Inside the Architecture: Soap Workers Cottages

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Two houses in Cambridgeport mark the city’s soap manufacturing legacy.

Charles Valentine built the houses located at 101 Pearl Street and 5-7 Cottage Street as factory housing in 1835. Cambridgeport developed during the early 19th century at a time when suburban industrialization increased. People moved to the neighborhood, which had a more suburban feel compared to other parts of Cambridge and Boston, to be close to their places of employment.  

Industrial growth grew Cambridgeport. It was an area with one of the most diverse range in economic class because both employers and employees settled there. It was a cheaper option for those who could not afford to live in Boston. The intention of the housing development was for people to be able to commute from Cambridgeport into Boston for work. However, most people stayed within a few blocks from their homes. About 197 of these wage workers took jobs in the soap industry.

The soap business started around 1804. Both Nathaniel Livermore and E.A. & W. Winchester take credit for establishing the soap production in Cambridge. Livermore believed that cleanliness came second to Godliness and began his business on Main Street called Livermore, Crane & Whitney. E.A. & W. Winchester was a butcher business that used the leftover fats from slaughters to make soap.  

Both companies made Cambridge a leading distributor in soaps, and their products were distributed as far as the Caribbean and down through South American coasts. Both companies also hired many workers and offered apprenticeships to eager learners. With each new soap manufacturing business that opened, the more prestigious Cambridge’s soap industry became.  

Charles Valentine’s company, Valentine Soap Co., grew to be the largest soap manufacturer in Cambridge and possibly New England after it opened its doors in 1828.  In 1845, the company was renamed C.L. Jones & Co. after its president. It built its factory on two acres of land on the corner of Valentine and Pearl Streets. The area around the factory, currently Putnam and Brookline Streets, was nicknamed “Greasy Village” because of the soap making by-products.

C.L. Jones & Co. made standard soaps (some manufacturers made scented soaps) and their specialties were Brussells white soap and Tulip soap. The soaps were made by machines run on stream power.

Valentine employed about 50 workers, who the cottages currently on Pearl and Cottage Streets were built for. Although many companies built factory housing, these two houses are the only ones that still remain in Cambridgeport.

The cottages still remain, but Valentine’s factory on Pearl Street was taken down around 1897 after the soap industry stopped flourishing. The area is now apartment buildings.  

The Soap Workers Cottages are used as residential homes today. The one on 101 Pearl Street is a two-family condominium with its interior completely modernized.  However, some of the original beams are still present.