Cambridge was built on the grounds of Harvard Square in the 1630s with a meetinghouse, school and market following the first homes
and planted fields. By 1636, the community founded Harvard University to train the youth for the ministry.
Cambridge remained a quiet farming community when the American Revolution erupted. It was through the center of Cambridge along Massachusetts Avenue that Paul Revere rode to deliver his famous warning.
After the war, Cambridge expanded rapidly, and in 1792, the Longfellow Bridge was built to join the town to Boston. By the mid-19th century, the neighborhood consisted of an interesting mix of rural farm life and Harvard intellectuals, with shops dedicated to students and farmers alike. This unique atmosphere gave rise to a new generation of poets, called the "Fireside Poets," including Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
Industry grew in the latter 19th century with the arrival of brickyards and glass works factories, and Irish immigrants settled nearby, followed by Polish and Portuguese families. The city's commercial center shifted toward Central Square and away from what was fast becoming the wealthier Harvard Square. By the early 20th century, Cambridge had grown into a major industrial hub, producing everything from ink to cookies and candy. But after the economic fall-out of the Great Depression, Cambridge's identity slowly began to shift to an intellectual community, rather than an industrial one. This transition was aided by the 1916 arrival of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, placing two powerhouses of American intellectualism within just a mile of each other.
Today, Cambridge has a thriving performing arts scene, with live comedy shows, burlesque and theater. At Improv Boston, comedians of all stripes join the stage to perform new material six nights a week to laughing crowds, who fill the space thanks to reasonable ticket prices and a bar that opens before every show. Though the Lily Pad mainly hosts musicians on its bare-bones stage, the experimental venue also stages theater, modern dance and radio dramas.
Every May, Harvard Square fills with crowds for MayFair, the annual free festival that takes over the neighborhood with four stages of live music and dancing, with past dance performances ranging from hip hop and locking to classical and Polynesian. Visitors feast on a wide variety of street foods, including Jamaican jerk chicken and homemade donuts, and swill down brews at the several beer gardens. Boston artists transform the streets with chalk art to help raise money for the local rotary club.
Though mid-Cambridge boasts no museums of its own, Harvard University showcases everything from dinosaur fossils to a room of luminous glass flowers at its Museum of Natural History just a few blocks north of Kirkland Street. Just east of the neighborhood's boundaries, the MIT
Museum puts together fascinating exhibits that explore scientific discoveries and new technologies.