Cambridge’s universities offer plenty to keep students busy, but there is much to discover about Massachusetts’s fourth largest city. Here’s a detailed primer all about Cambridge Massachusetts for incoming college freshmen and really, for all of us!

All About Cambridge Massachusetts

Cambridge Borrowed Its Name From a Familiar Place

Cambridge was named in honor of England’s University of Cambridge by Boston’s earliest settlers as it was an epicenter for Puritan theology in the 17th century. Cambridge, MA was officially made a city in 1846.

Boston’s Broadway Performances

The American Repertory Theatre (known as A.R.T.) at the Loeb Drama Center at Harvard is an incubator for Broadway, thanks to artistic director Diane Paulus and her revolutionary approach to performances. Tony Award-winning hits like Waitress, Pippin and The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess have first premiered at A.R.T. before heading to Broadway.

No Shortage of History

Boston may rightly claim its place in American history, but Cambridge was no slouch from the beginning. George Washington had his headquarters here in 1775 in the house that Longfellow later called home.

Carved in Stone

Cambridge’s architecture is easy to admire, from Frank Gehry’s Stata Center at MIT to the Widener Library at Harvard, but it also has rare examples by prize winning architects. The Arthur M. Sackler building at Harvard is one of a few in the US by James Stirling, the Baker House dorm at MIT is one of two buildings by Alvar Aalto in the country, and Le Corbusier’s Carpenter Center for the Arts at Harvard is his only project in North America.

Age is Just a Number

Harvard is the oldest university in the United States and was founded in 1636 (the original settlers were busy!) and named after its first benefactor, John Harvard. The College still has the world’s largest library. Among its alumni are eight US Presidents, 359 Rhodes Scholars, and a few famous actors, including Conan O’Brien, Tommy Lee Jones and Rashida Jones.

Here a Smoot, There a Smoot

Take a walk on the Massachusetts Bridge Avenue and you’ll see one of Cambridge’s most unusual sights, 364 “smoots.” In 1958, MIT fraternity pledge Oliver Smoot laid down repeatedly on the bridge spanning the Charles River so his brothers at Lambda Chi Alpha could measure the distance from Cambridge to Boston as a prank. While the term isn’t actually a measurement, it was added to the American Heritage Dictionary in 2011.

Outside the Box

Cambridge is sometimes known as the city of squares, thanks to Davis Square, Porter Square, Kendall Square, and of course, Harvard Square.