Note: a separate walking tour covers Kendall Square, and includes select sites in this guide.
Though it sits just across the river from Boston, this area remained only thinly settled for a full 150 years after the establishment of Newtowne and Harvard. Until almost 1800, the only bridge across the Charles was five miles upriver, where the Anderson Bridge sits today. This history is still reflected in the sharp contrasts between these two ends of Cambridge: the leafy, patrician, brick-lined neighborhoods around Harvard to the west, and the grittier, industrial, concrete areas around MIT to the east.
The first bridges across the lower Charles were built around 1800, near the site of today's Museum of Science. The area’s cheap land, network of canals for water transportation, and proximity to Boston attracted industry and innovation, long before MIT arrived in 1916. Charles Davenport developed and manufactured the first passenger rail cars with a central aisle here in the 1840s, and Alexander Graham Bell placed his first long-distance telephone call to Boston from an office on Main St. in 1878. By the 1920s, Cambridge - more specifically, this end of Cambridge - had become the second most industrialized city in Massachusetts, home to steel fabricators, rubber factories, candy and biscuit makers, a Model T assembly plant, and the main U.S. factory of Lever Brothers, the soap maker.
After decades of decline in the middle of the 20th century, East Cambridge has more than regained its commercial footing. Kendall Square's rising global profile is driving its ongoing transformation, and the coming decade promises to be even more dramatic than its renewal over the past 30 years. See the Kendall Square tour if you'd like to explore the area's recent and planned developments more systematically.