1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Somerville (Massachusetts)

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SOMERVILLE, a city of Middlesex county, Massachusetts, U.S.A., on the Mystic river, adjoining Boston (Charlestown), Cambridge, Medford and Arlington. Pop. (1890), 40,152; (1900), 61,643, of whom 17,232 were foreign-born; (1910 census), 77,236. Of the foreign-born in 1900 6400 were English-Canadians, 5542 were Irish, 1321 were English, 610 were French-Canadians, 590 were Italians, 576 were Scotch and 556 were Swedish. Somerville is served by the Boston & Maine railroad and by suburban electric railway lines. It is a residential and manufacturing suburb of Boston, of which, industrially, it forms a part; it is included in the metropolitan water, sewer and park districts, and in the Boston postal district. It comprises an irregular (land) area of 4.06 sq. m. in the Mystic Valley and along a range of hills or ridges, of which the largest are Prospect, Spring, Winter, Central and Clarendon hills. Among its public buildings and institutions are a fine public library (1872) with 80,000 volumes in 1908, the city hall, a state armoury, Somerville Hospital, the city poor house, a Roman Catholic home for the aged, and two high schools (English and classical). Among the parks are Broadway Park, Central Hill Park, Prospect Hill Park, Lincoln Park, and Nathan Tufts Park. The total value of the city’s factory product in 1905 was $22,955,197, an increase of 14.4 per cent, over that of 1900; in 1890 the product value was only $7,307,522. The establishments include slaughtering and meat-packing houses, whose product is by far the most valuable in the city, bleacheries, finishing factories, glassworks, machine shops, tube works, jewelry factories, and a desk factory. There are also lumber and coal yards. Blue slate-stone used for building purposes is quarried.

Somerville, originally a part of Charlestown, was settled in 1630. Six hundred acres, the “Ten Hills Farm,” were granted here in 1631 to John Winthrop, who built and launched here in that year the “Blessing of the Bay,” the first ship built in Massachusetts. For more than a century it was a sparsely settled farming community, the only article of manufacture being bricks. On the 19th of April 1775 the British columns returning from Concord were harassed by the farmers here, as in the other towns along the line of march. Several of the hills of Somerville (e.g. Prospect and Central Hills) were fortified during the siege of Boston. On Prospect Hill on the 18th of July 1775 Israel Putnam raised the "Appeal to Heaven" flag, and here also is said to have been raised on the 1st of January 1776 one of the earliest of the Continental standards, the Union Jack and Stripes. On Powder House Hill (originally Quarry Hill), in Nathan Tufts Park, there still stands an interesting old slate-stone powder house, a circular building, 30 ft. high, with a conical cap, originally built (about 1703) for a windmill, deeded in 1747 to the Massachusetts Bay Colony, used in 1756–1822 as a powder house, and now marked by a bronze tablet erected by the Massachusetts Society of the Sons of the Revolution; on the 1st of September 1774, General Gage seized 250 half-barrels of powder stored here in anticipation of the outbreak of hostilities; in 1775 the powder house became the magazine of the American forces besieging Boston, and at that time Nathanael Greene maintained his headquarters at the Samuel Tufts House, and Charles Lee had his headquarters at the Oliver Tufts House, in Somerville. After the battle of Saratoga some of Burgoyne's officers were housed here. The opening of the Middlesex Canal through the town in 1803 and of the Boston & Lowell railroad in 1835 gave an impetus to the town's growth. In 1834 an Ursuline Convent, built in 1827 on Mt Benedict, was sacked and destroyed by an anti-Catholic mob. In 1842 Somerville was separated from Charlestown and incorporated under its present name; it was chartered as a city in 1871.

See T. H. Hurd, History of Middlesex County (3 vols., Philadelphia, 1890); S. A. Drake, History of Middlesex County (2 vols., Boston, 1880); E. A. Samuels, Somerville Past and Present (Boston, 1897); Miss M. A. Haley, The Story of Somerville (Boston, 1903).