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East Cambridge

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The section of Cambridge closest to Boston, East Cambridge, developed in the early nineteenth century as a residential and industrial extension of the larger city. The earliest residence in Cambridge, the house of surveyor Thomas Graves, was built here in 1629. But the area remained isolated and did not develop until after the Revolution. In 1793, the West Boston Bridge from Cambridge Street in Boston to Pelham's Island (near modern Lafayette Square) in Cambridge provided a direct link between the two towns, opening Cambridgeport to economic expansion (see the Central Square introduction). The upland north of this bridge, known as Lechmere Point, became the focus of a rival development, and is now known as East Cambridge.

Under the leadership of Andrew Craigie, a bridge was built in 1807–1809 from Leverett Street, Boston, to the Cambridge shore, and in 1810 the Lechmere Point Corporation was formed to develop the substantial landholdings Craigie had assembled beginning in 1795. Surveyor Peter Tufts established a grid plan (1811) for the development at the end of the bridge. In 1813, the corporation convinced Middlesex County to relocate its court, jail, and registers of deeds and probate here from Harvard Square by providing free land and buildings. The Boston Porcelain and Glass Company established their factory in the same year in East Cambridge, inaugurating the industrial focus for the community. Despite these early successes, the Lechmere Point development proceeded slowly. In 1855 the New England Glass Company was the largest employer in East Cambridge and employed many immigrant workers, especially those who had fled Ireland during the Potato Famine. After the Civil War, industries and a foreign-born workforce (especially Irish) came to dominate East Cambridge. Lumberyards and furniture makers joined producers of pork, soap, sugar, and rubber, driving out those residents not directly tied to East Cambridge businesses. These industries continued their dominance through the World War II. In the closing decades of the twentieth century, however, the factories and warehouses were first converted to and then joined by facilities for new technologies, especially computer and biomedical concerns. Expansive residential and commercial development along the Charles River renewed the dream for East Cambridge that Andrew Craigie envisioned as early as the 1790s.

Writing Credits

Keith N. Morgan

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