101 Pearl Street and 5-7 Cottage Street, 1835 and 1836


These one-and-a-half-story frame Federal style cottages were built to house workers in an early Cambridge industry – soapmaking. The Valentine Soap Company, just a few blocks down Pearl Street and long since destroyed, used the by-products of a slaughterhouse and meat-packing company. Profiting from the tallow made from the slaughter waste, Valentine Soap was exported to the West Indies and South America. These buildings are early examples of factory housing, designed as double cottages divided longitudinally with entrances in the centers of the five-bay flank facades. 

Development of this area was associated with soap manufacturing that was made on an industrial scale in Cambridgeport in the early 19th century. The first soap factory began in 1804 as a profitable way of disposing of tallow, a byproduct of the slaughterhouses that had been established in Cambridgeport after the opening of the West Boston Bridge. One of the largest soap factories was owned by Charles Valentine, a very wealthy Cantabrigian who lived in a magnificent house on Prospect Street (now the site of Whole Foods) and who was also engaged in the wholesale provision and beef packing businesses. In 1828 he established a soap and candle manufactory that covered most of the block between Pearl and Brookline on the south side of Valentine Street, then a fairly isolated area of Cambridgeport. 

Between 1835 and 1841, Valentine built at least three double workers’ cottages as housing for his employees, at 5-7 Cottage Street and 95-97 and 101 Pearl Street, convenient to the factory but several blocks north of its noxious fumes. The provision of factory housing was unusual in Cambridgeport, but the double workers’ cottage form of Valentine’s houses became quite common in the area in the first two-thirds of the 19th century. Charles Valentine died suddenly in 1850 at the age of 52, and Charles L. Jones, who had been in charge of the soap department since 1845, took over the factory.