Porter Square


The North Cambridge neighborhood known today as Porter Square takes its name from Zachariah B. Porter, a highly successful innkeeper once described as “a host no one could excel and very few could match.” Porter’s Hotel was demolished long ago to make way for new developments and his large cattle stockyards are now occupied by houses and business blocks. However, Porter’s name persists throughout the square.

Zachariah B. Porter, “Old Zach” as his patrons and friends called him, was born in 1797 in Vermont. In the early 1830s, Porter managed the Cattle Fair Hotel, a large hotel near the Brighton Stockyards. Brighton was, at the time, an important center of commerce for New England’s livestock industry and droves of cattle, sheep and pigs were brought down from Maine, New Hampshire and elsewhere to be slaughtered and sold. Porter remained in Brighton until 1837, when a falling out with the Cattle Fair’s owner, John Bennett, led him to a new business venture across the Charles River in Cambridge. Porter and his business partners – Colonel George Meacham and carriage manufacturer Ebenezer Kimball – purchased a recently foreclosed stockyard, slaughterhouse and hotel that had been constructed in 1931 by Sylvester Edson. The Cattle Market Hotel’s new owners would rename the business Porter’s Hotel, and under their watch it would become a Cambridge landmark.


Porter’s Hotel

The hotel, a drab-colored, three-story wooden structure with a row of gabled Lutheran windows projecting out from its sloped roof, stood at the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Upland Road. The surrounding stockyards occupied seventeen and a half acres and stretched all the way north to today’s Creighton Street. Cattlemen from as far away as Michigan would bring their droves to Porter’s before selling them in the Boston markets. In 1843, the Fitchburg Railroad was built through Porter Square, allowing even greater numbers of stock animals to be brought to market. Porter capitalized on the growing cattle trade and catered to the drovers’ needs – boarding cattle in the yards for free and offering discounted meals (drovers often ate for twenty-five cents while other patrons might pay a dollar or more for the same fare). Porter’s legendary hospitality quickly attracted the attention of well-to-do Cantabrigians and Harvard students, who were served side-by-side with the visiting cattlemen. People of all stripes appreciated the hotel’s beautifully decorated dancing hall, fresh cuts of beef and athletic contests and Porter’s became a fixture of the Cambridge community for generations.


The Porterhouse Steak at Peter Luger Steakhouse in Brooklyn

How famous was Porter’s Hotel? So famous it may have left a permanent mark on the American menu. Although competing legends exist, one theory asserts that the popular porterhouse steak may be named for the North Cambridge tavern and its beloved host. The porterhouse, a thick cut of beef with a T-shaped bone dividing a New York Strip Steak (also known as a top loin) and a large tenderloin filet, may have been first served at the hotel sometime after the Civil War, according to a report from one of Porter’s former cooks. Skeptics have pointed out that Old Zach’s establishment was always referred to as “Porter’s Hotel” and never “Porter’s House.” In the 1800s, many taverns did bill themselves as “porter-houses” after the dark, malty porter beers they served. Two such establishments – one in Manhattan and the other in Georgia – claim to have invented the porterhouse steak. Sandusky, Ohio also claims to be the steak’s birthplace. The story goes that, while on a 1842 tour of America, author Charles Dickens spent an extended stay at the Porter House, a Sandusky hotel. Later in his trip, in Buffalo, N. Y., Dickens requested “a steak like you get at the Porter house in Sandusky.” Dickens’ Buffalo innkeeper wrote Sandusky for the recipe and later advertised that his establishment sold a “Porter-house steak like Charles Dickens likes.” An 1842 register from the Sandusky Porter House bears Charles Dickens’ signature, but his thoughts on the steak (and what it was called) were not recorded.

Zachariah Porter died in 1864 and was buried in Mt. Auburn Cemetery. Following his death, the hotel was leased to Amos Pike, who continued to operate an inn on the premises. The neighboring cattle markets were closed in 1871, but the hotel persisted with a succession of proprietors at the helm. By 1901, the tavern had come under the management of Edwin I. D. Houck, who had occasional run-ins with the law over illegal stores of liquor kept at the hotel. Houck disappeared one night in August 1901 and his wife Cora became the hotel’s new proprietor. The Cambridge papers at the time reported that “domestic infelicity is attributed to his sudden disappearance,” suggesting that he may have run out on his wife and skipped town. In 1903, Caroline Porter, Old Zach’s daughter, sold the property to real estate managers William F. Brooks and James J. Conley, who already owned much of the land in the surrounding area. Under Brooks and Conley, the hotel was mostly unsuccessful and in 1907, they moved the building to the back of the lot so that a more modern business block could be put up on the corner. The hotel was converted into apartments, which proved to be an unpopular venture. By 1909, Brooks and Conley had demolished the historic inn and built a large garage in its place.


Adjutant General Josiah Porter

Many turn-of-the-century articles eulogizing Zachariah Porter and his famous hotel also make mention of his son Josiah. Born in 1830, Josiah was a Harvard graduate and led a decorated military career. He served as Captain of the Massachusetts 1st Battery during the Civil War and later as Colonel of the 22nd Regiment of the New York National Guard. In 1886, he was appointed Adjutant-General of New York (the state’s highest military office). He died on December 14th, 1894 after suffering a stroke while aboard the Third Avenue elevated train in Manhattan. He was buried near his father in Mt. Auburn Cemetery. In 1902, the 22nd Regiment honored his memory with a statue in Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx. The inscription reads: “erected by the National Guard of New York in appreciation of his fidelity as a patriot, his qualities as a soldier and his services on behalf of the National Guard.”


Gift of the Wind

Today, Porter Square’s most eye-catching feature is Gift of the Wind, a large-scale steel sculpture set nearly fifty feet in the air. The sculpture, three red, balloon-like wings which flip in the wind and rotate around their aluminum base, is located just outside the Porter Square MBTA station and across the street from the former location of Porter’s Hotel. It is one of the most recognizable pieces in the MBTA’s art collection and was commissioned as part of the “Arts on the Line” initiative in 1985. Its sculptor is Susumu Shingu, an Osaka-born artist who has created large, kinetic installations for public spaces around the world. The Boston area is home to two other Shingu works: Echo of the Waves, a marine life-inspired piece outside the New England Aquarium, and Wind Traveller in Eastport Park.


Inman Square

The Inman Square neighborhood is named for a notable British loyalist. The incredibly wealthy Ralph Inman owned a vast estate that stretched across much of today’s Cambridgeport area where he threw lavish parties for the colonial high society. When revolution broke out, Inman fled to Boston, abandoning both his property and wife in Cambridge. After the war, he returned home to reclaim and rebuild his life there.

Ralph Inman was born in 1713, most likely near Burrington, England where his brother Rev. George Inman served as a clergyman. Ralph became a successful merchant, importing textiles, pottery, glass, beer and wine to the American colonies. In 1746, the 33-year-old Ralph married the 19-year-old Susannah Speakman at King’s Chapel in Boston. Susannah was the daughter of William Speakman, a prominent Boston landowner and a warden of King’s Chapel, and his wife Hannah Hackeril Speakman, both born in England. Ralph and Susannah were very close with Susannah’s twin sister Hannah and her husband John Rowe, a Boston merchant for whom Rowe’s Wharf is named. Much of what we know about the Inman family was written down in John Rowe’s diary or is provided in letters between the Inmans and Rowes. Also surviving are portraits of Ralph and Susannah by the artist Robert Feke. The two paintings were left to Hannah Rowe who willed them to the Inmans’ granddaughter Hannah Rowe Linzee Armory. They were owned by many subsequent generations of descendants until 2004, when they were given to the Harvard Art Museums. Susannah died in 1761 at age 34.

Ralph Inman, painted by Robert Feke in 1748

Ralph and Susannah had three children survive to adulthood. Their daughter Sarah “Sallie” Inman died unmarried in 1773, predeceasing both her parents. Their two other children, George and Susannah “Sukey” were both involved with the British war effort. Sukey married a British Navy captain named John Linzee in 1772 and sailed for England soon after the wedding. The wedding itself was a grand affair, held in Ralph’s large home near today’s Cambridge City Hall (on what is now Inman Street). He threw a similarly extravagant party earlier that year to celebrate George’s graduation from Harvard College. According to John Rowe, the graduation bash was attended by 347 guests, with 210 seated around one massive table. The attendees included the Governor and Lieutenant Governor of the colony and many other “gentlemen and ladies of character and reputation.” The event held such notoriety that a 1906 anniversary pageant included the party among its scenes of life in eighteenth-century Cambridge. The Linzees returned to Boston with their infant son Samuel in 1775, only days before the beginning of the American Revolution at Concord’s North Bridge on April 19th. Captain Linzee was given command of the Falcon and fought in the Battle of Bunker Hill. As a British Naval family, the Linzees led a nomadic life, as demonstrated by the birth records of their ten children. Sukey went with her husband as the revolutionary battlefront moved south. She gave birth to their third child (their second child, Hannah, was born soon after their return to Boston) during a 1777 naval battle on the Delaware. Unfortunately, this child did not survive the delivery. Her next daughter, Susannah, was born in Barbados, then a British colony, in 1779. By 1783, the Linzees had returned to Plymouth, England where Sukey delivered four more children. Two more, Mary and George were born in Boston, Mass. in 1789 and 1792. Sukey died in Boston in 1792 and John in Milton, Mass. in 1798.

Susannah Speakman Inman, painted by Robert Feke in 1748

With the colony erupting into war, George Inman became an enlisted soldier in the British army, a decision to which his father objected. During the Battle of Bunker Hill, George served in the Light Company of the 4th (also known as the King’s Own Regiment) under the command of his friend Captain William Glanville Evelyn. The following year, George sailed for New York aboard Captain Linzee’s Falcon. He was present for the Battle of Long Island, in which the British forces were victorious, and participated in the capture of five American officers prior to the battle. He continued on to the Battles of Fort Washington, Trenton and Princeton before wintering with the rest of his regiment in Perth Amboy, N. J. In the spring, George sailed for Virginia and fought in the Battles of Brandywine and Germantown. He spent his second winter as a British infantryman in Philadelphia where he met his soon-to-be wife Mary Badger. The couple married in April 1778. He served in the Battle of Monmouth that June, but a long illness kept him away from the war for the remainder of the year. Now a Lieutenant, George was sent to England in December 1779 as an army recruiter. In England, he and his wife visited several friends and relatives who had sought refuge from the revolution. The American Revolution came to an end while the Inmans were abroad. They spent the next several years moving around England and Ireland before sailing across the Atlantic again in April 1788, this time headed for the British colony on Grenada. While aboard the ship to Grenada, George and the rest of his family became very ill. On land again, most of the Inmans recovered however George and his son John did not. Both men died sometime in early 1789.

For ten years after his wife Susannah’s death, Ralph Inman remained a widow. He was remarried in 1771 to Elizabeth Murray Campbell Smith, who had been widowed twice herself. She and her first husband, a Scotsman named Thomas Campbell, had both been successful in the merchant trade and Elizabeth had used the profits made selling millinery goods to purchase several properties in Boston. The death of her second husband, James Smith (they married when Elizabeth was 34 and Smith 72) in 1760 greatly increased her already considerable wealth and she inherited several additional properties, including a sugar refinery in Boston and Brush Hill, Smith’s country estate in Milton. Following Smith’s death, Elizabeth returned to her native Scotland, where the Murray family could trace its root back to the Norman Conquest. During her stay in Scotland, her affairs in Massachusetts were poorly managed and when she returned home to Boston she began the work of righting her finances. She reacquainted herself with Ralph Inman, whom she had known since her early days as a merchant and shopkeeper. They had been business associates as well as friends and he was a frequent dinner guest during her marriage to Smith. In September of 1771, Elizabeth and Ralph married at King’s Chapel, a move intended to benefit both parties financially. Their marriage included an unusual prenuptial agreement, giving Elizabeth the right to keep her estate intact and gift or will it away according to her desires. In turn, Ralph would receive income from his wife’s properties during their marriage.

Elizabeth Murray Campbell Smith Inman, painted by John Singleton Copley in 1769

Elizabeth and her husband were separated at the outset of the American Revolution. Just before the war began, Ralph travelled to Boston to visit with his recently arrived daughter and son-in-law. The rebel army quickly set into Cambridge and it was decided that Ralph would remain in Boston rather than risk a trip home. The Inmans had been friends of the American Major General Israel Putnam and he made sure Elizabeth was well-treated in the occupied city. During the Battle of Bunker Hill, General Putnam dedicated a small guard, including his son Daniel, to patrol the Inman property and protect Elizabeth and her young nephew and nieces (living with her at the time). Elizabeth would later relocate her family to the Brush Hill estate in Milton. With the Inman property vacated, General Putnam made the house his headquarters and had barracks erected on the grounds. The war eventually marched away from Cambridge and the Inmans were some of the few loyalist families who were able to reclaim their property and status in the new American nation. Elizabeth’s estate was still quite substantial at the time of her death in 1785. Despite their prenuptial agreement, there were several disputes over her will with Ralph and George Inman on one side and Elizabeth’s nieces and nephews (she had no children of her own, but helped raise her brother’s after he fled to England) on the other. The feud reached a pitch with Ralph and his allies defaming Elizabeth as a “deceitful woman” who had given her husband “ill treatment” in life. While the estate was eventually settled, the bitter feelings lasted for decades.


The Inman House, before 1907

Ralph Inman died in July 1788. His son George had no surviving male heirs, and the estate passed to George’s four daughters, who sold the Cambridge property to Leonard Jarvis. The estate, which in Inman’s time had included half of Cambridgeport, running east to Lafayette Square and north to the Somerville line, passed to Jonathan Loring Austin in 1801. Austin had the estate divided up into lots with the Inman home occupying a lot bordered by Massachusetts Avenue, Harvard Street, Austin Street and Bigelow Street (near today’s Cambridge City Hall). This reduced parcel was purchased by Benjamin Bigelow, a merchant and politician, who occupied half the house while his daughter and son-in-law, Deborah and Isaiah Bangs, lived in the other. Following Bigelow’s death, the home was sold to Samuel Allen and following Allen’s death it was sold again to real estate developer Albert Vinal who relocated the home to the corner of Brookline and Auburn Streets, south of Massachusetts Avenue. At its new location, the Inman home was divided into units and developed a reputation as a slummy, “third-rate” tenement building. The house is no longer there, a modern apartment building stands in its place. On Inman Street, a stone tablet marking the original location reads, “in 1775, General Putnam had his headquarters in the house which stood here.”


Inman Square, c. 1905-1915

The intersection of Cambridge, Beacon and Hampshire Streets has not always been known as Inman Square, nor has the Tory’s namesake gone without challenge. Prior to 1876, the neighborhood was known as Atwood’s Corner, presumably after James Atwood, a ship chandler (one who supplies oil, rope and other essential goods to sailors) from Chatham, Mass. who moved to the area around 1842. Atwood made his home at the corner of Hampshire and Beacon and was one of the area’s only residents for some years. James ran a grocery store, the Atwood stand, in the square which helped associate the man’s name with that of the corner. Although the intersection is best known as Inman Square, an official plaque bears the name of David I. Calnan. Calnan, a US Navy ensign, died in battle in 1944 in Naples, Italy at the age of 23. He had grown up in the neighborhood and in 1945, it was proposed that the square be renamed in his honor. Only a few years earlier, an unsuccessful attempt was made to rename the square after Cambridge Councillor Edward J. Sennott, who had died unexpectedly in 1933 and had been a lifelong resident of the city. Sennott Park, at the corner of Broadway and Norfolk, was named instead.