“Our fair city” is fondly referred to as the City of Squares. The squares of Cambridge are charming neighborhoods rich in fine dining, eclectic shopping, theaters, museums and historical sites. You will find 5 squares, including Harvard Square, Kendall Square and Central Square along the Red line subway route in Cambridge.
Newtowne, as Cambridge was called by the colonists until 1638, was laid out in an orderly grid of streets, bounded today by Eliot Square and Linden Street, Massachusetts Avenue and the River. Each family owned a house lot in the village, planting fields outside, and a share in the common land. Soon, Newtowne had a meetinghouse, a marketplace (site of today’s Winthrop Square), and a school. Harvard College, one of the first colleges in America, was founded in 1636 to train young men for the ministry and positions of leadership within the godly community.
A small population of African Americans had lived in Cambridge from the earliest Colonial days, and in the early nineteenth century Cambridge’s integrated schools attracted many families from Boston. Harriet Jacobs, born a slave in North Carolina, ran a boarding house in Cambridge in the 1870s. She had lived in hiding for 7 years before escaping to the North and later wrote an account of her years in bondage, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. Educator Maria Baldwin, a native Cantabrigian, held home study classes for Harvard’s black students, including W.E.B. DuBois. In 1889, she was appointed headmaster of the Agassiz School, the first African American to hold such a position in the North. Twenty markers commemorating prominent Cambridge African Americans have been erected throughout the city.
The devastating potato blight that struck Ireland in 1845 caused many of that country’s rural population to flee. Thousands landed in Boston and Cambridge, destitute and without resources. Many Irish immigrants worked in the clay pits and brickyards of North Cambridge, housed in crowded workers’ cottages. The majority of the city’s Irish lived in East Cambridge, laboring at unskilled jobs in the glass works and furniture factories. They developed a close-knit community, centered on and supported by the Catholic church. By 1855, twenty-two percent of the adults in East Cambridge were Irish-born.
Today, Cambridge is home to a culturally diverse population of over 100,000. College students from around the world study at Harvard, Radcliffe, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Lesley University. The heavy industries of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries have been replaced by technology-based enterprises, including software and biotechnology research.
Getting to Cambridge
The Red Line stops from Kendall/MIT station to Alewife station are in Cambridge. The Green Line’s terminus is at Lechmere station in East Cambridge. The Fitchburg commuter rail line has a stop in Porter Square. This line serves the northwest suburbs and ends in Boston’s North Station where you can connect to other northbound commuter rail line.
Things to do in Cambridge
Visit historic Harvard Square a hub of activity adjacent to Harvard University, and Cambridge’s oldest neighborhood. Take in the eclectic boutiques, sidewalk cafes, street performers, bookstores and restaurants.
Take a tour of the hallowed buildings and monuments of Harvard University, which has graduated numerous world leaders including six U.S. presidents. See sites such as Massachusetts Hall, a dorm which once housed John Adams and John Hancock, beautiful Memorial Hall dedicated to Harvard’s slain soldiers in the Civil War, and Daniel Chester French’s famous statue of John Harvard (French sculpted Abraham Lincoln in the Washington D.C. Lincoln Memorial). While you are there, check out one of Harvard’s amazing museums, featuring everything from German expressionism to Chinese ceramics.
See the Longfellow National Historical Site, home of poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and the former headquarters of George Washington. Stroll Cambridge’s original thoroughfares like Brattle Street (known as Tory Row) and Winthrop Street, which date back to the 1600’s.
See MIT’s mile-long campus along the Charles River and note MIT’s eclectic architecture, including the Stata Center, designed by Frank O. Gehry, the MIT Chapel and Kresge Auditorium, designed by Eero Saarinen, and the Dreyfus, Weisner, and Landau Buildings designed by I. M. Pei.
Explore MIT’s Kendall Square, home to Massachusetts’ thriving high tech and biotech industries. Shop at the Cambridgeside Galleria with restaurants and over 100 stores. Hop on a riverboat ride for a scenic tour of Cambridge and Boston along the Charles River.
Discover Cambridge’s history as one of the oldest African American communities in the nation. Walk the African American Heritage Trail, where 20 historic markers honor notable African Americans, including the local residence of W.E.B. DuBois, abolitionists, authors, educators and office holders in Cambridge dating back to 1840.
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