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I. General History.

The history of Cambridge has been concisely presented by Rev. Dr. Paige in his invaluable volume. The State Records preserve the action of the Council on a ‘Petition of Cambridge Northwest Inhabitants,’ under date of June 30, 1732, namely a petition of James Cutler and others, a committee for the inhabitants of the Northwest Part of the town of Cambridge,—showing that on their application to said town to be set off a separate precinct, they were pleased to vote that they should be set off by certain bounds in the said vote particularly described, with a reservation of the ministerial lands to the old parish, together with all their gifts and grants made to the church at Cambridge; and praying that they may be set off a distinct precinct without that reservation, and that the ministry lot lying within their bounds may be assigned to the petitioners, which is not their full proportion of the ministerial estate. The order thereon was, that the petitioners serve the town of Cambridge with a copy of this petition, that they show cause at a time stated why the prayer thereof should not be granted.

On Nov. 3, 1732, the petition of James Cutler and others, in behalf of the inhabitants of the Northwest Part of Cambridge, praying as entered June 30, 1732, being in Council read again, together with the answer of the town of Cambridge, and the petition of William Russell and others, and the same being fully considered, the question was put whether the prayer of the petition be granted, and it passed in the negative and was therefore dismissed. [2]

Paige states that as early as May 10, 1725, the people on the westerly side of Menotomy River desired better accommodation for public worship, and petitioned the town to consent that they might become a separate precinct. The town withheld its consent, on the ground that near one-half of said inhabitants had not signed the petition. The request was renewed in 1728.

A second petition of James Cutler and others, a committee for the Northwest inhabitants of Cambridge, praying they be set off a separate and distinct precinct, by such boundaries as are set forth in their petition, was disposed of as follows: order thereon; petitioners serve town of Cambridge with copy of their petition, that they show cause, if any they have, on Wednesday, the 6th of December following, why the prayer thereof should not be granted.

Ebenezer Burrill, Esq., for the committee of both houses on the petition above, reported that said committee, appointed to take under consideration said petition, having repaired to the lands petitioned for by, and notified the petitioners and the agents for the town of Cambridge,1 with other petitioners, and having carefully viewed the place and heard the parties, are humbly of opinion that the lands in the Northwest Part of said town petitioned for, be set off a distinct precinct by the following boundaries:

On Menotomy River from Charlestown till it comes to Spy Pond Brook, then on said brook till it comes to a watercourse or ditch in Whiting's meadow, so called; the ditch to be the boundary till it comes to Hamblet's Brook, following the course of said brook to the Bridge, thence on a straight line to the northwest corner of Mr. Isaac Holden's orchard, and continuing the same course to Watertown line. And that the inhabitants of the said precinct be vested with all the powers, privileges and immunities that other precincts within this Province do, or by law ought to enjoy.

The above report was accepted, Wednesday, Dec. 27, 1732, and the order of the General Court for a new precinct in Cambridge was that the lands above-mentioned be set off a distinct precinct accordingly.—Mass. Prov. Records, vol. XV.

On June 9, 1762, the inhabitants of the said Second Parish [3] in Cambridge, together with certain petitioners then. inhabitants of the town of Charlestown, were incorporated into a District, generally called Menotomy, since it included all the territory in the two towns on the westerly side of Menotomy River, now Alewife Brook, the stream flowing from the Spy-Pond Brook into the Mystic River.2

On Feb. 27, 1807, an act was passed to divide the town of Cambridge, and to incorporate the Westerly Parish therein as a separate town, by the name of West Cambridge.

All that part of the town of Cambridge, heretofore known as the Second Parish, and as described within the following bounds:

Beginning at Charlestown line where the little river intersects the same, and running on a line in the middle of said little river until it strikes Fresh Pond; thence west ten degrees south until it intersects the line of the town of Watertown; thence on Watertown and Waltham line, till it strikes Lexington line; thence on Lexington line till it strikes Woburn line; thence on Woburn and Charlestown line to the little river first mentioned.

This act contains the proviso that nothing therein shall be so construed as to impair the right or privilege of the Congregational minister of the town of West Cambridge, which he now holds in Harvard College.3

The inhabitants were vested with all the powers and privileges, and subject to all the duties other corporate towns were subject to in this commonwealth. They were to hold a proportion of property owned in common—to pay arrears of taxes, to support their proportion of poor, to support their proportion of the old bridge over Charles River between the First and Third Parishes of Cambridge,4 to pay state and county taxes.


The act had force June 1, 1807. A justice was to issue a warrant directed to some freeholder of said town of West Cambridge, notifying and warning the inhabitants thereof to meet at such time and place as appointed in said warrant, for choice of town officers.—Mass. Special Laws, IV. 88.

Part of Charlestown was annexed to West Cambridge, Feb. 25, 1842. Namely, ‘all that part of Charlestown which lies northwesterly of the thread of “little river,” so called.’

Part of West Cambridge was annexed to Winchester, April 30, 1850. Namely, the extreme northerly portion of West Cambridge, to a point in the Lexington and West Cambridge boundary line, one hundred and twelve and one half rods southwest from the junction of said line with Woburn, Lexington and West Cambridge lines.

Part of West Cambridge was annexed to Belmont, March 18, 1859. Namely, the extreme southerly portion of the town. For specification of boundary line between the towns of West Cambridge and Belmont, see the act to incorporate the town of Belmont.

The name of the town of West Cambridge was changed to Arlington, by act of legislature, April 13, 1867.

1 Hon. Spencer Phips, Jonathan Remington, Francis Foxcroft, William Brattle, Esqs, and Mr. Andrew Bordman, were chosen the committee of Cambridge, July 24, 1732, for this purpose. See attested copy of vote, belonging to Mr. J. B. Russell of New Market, N. J.

2 The Mystic River, of which the ancient Menotomy River is a branch, has its source in Mystic Pond, which was shown on Wood's Map of Massachusetts in 1633. It almost has its beginning, continuance and end within the limits of Medford, and hence is often called the Medford River. The names of the Mystic and Menotomy Rivers are apparently aboriginal designations, and like all Indian names probably describe the locality to which they were affixed. Trumbull gives the origin of the name Mystic, anciently written Mistick, as applied to the Medford River, thus: ‘Tuk in Indian denotes a river whose waters are driven in waves by the tides or winds. With the adjectival misi, “great,” it forms misi-tuk—now written Mystic—the name of the “great river” of Boston Bay.’ The origin of the name Menotomy yet awaits explanation. The spellings of the word have been various.

3 The ‘teaching elders’ of six towns, namely Cambridge, Watertown, Charlestown, Boston, Roxbury and Dorchester, by act of 1642, were to constitute a part of the Board of Overseers of Harvard College.

4 The Third Parish of Cambridge, now Brighton District.

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