History of Cambridge

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is located in New England, in the northeastern part of the United States. Many of its towns and cities were founded in the 1620s and 1630s.

Most of its 6.8 million citizens live in the greater Boston area. The city of Cambridge, situated on the Charles River, is often lumped in with Boston, but Cambridge is not merely a "Left Bank" cousin to Boston.

Massachusetts State House

Kendall Square, seen from Boston

Cambridge itself was founded as Newe Towne in 1632 at a convenient crossing spot of the Charles River by about 700 Puritan settlers. This spot is now Harvard Square.

Harvard Yard

Harvard College was founded in 1636, and in 1638 Newtowne was renamed Cambridge in honor of the university in Cambridge, England.

Cambridge grew slowly until about 1840, but the construction of the West Boston Bridge in the 1790s (now the Longfellow Bridge, or "Salt and Pepper Shaker" Bridge, as many people call it) made it practical for people to commute from Cambridge to the port of Boston. Cambridge was incorporated as a city in 1846, and is now the fifth largest city in Massachusetts.

Cambridge City Hall

Cambridge was one of the largest industrial cities in New England until the 1920s. Industries included brick-making at Alewife; ice-cutting at Fresh Pond; the Carter Ink Company by the Charles River; and the New England Glass Company. During the Great Depression, these industries all declined.

By the 1980s, many software startups had started transforming the city, and the biotech and pharmaceutical industry has continued the transformation.

Cambridge remains extremely diverse, despite having one of the most expensive real estate markets in the United States.

Cambridge Geography

Cambridge is a city of "squares", many of which are accessible by the "T", the Boston area's subway system. Much of Cambridge is also easily accessible on foot or on bicycle. You might want to leave your car elsewhere; parking at MIT on a weekday morning can be a frustrating experience.

Kendall Square is at the intersection of Broadway, Main St and Third St, and bounds one corner of the MIT campus. It's served by the Kendall/MIT T stop on the Red Line. By the way, don't confuse Kendall Square with the nearby, similarly named "One Kendall Square".

Kendall Square

Central Square is at the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue (or "Mass Ave", as it is always called), Prospect St, and Western Ave. It's loaded with inexpensive and delicious ethnic restaurants. And it has the New York Times proclaimed "best ice cream in the world", at Toscanini's. It's served by the Central T stop on the Red Line.

The Necco Factory in Central Square

Harvard Square is at the intersection of Mass Ave, Brattle St, and JFK Street, and is where Harvard University is centered. Harvard Square is filled with shops and restaurants, and is served by the Harvard T stop on the Red Line.

Harvard Square

Porter Square is about a mile north of Harvard Square, again on Mass Ave. It is served by the Porter T stop on the Red Line.

Inman Square is at the intersection of Cambridge St and Hampshire St. It, too, has many restaurants, bars and music venues. It has another contender for best ice cream, Christina's.


For all the references to Harvard University, it has to be said that it is but the second best university on Mass Ave in Cambridge. The first, of course, is MIT -- the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Building 10

The Stata Center

The "Infinite Corridor"

MIT was founded in 1861, and was originally housed in Back Bay in Boston, where it was known as Boston Tech. George Eastman donated a mile-long strip of land along the Cambridge side of the Charles River, and MIT moved there in 1916.

In the 1930s, the provost Vannevar Bush modernized the curriculum to turn MIT into a modern engineering and science school. This was pretty successful, to say the least: MIT has had 72 Nobel laureates, 47 National Medal of Science recipients, and 31 MacArthur Fellows. The current income of all the companies founded by MIT graduates, if combined, would exceed the economies of all but 25 countries.

In addition to departments in physics, chemistry, electrical engineering, computer science ("Course VI" to those who went to MIT), mathematics, etc, MIT also has renowned courses in architecture, economics, linguistics, political science, and management.

We can thank MIT for Project Mac, the Tech Model Railroad Club, the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory; Spacewar, the GNU project, and a lot of hacker slang. And a few other things like core memory, radar, inertial guidance systems; information theory; and Lego Mindstorms. And, of course, the Lisp programming language.

Getting to Cambridge and MIT

You can fly into Boston's Logan Airport, and then take either the T or a cab to MIT or wherever you are staying in Cambridge.

You can take a train from many places out of the city to Boston's North Station or South Station, and then continue by T to MIT.

Finally, you can always just drive. From the west, take either the Mass Pike or Route 2; from the north, Route 93; from the south, Route 93 or 95.

Once in Cambridge, the T and your feet are your best bets. See here for details of how to find the venue.

What to See

Boston and Cambridge have many museums and institutions. Here are a few highlights:

You can also do far worse than to simply take a walk along the Charles River on a nice afternoon, or stroll down Newbury Street or into the South End in Boston.

Where to Eat

Boston and Cambridge also have many restaurants. Here are a few Cambridge highlights, easily accessible using the Red Line from Kendall Square:

Near Kendall Square (actually One Kendall Square),

In Central Square,

In Inman Square,

Near Davis Square (Somerville, Davis T stop on the Red Line),

All over, including the MIT Student Center,

© alu 2009