The American Cyclopædia (1879)/Charlestown (Massachusetts)
CHARLESTOWN (Indian, Mishawun), a city of Middlesex co., Massachusetts, one of the oldest places in the state, separated from Boston on the south by Charles river. It occupies a peninsula formed by the Charles and Mystic, connecting on the northwest with the mainland at Somerville by a very narrow isthmus. Originally the territory was large, but Woburn, Stoneham, Burlington, Somerville, Malden, much of Medford, and portions of Cambridge, Arlington, and Reading have been taken from it, leaving Charlestown in extent the smallest town in the state. It is connected with Boston by the Charles river and Warren bridges, completed in 1786 and 1828 respectively, so that the two places form but one community for most social and business purposes. It is also connected with Chelsea by the Chelsea bridge, with East Cambridge by the Prison Point bridge, and with Malden by the Malden bridge. Horse cars run to Boston and the adjoining towns, and the Eastern, Fitchburg, and Boston and Maine railroads pass through the city. Since the beginning of this century the population has exhibited a steady growth. In 1800 it was 2,751; 1810, 4,959; 1820, 6,591; 1830, 8,783; 1840, 11,484; 1850, 17,216; 1860, 25,065; 1870, 28,323. Of the population in 1870, 6,924 were foreigners. The peninsula is about 1¼ m. long. The surface is very uneven, and near the centre rises into two eminences, known as Bunker and Breed's hills. The streets are generally spacious and finely shaded. The most noteworthy are Main, Bunker Hill, and Medford streets, which, starting at the S. extremity, extend the whole length of the peninsula, and joining at the neck form a broad avenue, which passes on into Somerville. These, in the upper part of the peninsula, are crossed with considerable regularity by other streets passing from the Mystic to the Charles, while the S. portion is more irregularly laid out. The city is for the most part handsomely built. Charlestown is chiefly known as the seat of the Massachusetts state prison, of a United States navy yard, and of Bunker Hill monument. The state prison is upon a low point of land, known as Prison point, at the W. extremity of the city. The walls are washed on the west and north by tide water. It was built in 1805, but has since been much improved and enlarged, and contains 650 cells, with 14 solitary ones for punishment, a chapel, hospital, school room, workshops, storehouses, &c. This institution, which is one of the best of its kind in the country, is conducted on the congregate system, the convicts working together in shops during the day, but being separated at night. The labor is let to contractors, the prisoners being employed in shoemaking, blacksmithing, bronzing, in the manufacture of brushes, chains, iron bedsteads, spring beds, and in foundery work. There is a library of over 3,000 volumes, a Sunday school with an average attendance of over 100, and an evening school attended by 140 prisoners. The whole number of convicts in prison during the year ending Sept. 30, 1872, was 703, of whom 160 were received during the year; discharged, 122; died, 19; in prison at the end of the year, 662, of whom 382 were natives, 180 foreigners, and 40 were colored; 62 were serving out a life sentence. The number of officers was 38. The total expenditure during the year amounted to $134,560 21; the total receipts reached the sum of $149,195 44, of which $126,010 23 were the earnings of convicts; net income of the prison, $14,635 23. The net income averages about $20,000 a year. The price obtained for the labor of each convict averages 99 cents a day. The number of convicts in prison Feb. 15, 1873, was 585.
The navy yard, established in 1798, is on the N. side of Charles river, at the E. extremity of the city; it is enclosed by a high wall of great strength, and covers about 60 acres. The yard contains several dwelling houses, numerous storehouses, ropewalks, machine shops, ship houses, cannon founderies, &c. The dry dock, which was opened in 1838, is 341 ft. long, 80 broad, 60 deep, and cost $670,000. Some of the best ships of the national marine have been built at this yard. Bunker Hill monument, 221 ft. high, conspicuously situated on Breed's hill, itself 75 ft. above the sea, commands an extensive view of the surrounding country, and is much resorted to by visitors. (See Bunker Hill.) — Charlestown forms a part of the Boston customs district, and is a place of considerable business. The principal manufactories are 2 of steam boilers, 3 of cabinet ware, 1 of cameras, 1 of sashes, doors, and blinds, 1 of masts and spars, 1 of pumps and blocks, 1 of shoe bindings, 1 of soap, 1 of soap stone, 1 of tables, 2 of varnish, 1 of wooden ware, 1 bookbindery, 1 brass and copper foundery, 1 brewery, 1 distillery, 4 leather-currying establishments, 2 grist mills, 1 iron foundery, 9 establishments for dressing and coloring morocco, and 1 tannery. The Charlestown gas company has a capital of $400,000. There are 2 national banks, with $650,000 capital; 2 savings banks, with deposits in 1871 amounting to $4,738,649; and 1 fire insurance company. Charlestown has been connected with the ice trade from an early period, and great numbers of vessels are annually laden with that article at its wharves. The city is divided into 3 wards. The government is vested in a mayor, a board, of aldermen consisting of 3 from each ward, and a common council of 6 from each ward. The police department consists of a chief of police, a captain, a lieutenant, 31 policemen, and 14 substitutes and special policemen. The fire department is under the charge of a chief engineer, 4 assistants, and a secretary. There are 2 steam engines, 5 hose companies, and a hook and ladder company. The city is supplied with water from Mystic lake in Medford, 5 m. distant. It was first introduced in 1864. Among the charities are the Charlestown poor's fund, founded by Richard Russell in 1674, and now amounting to about $23,000, the Winchester home for aged and indigent women, and the Devens benevolent society (organized in 1819 under the name of the female benevolent society). Other institutions worthy of mention are the children's home association, the young men's Christian association, and a working men's trading association. The schools are under the charge of a board, consisting of the mayor, a secretary, treasurer, superintendent, and 6 members from each ward. They have under their management a high school, 5 grammar, 38 primary, and 3 intermediate schools, and a select school. There are 13 male and 101 female teachers; average attendance about 5,000. The Howard grammar school house, completed in 1872, cost $92,000. The public library was established in 1860, and contains about 15,000 volumes. There are also four circulating libraries and two weekly newspapers. The city contains 13 churches, viz. : 3 Baptist, 2 Methodist, 2 Roman Catholic, 2 Congregational, 1 Episcopal, 1 Independent, 1 Unitarian, and 1 Universalist. — Charlestown dates from 1628, though Mr. R. Frothingham, the local historian (“History of Charlestown,” 1848), thinks that July 4, 1629, is the only date for the foundation of the town for which any good authority can be adduced. It is one of the most interesting spots in American history. A flourishing and noted place in the colonial period, it became conspicuous at the very commencement of the revolution, as well from political as from military circumstances. The British force that fled from Concord and Lexington fell back upon Charlestown, and Gen. Gage threatened to destroy the place if the troops were molested. Most of the inhabitants left their homes, so that on June 17, 1775, when the town was destroyed, not above a tenth part of their number were present. The resolution to fortify Bunker hill, taken by the Massachusetts committee of safety, led to the battle of that name. In the course of this battle, and as one of its incidents, Charlestown was destroyed by a discharge of shells from Copp's hill in Boston, and by men who were landed for the purpose of firing the town. The destruction was complete, with the exception of a few houses. About 400 buildings were burned, and the value of property lost was estimated at over $500,000. In 1873 a provisional act for the incorporation of Charlestown with Boston on Jan. 1, 1874, was confirmed by the vote of its inhabitants.