Archive for the 'Area Info' Category

Jingle Bells – Medford’s Christmas Carol

I thought this would be a simple Christmas post about Jingle Bells and its Medford origins.  Turns out it’s a much more interesting story than I knew.

Jingle Bells was written by James Pierpont and describes the sleigh races held on Pleasant Street between Medford Square and Malden. Peirpont was born in Boston in 1822, son of the Reverend John Pierpont, a Unitarian minister, ardent abolitionist and noted poet.

Sleigh racing in the 1800s - theme of Jingle Bells

Sleigh racing in the 1800s - theme of Jingle Bells

Turns out Pierpont was, from an early age, a bit of wild man, called a “19th century scalawag” in a Dec. 21, 1997 Boston Globe article who “had a woman in every port”.  He ran away to sea aboard The Shark at the age of 14.  Back on the East Coast he married Millicent Cowee in the 1840s and with his wife and two children moved to Medford when his father became minister of the Unitarian Church in Medford in 1849.

James left the family behind and joined the Gold Rush in San Francisco shortly thereafter. Failing to find success he returned to Medford.

Back in Medford, Pierpont is said to have composed Jingle Bells while playing the piano at a Medford boarding house, the Seccomb House, by the intersection of High and Forest Streets.

In 1853, James’ brother John, Jr. accepted a position as minister of the Savannah, Georgia Unitarian Church.  Again leaving his wife and children with his parents, James moved to Savannah and became the organist and music director in his brother’s church.  In 1857 Jingle Bells, initially called “One Horse Open Sleigh”, was published, leading Savannah to attempt to lay claim to the song in recent years.

Back in Medford, Pierpont’s wife died of TB. The following year he married Eliza Purse of Savannah, whom descendants suggest he had been living with prior to his wife’s death and who gave birth to a child shortly after their marriage. Pierpont’s two children from his first marriage remained with their grandparents.

Jingle Bells

Jingle Bells

When the Civil War broke out Pierpont’s father, 76 at the time, volunteered to serve with the Union Army, eventually accepting a position with the Treasury Department instead.  For his 80th birthday celebration, Rev. Pierpont recieved tributes from fellow poets  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, John Greenleaf Whittier, and Oliver Wendell Holmes.

The Savannah Unitarian Church was closed since its abolitionist leanings were not popular in the South. While James’ brother returned to the North, James, son and brother of abolitionists, enlisted with the Confederate Army serving two years and writing several Confederate battle songs.

A few other fun facts about the family – J. Pierpont Morgan, the Wall Street financier whose library became New York’s Pierpont Morgan Library, was the son of James’s sister Juliet. James’ daughter from his first marriage, Mary, married Theodore Barnum, a cousin of circus promoter P.T. Barnum.  One of his ancestors, for whom I imagine he’s named, James Pierpont was a founder of Yale and his daughter married theologian Jonathan Edwards. Yowza – it’s quite the family tree!

James Pierpont died in 1893 and is buried in Savannah with a Confederate marker at his grave.

But back to Jingle Bells

Turns out Jingle Bells is not the simple holiday ditty that we think it is.

The Boston Herald, in a Dec. 24, 2001 article described Jingle Bells as “pre-Civil War rock ‘n roll.  In its seldom heard original form, it’s about having a flashy vehicle, driving it too fast and using it to pick up girls.”

Not what you thought, huh?

Jingle Bells

Dashing through the snow in a one-horse open sleigh

Through the fields we go laughing all the way.

Bells on bob tail ring making spirits bright

What fun it is to ride and sing a sleighing song tonight.


Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way!

Oh, what fun it is to ride in a one-horse open sleigh, O

Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way!

Oh, what fun it is to ride in a one-horse open sleigh.

A day or two ago I thought I’d take a ride

And soon Miss Fanny Bright was seated by my side;

The horse was lean and lank, misfortune seemed his lot,

He got into a drifted bank and there we got upsot.


A day or two ago, the story I must tell

I went out on the snow and on my back I fell;

A gent was riding by in a one-horse open sleigh

He laughed at me as I there sprawling laid but quickly drove away.


Now the ground is white, go it while you’re young,

Take the girls along and sing this sleighing song.

Just bet a bob-tailed bay, two-forty as his speed.

Hitch him to an open sleigh and crack! You’ll take the lead.




Boston Globe, December 21, 1997. “A New Tune on ‘Jingle Bells’ Composer Medford’s Pierpont was 19th Century Scalawag.”

Boston Herald, December 24, 2001. “Jingle Bell Shock: Both Medford and Savannah, Ga. Stake Claims to ‘Racy’ Holiday Song.”

Cincinnati Post, December 23, 2003. “Birthplace of Jingle Bells Is Debated.”

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Cambridge Registry of Deeds – Middlesex South Registry of Deeds

Cambridge Registry of Deeds

Cambridge Registry of Deeds

The Middlesex South Registry of Deeds – what we often call the Cambridge Registry of Deeds – is located in East Cambridge on Cambridge Street between Second and Third Streets.  It’s hard to miss with its enormous red brick columns.

The plaque out front describes the Registry as “One of the finest Neo-Classical buildings in Massachusetts, especially noted for its colossal brick columns.”  The building was designed in 1898 by Boston architect Olin B. Cutter.

In remarks at the dedication on November 13, 1900, Samuel K. Hamilton described the building:

“Viewed from any point of the compass, it presents a building imposing in size, symmetrical in proportion, and beautiful in architecture.”

The interior is beautiful as well but sorry – no photos. Nowadays you have to empty your pockets, go through a metal detector, and leave your camera in the car in order to enter the building.  The building also houses the Middlesex Probate Court so gets quite busy.

If you’re visiting the Cambridge Registry of Deeds for your real estate closing you’ll want to take the elevator or one of the two grand staircases to the second floor. Real estate closings take place under the rotunda in the open area that looks quite a bit like a food court.  Recently a room adjacent to the area where documents are recorded was refurbished to provide additional space for closings.  It’s called the Closing Room or the Settlement Room and – happily – it’s air conditioned – something we all appreciate in July or August.

Documents recorded at the Registry since the mid-1980s are available online.  If you’re interested in researching the early history of your house you’ll want to visit the Registry in person.  The Registry’s holdings include deeds and mortgage documents dating back to the mid-1600s.

The Middlesex South District Registry of Deeds serves Acton, Arlington, Ashby, Ashland, Ayer, Bedford, Belmont, Boxborough, Burlington, Cambridge, Concord, Everett, Framingham, Groton, Holliston, Hopkinton, Hudson, Lexington, Lincoln, Littleton, Malden, Marlboro, Maynard, Medford, Melrose, Natick, Newton, North Reading, Pepperell, Reading, Sherborn, Shirley, Somerville, Stoneham, Stow, Sudbury, Townsend, Wakefield, Waltham, Watertown, Wayland, Weston, Winchester and Woburn.

The Cambridge Registry of Deeds is located at 208 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, MA 02141 just one block from the Lechmere T station. Open Monday – Friday 7:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Office hours for recording – 8:00 a.m. to 3:45 pm.

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Amelia Earhart’s House In Medford

Did you know that Amelia Earhart lived in Medford Mass?  With the movie, “Amelia”, starring Hilary Swank as Earhart and Richard Gere as Earhart’s husband, opening this weekend I figured it was a good  time to check out the home where the famous aviatrix lived.

Amelia Earhart’s House In Medford

Amelia Earhart's Home In Medford Mass

Amelia Earhart's Home In Medford Mass

The Earhart women, Amelia, her sister Muriel, and their mother Amy, moved to Medford in 1924 following their mother’s divorce. They moved to this hip roofed shingled house at 76 Brooks Street in West Medford. 

As the monument in front of the Amelia Earhart home notes, Amelia lived here with her mother and sister for several years. She subsequently lived at Denison House, a settlement house in Boston where she worked as a social worker.  She married George Putnam, played by Richard Gere in the movie, on February 7, 1931.

Monument In Front Of The Earhart House On Brooks Street

Monument In Front Of The Earhart House On Brooks Street

Earhart was the first woman to fly across the Atlantic – first as a passenger in 1928 and then as a pilot in a solo flight in 1932. She was only the second person to fly solo across the Atlantic, five years after Charles Lindbergh’s flight.

Amelia’s mother died several months after her daughter’s disappearance in 1937 during her ill fated round-the-world flight.  Her sister, Muriel Morrissey, lived a long life in Medford where she was a public school teacher. Muriel died in Medford in 1998 at the age of 98.  George Putnam died in 1950 at the age of 62.

Here’s another local tie-in with a recent movie:  Julia Child’s House In Cambridge

Would you like to see inside Amelia Earhart’s house?  It’s just been listed for sale and you can click on the small photo below for more info and additional photographs.

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New Cambridge Hotel on Mass Ave

New Hotel On Mass Ave Under Construction

New Hotel On Mass Ave Under Construction

New Cambridge Hotel   Wondered what that new building under construction near Harvard Square is?  So did I.  Turns out it will be a new 32-room boutique hotel – Veritas at Harvard Square.  It’s at the corner of Mass Ave and Remington Street at 1131 Massachusetts Avenue.

The development team includes two brothers who developed the Marina Bay complex in Quincy.

It’s interesting to see how the hotel-to-be mimics the bow front brick building next door.  The new hotel replaces a green, three story bow front building that fronted Mass Ave and an auto repair shop on Remington.  That property sold for $2,500,000 in 2007.

Looks like Cambridge may be getting several boutique hotels soon.  There’s another planned for the Kaya site (formerly home to the Averof restaurant which I always remembered as the place that had belly dancing) in Porter Square. There’s also a proposal for a small hotel at the intersection of Beacon Street and Oxford Street on the gas station site at 369 Beacon Street.

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National Historic Landmarks in Cambridge

In honor of Ken Burns’ magnificent series on our National Parks this week I thought I’d take a look at the National Parks Service’s 18 National Historic Landmarks in Cambridge MA.  Who knew there so many?  Not me.

Theodore W. Richard House - National Historic Landmark - Richards was the first American scientist to win the Nobel Prize for chemistry

Theodore W. Richard House - National Historic Landmark - Richards was the first American scientist to win the Nobel Prize for chemistry

What is a National Historic Landmark?

According to the NPS’ website an NHL is:

“National Historic Landmarks are buildings, sites, districts, structures, and objects that have been determined by the Secretary of the Interior to be nationally significant in American history and culture.”

In Cambridge 12 of the landmarks are houses, four are buildings at Harvard, one is a church, and another an office building.  The NPS considers Mount Auburn Cemetery to be in Watertown but we can claim it as our 19th Cambridge landmark.

National Historic Landmarks in Cambridge

Many of the sites are private homes to this day.  Others are now used for public purposes or are university owned.  In many cases there’s no plaque announcing the property’s status so a number of these were really a surprise for me.

  • Maria Baldwin House, 196 Prospect Street
  • George D. Birkhoff House, 22 Craigie Street
  • Percy W. Bridgman House, 10 Buckingham Place
  • Reginald A. Daly House, 23 Hawthorn Street
  • William M. Davis House, 17 Francis Street
  • Elmwood, 33 Elmwood Avenue
  • Margaret Fuller House, 71 Cherry Street
  • Asa Gray House, 88 Garden Street – this one’s for sale
  • Oliver Hastings House, 101 Brattle Street
  • Longfellow House, 105 Brattle Street
  • Theodore W. Richards House, 15 Follen Street
  • Mary Fisk Stoughton House, 90 Brattle Street
  • Christ Church, 0 Garden Street
  • Arthur D. Little Inc Building, 30 Memorial Drive
  • Massachusetts Hall, Memorial Hall, Sever Hall, and University Hall at Harvard University

The next time you take a walk around town take a second look at some of these local treasures.

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Inman Square Fire Station Mural

Cambridge is full of wonderful murals and the large mural above the fire station in Inman Square is hard to miss.

Even so, I have to confess to not really looking carefully at it until I took a tour of Inman Square led by Krystyna Colburn as part of Cambridge Discovery Days this summer.  Colburn pointed out two fun elements of the mural that I had never noticed – more about that later.

Inman Square Fire Station Mural

Inman Square Fire Station Mural


Engine Company No. 5 Mural

Artist Ellary Eddy was chosen to paint the mural after the Cambridge Arts Council held a competition for local artists.  The mural was painted in 1980 and restored, also by Eddy, in 1999. It is three times life size and depicts the firefighters of Engine Company No. 5.

What’s the secret of the fire station mural?  Well, there are two surprises in the mural.

Second from left is George Washington holding a pail.  Washington appears in the mural to commemorate the time he spent in Cambridge during the Revolution when what we now call the Longfellow House served as his headquarters during the Seige of Boston.   Washington also earned his place in the mural from his service as a volunteer firefighter in Virginia.  He’s behind the fire station’s dalmation.

George Washington in the Fire Station mural in Inman Square

George Washington in the Fire Station mural in Inman Square


The other surprise in the mural is Benjamin Franklin who stands on the fire engine’s running board.  Eddy painted Ben Franklin in red hightop sneakers.   Franklin never lived in Cambridge but earned his place on the mural as the founder of the first volunteer fire department in 1736.

Benjamin Franklin founded the first volunteer fire company

Benjamin Franklin founded the first volunteer fire company


 Check it out the next time you’re in Inman Square.

The Inman Square Fire Station Mural is on the west wall of the Inman Square firehouse at the intersection of Hampshire Street and Cambridge Street.

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Tip O’Neill’s Cambridge Church

Tip O'Neill's Cambridge Church

Tip O'Neill's Cambridge Church

Tip O’Neill’s Cambridge Church   Last weekend I spent several days watching the coverage of Ted Kennedy – the nonstop coverage (thank you channel 5!) of the funeral and the various documentaries about the Kennedy family – and didn’t have time to read the newspapers.  As I was going through the back issues this weekend it occurred to me that the Mission Hill church, Our Lady of Perpetual Help Basilica, will be known for years to come as the church where Teddy Kennedy’s funeral was held.

St. John the Evangelist church on Mass Ave in North Cambridge is similarly remembered to this day as the church where Tip O’Neill’s funeral was held.  Some 1700 people attended the January 1994 funeral including Vice President Al Gore, and former Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter.

O’Neill grew up in this North Cambridge neighborhood and raised his family in the Orchard Street neighborhood.  He was baptized and married at St. John the Evangelist. O’Neill represented Massachusetts for 34 years in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1953 to 1987 and served as Speaker of the House from 1977 to 1987.

It was great to see this banner in memory of Teddy Kennedy in Tip’s old neighborhood on Orchard Street in Porter Square.

Sign of Appreciation for Ted Kennedy on Orchard Street Cambridge

Sign of Appreciation for Ted Kennedy on Orchard Street Cambridge

Tip O’Neill’s church is the large yellow brick church at 2254 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge MA 02140.

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Irving Street Cambridge – Real Estate, Architecture and History

105 Irving Street Cambridge MA

105 Irving Street Cambridge MA

Irving Street Cambridge – Real Estate, Architecture and History.  Irving Street is close to Harvard Square in Cambridge in what real estate agents often refer to as the Divinity School neighborhood. Much of the street is part of what once was the Shady Hill estate.  Lined with large, handsome houses and rich in history, Irving Street is one of my favorite streets in Cambridge.

Irving Street History

Irving Street was named for author Washington Irving, best known today for his stories “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “Rip Van Winkle”.  While parts of the street were laid out earlier in the 1800s, the street was part of the subdivision designed by landscape architect Charles Eliot in 1886 when the 34 acre Shady Hill estate was subdivided.

Well known residents of Irving Street included:

  • Julia and Paul Child at 103 Irving Street
  • Poet e.e. cummings grew up across the street at no. 104 
  • Psychologist and philospher William James, brother of Henry James, built no. 95 in 1889 and lived there until his death in 1910

On a lighter note, I found at least one reference to a house on Irving appearing in the movie Love Story as the house where the couple played by Ryan O’Neil and Ali McGraw lived. Anybody know which house this is?

Irving Street Architecture

Twenty year deed restrictions were put in place when the Shady Hill estate was divided.  Only single family houses could be built and there were minimum cost requirements.  There is a uniformity to the streetscape as a result – all of the houses are large and are separated from their neighbors on generous lots. 

The street is almost entirely residential with the exceptions of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences at one end and the Irving House Bed and Breakfast at the other.  There is also Harvard housing at no. 28, Haskins Hall, a 1926 brick apartment building.

Most of the houses on the street are Colonial Revivals or late examples of the Queen Anne style. No. 114 is a Craftsman style house. There is a large Mansard at no. 23 and a more recent addition of  a group of Bell and Fandetti townhouses at no. 36.

Here’s a tour of the houses on Irving Street, starting at the end of the street near Francis Avenue and walking back, cross Kirkland Street to the opposite end at Cambridge Street.  By clicking on the photos you can get a larger view.



Irving Street Cambridge Real Estate

Recent sales on the street have included:

  • An unrenovated two-family sold for $1,075,000 in 2009
  • Julia Child’s former home sold for $3,700,000 earlier this year
  • One of the Bell and Fandetti 1970s townhouses sold for $601,050 in 2007
  • A fully renovated two-family house sold in 2007 for $2,215,000



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