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.


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.


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.


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


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…


Modern Monday: Loeb Drama Center, 64 Brattle Street

Exterior of Loeb Drama Center_Radcliffe College Archives

Completed in 1960, the Loeb Drama Center at 64 Brattle Street stands as one of Cambridge’s greatest examples of Modern Architecture. The structure is human-scaled, made of regional materials and is a sensitive addition to its residential and commercial neighbors along Brattle Street. The scale of the building was reduced to blend in with adjacent heights and the use of New England waterstruck brick is a nod to the Harvard and Radcliffe buildings nearby. Exposed concrete serves as a sort of frame to the delicate ornamental grille which provides a lace-like effect, enhanced further at night when the light from inside the building shines through.

Exterior View of Loeb Drama Center_night_Radcliffe College ArchivesExterior View: Harvard - Loeb Drama Center, 29 Brattle Street

Architect Hugh Stubbins wanted the theater to be architecturally exciting, while still serving as a backdrop to the purpose of the building, the arts. Stubbins was quoted as saying, “the auditorium should please the imagination in such a way as to release it, not captivate it” and later went on to reference examples of recent museums and art galleries erected by architects to overshadow the art within them.

Interior View of Loeb Drama Center_Radcliffe College ArchivesView of Loeb Drama Center setbuilding_Radcliffe College Archives

The building opens right off the sidewalk of Brattle Street by the way of deep setbacks off the first floor, forming a porch-like or arcade feeling. The sides of the building open to a garden court on one side and a spacious terrace on the other. The travertine flooring in the lobby extends gracefully to the brick-paved courtyard, contained by a red brick serpentine wall.

Exterior courtyard Loeb Drama Center_Radcliffe College ArchivesExterior View of Loeb Drama Center (2)_Radcliffe College Archives

The theater was unveiled as a mechanical marvel as the first fully-automatic and flexible theatre in the United States. The audience’s position in relation to the stage, along with the position and shape of the stage itself could be altered between three main configurations: theater-in-the-round, proscenium, and arena seating, all possibly during the same performance. Yale’s noted stage technician and theater design engineer, George C. Izenour worked with Stubbins to integrate lighting, rigging and staging into an automated and hydraulic lift system, which could be altered and staged by just two people in mere minutes.

The Loeb Drama Center is now home to The American Repertory Theater (A.R.T.) at Harvard University, which collaborates with artists around the world to develop and create work in new ways. To learn more about A.R.T. and their upcoming shows and events, check out their website at:

1960 color photo_CHC_LOEB

Color slide courtesy of CHC Staff.

Historic photos courtesy of Radcliffe College Archives and CHC slides.

Modern Monday: Charter House Motor Hotel

Today’s Modern Monday posting is highlighting the Charter House Motor Hotel (now Royal Sonesta Boston). Completed in 1963, the first tower, with its zig-zag shape was developed by the Hotel Corporation of America, led by founder A.M. “Sonny” Sonnabend.

Charter House Survey photo

Sonnabend decided to locate the company’s first ever high-rise motor hotel in the United States in Cambridge due to its location near transportation routes, businesses, universities and proximity to the downtown Boston area. To stand out from competition, the motor hotel required high quality design, ample parking, and interior amenities including: televisions, radios, air-conditioning, and complete hotel services for all rooms. The word “Motel” was created as a blending of the words “motor” and “hotel” and has since served as a defining piece of roadside architectural history.

Viewed from boat

The Hotel Corporation of America was renamed Sonesta International Hotels Corporation in 1970. Due to the success and location of the Sonesta Hotel on Cambridge Parkway in East Cambridge, the Sonesta Corporation began planning for a renovation and addition to the hotel, doubling the amount of rooms and enhancing facilities for the modern traveler. Architect John T. Olson designed a Post-Modern tower to stand next to the 60’s Modernist hotel. Boston Globe’s architectural critic at the time, Robert Campbell called the original tower an “upended waffle” and noted that the later addition was the region’s first large-scale Post-Modern development.

East Elevation_Window detail zoomed

The Post-Modern tower addition features large expanses of brick and is distinguished by the gabled features at the roof. John Olson, the head architect explained the design and goal as wanting to make a hotel that would look house-like and more domestic than institutional. The triangular gable shape was seen as a symbol for the idea of a house and was repeated both inside and outside of the addition. The pediments over the slightly projecting wings, resemble the long expanses of rowhouses which are synonymous to Boston architecture. Besides red brick, the main cladding material on the building is a green tile, which was selected to resemble the patinaed green copper seen elsewhere in Cambridge and Beacon Hill, just over the Charles River.

Current Photo

The two towers stand proudly at the entrance of Cambridge from Boston and showcase how far architectural taste can change in a matter of 20 years. Globe writer, Campbell stated that “The new wing of the former Sonesta Hotel on the Charles River stands next to its predecessor as if the two were a pair of slides chosen by a professor of art history to illustrate just how far architectural taste can travel in a single generation”. Which wing do you prefer?

Aerial Image.png

Full view

Modern Monday: Putnam Furniture Company

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

mass ave 1045

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

mass ave 1051_night photograph

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

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

mass ave 1051_putnam square photograph

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

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

mass ave 1045_design within reach

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

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

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.

Wolcott Gibbs Memorial Laboratory - Exterior

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.

Wolcott Gibbs circa 1895 (copy)

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.

Wolcott Gibbs Memorial Laboratory - 1913 Exterior (copy)

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.

Wolcott Gibbs Memorial Laboratory - Cold storage room and labora

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

Wolcott Gibbs Memorial Laboratory - Basement interior

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.”

Wolcott Gibbs Memorial Laboratory - Vestibule

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!

Meigs Elevated Railway

An unusual and widely unknown transit experiment took place right here in Cambridge, known as the Meigs Elevated Railway. Born in Tennessee in 1840, Josiah Vincent Meigs was an inventor; spending most of his life inventing and patenting devices from furniture to guns. Throughout his life, he was interested in making public transportation better and more efficient and wanted to remove the “clutter” of elevated railways in cities. From this, he came up with his proposal, the Meigs Elevated Railway.

Meigs Elevated_Drawing004

With an emphasis on safety, comfort and convenience, the track structure consisted of two rails, one mounted above the other on a line of supports. The single post system would remove roughly four fifths of the structure that darkened streets under other elevated systems of the time. One pair of wheels were angled at 45 degrees and carried the weight of the train; while the other pair, mounted horizontally inside the locomotive, gripped the upper rail and provided driving power. The cars were designed cylindrical to diminish wind resistance and the interiors lined with fireproof material.

Meigs Elevated_Interior006

In 1881, to encourage capital investment and fulfill terms of an earlier charter (which had over 64,000 signatures), Meigs and his friends headquartered at 225 Bridge Street (now Monsignor O’Brien Hwy) and raised $200,000 to build an experimental track. A 227’ line of elevated track was built parallel to Bridge Street with varied elevation changes and curves to test the new system. In 1886, engineers deemed the elevated system “practical and safe”.

Meigs Elevated_Rail Detail and House005

Sadly, it was neither capital nor legislation which finally sank the Meigs Elevated, it was the coming of electricity. While the Meigs system could be fitted to run on electrical power, Josiah believed that electric-powered trains were too expensive and could not provide the speed the system needed. Further setbacks occurred when vandalism and the West End Elevated Railway became direct competition and the Meigs took its final run in 1894. Meigs later sold his charter rights in 1896 and his dreams for were disbanded. In failing health from his Civil War injuries, Josiah Vincent Meigs died from a stroke on November 14, 1907 in Charlestown, Massachusetts.

Meigs Elevated_Philly City Council003

Much more information and photographs are in our collections!


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.

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.

Celebrating Women’s History: Cambridge Women’s Heritage Project

On this day in October 1915, 15,000 enthusiastic supporters of women’s suffrage marched the streets of Boston. The parade began at the corner of Beacon Street and Massachusetts Avenue and concluded with a rally at Mechanics Hall. This massive event was held to encourage voters to support an amendment striking the word “male” from the Massachusetts State Constitution, thus garnering the women of this state the right to vote. Although the push for women’s suffrage failed in 1915, the 19th Amendment was ratified by Massachusetts in 1919, and women’s right to vote was secured in 1920 when the amendment became federal law.



Clippings featuring suffragettes c. 1918 from the Cambridge Chronicle, published September 24, 1970

The Cambridge Women’s Heritage Project continues this tradition of acknowledging women’s contributions to our community and history.


Initiated in 1996, this ongoing project aims “to recognize and celebrate the contributions of Cambridge women and women’s organizations to the life of the city, commonwealth, and nation from the foundation of Cambridge (Newtowne) in 1630 to the present.”


Quote of Charlotte Saunders Cushman, renowned stage actress.

The committee is focused on compiling a database of biographical, organizational, and subject entries to honor the accomplishments of Cambridge women. Each entry is ordered alphabetically, and those interested in groups or organizations can browse via occupation (scientists, dentists, factory workers) or subject (women’s clubs, feminist organizations). The Cambridge Women’s Heritage Project accepts nominations via their website, and welcomes volunteers for research, editing, and web design.


One of many Women’s History Walks available in the Cambridge Women’s Heritage Project files

The project’s physical files are housed at the Cambridge Historical Commission. Here, entries to be added can be studied, revised, and transcribed to ready these most deserving subjects for web presence. To date, the online database boasts nearly 150 entries with over 400 nominations queued for vetting. As stated on the project website, “This is our attempt to write women into history and honor their lives and recognize their many accomplishments.”


“Woman at Work” published by the Massachusetts Historical Society, 1983

The online Cambridge Women’s Heritage Project database is available at

The Cambridge Women’s Heritage Project would love your help! For those interested in volunteering or simply learning more, please contact:

Sarah Burks
Cambridge Historical Commission
831 Massachusetts Avenue, 2nd Fl.
Cambridge, MA 02139

Or fill out the form below:

Continue reading

New Images and Finding Aids

The Commission is happy to announce the availability of newly digitized images and updates to finding aids for four of our collections! Scroll down for descriptions and samples of images from the following collections: Inner Belt Scrapbook, Godinho Family Photograph Collection, Cambridge Manual Training School/ Rindge Manual Training School/
Rindge Technical School Collection, and the Curtis Mellen Photograph Collection.

Inner Belt Scrapbook
Proposed in the mid-1950s, the Inner Belt was once a planned highway that would have been Interstate 695. If built, this highway would have run a route through parts of Cambridge, Boston, Somerville, and Brookline. Many citizens protested the plan as it would have divided neighborhoods and displaced thousands of residents. This collection contains scrapbook pages detailing the saga of the Inner Belt campaign from 1960-1969.

Flyer: State House Rally

Flyer: State House Rally, Jamaica-Plain-Roxbury Expressway Committee, 1969


Clippings: Inner Belt Activities; Morning Union Leader, Christian Science Monitor, The Cambridge Chronicle; March 1966

View the finding aid for this collection here.

Additional pages from the Inner Belt Scrapbook can be viewed here.

Godinho Family Photograph Collection

Scrapbook page: Members of the Godinho Family

Scrapbook page: Members of the Godinho Family, c. 1920


This collection contains photographic materials and personal items of the Godinhos, a Portuguese family who lived in Cambridge from the late nineteenth to mid twentieth century. Although little is known about the individuals depicted, including many of their identities, the collection contains photos of the Azores, a region in Portugal, indicating that this may be where the family originated. When whaling and fishing declined towards the end of the nineteenth century, many Portuguese immigrants, who had been whalers and fishermen in New Bedford, Massachusetts, moved to industrial towns near Boston, including Cambridge. The Portuguese Catholic population became large enough that in 1902 St. Anthony’s Church was opened in East Cambridge.

Unknown Boy: Gribal Godinho Family - First Holy Communion Portra

Unknown Boy: Gribal Godinho Family – First Holy Communion Portrait, c. 1915-1920

Joseph Godinho (left) and Unknown Man

Joseph Godinho (left) and Unknown Man, c. 1920

Additional images from the Godinho Family Photograph Collection can be viewed here.

View the finding aid for this collection here.

Cambridge Manual Training School/ Rindge Manual Training School/
Rindge Technical School Collection

The Cambridge Manual Training School for Boys was founded by Frederick Hastings Rindge in September 1888. The Cambridge School Committee renamed the school Rindge Manual Training School in 1899 in honor of Mr. Rindge after he retired. Considering its broadened offerings in technical education, the school was later renamed Rindge Technical School. In 1977, the Rindge Technical School merged with the Cambridge High and Latin School to form the Cambridge Rindge and Latin School (CRLS).

Having been assembled from multiple sources, items in this collection are related to the school and range from the 1880s to 1940s. Formats include photographs, documents, correspondence, and objects. Photographic subjects include events and classes at the Rindge School and Camp Rindge, as well as fire brigade practice operations.


Chemistry classroom, c. 1920s


Fire brigade operations, c. 1910

The bulk of this collection includes photographs of sports teams and individual players at Rindge Technical School. Many images depict the football team, but also include crew, hockey, track, swimming, and baseball.


D. Allen, Baseball Captain, 1922

View the finding aid for this collection here.

Curtis Mellen Photograph Collection
The Mellens were a very prominent family in Cambridge, and their soap business, Curtis Davis & Co., became the American branch of Lever Brothers, the largest soap manufacturer in the world at the time.

Interior View: Curtis Davis and Co., 180 Broadway

Interior View: Curtis Davis and Co., 180 Broadway

This collection includes family photographs as well as photographs of both the interior and exterior of Mellen family homes in Cambridge. Depicted are homes on Broadway, Chauncy, Forest, Linnean, and Hampshire streets. Many of the photographs have been attributed to Edwin D. Mellen and depict lavish interiors with intricate fixtures and furnishings.

Interior View: 33 Washington Avenue

Interior View: 33 Washington Avenue, c. 1880s

Interior View: Unknown address

Interior View: Unknown address, c. 1880s-1890s

Additional images from the Curtis Mellen Photograph Collection can be viewed here.

View the finding aid for this collection here.

To schedule an appointment for in-person research, please contact the Cambridge Historical Commission today at 617.349.4683 or e-mail our Archivist, Emily at