Walter Frye Turner.

Somerville [Mass.]: its representative business men and its points of interest online

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The territory now comprising the city of Somerville forms a

portion of that inclnded in the original grant under royal charter

to John Endicott and others in 1G28, and afterwards covered by

the aboriginal title deed to the town of Charlestown in 1639, from

Squa Sachem, the queen of the Pawtacket tribe of Indians ; this

tribe held jurisdiction over this territory and vicinity before the

of the white man, and was once a formidable tribe under its chief Nanepashemit or

Moon," but it became very much reduced by a severe pestilence that lasted several

years, so that the Indian population was not large in this vicinity at the time of its settlement.

Upon the death of Nanepashemit, his queen Squa Sachem succeeded him as ruler of the tribe,

and from her and her second husband, Web Cowet, the title above referred to was obtained.

There is historical evidence that this locality was settled and began to feel the subduing
influence of civilization prior to the settlement of Boston in 1630, although the first recorded
name of a white settler in this part of the town of Charlestown, now Somerville, was that of John
Woolrich ; that he was a man of prominence is shown from the fact that in 1631 he was a repre-
sentative to the General Court. The record regarding his settlement is as follows : "1630. John

Woolrich, by reason of his trade with the Indians, built and fenced a mile and a half without the
necke of laud in ye maine, on ye right hand of ye way to New Towue (Cambridge) on the S. W.
side of ye hill.'" The locality is not far from a tablet erected in 1890, on Washington street near
Dane street.


Soon afterwards he was followed by others, among them the highly educated and accomplished
John Winthrop, the first Governor of the Colony ; a bronze statne of him stands in Scollay square,
Boston. His farm was at Ten Hills, overlooking Mystic river. Gradually the adventurous
settlers were scattered thoroughout the region, where the conditions of soil and location promised a
profitable return for the toil exjx'uded.

The peaceful and powerful influence of Massasoit and his true fiiend. ship for the white settlers,
gave to them the opportunity to thoroughly strengthen their hold upon this and other settlements,
so that when King Philip succeeded his father Massasoit, and the stirring and blood-curdling
events that subsequently and successively burst upon all the colonies, they were able to do valiant
service in the protection of home, wife, children and their combined colonial interests. The care-
ful reader of King Philip's war in 1675-76 ; King William's war from 1689 to 1697 ; Queen
Anne's war from 1702 to 1713 ; King George's war, 1744 to 1748, and the French and Indian war
from 1754 to 1763, can form some ideas of what those pioneers were called to do and suffer ;
historians have garnered every incident possible in tlieir lives of hardship and suffering, while
eloquence has again and again exhausted its captivating power in presenting to our imagination
the grand heroism that illuminated their self-sacrificing devotion to political and religious freedom
and to the land of their adoption.

They established their homes amid the wild trackless forests and fields of a new and unex-
plored country, surrounded by wild beasts and a race of savages more dangerous than the former ;
they exterminated the one and subdued the other ; they created a community of kindred spirits,
inaugurated the principle of self-government — a germ of political ijrinciple destined to establish
the most powerful nation in the world, and gradually but ultimately, through centuries of influence,
to modify if not mould the political character of all nations.

Both the native and adopted citizen of Somerville is proud of the fact that her hills and
meadows became historic as the places where were enacted some of the exciting events that con-
tributed to the success of the combined colonial effort against the tyrannical rule of the mother
country, and that citizens, some of whom attained most prominent distinction, honorably bore
their part in its grand consummation.


From all the facts now attainable, it is estimated that at the commencement of the Revolution-
ary war, the part of Gharlestown which now comprises Somerville could not have contained more
than two hundred and fifty population, and less than forty houses, and these scattered from
Gharlestown Neck to Quarry Hill ; the Highlands were largely pasture lands interspersed with
heavy growth of woods.

Mt. Benedict was, however, supposed to be under cultivation, for it was called "Ploughed

Although few in number, the citizens of this locality were thoroughly in active sympathy with
the patriots and ready to do their part in the exciting events so soon to follow, and which were
destined to make their highways and hill tojjs grandly historic with the more important events of
Lexington, Concord, Bunker Hill and Siege of Boston.

One of the first acts of British hostility was the capture of the powder house with its large
stock of powder on Quarry Hill in the northeastern part of the town, as narrated elsewhere in
these pages.


On the night of April 18, 1775, through Broadway and over Winter Hill, Paul Revere, the
veteran patriot courier who sixteen months before had carried to Xew York and Philadelphia the
news of the destructiou of the cargoes of tea in Boston Hai-bor, now alarmed the sleeping inhabitants
as he dashed along the highway on his saddled steed on his way to Lexington and^Concord to warn
the "minute men" that the British were advancing. Long before day the "Red Coats" were
watched with intense interest and anxiety as they passed through what is now Somerville avenue,
on their way to Lexington and Concord, only to return on the eve of the next day, fleeing from the
persistent attack of the minute men.

"You know the rest. In the books you have read,
How the British Regulars fired and fled —
How the farmers gave them ball for ball,
From behind each fence and barn-yard wall."

With defeated and thinned ranks they hastily sought the protection of the British ships by way
of Washington street and across Charlestown Neck, having lost two hundred and seventy-three men,
while the loss of the Americans during the day in killed, wounded and missing was only eighty-
eight ; this success electrified the people. The country was thoroughly aroused and from all
directions the ranks of the patriots were rapidly augmented. Prospect Hill was immediately oc-
cupied, where the first picket line of the Revolutionary war was established.

So thoroughly had the colonists organized as " minute men " pledged to instant service, that
within ten days from the battle of Lexington, frojn fifteen to twenty thousand men were on duty
around Boston, their lines extending from Roxbury to the Mystic river, thus occupying the ground
that was to be the base of operations in the eleven months' siege of Boston.

Without attempting to give a history of what occurred we wish simply to review the facts that
within the borders of Somerville are located points of interest prominently and intimately asso-
ciated with the opening of the war for independence. The left wing of the American army was
commanded by Major Gen. Charles Lee and occupied Benedict Hill, Winter Hill, Central Hill,
Prospect Hill and Cobble Hill. Extensive earth-works were created near the site of the High School
building on Central Hill, the spot being marked by the Battery built by the city to commemorate
the fact ; on Prospect Hill was built the strongest fortress in the besieging lines. Cobble Hill,
now the site of the McLane Insane Asylum, was occupied and fortified as an advanced position ;
Benedict Hill was also occupied ; from these positions the artillery commanded both the Mystic and
Charles rivers. Gen. Lee had his head.[uarters at the house of Oliver Tiifts, which still remains.
From Prospect Hill General Washington inspected his field of operations with constant watchful-
ness. This aftbrded the best point of view for his daily visits. After the British evacuated Boston
these works were deserted for a time, but in 1777-8 Gen. Burgoyne's army was quartered here as
prisoners of war, captured at Saratoga. There were about nineteen hundred German soldiers on
Winter Hill and twenty-three hundred British soldiers on Prospect Hill.

The historic points of interest in Somerville are now being carefully noted and facts connected
therewith suitably perpetuated, as will appear from the following statement that appeared in the
Somerville Journal, which we quote in full : —


A number of places of historic interest in Somerville are marked by tablets erected by the city
in 1890. The location of the tablets is as follows :

On Abner Blaisdell's house, Somerville avenue: "Headquarters of Brigadier General
Nathaniel Greene, in command of the Rhode Island Troops during the siege of Boston. 1775-6."


On the Oliver Tufts house, Sycamore street, now owned by Mrs. Fletcher : " Headquarters
of Major General Charles Lee, commanding left wing of the American Army during the siege of
Boston. 1775-(>."

On the stonework of the Battery, Central Hill Park : " This Battery was erected by the city
in 1885, and is within the lines of the ' French Eedoubt,' built by the Eevolutiouary Army in 1775,
as a part of the besieging lines of Boston.— The guns were donated by Congress, and were in
service during the late Civil War."

On Prospect Hill : '-On this Hill the Union Flag, with its Thirteen Stripes,— the Emblem of
the United Colonies, — Fiist bade Defiance to an Enemy, January 1, 1776. — Here was the Citadel,
the most formidable work in the American Lines during the siege of Boston : June 17, 1775,
to March 17, 1776."

On Elm street, corner of Willow avenue : "A sharp tight occurred here, between the Patriots
and the British, April 19, 1775. — This marks British Soldiers' graves."

On Washington street, corner of Dane street: "John Woolrich, Indian trader, built near
this place in 1630. — The first white settler on Somerville soil."

At junction Broadway and Main street : "Paul Eevere passed over this road, in his mid-
night ride to Lexington and Concord, April 18, 1775. — Site of the 'Winter Hill Fort,' a strong-
hold built by the American Forces while besieging Boston. 1775-6."

On Washington street opposite Eossmore street : "On this Hillside James Miller, Minute-
man, aged 65, was slain by the British, April 19, 1775. — ' I am too old to run.' "

In addition to the above, the press committee of the semi-centennial caused the following
places to be marked by temporary tablets :

On Masonic Block, Union scinare: "Site of Recruiting Stand for Union Soldiers in the
Civil War."

On Asylum Hill (Cobble Hill) : " Site of ' Putnam's Impregnable Fortress,' 1775."

On Old Powder House : " Old Powder House, originally a Wind Mill, built l)efore 1720. Its
powder seized l)y British Troops September 1, 1774, the tirst hostile act of the Revolution."

On Convent Hill (Ploughed Hill) : " Fortified and bombarded in 1775-76. — Site of Ursuline
Convent, founded 1820, and opened in 1S26 ; burned in 1834. Hill dug down 1875 to 1892."

On south side My.stic avenue (nearly opposite coal wharf): "Old Fort. Extreme left of
American Army 1775-76. Commanded Mystic River."

In Broadway Park : " Route of Middlesex Canal. Chartered, 1793 ; opened 1803."

At Somerville and Charlestown line on Washington street: "Paul Eevere on his famous
ride, April 18, 1775, was intercepted here by British officers and escaped."

Old cellar hole east of Middlesex avenue, near old wharf and new Maiden bridge : " Site of
Governor John Winthrop's, 1631."

On Ten Hills Farm : " Site of the mansion of Robert Temple, afterward Colonel Jaques."
On old wharf, east of Middlesex avenue, near new bridge, south shore Mystic river : " An-
cient Wharf. Here Governor Winthrop launched the ' Blessing of the Bay,' the first ship built in
Massachusetts, July 4, 1631. The British landed here in their raid on the Powder House
September 1, 1774."

On Prospect Hill : " Site of Old Wind Mill."


Of all the many points of historic value within the limits of Somerville none are the centei' of so
much interest as the Old Powder House, located in an easterly direction from the railroad station
at West Somerville, near the junction of Elm street and Broadway, and in view of Tufts College.
As will be seen by the cut on next page, made from photograph taken by our special artist, it
is in an apparently good state of preservation and will be carefully cared for by the city, for the

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Powder House and a tract of land have been presented the city by the heirs of Nathan Tufts for a
public park. This with some adjaceut land purchased by the city for the purijose will constitute
what will be known as Nathan Tufts Park. It contains 197,856 square feet of land, or about four

and one- half acres. The city government
has appropriated twenty-flve hundred
dollars for the purchase of land and the
improvement of the park. Somerville will
take especial j)ride in perfecting and car-
rying out the plans already matured by
City Engineer Eaton for driveways, walks,
leveling and grading and beautifying its
formation, so that whea in time the shrub-
bery and flowering plants shall have been
artistically cultivated. Tufts Park will be a
charming and interesting resort. The
Powder House is built of blue stone like
that found in that locality ; it is about
thirty feet in height and about fifteen feet
in diameter at base, with walls about two
feet thick. It was built with three lofts
and originally used for a grist mill, the
power derived from a wind mill. It was
built prior to 1720, for in the will of John
Mallet nuide that year "the grist mill " is
left to his two sons, from which fact it is
believed to have been built by him, as he
had been proi^rietor of this land for some
sixteen years. In 1817 it was sold to the
Province of Massachusetts Bay. In the
early days of the Eevolution it was used by
the patriots as a magazine for storing
powder, from which fact it derived its
name. Here one of the earliest acts of
hostility was perpetrated by the British
under command of Gen. Gage, who on Sept.
1, 1771, sent a force of two hundred and
sixty men from Boston up the Mystic river
to Ten Hills Farm, where they landed, and
IH'oceeded direct to the Powder House,
capturing two hundred and fifty half barrels
of powder, which they hastily removed to
Castle Williams in Boston Harbor.

Old Powder Houf<E.

Since 1836, this property has been in the possession of Nathan Tufts and his heirs, until
donated as above.


This portion of Charlestown, now Somerville, gradually but very slowly grew in population
during the more than two and one-half centuries it was connected with Charlestown, until its citi-


zens came to feel that their interests would be largely enhanced by a separation and the formation
of a townshi]) of their own, so that in 1842 we find that the subject had been so successfully
agitated that as early as Jan. 26 the town of Charlestown voted to accede to the petition of Guy
Hawkes and others, to be set off as the town of Somerville, and appointed a committee to represent
the town of Charlestown before the Legislative committee engaged in drafting the bill authorizing
the sei>aration.

The bill was successfully presented to the Legislature, and the act incorporating the town of
Somerville passed March 3d, 1842. There was great rejoicing by the people of the new made
town over this decree of their independence. The quiet of Prospect Hill was again disturbed by
the booming of cannon ; but now it was but the salute of one hundred guns in honor of the event
of the birth of Somerville.

The inventory of stock for the new town showed that they had four one-story wooden school
houses, an engine house and a small tub lire engine, all to the total value of $6,65.5.

There were no churches, minister, lawyer or doctor, tavern or store within the territory of
Somerville. The population was 1,013 and about 130 houses. The school records showed about
2i)3 pupils.

Farming was the principal occupation of the people, although brick making was carried on
to considerable extent, giving employment to many men.

The town proceeded at once to organize a government by calling a town meeting, which was
held in Prospect Hill school house March 14th.

Nathan Tufts (chairman), John S. Edgerly, Caleb W. Leland, Luther Mitchell and Francis
Bowman were elected the first board of selectmen, with Charles E. Gilman town clerk and Edmund
Tufts treasurer and collector. The town appropriated .$1,800 for sl^pport of schools, $2,000 for
maintenance of highways, $450 for county tax, $200 for support of jjoor, $300 for contingencies,
making a total of $4,700. Thus equipped for the proper conduct of the business of a town, Somer-
ville began the duties of self- improvement ; that she acted well her part, her growth and prosperity
verify. Passing ovei- the intervening years, we find that in ISGO the population had increased to
8,025 ; the school population was 1,707, with twenty-four schools and twenty-nine teachers. The
valuation of the town had increased to $5,760,000. In all lines Somerville had develoi)ed a healthy
growth ; especially was this true regarding churches and schools, in which the town was so dis-
tinctively barren when incorporated. The military spirit had also been fostered. In 1853 the
Somerville Light Infantry was organized, with George O. Barstow captain. The existence of this
organization intensified the military spirit in the young men of the town, and thus in a measure
educated them for the thrilling events of 1861, so soon to transpire.


When the news of the fall of Fort Sumter was flashed over the country, decreeing beyond
question that war between the North and South was inevitable, the people of Somerville, in unison
with the whole loyal North, began at once to anticipate the demands of patriotism ; war meetings
were held and i)atiiotic speeches made, committees were chosen for recruiting men and raising funds
and forwarding sui)plies ; enlistments were rapidly secured, while great enthusiasm prevailed.
President Lincoln's first call for troops, April 15th, 1861, was at once answered by the Somerville
Light Infantry with full ranks, and on the 19th, only four days from date of the President's call,
were on their way to Washington, D. C, as Company I of the 5th Eegiment, M. Y. M., and
officered as follows : Captain, George O. Barstow ; First Lieutenant, Frederick R. Kinsley ; Second



Lieutenant, William E. Kol)iu.sou. The coiinnand of the 5th Kegimeut was under Col. Lawrence,
afterwards brigadier general M. V. M. The regiment acted a brave j)art in the first disastrous
battle of Bull Run. Its three months' term of enlistment soon expired, and they were mustered
out of service. In the spring of 1802, the service of the company, then commanded by Captain
William E. Robinson, its former lieutenant, was again tendered to the Governor, but at that time
was not accepted.

Under the President's call for 300,000 nine months' men in 1862, the 5th Regiment again vol-
unteered under command of Colonel George H. Pierson, the Somerville Light Infantry now going
as Company B — 102 men, including officers, who were : Captain, Benjamin F. Parker ; First
Lieutenant, Walter C. Bailey ; Second Lieutenant, John Harrington ; every man in the company,

Batteey, Centeal Hill.

with one exception, was accredited to Somerville. The regiment was first sent to Camp Lander,
Wenham, but left Boston October 22d, 1862, in transports, for New Berne, N. C, to report to Major
General Foster, who, on its arrival, assigned it to the brigade under command of Colonel Horace
C. Lee, of the 27th Mass. Regiment. The regiment was immediately called into active service,
and particiijated in many important events during its term of service. In response to the call for
three years' men, a company designated as the Somerville Guards was recruited under command
of Captain Frederick R. Kinsley, who had served as first lieutenant in Company I, Fifth Regi-
ment, during its first enlistment. The company was encamjjed for a time on Prospect Hill, then
ordered to Boxford, and, as Company E, formed a part of the 39th Regiment, M. V. M., leaving
for Washington, September 6th, 1862. This regiment endured very hard service and participated
in a large number of the battles of the Army of the Potomac, ending at Appomattox, when, with



its ranks torril)ly thinned. Company E returned to Somerville and citizen lite. Durinj; its service,
^^'illard (". Ivinsley, a brave and valuable oilieer, bad been promoted to captain, and, in the en-
jiagement at Gravelly Eun, was mortally wounded. The local Grand Army Post of Somerville, in
honor of his memory, adojitcd his full name for their organization.

Again the Somerville l.ight Infantry was mustered into the United States service with the 5th
Eegiment, July L'Sth, ISIU, for its third term of service, but this time only for one hundred days.
The company was commanded l)y Captain John Coffin, Colonel Pierson again commanding the

During the war, Somerville fuinished many men not included in the local organizations. The
record shows the total nnmlier to be 1085 men and forty commissioned officers. Of this number,
250 were wounded and ninety-eight killed in l)attle or died from disease or wounds. Thus it will
be seen that Somerville's memorial list is a long one, and it is hoped that the history of Somerville,
now being jjrepared under the direction of the Citizens' Association, will include the unwritten his-
tory of much that would be instructive and intensely interesting concerning the heroic deeds of
Somerville's sons in the war, and of the patriotic efforts of the men and women at home during
the period of the war.

Union Squaee.


After recovering from the financial depression and effect of the war— for Somerville had been
patriotic mul generous in everything that pertained to the interests of her citizen soldiery and tlie
cause of the Union, there was a growing feeling that the interests of the town could be best conserved
under a municipal form of government ; important questions of internal improvement and develop-
ment could thus be l)est provided for. Hence this desire soon took definite form in action in 1871,



when the town was granted a city ebarter, to go into effect January 1st, 1872. Hon. George O.
Barstow was elected the mayor, and served a second term. Mr. Jacob T. Glines was presi-
dent of the first board of aldermen.

The new era for Somerville now began ; the new city government devoted its energies at once
to devilling plans for perjiiaiient improvements, which have been prosecuted with more or less

View doavn Broadway.

vigor by each succeeding administration, the recounting of which would re(iuire more space than
the purpose of historical slvetch will allow, for we wish to speak now only briefly of what con-
stitutes the Somerville of to-dav.


The city obtained from the Legislature authority to borrow $100,000 outside of its debt limit
for the purpose of paving and improving its streets, and the city government made the appropria-
tion, and Somerville avenue from East Cambridge line to Church street, including Union square

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Online LibraryWalter Frye TurnerSomerville [Mass.]: its representative business men and its points of interest → online text (page 1 of 15)