In 1928, the Cambridge Historical Society received a collection of documents from the estate of George Grier Wright. Wright was a lifelong Cambridge resident, and the first President of the Harvard Square Business Men’s Association (now the Harvard Square Business Association). He bequeathed a wealth of information about the city, including personal correspondence, writings as an amateur historian and naturalist, and business records relating to the founding of the association a century ago, which offer unprecedented insight into this important time in the history of Harvard Square.
With foresight and a keen awareness of the importance of preservation, Wright created a personal archive of Cambridge history throughout his lifetime. He was born in Cambridge, in 1848, to Ellen and William Wright, who owned a bakery in Harvard Square, on Mount Auburn Street. He was one of five children, all of whom attended local public schools, and George remained in his family home for most of his lifetime. After graduating high school and working for a wholesale pharmacy in Boston for a time, he returned to Cambridge and operated a grain business in conjunction with his parent’s bakery. After 32 years, he entered the real estate business in 1902, becoming a respected property manager and insurance provider. He was involved in 23 local clubs and organizations throughout his life, serving on as an officer for six of them. His most active engagements were with the Business Association and the Library Hall Association.
Wright served at the first president of the Business Association, serving several terms in total, and became the only President Emeritus of the Association. His strong standing in the community often earned him the recommendation of others for these positions, which he did not often seek for himself. He was known to others as “the sage of Old Cambridge,” and was seen as an icon for his “sterling integrity and high purpose.” Over the years he had the documents, folios, pamphlets, and papers he collected from his various interests and involvements bound together into volumes. Dozens of these books now line the walls of the Cambridge Historical Society. A glimpse through Wright’s collection is a glimpse into the Cambridge of another era–complete with the paraphernalia that is too often lost to time by those not wise enough to save it.
Wright was also an amateur naturalist and greatly enjoyed the outdoors. When he was young, he collected leaf samples and pressed them into his journals. When he reached his sixties he began taking walks of eight to fifteen miles daily, often starting at one railway station and walking to another.
Wright died on May 20, 1928 after a long and difficult illness. He never married, and was buried on his family’s plot in the Mount Auburn Cemetery. His important and enduring legacy lives on, not only in the volumes he left behind, but in a collection of the documents he saved now available to the public through the Cambridge Historical Society at www.cambridgehistory.org ( George Wright files ). The history of the self-proclaimed “world-renowned shopping, dining, cultural and historical destination” that is Harvard Square would not be complete without the history of George Wright. His memory persists in the work he did for the Square in the earliest days of the Association, and remains today in the preservation of the history he was making for us to view 100 years later.
As prepared by:
Gavin W. Kleespies, Executive Director Cambridge Historical Society.
Katie MacDonald, Intern Cambridge Historical Society.