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.”


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).


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.


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.


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).


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.


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


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.


“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?”


“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.


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.”


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!


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.


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!”


“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!…

A Cambridge Entry in the Green Book

Today’s post was written by CHC Preservation Planner, Sarah Burks.

You likely have heard a lot of talk recently about Green Book, the award-nominated movie starring Mahershala Ali as Dr. Don Shirley, a world class pianist on a performance tour in the southern states during the Jim Crow era. The name of the movie derives from a U.S. travel guide for Black tourists. The Negro Motorist Green Book offered lists of restaurants, automobile service stations, hotels, parks, and other sites that would be safe and welcoming to African Americans traveling for work or leisure. The books were published by Victor H. Green between 1936 and 1967. A new documentary, The Green Book: Guide to Freedom, will air on the Smithsonian Channel on Monday, February 25 at 8:00 P.M. The original books have been digitized by the New York Public Library and can be viewed online here.

Green Book, 1947 cover

Cover of the 1947 edition of The Negro Motorist Green Book. Digital Collections of the New York Public Library.

Although Boston had a couple dozen sites listed in the Green Books, Cambridge only had one, a “tourist home” at 26 Mead Street with the contact name of S. P. Bennett.

Green Book, 1947, detail of Cambridge entry p 43

Detail of the Cambridge entry in the 1947 edition of The Negro Motorist Green Book. Digital Collections of the New York Public Library.

Satyra Pearson Bennett was a Cambridge resident who rented out rooms to travelers in her family home. She worked as a linotype operator for several newspapers and was on the board of multiple charitable organizations and city committees. Satyra Pearson was born in 1892 in Rock Hill, Jamaica to Frances and William Pearson. In 1894, Satyra and her parents departed from Kingston and arrived in New York City. The family moved to Massachusetts in 1903, first residing in Worcester and then settling in Cambridge on Mead Street.


1916 Bromley map showing the Pearson residence at 26 Mead Street in Northwest Cambridge

According to Satyra’s 1926 Petition for Citizenship, the family arrived in Boston from St. John, New Brunswick aboard the U.S.S. Calvin Austin in 1913.


Steamboat Calvin Austin in Boston Harbor, ca 1906. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Satyra’s father was an ordained minister and was the pastor for many years at St. Paul A.M.E. Church at 37 Bishop Allen Drive in Cambridgeport.

20St Paul AME late 1800s

St. Paul AME Church in the late 1800s

In 1919, Satyra married Cyril Bennett. Cyril was also a Jamaican-born minister, and following their marriage, Satyra moved with him to Detroit. Together they had one son, George B. Bennett in 1920, but the couple soon divorced. By July 1921, Satyra had moved back to Cambridge and lived with her parents at 26 Mead Street. Satyra advertised her dress-making services in local newspapers, and in 1926 began the process to attain her U.S. citizenship.


Clipping from the Cambridge Chronicle, 23 July 1921


Frances Satyra Bennett’s citizenship card, 1933

Mrs. Bennett was a founding board member of the Cambridge Community Center, the Citizens Charitable Health Association, and an officer of the Boston chapter of the NAACP. She died in 1977. Her sister, Mrs. Ozeline Pearson Wise, was the first African American woman to work for the banking department of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. She was interviewed in 1978 as part of the Black Women’s Oral History Project. You can listen to their story here and view their entries on the Cambridge Women’s Heritage Project.

26 Mead St Cambridge Assessor's photo 2017

Bennett House at 26 Mead Street, Cambridge, MA. Cambridge Assessing Department photo, 2017.

The Cambridge Trotting Park: Part 2

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

Decades after it closed, A.G. McVey, a journalist who played on the track as a child, remembered the opening of the track this way: “Hiram Woodruff and his brother William, who ran the Old Elm House in North Cambridge, were appointed to take charge. The soil was of clay composition and the footing was good … races took place nearly every fine day.” The Trotting Park was laid out by the local engineer and surveyor Charles A. Mason. It was said to be as flat as a “billiard-table.”


“Dutchman” and Hiram Woodruff as printed in Currier & Ives, 1871. Library of Congress.

McVey went on to say: “There was no grandstand, rude seats being made inside the pole by planks nailed on the tops of posts. There was a low fence built around the track and youngbloods drove out in all kinds of equipages from the whalebone buggy to the one-horse shay.” He also stated that the track was never profitable. This is a situation that was made worse by an 1846 article in the Chronicle that mentioned the track was brought in front of the local Police Court twice for charging admission to a sporting event in violation of an existing statute. The facility went through some improvements because another description of the track does mention that it later had a grandstand in front of and slightly to one side of the entrance to the Track House. There was also a judges’ stand.


Clipping from the Cambridge Chronicle, 30 July 1846

Some of the events could be described as gimmicks. I assume they were created to increase the uncertainty of the betting. A blindfolded man ran the track pushing a wheelbarrow running against time and running into both fences, John Stetson ran a mile pulling a sulky; a horse trotted sixteen miles with an added weight of 41 pounds. One race was a trotting horse against a horse pulling a wagon loaded with 263 pounds. One race was held against two untrained street horses.

In 1855 the property was divided into 275 housing lots and auctioned off. It is somewhat ironic that this enterprise, that was never profitable, would have what was probably it’s most successful day just before it closed. On May 15, 1855, John Grindell of New York and John Stetson from Boston ran a ten-mile race that drew 15,000 spectators.


Detail of 1873 Cambridge Hopkins Atlas showing the area after the course was sold and divided into lots

So how exactly did the locals view the track? When the property was auctioned off, the New York Herald stated that, according to locals, it “was voted by all good people a wicked concern.” Looking back, in 1893, the Chronicle referred to the track as “anything but a moral centre.”

Check back next week for Part 3…

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…

Building and Structure Documentation Collection: 55 Wheeler Street

Today, we are highlighting a building from our recently opened 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.


55 Wheeler Street: interior view of reception area

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.

Documented structures in this collection include buildings from the former Boston Woven Hose & Rubber Company, and the Fogg Museum from the Harvard Art Museum Restoration and Expansion Project. Today we are featuring the documentation of the Abt Associates office complex at 55 Wheeler Street.


55 Wheeler Street: exterior facade

The Abt Associates Office Complex, much of which is less than 50 years old as of 2018, is located at 55 Wheeler Street, Cambridge, Mass. Abt Associates – which relocated to other offices in Cambridge in 2017 – is “a consulting firm that specializes in combining social sciences, computer forecasting, operations analysis and systems engineering to address technological advances and social change.” (Historical Narrative, Westbrook Properties Documentation). The firm grew rapidly in the 1960s and ‘70s, and the complex was repeatedly enlarged to enclose a series of beautifully landscaped quadrangles; almost every occupant enjoyed an exterior view.

The internationally renowned architect and urban planner Imre Halasz (1925-2003) was one of the most important designers associated with the complex. Halasz came to the US from Hungary in 1957 and taught at MIT’s School of Architecture and Planning for forty years. His firm, Imre & Anthony Halasz Inc., operated from 1957 to 1991. Halasz was also responsible for the master plan of the NASA Electronics Research Center (later the Volpe National Transportation Systems Center) in Kendall Square.


55 Wheeler Street: courtyard view

Abt Associates was formed in Cambridge in 1965 by Dr. Clark C. Abt. The company’s Cambridge location is significant for its associations with an “iconic social sciences research and consulting firm that was forward-thinking for its time, providing child care, a restaurant and recreational facilities for employees.” (Memo, Liza Paden, June 28, 2017).


55 Wheeler Street: pool, looking southwest

Look for more building and structure documentation in future posts!