previous next

Real-estate interests of Cambridge.

Leander M. Hannum.
If we recall the fact that soon after the first settlement of Cambridge, in the spring of 1631, it embraced a territory thirty-five miles in length, including the towns of Billerica, Bedford, Lexington, Arlington, Brighton, and Newton, we shall see that our area has greatly decreased, as the extreme length of our present territory is only four miles, and the total area about four thousand acres, in spite of the fact that by legislative acts of 1855 and 1880, portions of Watertown and Belmont were granted to Cambridge.

It exalts our estimate of the earlier commercial importance of our city when we read that by an act of Congress approved January 11, 1805, it was enacted that Cambridge should be a port of delivery, and subject to the same regulations as other ports of delivery in the United States. The custom-house was never built, yet under the stimulus given to real-estate interests by this act, large tracts of land on Broadway were sold with the condition inserted in the deed that no building of other material than brick or stone, or less than three stories in height, should ever be erected on them. Our present fire-limit ordinance, which applies only to our principal thoroughfares, is scarcely more severe. The condition has, however, been constantly violated, and but few buildings of the character named are found on the street after a period of nearly a century, during which our population has increased from two thousand to eighty-two thousand, and our valuation from less than two million dollars to more than eighty-two millions.

Notwithstanding this large gain, at no period of our city's history has her growth been phenomenal or exceptional. During the first two centuries after settlement this was especially true. For more than a century and a half, we learn from Paige's history, that part of the town lying eastwardly from [127] Quincy and Bow streets, generally called ‘The Neck,’ consisted of woodland, pasturage, swamps, and salt marsh. To overcome the natural disadvantages of grade under which the city suffered, the filling of a large section was necessary, including the channels formerly constructed for the passage of vessels, leaving only for such purpose the so-called Broad Canal, which affords access to many coal and lumber yards. The several legislative acts were approved as follows: That relating to the Washington Street district in 1869, to the Franklin and Sparks Streets district in 1872, and to the Miller River district in 1873. Under the provisions of these acts much land was surrendered to the city by the owners, and was later sold at about thirty per cent of its cost.

In addition to the freight facilities afforded by the navigable river, the Boston and Albany and Boston and Maine railroads, in the easterly section, where are located the greater number of our large manufactories, and the Fitchburg railroad, in the westerly part, provide ample accommodation; yet it is hoped ere long that a central local freight station will be furnished by the former road, to add to the convenience of a rapidly increasing traffic. There has been much discussion as to whether the removal of this branch of the Boston and Albany would not on the whole result to the advantage of the city, and there is no doubt that if the removal could be limited to the section between Main Street and the Cottage Farm Station, great benefits would accrue to that most extensive unoccupied section of the city, to which the Harvard and Brookline bridges are immediately tributary.

The advantages as a place of residence of the large area lying between the Boston and Albany railroad and the Charles River, and separated from it only by a boulevard two hundred feet in width, are presented elsewhere in this volume. The erection of substantial and attractive dwelling-houses fronting this boulevard cannot long be delayed, as its southerly exposure, the firm foundation for building without piling, its convenience to Boston, and other advantages, cannot fail to induce many of her business men to locate here. The extensive development of the adjacent lands reaching northerly and westerly, with the park improvements on the shores of the Charles, and the extensive widening and improvement of streets connecting therewith, will certainly, within the next few years, work important [128] changes, all in the direction of valuable and substantial improvement.

In the mercantile houses of the city some recent improvement is noticeable. The exclusion of saloons from Cambridge nearly ten years since left vacant a large number of shops upon our principal thoroughfares, many of which had been cheaply constructed; and for the period of two or three years some of them were without tenants; but gradually business which is of value to the community has provided occupation for many, while others have been rebuilt and better adapted to the needs of trade.

The extension of Main Street (now called Massachusetts Avenue), through Front Street to the Harvard bridge, and the diversion of the larger part of the passenger travel over this route, has contributed to the centralization of trade, and the section of Main Street still retaining the name seems unlikely to present equal attractions for the more valuable store purposes. The business blocks recently built by F. A. Kennedy, A. P. Morse, G. K. Southwick, C. B. Moller, and H. Fitzgerald on Massachusetts Avenue are a credit to the city, and are doubtless only the forerunners of others of like character in this neighborhood.

In Harvard Square, another business centre, fewer recent improvements have been made, but the widening of Harvard Street at this point in 1894, and the further contemplated widening the present year between Dunster and Boylston Streets,—of the latter street its entire length,—will stimulate improvements in the business accommodations of this locality.

In no part of the city has more ample and excellent provision for existing needs of the mercantile interests been made than in North Cambridge above Porter's Station, where the Henderson, Odd Fellows, and other fine blocks have lately been built.

On Cambridge Street considerable improvement has taken place in the store properties within the past few years, and the large purchases of Middlesex County for a new Registry of Deeds building, together with the improvement of Binney fields for park purposes, render the street much more attractive, and increase the value of property on it.

The extensive area filled by the East Cambridge Land Company, which is made more accessible by the extension of First Street, has tempted many large manufactories to that region, [129] and there is still abundant room for many more. This territory is scarcely a mile from the northern depots of Boston, and the land is offered at moderate prices.

It is interesting to note some of the changes which, in the course of the growth of the city, have taken place. The rapid introduction of manufacturing establishments near the shores of the river, in the easterly part of the city, has multiplied the number of homes for the wage-earner, and very many of those whose residences were there, desiring to improve their surroundings, have removed, and a considerable population has settled west of Prospect Street, which forms the easterly boundary of one of the pleasantest residential sections in Cambridge.

Until very recently the height of the buildings in Cambridge has not exceeded four stories, and few have contained more than eight suites, yet two or more student dormitories built in 1895 exceed that height, and Ware Hall contains fifty-six suites of three rooms each, and one large six-story block of twelve suites of ten rooms each, with elevators, on Massachusetts Avenue, has just been completed. Next season, a six-story block of like character will be built on Massachusetts (formerly North) Avenue, which will provide for thirty-six families. If our present population were distributed throughout our city on the liberal scale which formerly prevailed, each family being allowed a yard for light, air, and children's playground, there would not be a single unoccupied lot in Cambridge, and therefore we must patiently view the introduction of the various forms of apartment houses which promote a form of living which has many disadvantages, yet offers compensation in economy of labor and money.

The extension of the West End Street Railway track through Concord and Huron Avenues, and the widening and extension of the latter avenue, have aided in the development of a large territory, much of which is at a considerable elevation, and overlooks Kingsley Park and Fresh Pond. A rapid growth in this section of our city may be predicted, as hundreds of acres of available land await and invite occupancy.

It is impossible to measure the increased value to the real estate interests of Cambridge made by the park improvements, near the shores of the Charles River, the reconstruction of the Boylston and Brookline bridges, and the building of a bridge at the foot of Magazine Street, authorized by recent enactment. [130] Few cities enjoy or have left so long unimproved such opportunities as the river shore affords for a delighful park and driveway, and the aroused public spirit, civic pride, and creative force of our citizens assure liberal expenditure and rapid progress in this important work. Real estate interests thrive in a thriving community, and nowhere are the evidences of thrift more abundant and conclusive than in Cambridge to-day, for the following reasons among others: Its remarkable healthfulness; its exceptional educational advantages; its superior residential attractions; its manufactories, their character and extent; its excellent municipal government; its pure and abundant water supply, furnished at low rates; its moderate and annually decreasing rate of taxation; its freedom from the saloon; its transit facilities throughout the city, and to and from all parts of Boston and adjoining towns; its ancient fame, historic associations and traditions; the moral standing and general intelligence of its citizens; the prevalence of ‘The Cambridge Idea,’ in municipal politics, which means the highest civic development; the strife for the ideal in municipal life. With such advantages, it is not surprising that the growth of the city is rapid, symmetrical, and healthful. No city offers greater inducements to the manufacturer. In the more desirable residential sections, both in the recently filled and newly developed lands near Harvard bridge, and other portions of Ward Four near the projected park and riverway, and on the higher grounds of Wards One, Two, and Five, are several hundred acres of land offering every advantage for occupancy, and providing thousands of the finest and most desirable building sites, with an infinite variety of choice, and well suited for the homes of all classes, however modest or luxurious their requirements. In no community is the hand of welcome more readily or warmly extended to the worthy stranger, or the invitation more heartily given to dwell with us, and share the privileges which we so much enjoy and so highly prize. At this anniversary period, the citizens of Cambridge review with satisfaction and pride the memorable events in her long and honorable career, and they look forward with confidence and anticipation to a future bright with promise.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
Artemas Ward (1)
G. K. Southwick (1)
Kingsley Park (1)
Lucius R. Paige (1)
North (1)
Newton (1)
Asa P. Morse (1)
C. B. Moller (1)
Frank A. Kennedy (1)
Leander M. Hannum (1)
H. Fitzgerald (1)
Cambridge (1)
Amos Binney (1)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
1895 AD (1)
1894 AD (1)
1880 AD (1)
1873 AD (1)
1872 AD (1)
1869 AD (1)
1855 AD (1)
January 11th, 1805 AD (1)
1631 AD (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: