Bowker was a mainstream and very successful civil engineer/surveyor in Cambridge. This was interesting work because of the light it shed on real estate development in the city, and because it was the first collection I had processed.

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Plan of St. Mary’s Parochial School, E.F. Bowker Collection

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Bow and Arrow Streets, E.F. Bowker Collection

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What is your academic and career background?

I received my B.F.A. in 1967, and went to work  as a secretary in the Mabel Brady Garvan Collection of American Art at the Yale University Art Gallery. After two years in New Haven I moved to Boston where I worked briefly for an architecture firm, and then as an administrative assistant in the Department of Humanities at MIT. Following that, after two years at a private research commission I spent the remainder of my working life at the Harvard School of Government (1980-2009), ending up as Assistant Dean for Teaching Support.

At the same time as I was working in academe I was a practicing artist, and taught watercolor painting at Brookline Adult Education. In about 1970 I was co-founder of an art studio in Boston next to Symphony Hall – – the Kaji Aso Studio. The studio gave classes in watercolor and oil painting, calligraphy and ceramics. It also had a poetry program and a music program. The Studio continues to this day. I drifted away in the mid-80’s , but continued my work as an artist while I worked in academe to support myself.

Somewhere along the line in the late 1990s I drifted once again – this time away from making art as I got more and more interested in history.

Do you volunteer anywhere else?

I volunteer in the Historical Collections at the Mount Auburn Cemetery and also at the Massachusetts Historical Society. I do whatever needs doing – – mostly background research and elementary preservation work.

What do you like to do in your free time?

After researching the history of my own 1893 house I got interested in researching the history of equally old houses on my block in Arlington.  This haphazardly expanded – – and now people commission me to research the history of their homes.  I am now working on my 29th history . Most have been in Arlington, but I have done two in Cambridge and a couple in surrounding suburbs. In the spring and summer I am also in the garden as much as possible.

What is the best (or your favorite) thing you’ve found in an archive?

At the CHC right now I am processing the papers from the real estate firm of Ellis and Andrews [old finding aid here; new one in progress]. The collection spans the period from c. 1893 to c. 1935.  These real estate transactions provide a very interesting and enlightening view of the cultural and financial values of the time, not to mention the growth of the city of Cambridge in the late 19th and early 20th century . This and the Bowker collection together have completely changed the way I view the cityscape as I walk around Cambridge.

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Correspondence to Mr. Melledge, Ellis and Andrews Collection

At the Massachusetts Historical Society there have been many memorable moments – – finding a flyer for a slave auction, listing the slaves by name;  holding a book printed in 1504 (the oldest thing I have ever held); and a letter from a local Massachusetts businessman to President James Garfield offering to send him the water bed he had developed for good health – – in 1881!! At Mount Auburn there have been more interesting finds than I could possibly list.

Thank you, Kathleen!

Stayed tuned for another installment of our Focus On: CHC Volunteers series.

Archives 101: This Wednesday 10/10

Celebrate American Archives Month with us at the Historical Commission!

This month we are offering a special tour of our archives, featuring an in-depth look at some of our many historical resources.

Join us this Wednesday, October 10 at 1 pm, OR Monday, October 22 at 6pm. Email egonzalez at cambridgema dot gov to reserve a spot. Tours will run around an hour.


Attendees of the tour will:

  • Get a behind-the-scenes look at the Commission’s archives and library space
  • Get an up-close look at a variety of historical resources, including: atlases, survey files, city directories, historic photographs, postcards, objects, and architectural drawings.
  • Learn how to research their house, building, or organization using the Commission’s files.
  • Receive helpful tips on preserving and caring for their own family papers and photographs.

 

WWII Ration Books

We have recently added a set of WWII ration books to our collection. These books belonged to a Jewish family who lived at 20 Worcester Street, Cambridge, in 1942.

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Hyman Yale Brown was born in Boston on November 2, 1905. Hyman was working as a clerk in Boston when he married Rose Shapiro of Cambridge on August 17, 1930. Rose was born on June 28, 1907. Both were graduates in the Class of 1928 from Northeastern University and received bachelor degrees in law that year.

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War Ration Book One issued to Hyman Brown on 4 May 1942.

During his lifetime, Hyman was a member of the Beth Israel Brotherhood, a District Warden in the civilian defense City Public Safety Program, and aided in the campaign of Republican candidate for Congress, Vincent Mottola. The Browns were devoted members of the former Beth Israel Synagogue at 238 Columbia Street.

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War Ration Book One issued to Edward Mordecai Brown on 4 May 1942.

At the time of their marriage, Rose was a lawyer in Cambridge, and following the ceremony and a camping trip honeymoon, the newlyweds moved in with Rose’s parents at 20 Worcester Street in Cambridgeport. They later had two sons: David in 1932, and Edward in 1937. The couple was living at the Worcester Street address when they and their two sons were issued ration books in 1942.

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War Ration Book Four issued to Rose S. Brown ca. 1942

During World War II, each American was issued a set of ration books. All family members, even children, possessed ration books and a customer would not be able to purchase specific rationed goods without also surrendering a ration stamp.

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Pages and stamps from War Ration Book Four issued to Rose S. Brown ca. 1942

Each ration book held stamps that could be exchanged at a local grocer for rationed items such as coffee, sugar, grains, meat, and canned goods. These small booklets were designed to cut down on profiteering as a result of import restrictions and goods shortages. The program’s goal was to distribute goods evenly among those on the Home Front while maintaining supply for military overseas.

If you are interested in studying these ration books or have other research inquiries, please contact our Archivist, Emily Gonzalez, at egonzalez@cambridgema.gov.