Mid-Cambridge: An Evolving Neighborhood

By Paula Lovejoy, 2012

As its name implies, Mid-Cambridge lies in the heart of the city between Inman, Central, and Harvard squares. Essentially a residential neighborhood since the 19th century, it’s become a municipal center as well, including City Hall, the high school, the library, and a hospital. However, the area was not officially considered as a neighborhood until 1949. It went nameless until the 1970s, when residents formed the Mid-Cambridge Neighborhood Association and the name stuck.

Mid-Cambridge began as an agricultural area soon after the settlement of Newtowne in 1630, with planting fields that evolved into large estates. One major landowner, Ralph Inman, built a grand house near the present City Hall and enjoyed views across open fields and marshes to Boston. Dana Hill was owned by Judge Francis Dana, an eminent patriot who joined a group of speculators to build the West Boston (now Longfellow) Bridge in 1793, the first direct link
from Boston to Cambridge.

By 1830, the major roadways (Broadway, Kirkland, Cambridge, and Harvard streets) to the bridge were in place, and the surrounding land became desirable. For the remainder of the century, the open land on these roads was sold piecemeal to developers. They constructed mostly single-family homes, first in the Greek Revival style (1840s-1850s), followed by mansard (1850s-1860s), Queen Anne (1870s-1880s), and other Victorian styles. Three-decker houses, many of them ornate, first appeared in the 1870s, and large apartment buildings began springing up near the turn of the 20th century. Many of these dwellings were later converted into condominiums, a trend that continues today.

As space for new development became scarce, many historic homes were demolished. At the residents’ behest, the city enacted new zoning laws in the 1990s designed to preserve the character of the neighborhood. More high-rise buildings were banned, along with additional “infill” homes in backyards. Today the neighborhood is essentially full, with little to no land available.


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