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Cambridge a city.

George Rufus Cook.
Dante might choose his home in all the wide, beautiful world; but to be out of the streets of Florence was exile to him. Socrates never cared to go beyond the bounds of Athens. The great universal heart welcomes the city as a natural growth of the eternal forces. F. B. Sanborn.

Rome, Venice, Cambridge!’ I take it for an ascending scale, Rome being the first step and Cambridge the glowing apex. But you would n't know Cambridge—with its railroad, and its water-works, and its new houses. J. R. Lowell. [1856.]

There were three memorable Cambridge days in 1846. On the 17th of March, Governor Briggs signed the legislative act, which incorporated the City of Cambridge. On the 30th day of the same month, the voters of Cambridge adopted this act. On May 4, the first city government was inaugurated, and the career of Cambridge as a chartered municipality began.

It is the purpose of this chapter to indicate the progress which Cambridge has made in municipal unity, and the growth and prosperity which have resulted from municipal action and direction, rather than to dwell upon the results of private effort during the past fifty years. In other chapters of this volume, other writers have told of the achievements in the field of private enterprise; but here the work of the people as a municipal organism will be described, although necessarily in a brief manner.

Compared with European standards of highly developed municipal life, Cambridge has few great results to show for its fifty years of charter existence; but as a type of the modern American city of the class approximating 100,000 population, it is of special interest. Here the student of American municipal methods may trace the rise and sure progress of a fine civic spirit; here may be seen the gradual abandonment of those sectional jealousies so characteristic of American towns a half [54] century and more ago, and the progress of the spirit of municipal unity which is taking its place. If a genius for bold and comprehensive schemes for the development of the city's natural resources, through the united and public action of the people, cannot be pointed to as the characteristic, so far, of the charter life of Cambridge, there can be found, at least, hopeful signs all through the past fifty years of an evolution of the municipal idea which is now beginning to make Cambridge both prosperous and famous. Well-directed, organized municipal energy has thus far nowhere characterized the growth of American municipalities; but in the new civic awakening which is now taking place in our country, in the application of scientific methods to the solution of the new problems created by dense population groups, and especially in the permanent elimination from its municipal life of that irritating factor, the legalized public dram-shop, Cambridge may well be pointed out as an illustration of the highest standard yet reached by American urban dwellers.

Fifty years ago, that portion of the New England people which lived within the limits of Cambridge received the idea—although faintly and imperfectly at first—of a municipal organism which should be responsible for the general welfare of the community. It was by no means a Cambridge idea, and the people appear to have adopted it with reluctance, and only after long debate. Boston had had a charter life of nearly a quarter of a century before the movement to imitate its example began in the neighboring towns. Of these Roxbury led the way, its charter having been granted by the legislature and accepted by its people five days before the corresponding action was taken in Cambridge. A year later, Charlestown illustrated the general tendency by likewise becoming a city. Before this charter agitation of 1846, there had been no new cities in Massachusetts since the incorporation of Salem and Lowell in 1836. But following the example of Boston's three little neighbors, New Bedford became a city in 1847, Worcester in 1848, and Lynn in 1850. Then came Newburyport in 1851, Springfield in 1852, Lawrence in 1853, Fall River in 1854, and so the list has lengthened, year by year. With the exception of the three early ventures of Boston, Salem, and Lowell, the era of Massachusetts municipalities may be said to have begun in 1846.

The rapid increase in the population and property of Cambridge [55] in the years immediately preceding the adoption of the charter was the main reason for the change in its form of government. From the national census of 1840 to the assessors' census of 1845 there had been an increase of 48 per cent. in the population,—a larger percentage than is recorded in any other five-year period of the history of Cambridge. With this remarkable growth in population there had also been an increase of 32 per cent. in the town's valuation. In 1845, the administrative methods of the old town-meeting form of government were strained to meet the community needs of 12,490 people, and even then these needs were inadequately supplied.

We are not now concerned, however, so much in the outward change in the form of government made by the people in 1846, as we are with the new conception of municipal life which had its birth at that time. The great increase in population and wealth in the years immediately preceding the charter year had taken place largely in Cambridgeport and East Cambridge. The tendency of the centre of population toward West Boston Bridge had always been regarded with ill favor by the conservative people who formed the colony around Harvard College, and when, in 1832, this tendency was emphasized by the erection of the new town-house on Norfolk Street and the consequent final adjournment of the town meeting from the Old Village to the Port, open and determined attempts to divide the town were made. These efforts to secede were met, on the other side, by a determination to effect ‘a more perfect union.’ And thus a desire for better municipal service and a closer municipal unity found expression on the 30th day of March, 1846, in the acceptance of the charter by a vote of 645 to 224.

But the new desire found many discouragements. To unify the apparently diverse interests of the Old Village, the Port, and the Point, fifty years ago, was no easy task. The division of the young city into separate communities—‘unavoidably accented by Nature,’ as one writer has said—was so marked that it was not surprising to find those who believed that the villages had no common interests which demanded a common government. Communication between the three communities was slow, and at some seasons of the year even difficult. In the school system the idea of town division had been carefully preserved, even to the extent of maintaining three high schools. The fire department, although a unit in name, was composed [56] of volunteers, who not infrequently emphasized their sections to the detriment of the town. Thus through all the departments of the young city government the sectional idea was conspicuous, and the facts here cited as illustrations can be easily supplemented in large numbers by the recollection of any old resident.

The desire for better municipal service was likewise met by many discouragements. If we have in mind modern municipal standards, we must confess that Cambridge began its career as a city poorly equipped to provide for the common needs of the people. No one now questions that the building and maintenance of bridges across the Charles River is a proper municipal function; yet in 1846, instead of being city property, the two principal bridges to Boston were owned by private corporations, authorized to exact tolls for their use. Not until 1858, and when tolls amounting to upwards of two millions of dollars had been paid, did these bridges become free municipal property.

It would require a long story to tell all that the young city of Cambridge failed to provide for its people which now, by universal assent, is demanded of every modern municipality. We may indicate some of these failures, in the briefest possible way. The streets were unpaved, unmacadamized, uncurbed, unlighted, and unprotected from furious and reckless driving by Boston pleasure-seekers inspired with Cambridge ‘refreshments.’ One of the most conspicuous acts of Mayor Green during his first year was to break up the common practice of pasturing cows in the streets. The city gave to the citizens but little protection from the acts of lawless persons, and while it cannot be said that lawlessness prevailed, it must be admitted that the safety of person and property then depended far more upon individual vigilance and less upon municipal police protection than at present. The police department was organized in the summer of 1846.

Protection from fire was inadequate,—extremely so, when modern standards of efficiency are taken for comparison. In 1847, the old volunteer fire companies were superseded by an organization of which our present fire department is the culmination.

In 1846, Cambridge was a city of wells and cesspools, built and maintained by the individual real-estate owners. The building of the first sewer by assessment was under the town in [57] 1845; but the ordinance in relation to common sewers, establishing a sewer system, was not passed until 1852. It was in 1865—nineteen years after the acceptance of the charter— that the city assumed the function of supplying drinking-water to its inhabitants.

The new city of 1846 had no street-cleaning nor garbage-removal service. Its arrangements for the prevention of epidemic diseases were crude and inadequate. There were few if any regulations of house-building and occupancy. Public parks were scarcely dreamed of. The municipal burial grounds were forbidding in appearance and insufficient in size. The old townhouse was wholly inadequate for municipal uses. There was no public library; no engineering department; no municipal ambulance for the injured; and no free text-books for the youth. And yet the property of Cambridge in 1846 was taxed at the rate of $5 on $1000. It might, indeed, be a natural question to ask why this comparatively high rate was necessary, and for what purposes the young city needed the revenue thus raised. As an answer to this, and also as an indication of what manner and amount of service the municipal government of 1846 afforded, the following table of the expenses of the town and city from March 1, 1846, to March 1, 1847, is given:—

Almshouse and roads$11,035.68
Instruction of schools13,089.05
Repairs, etc., of schoolhouses1,865.26
Burial grounds108.38
Interest and bank discounts1,376.00
Poll tax to enginemen177.00
Repairs of bridges1,493.23
Salaries of city officers1,900.00
Police and watch2,017.71
Fire department2,751.61
Reservoirs and drains13.71
Incidental expenses4,685.93
Fuel for schools30.12
Board of health46.66

If the population of Cambridge in its first charter year is estimated at 13,000, the amount expended per inhabitant by the municipality for all the service rendered was $3.13. By reference [58] to this table of expenditures it will be seen what the conception of municipal government was in 1846. Cambridge held itself responsible for the education of its youth and for the care of its destitute. There was also a languid attempt to furnish protection to the property and lives of its inhabitants through police and fire departments, and here, in great measure, the functions of a municipal government, as then conceived, ended. All other means of administering to the necessities, the comfort, or the happiness of the people, were left to individual or corporate effort, and what those agencies failed to supply was left unsupplied.

Let us now pass to a consideration of the present attainments of the municipality of Cambridge. We have seen the expenses of the first charter year in detail. It will be well also to examine the municipal expenses of the year 1895, which closes the first half century. They were as follows:—

Ambulance department$2,269.15
Assessors' department12,797.40
Auditing department3,352.03
Bridge department12,473.03
Cemetery department16,999.40
City clerk department6,404.25
City messenger department2,645.92
Civil service department275.00
Clerk of committee department3,708.47
Election expenses9,476.60
Engineering department22,743.52
Executive department5,362.15
Fire department82,171.99
Health department11,482.98
Incidental expenses14,514.68
Inspection of milk and vinegar1,388.14
Inspection of provisions747.89
Inspection of wires10,399.82
Lamps department69,926.61
Land damages24,275.13
Law department3,970.45
Poor relief100,841.33
Plumbers' examiner's department153.81
Police department110,784.22
Public library21,064.83
Public buildings154,289.89
School maintenance258,766.08
Sealer of weights and measures1,491.29
Sinking fund106,940.00
State aid23,159.91
Stationery and printing2,843.14
Street department223,205.21

The state census of 1895 found the population of Cambridge to be 81,643. At the close of the half century, therefore, we find the municipal expenses to be $30.87 per inhabitant, as compared with $3.13 for the first year. There were in 1895 extraordinary expenses for the extension of the water-supply system and for parks, which raise the total municipal expenditures above the average of the years immediately preceding; but yet this sum of $30.87 may fairly be set against the $3.13 as illustrating the extent which has been reached in the municipalization of the people's energy and resources. It is also necessary to state in this connection, that the city at the end of its fifty years of charter life owns real estate valued at about three millions of dollars. The net funded city debt, exclusive of the water debt at the close of the fiscal year of 1895, was $2,244,183. The tax rate in 1895 was $15.70 on $1,000 of full valuation, and the total amount of real and personal property was $80,911,060. The tax rate in 1846 was $5; the total valuation $9,312,481, and the city debt $22,000. In 1846, the municipal debt amounted to .0023 of the wealth of the city; in 1895, the debt amounted to .0277 of the city's wealth.

It was not intended that this chapter should be a compilation of figures, nor even a mere directory of municipal improvements. It seems necessary, however, that these comparative statistics which have been recorded should be set down in order that the main purpose of the chapter may be carried out. Mr. James Bryce, in his elaborate review of the workings of American municipal government, says: ‘Two tests of practical efficiency may be applied to the government of a city: What does it provide for the people, and What does it cost the people?’ The facts which have burdened this chapter will answer to a considerable extent, so far as Cambridge is concerned, these two practical questions. [60]

Considered historically, the fifty years of Cambridge charter life—the working lifetime of a man—has shown a most gratifying, even a wonderful development in municipal service. Considered comparatively with the present efficiency of other cities in Massachusetts and in the other States, the showing which Cambridge makes is also most gratifying. But this chapter would be unduly prolonged if we were to enter into a study of this latter point.

As for the spirit of municipal unity which has so wonderfully developed in these charter years, we may well indulge ourselves in a further consideration. We have seen how the spirit of division and village independence predominated fifty years ago. Perhaps, as has already been suggested, the ‘accent’ which nature placed upon this division was the chief cause of the unfortunate sectional feeling which then prevailed and influenced all municipal action. Marshes and woodlands ‘interposed, made enemies of those who else like kindred drops would mingle into one.’ Bad roads–those great obstacles to civilization—kept the Old Villagers, the ‘Porters,’ and the ‘Pointers’ apart. Especially was this condition then considered by the residents of the Old Village necessary to continue what Chronicler Holmes at the beginning of the century had described as ‘eminently combining the tranquillity of philosophic solitude with the choicest pleasures and advantages of refined society.’ Years ago, Sir Charles Dilke wrote: ‘Our English universities have not about them the classic repose, the air of study, which belongs to Cambridge, Massachusetts. Even the English Cambridge has a breathing street or two, and a weekly market-day; while Cambridge in New England is one great academic grove, buried in a philosophic calm which our universities cannot rival as long as men resort to them for other purposes than work.’

But the day of village isolation and philosophic calm is passed. Gradually the boundary lines of the three communities have widened from the three centres of activity,—like the widening ripples from the pebbles cast into the placid bosom of our Fresh Pond,—until these lines have met, mingled, and disappeared. Bad roads were made good; street cars began their civilizing mission; sidewalks were built. The playful plaint of Lowell in a letter to Leslie Stephen written in 1871 is suggestive of the change: ‘The city has crept up to me, curbstones are feeling [61] after and swooping upon the green edges of the roads, and the calf I used to carry is grown to a bull.’

It is, of course, a matter of opinion how far now the old sectional feeling prevails. It is outside the scope of this chapter to discuss the social conditions of Cambridge, and it might be asserted by some that in social life the old sectional distinctions are still maintained. Yet even here it must be confessed that sectional feeling is now based more upon a tradition than upon any present distinction, and that it is growing weaker as the years pass. But so far as municipal action is concerned, the close of the first half century of charter life finds sectional and ward lines nearly obliterated. Especially is this to be seen in the two greatest municipal enterprises in which Cambridge ever engaged.

To the water-supply system and the park system, separate chapters are devoted elsewhere in this volume. A consideration of but a single phase in the development of these enterprises is here intended, and that merely as an illustration of municipal unity of action. The Water Board consists of five commissioners, that number having originally been fixed because there were five wards in the city. Yet seldom, in the composition of this board, has the ward representative idea been insisted upon, and never, perhaps, have ward considerations controlled the greater enterprises of this department of city works. In the establishment and extension of the water-supply system the needs of no less a factor than the city as a whole have been studied, and the work has been prosecuted upon this line. The same quality and quantity of water (so far as topographical conditions would permit) have flowed into the homes of all the wards, illustrating the impartiality with which the rains from heaven are said to descend upon the just and unjust. Certainly the introduction and extension of our water supply has been an important factor in the development of municipal unity. It is a fact of much significance as illustrative of the tendency in municipal life, that the thirteen thousand people who fifty years ago drank from a thousand wells have now grown to eighty thousand people, drinking from one common well.

When, in 1893, the board of Park Commissioners was created, the conventional number of five was ignored altogether. Instead, the board was made to consist of three commissioners. [62] The work of this board in laying out a municipal system of parks has been upon as strictly a scientific basis as has been any of the much-praised work of the European municipalities. The map upon which the park lines were drawn had no trace of ward boundaries. The topographical features of the city area, and the recreative needs of the people with reference only to density of population, are the considerations upon which the Cambridge park system is based. This is notable from the fact that all previous agitation for parks (and it had been long drawn out) was based upon the ward idea. Previous to 1893, the question of parks was seldom discussed in a broader way than with reference to the needs of a single ward.

Other lines of municipal work might also be mentioned to illustrate the unity of plan and action with which the city is now prosecuting its enterprises; but enough has been written to show what has been attained, and to indicate what may be expected in the future in the application of organic municipal energy in the development of the resources of Cambridge.

In this sketch of Cambridge municipal development nothing has been said, individually, of those who have occupied public places, or who have as private citizens been conspicuous in the service which they have rendered the city. It would require a long chapter merely to record the names of all those who are worthy of mention in the half century of work now closed. Unlike some other cities, no single name stands above all others; yet there are not a few names, any one of which represents long service, high ideals, rare intelligence, and a civic pride which, if found in some less favored community, would make its possessor the hero of a city's half century. It would be a privilege to dwell upon the service of some of those who have most contributed to the municipal activities of Cambridge, but this falls outside the purpose of the chapter. The writer must, however, record the conviction that few cities in our country during the past fifty years have been so richly endowed with service as has Cambridge. At the beginning of its charter life, Mayor James D. Green set the example of uprightness, ability, and faithful work. In a eulogy delivered not long before his death, the Rev. Andrew P. Peabody called attention to the standard set by the first mayor and the faithfulness with which it had been maintained by his successors, and, for the most part, by all who have held public office. The memory of all this service [63] is indeed a rich inheritance and an inspiration to those who take up the work of the next fifty years of the municipal life of Cambridge.

During the fifty years of the charter, twenty-two citizens have served as mayor. The years in which each administered the office, and also the important personal facts regarding them, may be gathered from the following table:—

Years as Mayor.Born.Died.Native of. Occupation.
James D. Green.1846-47, 1853, 1860-61.1798.1882.Maiden, Mass. Clergyman.
Sidney Willard.1848-49-50.1780.1856.Beverly, Mass. Professor.
George Stevens.1851-52.1803.1894.Norway, Maine. Manufacturer.
Abraham Edwards.1854.1797.1870.Boston, Mass. Lawyer.
Zebina L. Raymond.1855-1864.1804.1872.Shutesbury, Mass. Merchant.
John Sargent.1856-57-58-59.1799.1880. Hillsboroa, N. H.
Chas. Theo. Russell.1861-621815.1896. Princeton, Mass. Lawyer.
Geo. C. Richardson.1863.1808.1886.Royalston, Mass. Merchant.
J. Warren Merrill.1865-661.1819.1889.South Hampton, N. H. Merchant.
Ezra Parmenter.1867.1823.1883.Boston, Mass. Physician.
Chas. H. Saunders.1868-69.1821.Cambridge, Mass. Merchant.
Hamlin R. Harding.1870-71.1825.1889.Lunenburg, Mass. Agent.
Henry O. Houghton.1872.1823.1895.Sutton, Vermont. Publisher.
Isaac Bradford.1873-74-75-76.1834.Boston, Mass. Mathematician.
Frank A. Allen.1877.1835.Sanford, Maine. Merchant.
Samuel L. Montague.1878-79.1829.Montague, Mass. Merchant.
Jas. M. W. Hall.1880.1842.Boston, Mass. Merchant.
Jas. A. Fox.1881-82-83-84.1827.Boston, Mass. Lawyer.
William E. Russell.1885-86-87-88.1857.Cambridge, Mass. Lawyer.
Henry H. Gilmore.1889-90.1832.1891.Warner, N. H. Manufacturer.
Alpheus B. Alger.1891-92.1854.1895.Lowell, Mass. Lawyer.
Wm. A. Bancroft.1893-94-95-96.1855.Groton, Mass. Lawyer.

From the above it will be seen that all of our mayors have been New England men, and that of the entire number sixteen were born in Massachusetts. Two of the number were born in Cambridge, and five were Boston boys. Sixteen were born under town-meeting rule, and received their first impressions of community government in that way, while the six who were born under municipal charter government were familiar in early life only with the simple workings of Massachusetts cities in the period before the war. Three of our mayors were born in the eighteenth century, and one was born one hundred and sixteen years ago. Of all the number, three only were born since the Cambridge charter was adopted. Six have been lawyers, and, although it cannot be stated with certainty, it appears that there have been eight college graduates among them. [64] [65] [66]

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