March 22, 2023

Cambridge walking tour tells tales of Caribbean immigrants in The Port

By Joe Cusack  From Cambridge Wicked Local

As the British began squeezing out ordinary sugar cane farmers on the Caribbean islands in the mid-19th Century, it became tougher for unskilled agriculture workers to make a living. Many turned to America, looking for factory work to support their families.

In Cambridge’s Port neighborhood, that history has left an impact for almost two centuries.

On Saturday, July 14, around 20 people of all ages took a walking tour of the neighborhood. Sponsored by the Cambridge Historical Society, the tour was led by Marian Darlington-Hope, a lifelong Port resident. She brought her extensive knowledge of the history of the Port’s Caribbean community to the table for the second year in a row. The stories her mother told her about the first generation of Caribbean immigrants in Cambridge are the closest thing possible to seeing what life was like first-hand.

The group started at Squirrel Brand Park. Now an affordable housing development, in 1915 the large building beside the park was a candy factory. Many Caribbean immigrants who settled in the Port got their first jobs there and at the nearby Polaroid factory.

Walking along, Darlington-Hope told more stories of the buildings that have stood in the area for nearly a century or more. A building on the corner of Broadway and Windsor Street was a factory, making candy and baseball cards, until the 1930s. Further up Windsor Street, the Boardman School once taught the children of the new migrants, later becoming a library in the 1940s.

“It was where I got my first library card,” Darlington-Hope said. The building is now vacant.

Driving by on Main Street, City Councilor Denise Simmons, who grew up in the Port, gave Darlington-Hope a shout-out.

“Take lots of notes. She knows what she’s talking about,” Simmons said.

As the group went around the block, the tour helped attendees imagine what life was like for first- and second-generation families coming to Cambridge. Where did they live? Where did their children go to school? Where did they worship on Sundays?

“Unfortunately, the Historical Society is only doing this once a year,” said Cambridge Historical Society volunteer Joe Galusha.

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