Image Collections

Photo of Nikon 35mm camera used for documentation of buildings in Cambridge.

The Cambridge Historical Commission's archives include many collections containing large numbers of photographs, drawings, maps, plans, and views. The list below is provided to aid researchers in determining if we are likely to have an image of interest in our collections. Please note that this is not an exhaustive list, and we may have photographs in our collection that are not listed here.

We digitize images as often as we can; check out what's available for view on our Flickr page here:
flickr logo in white box

A new image collection, the Cambridge Photo Morgue Collection, was recently digitized by Digital Commonwealth. This collection contains black-and-white prints taken by newspaper photographers throughout the 20th century to illustrate stories regarding the city of Cambridge. The images may be viewed here.

Photographic Collections

The Commission collects and copies photographs for its collections. The collection currently includes an estimated 60,000 images, including both former and extant Cambridge buildings. The collection also includes images of street scenes, subway construction, industrial complexes, right of way valuations, Cambridge residents, businesses, and groups. This is not a comprehensive list, so please be sure to check out our Archival Collections page for a full list of our available collections. 
N.B. The majority of photos are arranged by address, not subject.

Aerial Photographs - The Commission has fly-over aerial photographs from 1947, 1952, 1969, 1972, 1978, 1988, 1995, and 2003. For more recent aerial photographs, contact the Cambridge GIS department. Additional aerials are organized by neighborhood and photographs taken from high points such as the towers of City Hall or Memorial Hall are organized by address.

Architectural Inventory  - Includes a photograph, date, and architectural evaluation of all 13,000 Cambridge structures.  Files also may include historical photographs, newspaper articles, deed research, building permit information, and biographical information on past and/or present residents.

Baker, Louis Photographs Collection - This collection is comprised of photographs taken by Louis Baker, a photographer for the Harvard Crimson, circa 1949. Subjects include reconstruction of the steeple of the First Parish Church, Phillips Books store in two locations, and aerial views of Harvard University. See finding aid for additional information.

Boston Elevated Railway (BERy) photo collection - The Commission holds approximately 1,000 glass negatives taken by the Boston Elevated Railway between 1899 and 1912. While these primarily document the construction of the Cambridge Subway in 1909-1912, others depict the residences of the company's president, Gen. William A. Bancroft, on Putnam Avenue and Ware Street (1900); conversion of the New England Glass Company's factory on the Miller's River in East Cambridge into a power station (1902); and construction of the East Cambridge viaduct in 1907-1912. Related holdings include about 200 cyanotypes made from negatives not in the CHC collection and about 3,000 film negatives, some not yet catalogued, depicting subway and surface operations in Cambridge taken by the BERy, the Metropolitan Transit Authority, and the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority from 1935-1970.

Bowen, Lois M. Collection - This Collection represents much of the life work of Lois M. Bowen, a professional photographer and entrepreneur who owned a camera shop, Cambridge Camera and Marine, in Harvard Square from the 1940s to 1995. The collection consists of approximately 8,000 photographic images including prints, negatives, contact sheets, as well as film and glass slides. Many of these photographs are from Ms. Bowen’s work as a freelance photographer for architectural groups and publications in the greater Boston area. See finding aid for more information. View our flickr album of selected images from this collection. 

Boyce, Gladys G. Photograph Collection - A collection of eight photographs purchased in 2002. Gladys was a teacher and lived at 36 Walker Street. Of the eight photographs in this collection, three are of girls’ basketball teams and the remaining five are landscapes. It is likely that Gladys Boyce is one of the girls pictured. The landscape photographs are attributed to Ms. Boyce and are purported to be taken “out West.” See finding aid for additional information. 

Cambridge Building and Structure Documentation Collection - This collection documents Cambridge buildings and structures that were either demolished or significantly altered, many with detailed photographs. Photographs follow HABS (Historic American Buildings Survey) guidelines. See finding aid for additional information. For other HABS photograph documentation, see the HABS collection for 622-632, 636-638 Mass Ave. and 1-5, 6-9 Central Square.

Cambridge Ephemera Collection (CMS Collection) - The collection includes a range of ephemera including advertisements, company newsletters and promotional materials, business invoices, programs and bulletins from area churches and schools, publications on Cambridge and its residents, city guidebooks and maps, photographs of Cambridge sites, homes, and businesses, and published works featuring Cambridge industry, organizations, and residents. See finding aid for additional detail.

Cambridge Public Library digitized collections - In addition to what is available at the Historical Commission, be sure to look at the digitized photographs, newspapers, and city directories on the Cambridge Public's Library's website of special collections here.

Cambridge Women's Commission Collection - The collection is comprised of photographs, negatives, and planning materials relating to Cambridge Women’s Commission activities between 1979 and 1993.See finding aid for additional information.

City Departments - Photographs of and from several city departments have been added to the Historical Commission archive over the years including Community Development, Engineering, Fire, Police, Recreation, and the Women's Commission.
Cambridge Recreation Department Collection, see finding aid.

Chapman Family Photograph Collection - Photographs of members of the Chapman family of Cambridge. Many individuals remain unidentified. See finding aid for more information.

City Hall Exhibit Photographs Collection - Sixteen reprinted and undated photographs and images that were once on display in Cambridge City Hall. This collection represents the architectural evolution of the city hall building.

Clark Street Photograph Collection - In 1901, the Engineering Department documented the street improvement work on Clark Street. The photos show before and after conditions; the after photographs show a macadamized street, brick sidewalks, and the installation of drains. [Prior to the upgrade to brick sidewalks, duckboards (platforms of wooden slats) flanked the streets in poorer neighborhoods. See finding aid for further detail. View this collection on flickr.

Deeks, Henry Collection - Collection of 16 black and white photographs of the exteriors of Cambridge industrial buildings and 4 non-industrial Cambridge buildings. All but one date to ca. 1912-1913. See finding aid for more information. 

Doyle Family Photograph Collection - Collection of 25 photographs found on the third floor of 220 Concord Avenue in Cambridge. Individuals in the photographs are unidentified, but are likely members of the Doyle family who lived at this address. See finding aid for more detail. View this collection on flickr.

Godhino Family Photograph Collection - Collection of family photographs of a Portuguese American family that lived in East Cambridge. See finding aid for more information. 

Harvard Naval Radio School Collection - From 1917-1919, the U.S. Naval Radio School was stationed on the Harvard campus to prepare a corps of Morse Code operators for service in World War I. Several Harvard buildings were given over for use as barracks and classrooms. The collection consists of 26 black and white photo prints created over the course of the year 1918 by an unknown student at the Naval Radio School. The photographs include scenes of students in training on the Harvard Campus and the Charles River as well as social outings and civic parades throughout the Greater Boston area. See finding aid for further information. View this collection on flickr

Levesque, Claire Collection - This collection consists of 13 black and white photographs that relate to the life of Claire Lawrence Levesque and her affiliation with the Holy Ghost Hospital for Incurables in Cambridge, Mass. See finding aid for more information. 

Mellen, Curtis Photograph Collection - Family and house photographs from the Mellen family, which owned the Curtis Davis Soap Company. See finding aid for more information. 

Nylander, Ella Jepson Photograph Collection - The collection consists of loose photographs, cabinet photographs, and card photographs. The images date to the early twentieth century and many were taken by Boston and Cambridge photographers. A large number of the individuals represented are believed to have been family and acquaintances of the Nylanders, including the Anderson, Nelson, Nylander, and Nyman families who were a part of the Swedish-American community in Cambridge. See finding aid for additional information. 

Oversize Photographs and Documents Box - Oversize materials pertaining to Cambridge architecture and miscellaneous subjects.

Photo Archives Project Collection - Beginning in 1979, the Commission canvassed the city to obtain images of Cambridge social history for copying or acquisition. Hundreds of photographs were brought in for donation or duplication. This project resulted in the publication A Photographic History of Cambridge (1984). The introduction to this book describes the invention of photography and the popularity of this technology in nineteenth century Cambridge. Chapter Seven details the career of early Cambridge photographer George Kendall Warren and the appendix lists other Cambridge commercial photographers between 1858-1945.

Rindge Collection - This collection includes photographs of Cambridge, including the buildings that F. H. Rindge built and then donated to the city including Rindge Manual Training School, City Hall, and the Cambridge Public Library.  See finding aid for more detailed collection information.

Sawicz Family Collection. - This collection relates to the Lithuanian American Sawicz family who lived at 94-96 Pine St. from ca. 1930 to 2001. See finding aid for more information. View highlights from this collection on flickr.

Smith, Ralph N. Photograph Collection - Ralph Nathan Smith (b. Worcester, 1871; d. Arlington, 1935) was a Cambridge resident from 1890 to 1900. The Cambridge Historical Commission acquired a collection of 76 glass negatives subsequently identified as created by Smith. The photographs include scenes from summer vacationing in the Brant Rock area of Marshfield, Mass.; views of Middlesex County Courthouse and Prison buildings; and views of the 1896 Cambridge semi-centenary parade as it passed through East Cambridge. View this collection on flickr.

Sullivan, Charles M. Collection of Harvard Photographs - Collection of 59 Harvard class album photographs, including scenes of Harvard, images of faculty and students, and the John Harvard statue. Also included is a printed design for Helton Hall. See finding aid for more detailed collection information. 


Maps, Atlases and Views

Highlights of the map collection include,

1830 Hales’ Plan of Cambridge - shows buildings, topographical features. May be photocopied.

1833 Wadsworth's Plan of the Village of Old Cambridge. This map can also be viewed online at Harvard's website.

1854 Walling Map of Cambridge - shows buildings, property lines, topographical features. Original in color. May be photocopied or full-size, blue-line prints may be purchased for $5.00. This map can also be viewed online at Harvard's website.

1873 Hopkins Atlas - shows buildings, building material, ownership, property lines. Original in color. This atlas may not be photocopied due to its size, age and fragility. This atlas can also be viewed online at Harvard's website or

1877 Franklin View Co.'s bird's eye view of Cambridge. This view can also be viewed online at Boston Public Library's website.

1879 Bailey & Hazen's bird's eye view of East Cambridge. This view can also be viewed online at Boston Public Library's website.

1885/88 Sanborn Atlas of Boston/Cambridge, which is not in our collection, can be viewed online at the Harvard Map Collection).

1886 Hopkins Atlas - shows buildings, building material, ownership, property lines. Original in color. This atlas may not be photocopied due to its size, age and fragility. This atlas can also be viewed online at Harvard's website.

1894, 1903, 1916, 1930 Bromley Atlases - show buildings, building material, ownership, property lines. Original are in color. These atlases may not be photocopied due to their size, age and fragility. These atlases can be viewed online here, 1894, 1903, 1916 and 1930.

1900 Sanborn Atlas, updated to 1933 - shows buildings, building material, ownership (of some properties), property lines, use, hazardous structures or manufacturing materials. Original in two volumes and in color. This atlas may not be photocopied due to its size and fragility. The atlas may be protected by copyright laws and regulations for The Sanborn Map Company, (914) 738-1649.
The 1900 base map of this atlas, without the pasted on updates, can be viewed online at Harvard's website.

1933/34 Sanborn Atlas, updated to approx. 1960 - shows buildings, building material, ownership (of some properties), property lines, use, hazardous structures or manufacturing materials. Original in color. This atlas may not be photocopied due to its size and fragility. The atlas is protected by copyright laws and regulations for The Sanborn Map Company, (914) 738-1649. The 1934 (Volume One) and 1935 (Volume Two) base maps of this set are available at the Library of Congress website. A version with pasted on updates as of 1950 is available at the Library of Congress also. 1950 (Volume One) and 1950 (Volume Two).

1962, 1966, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1982, 1983, 1993, 1996, 1997, 2001, 2002 Sanborn Atlases - shows buildings, building material, ownership (of some properties), property lines, use, hazardous structures or manufacturing materials. Originals are in black and white. These atlases may be photocopied for research purposes only. The atlases are protected by copyright laws and regulations for The Sanborn Map Company, (914) 738-1649.
More maps can be found in our flat files collection. Contact us for more information.  

Documentary Sources

Highlights include,

Cambridge City Directories - A nearly complete collection of city directories is available for research use in our office. City directories offer a wide range of information on persons, clubs, government, businesses, and industries. Most include advertisements for area businesses, many of which show illustrations of the building or product made or sold there. Many of these directories have been digitized by the Cambridge Public Library and can be viewed online here.

Cambridge City Engineer, House Books, 1875-1932 - Surveyed, measured foundation plans.

William Galvin Collection - Includes hundreds of twentieth century architectural drawings from the office of Cambridge architect, William Galvin.  See finding aid.

Plans, Volume II - Volume contains plans for Pine Grove, lots, and buildings in various areas of Cambridge.  See finding aid here.

Postcards and Stereographs - Includes several hundred postcard views and stereographs of Cambridge buildings, bridges, landmarks, and the Charles River.

James A. Stafford Plans. This volume includes the personal collection of plans of an engineer at the Cambridge Water Board. See finding aid here.

Flat Files - Oversized maps (city, assessor's, base maps), building plans, prints, photographs, ephemera (ex. movie posters), and architectural drawings.

Neighborhood Photographs - Miscellaneous photographs of neighborhoods in Cambridge (ex. Old Cambridge, Cambridgeport, etc.)