Tag Archives: Cobble Hill

Asylum for the Insane

Charlestown Asylum, 1800s

Most people are familiar with Belmont’s McLean Hospital. Affiliated with Harvard Medical School, McLean is one of the most revered psychiatric hospitals in the country. Famous patients throughout the years have included James Taylor, Ray Charles, Rick James, Sylvia Plath (author of The Bell Jar), and  Susanna Kaysen, whose memoir was the basis for the 1999 film Girl, Interrupted.

McLean Hospital was founded in 1811 as the Charlestown Asylum for the Insane and its original location was in the present day Cobble Hill section of Somerville, at the time part of Charlestown.  Though not a trace of the hospital remains — it was demolished and relocated to Belmont in 1895 to make way for the railroad — the entrance to the grounds featured a long driveway lined with Elm trees at the approximate intersection of current day Washington and Franklin Streets.

In the 1790s doctors began to explore the idea that beautiful, peaceful surroundings could alleviate the suffering of the mentally ill, and the Charlestown Asylum was founded on these progressive principles of moral treatment. In the past the insane had been chained and beaten in a misguided attempt to scare them out of their madness. The Charlestown Asylum (later referred to as The Somerville Asylum, The McLean Asylum for the Insane, and eventually McLean Hospital) spanned 18 acres on grounds with picturesque terraces, trees, flowers and vegetable gardens designed to inspire tranquility.

A man by the name of George Folsom, an early apothecary at the asylum, remarked in his diary: “Crazy people are much more pleasant than I expected.”


DAILY TRIVIA: The nursery rhyme “Mary Had A Little Lamb” was written about Mary Sawyer, an attendant at the Charlestown Asylum in the 1830s who had adopted a sickly lamb abandoned by its mother and nursed it back to health. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Slumerville? Pshaw…

Somerville, Massachusetts has been my home for the better part of the past 15 years. Truth be told, no place has ever felt more like home to me than here. I decided to start this blog as an homage to this bustling suburb of Boston with so much to offer.

Brasher Falls, NY

First of all, let me explain. I came of age in rural America during the 80s and early 90s far from any metropolitan area. I was also far from cable television, highways and civilization; the first indoor mall within a hundred miles’ drive wasn’t built until I was 16 years old. You think the pre-internet days were bad? I’m guessing that at least your family, unlike mine, didn’t have to share a ‘party line’ with several neighbors due to the limited phone lines available in your county.

One might be tempted to label me an easily impressible sap who just happened to land here on my stumble out of the North Country. (For the record, this is the third state I’ve lived in, and the sixth town in metro Boston I’ve called home.)  I would have to respectfully beg to differ, and insist that growing up with such meager surroundings and little opportunity has made me appreciate the things that surround me now on a much deeper level than most folks probably ever even notice.

There are lots of things I appreciate daily about Somerville. It’s only miles from downtown Boston, yet possesses its own thriving economy and vibrant community. This hasn’t always been the case, as the colloquial ‘Slumerville’ nickname from the not-so-distant past reminds us. Things started to really turn around here in the 90s, beginning with the revitalization of Davis Square. The gentrification  over the past decade or so has attracted many people who are interested in (among other things)  sustainable living, eco-friendly transportation, composting, buying local, and of course, art. Freecycle is a way of life here, as is working on reducing the impact of one’s carbon footprint. And despite the gentrification, which comes with its own list of positives and negatives, much diversity has been preserved here. There are  epicenters throughout the city that are home to Brazilians, Haitians, El Salvadorians, Indians and many other immigrant cultures. There are also folks working to preserve those diverse communities and engage those who live there, encouraging them to be a part of the ever-changing landscape.

So, as of this moment I do declare that beginning tomorrow I will write once per day about something I deem great about living here.  Thanks for reading my first post, and stay tuned…


DAILY TRIVIA: Somerville was a 2009 recipient of the prestigious All-America City Award.