A New Series on the History of the Cambridge Area
The title of this new series, CAMBRIDGE HISTORY LIVES, is intentionally ambiguous: “The past lives on through the lives of our ancestors retold.” As this year marks the 250th Anniversary of the Cambridge Patent (1761-2011) – the issuance of a land grant by the English King – the past is given voice here with facts wrapped in analysis, commentary presented on the lives of the area’s residents and pioneers as they effected, or were affected by, the events of their day, big and small, local and global. One or more illustrations with each episode should add to the interest.
In the initial set of installments, we’ll circle back in fifty year increments to 1761, our target year. We begin first, in Chapters I, II and III, Peace and Vigilance, by looking back a mere five decades to 1961, a year many readers may recall poignantly. Chapters IV–VI will then take us back in steps to our young nation, back through two centuries. But in Chapter VII we retreat a full 550 years to pre-Columbian 1461, then draw closer to our destination year when the Cambridge District was established with legal permanence in the Crown Province of New York, in the era of the Great Awakening. That year, 1761, our forebears, English subjects, were marching down the path to Revolution and, with Independence, they emerged as free citizens of one of – as penned by Thomas Jefferson – the thirteen united States of America.
Future columns of CAMBRIDGE HISTORY LIVES
Chapter IV: 100 years ago (YA) – 1911, The Modern World
Chapter V: 150 YA – 1861, The Civil War
Chapter VI: 200 YA – 1811, The New Nation
Chapter VII, Part 1: 550 YA – 1461, The World of the Indian
Chapter VII, Part 2: 450 YA – 1561, The Age of Exploration
Chapter VIII: 350 YA – 1661, New Netherland
Chapter IX: 300 YA – 1711, The Great Awakening
Chapter X: 250 YA – 1761, The Cambridge Patent and Prelude to Revolution
A second series of columns will trace life in New York and across the nation in the second half of the 19th century and into the 20th. The vehicle will be the life of Colonel Robert Rossiter Raymond (Sr.), US Army Corps of Engineers (1871-1944, USMA 1893), who retired after more than 30 years on active duty and settled with his family in Cambridge in 1920. We’ll visit the Roaring 20s of southern Washington County, then trek to mid-century, where we begin our journey today.
Chapter I: 50 Years Ago – 1961, Peace and Vigilance (Part 1, winter)
To the numbers purist, 1960 was the last year of the decade of the Fifties (there was no Year 0), so 1961 technically ushered in the Sixties, the first part of which went swimmingly in America, the second half a socio-political hurricane. As New Year’s Day dawned, we were at peace in the world but on alert, heavily entrenched in Europe and Japan, and seven years into a tense standoff across the DMZ in Korea. Yet Cambridge area residents had just exchanged Christmas cards with the 4-cent (!) US stamp, the latest Madonna-and-Child or something of Santa, and the Cambridge Central School
Class of 1961 held its Senior Ball, “Wonderland by Night”, with Queen Sheryl Knapp holding court. The 1960 Census reported 180 million and the new 50-star flag, less than a year old with Hawaii’s admission to the Union, stood on the CCS auditorium stages, in the churches and other venues about the village and towns. Holiday lights were suspended over Main Street, zigzag fashion in front of the three business districts, above the old yellow brick pavement that caused car and truck tire chains to sing in the winter air to the stately white clapboard two-story Colonials and Victorians with black or green shutters and wrap around porches, that you could pick up for $16,000 in 1961, in Cambridge, in the winter, in a recession.
This was a watershed year for Cambridge and the country with significant beginnings and endings. Floyd Smith was the mayor of Cambridge, Nelson Rockefeller occupied the governor’s office just two years into his 14-year run, and John Kennedy was inaugurated the 35th President on January 20th. Jack and Jackie would bring “Camelot” to the White House as children Caroline and John John captured the nation. Elvis Presley’s “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” peaked to #1 on the Top 40 charts, and “The Ed Sullivan Show” brought us TV stage acts on Sunday nights, this pre-Beatles, pre-Rolling Stones year.
In the Cambridge Valley, The Washington County Post was a weekly institution, since forever and with no apparent end in sight. Grandma Moses passed away at 101 after she’d put the region on the map. A drive from Eagle Bridge into Cambridge in 1961, perhaps in a new Chevy Corvair or Ford Falcon at 28 cents a gallon, took you over a bumpy concrete Route 22 that passed through cow and corn country, including the Frasier farm a few miles south before the road was straightened and blacktopped a few years later. Shortly you spied the Creamery tower heralding the village’s southern edge (it came down a few years later). Police Chief Phil Sica made sure you stayed under 25 MPH along South Park past Cambridge Central School and the two towering evergreens over the ball fields.
Entering the winter, the CCS Varsity basketball boys were the defending Champions of Section II, Class D, from their title run in 1960 led by Captain Bill Nygard under the astute coaching of Mr. John Herbert (who later studied for Holy Orders to become a Catholic priest.) The CCS cheerleaders wore Indian maiden outfits when political correctness was as yet unknown. Local HS leagues fluctuate and at the time Cambridge played hoop in the ten-team Washington County League. Oddly only six were actually in the county, including Argyle, Fort Ann, Greenwich, Hartford, and Salem; two rivals took the Indian team and rooter busses across the Hoosic River to Hoosick Falls and Schaghticoke, and across the historic Hudson, to Schuylerville and Stillwater. Before the smaller schools began replacing their circa 1920s gymnasiums in the ‘60s, they played in bandboxes that doubled as auditoriums. The courts were so short that the over-and-back line was actually the other team’s free throw line! Really.
Another familiar sight also rode off into the sunset in 1961, as the Cambridge Fire Department retired the 1928 American LaFrance pumper. The Village authorized $8356 for a new pumper. One frigid February night a large blaze gutted the old wooden two-story building on the north side of West Main next to Rice Creek and Bell & Costello’s Garage. The CFD under Chief Roy Portwine turned out to the mournful siren triggered from the Mary McClellan Hospital – via the newly installed emergency communications system – and the dedicated team of volunteers did what they could with frozen hydrants, but only contained the fire from spreading.
The town’s Hot Stove League was still lamenting the loss of two of their beloved NYC teams, including Willie Mays and Sandy Koufax, to the West Coast in ‘58, although the “Brooklyn” Dodgers did win the ‘59 Series with home games played in … the Los Angeles Coliseum! The current Champs were the Pirates after the last pitch homer by Bill Mazeroski beat the Yankees in seven the previous October. In mid-winter CCS teacher Maurice O’Connor organized a couple of assemblies, the first in the HS gym featuring Nestor Chylak, one of the Series umps who gave his eye-witness account of the winning blast in Pittsburg over Yogi Berra’s head in LF. The second was in Patrician Hall with Dale Long of the Yanks, somewhat of a “hometown boy made good” (from just over the hill in Adams, MA) the invited speaker.
Sources include: Old Cambridge 1788-1988 (R. Clay, C. Foster, R. Raymond, T. Shiland, D. Thornton, 1988); Around Cambridge, White Creek and Jackson (K. Gottry, 2010); Village of Cambridge Archives.
Note: The historical analyses expressed herein are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Eagle Newspaper, the Village of Cambridge, or the area Towns.
CAMBRIDGE HISTORY LIVES © 2011
Thomas M. Raymond
15915 SW Snowy Owl Lane
Beaverton, OR 97007