Local historical writing on cities during the decades from the Civil War through the Great Depression contained the same range and variety as that on towns: mixtures of chronological and topical treatments, of sources, of information, listings, descriptions, and quotations. There was no strict standard, no ready-made model that authors everywhere knew about and copied, just as there was none for towns. City histories were apt to be more widely distributed than town histories, with regional agents seeking subscribers from all over the nation, that is, former inhabitants scattered as a result of the continuous flow of people in and out of urban communities. City histories were also more likely to be exchanged with various state and local historical societies and libraries.
Awareness of what others had written did not lead to slavish imitation, however, and there were unusual, bizarre examples of historical writing on cities, just as there were for smaller communities. But there were also geographically scattered and temporally random typical or outstanding examples of city history, again, just as there were for towns.(1) What separated city history from town history was its greater range of subjects, reflecting the more complex nature of urban life, the greater variety of both governmental or public as well as private institutions, groups, and activities. And what distinguished a history of a city west of the original states along the Atlantic coast was the author's access to still- living pioneers for their reminiscences and to newspapers containing bits of local information dating from the inception of the community.
Melrose, Massachusetts, is a good example of the making of an urban history in that, at the time Elbridge H. Goss' history was published in 1902, "Melrose [was] the youngest city in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts." Goss asserted that "from a small, sparsely settled town, it has grown, during more than half century, to be an influential city of more than thirteen thousand inhabitants."(2)
How Goss' history came to be written is a revealing instance of how increasing size affected the way an antiquarian constructed a history. Goss