The Cambridge Historical Commission’s collection policy supports its mission, which includes promoting “the educational, cultural, economic and general welfare of the public through the preservation and protection of the distinctive characteristics of buildings and places significant in the history of the commonwealth and its cities and towns.”
The Cambridge Historical Commission collects books, plans, manuscripts, monographs, corporate records, photographs, ephemera and objects relating to the history of Cambridge and its buildings, businesses, industries, organizations and people, in order to better understand, promote and preserve the city’s rich cultural heritage.
Collections proposed for acquisition will be evaluated on the basis of their relevance to the Commission’s mission. The collection’s size and complexity is also relevant, given processing and storage constraints. Personal property such as clothing, bibles and similar objects will be declined. When appropriate, the Commission may refer donors to other repositories. Gifts to the Commission are considered unconditional, unless otherwise specified by the donor, and may be passed to another suitable repository if circumstances dictate.
Mission of the Cambridge Historical Commission
The Cambridge Historical Commission's mission has evolved since its inception in 1963. The CHC was established as both an historical commission under MGL Ch. 40, Section 8D, and as an historic district commission under MGL Ch. 40C. As an historical commission, it is authorized to pursue “the preservation, protection and development of the historical or archeological assets of such city or town;” it can hire staff, accept gifts, hold real estate, publish its findings, and “do and perform any and all acts which may be necessary or desirable to carry out the purposes of this section.” As an historic district commission, the commission is charged with regulatory responsibility to “promote the educational, cultural, economic and general welfare of the public through the preservation and protection of the distinctive characteristics of buildings and places significant in the history of the commonwealth and its cities and towns” (Ch. 40C, Sec. 2).
Development of CHC Collections
The ordinance establishing the Cambridge Historical Commission charged it with conducting an inventory of all 13,000 Cambridge buildings to determine their architectural and historical significance and publishing its findings. This objective shaped the Commission's original collections policy--to collect working copies of visual materials relating to the architectural development of the City, including photographs, plans, maps, and atlases. Among the depositories surveyed were the Cambridge, Boston and New York Public Libraries; the Library of Congress; the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities; the Boston Athenaeum; and the Bostonian Society. In most cases, copy prints of the original documents were obtained. By 1976 the Commission had inventoried and photographed every building in Cambridge and had completed research in land titles, tax records, and insurance atlases to provide at least an approximate date for each of them. Other sources – such as Cambridge Chronicle and Cambridge Tribune articles from 1846 to 1910 – were copied, catalogued, and added to the survey files. Cambridge building permits and assessors’ records were microfilmed or acquired in their original form. A nearly complete collection of annual city directories, which document building occupants from 1849 to 1972, was gradually formed. All this material made possible the publication of the five-volume Survey of Architectural History in Cambridge (The MIT Press, 1965-1977) and subsequent volumes, and supports the Commission’s determinations of historical significance of buildings and sites. This working collection now totals about 64 linear feet.
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The collection policy began to broaden in the 1970s as the Commission took a more comprehensive view of Cambridge history. The Photo Archives Project (1979) canvassed the city to obtain images of Cambridge social history for copying or acquisition. This project resulted in the publication A Photographic History of Cambridge (1984). The acquisition of 1,000 negatives documenting the construction of the Cambridge subway in 1903-1912 led to further gifts of about 10,000 negatives showing transit activities and construction through 1986. A higher public profile generated many unsolicited contributions, including family collections and corporate records. The Commission’s ability to house donations in a relatively secure environment attracted the Frederick Hastings Rindge collection and several significant art works. Meanwhile, the Commission expanded its biographical files on individuals (6 lf); architects and builders (5 lf); African Americans (5 lf); community groups and organizations (6 lf); and Cambridge companies and manufacturing activities (4 lf). Other subject areas include city departments; transportation; social history; and natural history. A small collection of works on Cambridge and surrounding towns also supports research activities.
The Executive Director began to actively collect Cambridge-related material about 2002. This collection includes about six standard archive boxes of photographs, postcards, and printed ephemera relating to Cambridge organizations and industries, with a special emphasis on product literature. This collection is being photocopied for integration into the CHC files; disposition of the original material has not been determined.
The Commission's working collection continues to grow. The present collection policy advocates accepting original material, but not aggressively pursuing it due to lack of funds, processing staff, and storage space.
March 2, 2009
Powers and Duties of the Cambridge Historical Commission With Respect to Collections
M.G.L. Chapter 40: Section 8D. Historical commission; establishment; powers and duties
Section 8D. A city or town which accepts this section may establish an historical commission, hereinafter called the commission, for the preservation, protection and development of the historical or archeological assets of such city or town. Such commission shall conduct researches for places of historic or archeological value, shall cooperate with the state archeologist in conducting such researches or other surveys, and shall seek to coordinate the activities of unofficial bodies organized for similar purposes, and may advertise, prepare, print and distribute books, maps, charts, plans and pamphlets which it deems necessary for its work. For the purpose of protecting and preserving such places, it may make such recommendations as it deems necessary to the city council or the selectmen and, subject to the approval of the city council or the selectmen, to the Massachusetts historical commission, that any such place be certified as an historical or archeological landmark. …The commission may hold hearings, may enter into contracts with individuals, organizations and institutions for services furthering the objectives of the commission’s program; may enter into contracts with local or regional associations for cooperative endeavors furthering the commission’s program; may accept gifts, contributions and bequests of funds from individuals, foundations and from federal, state or other governmental bodies for the purpose of furthering the commission’s program; may make and sign any agreements and may do and perform any and all acts which may be necessary or desirable to carry out the purposes of this section. … Said commission may acquire in the name of the city or town by gift, purchase, grant, bequest, devise, lease or otherwise the fee or lesser interest in real or personal property of significant historical value and may manage the same.
M.G.L. Chapter 40C: Section 2. Purpose [of historic district commissions]
The purpose of this chapter is to promote the educational, cultural, economic and general welfare of the public through the preservation and protection of the distinctive characteristics of buildings and places significant in the history of the commonwealth and its cities and towns or their architecture, and through the maintenance and improvement of settings for such buildings and places and the encouragement of design compatible therewith.
Cambridge City Code, Ch. 2.78, Sec. 2.78.020
The Commission shall have in addition to the powers and duties of an historical district commission and of an historical commission the following further powers and duties (and may in exercise of any of its powers or duties accept money, gifts and expend the same, and subject to appropriation or receipt of such gifts, employ clerical and technical assistants or consultants):
A. To conduct a survey of Cambridge buildings for the purpose of determining those of historic significance architecturally or otherwise, and pertinent facts about them, acting in collaboration with the Planning Board and the Redevelopment Authority to the extent either may from time to time be able to undertake such work, and to maintain and from time to time revise detailed listings of historic sites and buildings, and data about them, appropriately classified with respect to national, State or local significance, to period or field of interest, or otherwise;
B. To propose from time to time as it may deem appropriate, the establishment in accordance with the provisions of the Historic Districts Act of additional historic districts and changes in historic districts;
C. To determine an appropriate system of markers for selected historic sites and buildings not already sufficiently marked, to arrange for preparation and installation of such markers, and to arrange for care of historic markers;
D. To arrange for preparation and publication of maps and brochures and descriptive material about City historic sites and buildings, arranged for convenient walks or tours, or otherwise;
E. To arrange for construction and placing under appropriate cover at a convenient place on or near the Cambridge Common of a model of Cambridge as it existed in the latter part of 1775;
F. To cooperate with and advise the Planning Board, the Redevelopment Authority, the Public Works Department and other City agencies in matters involving historic sites and buildings;
G. To cooperate with and enlist assistance for the City from the National Park Service, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities and other agencies, public and private, from time to time concerned with historic sites and buildings;
H. To advise owners of historic buildings in the City on problems of preservation; and
I. To make recommendations with respect to any place determined by the Commission to be of historical or archaeological value to the Massachusetts Historical Commission that such place be certified as an historical or archaeological landmark or nominated to the National Register of Historic Places. (Ord. 1166 §2, 1995; Ord. 869 (part), 1976: prior code § 2-147(a)--(i))