Cheer, cheer, cheer for old Pemberton College, where Melissa Henderson came to a tragic end in Small Vices. Where did Dr. Parker come up with that name? I wondered about it myself until I drove down Massachusetts Ave. in Cambridge heading for Porter Square one day, idly scanning the road signs as traffic crawled along. What was this? Pemberton Street, with the Pemberton Street market on the corner. That brought me back to Promised Land where Spenser noted that the Suffolk County Courthouse is on Pemberton Square in Boston.

First let me explain the concept of a "square" if you are unfamiliar with it. It seems to be a carry-over from our English ancestors and means "any intersection we want to give a name to." A little net search of the city of Cambridge yielded the following, by no means all inclusive, list: Bowdoin, Brattle, Central, Dudley, Harvard (of course), Inman, Kendall, Porter, Quincy, Technology (near M.I.T.), Union, and Walden. I even found a tiny one way street called Alberta Terrace at the end of which was a sign proclaiming it John "the tailor" Giagamo Square. If someone gathers enough signatures it seems that any two or three feet of centerline divider or paving stones can have a name attached.


Figure 1. Old Pemberton.

The Pemberton name has origins tracing back to the Boston of long ago. I found a fascinating site at that chronicles the history of the downtown area. Scollay Square, the center of what passed for sin in the old days, was torn down and replaced with an endless expanse of cold and soulless brick pavement called Government Center, with the new City Hall a paean to the goddess of ugly poured-concrete. See for a gushing review or ask anyone who has ever worked or had business there or had a shred of common decency what they think of it.

According to the Scollay link above,

"In 1832, Patrick Tracy Jackson cut off the top 70 feet of Cotton Hill which he used to fill in an area north of Causeway Street to build a train station. Where Cotton Hill once stood, Jackson built a neighborhood of bow-front homes which he called Pemberton Square, which for many years was THE address for Boston’s elite and well-to-do."

A picture of the original ritzy neighborhood is at right (Figure 1).


Figure 2. Map of Cambridge.

Parker lives in Cambridge and is familiar with the Porter Square area. Pemberton St. is about as far northwest of it as Linnaean St. is south and it may have jogged his memory. It's in the upper left in the map in Figure 2.

BTW: After gathering the images for my photo essay A Walk down Linnaean Street I kept walking and shot the pictures below (Figures 3 and 4).

Figure 3. Street sign


Figure 4. Market

(Original photos and entry by Bob Ames)