Mr. Foxcroft and His Street

By Michael Kenney, 2012

Along Cambridge Street one can spot a solid 1920s brick residence, now condominiums, known as Fox Croft Manor. The name, despite its fractured appearance, most likely refers to the Foxcroft family, Tory grandees who owned some120 acres of fields and orchards stretching beyond the present Kirkland Street to Shady Hill. Little else remains to recall, however loosely, that once prominent family’s imprint on Cambridge.

Francis Foxcroft, born in 1694, served in a number of posts in the colonial government, but was reported to be happier at home making an index of the province records and the first alphabetical list of Harvard graduates.’’

His son John, born in 1740, also served in the colonial and town governments. An outspoken Tory, he was living in the family’s mansion in January 1777 when it burned to the ground, with some suspicion that the fire had been set by patriot supporters. Foxcroft told a neighbor that he would rather have the house destroyed “than occupied by d—d rebels as other gentlemen’s houses were” – a probable reference to the Tory Row mansions on Brattle Street used by General Washington and his officers.

1716 Cambridge Street

For a brief period in the early 19th century, part of Cambridge Street was known as Foxcroft Street. There was a Harvard residential hall at the corner of Kirkland and Oxford streets known as Foxcroft Hall; it was moved up Oxford Street to accommodate the construction of the old Lowell Lecture Hall and later demolished.

For a few years there was a Foxcroft Street in West Cambridge, whose name was the cause of some annoyance to Frank Foxcroft, one of its residents and a “no license” temperance crusader in the late 1800s. In 1902, he wrote to the city engineer, requesting that the name be changed. “There is a tradition,” he wrote, “that the original owner of the abutting land, having been unfortunate in some speculations, sought to commemorate that fact in the name of the street.” But since it was not named in his honor or that of his ancestors, Foxcroft said that he “found it inconvenient to try to pronounce the name twice over” – as in “Mr. Foxcroft of Foxcroft Street.” His neighbors agreed, and the city changed it to Hillside Avenue.