The Cambridge Center for Adult Education was founded as the Cambridge Social Union in 1870. In 1889 the Social Union purchased and moved into the house of William Brattle at 42 Brattle Street, which was built in 1727. The Brattle House was the site where Loyalist, General-Major William Brattle sparked the Powder House Alarm, an important prelude to the American Revolution. By 1831 the Brattle House was home to Margaret Fuller, an American journalist, critic, and women’s rights activist associated with the Transcendentalist movement. In 1938, the Cambridge Social Union became the Cambridge Center for Adult Education (CCAE). To this day, CCAE continues to honor the Cambridge Social Union’s original mission of “providing a means of social and intellectual improvement”. The Brattle house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
In 1972, the Cambridge Center acquired the Blacksmith House (the former Window Shop) property. Blacksmith House includes the Dexter Pratt House, built in 1808. It is here that Henry Wadsworth Longfellow observed the village blacksmith at work under the Spreading Chestnut Tree. This blacksmith is the subject of Longfellow’s famous poem, The Village Blacksmith. In 1870 Mary Walker acquired the Dexter Pratt House when a local family, recognizing the discrimination she faced, bought the house and immediately turned it over to her. Mary Walker had been born into slavery, escaped her owner, made her way to Cambridge, earned wages as a caretaker and seamstress, and spent years trying, via ransom or ruse, to liberate her mother and two younger children. She reunited with her family only after the Civil War.
Immediately following the Second World War, The Window Shop, a Cambridge citizens’ an organization that assisted European refugees with training, counseling, and employment purchased the Blacksmith House. It offered people fleeing from Hitler good jobs in its clothing and crafts shop, tea room/bakery known for its Viennese pastries, and restaurant that became a gathering place for Europeans, including architect Walter Gropius. The Window Shop also hired African Americans, one of the few businesses in Cambridge to do so in the early 1940s.