Tag Archives: colonial history

Building Styles in Somerville: Federal Georgian

Somerville Museum on Central Street, an example of Federal style.

Considered to be the late phase of Georgian style architecture, the Federal style was popular with wealthy merchants and shipbuilders living along coastal New England from 1790 to 1820. Also referred to as “the Adam”, the architectural fashion is said to be inspired by designs of the Adam brothers, three architects from Scotland who were quite famous in Britain during the mid-1700s for their ancient Roman style designs.

In addition to homes, Federal style was also often used for state and public buildings, the popularity of the design coinciding with a time when American government was being born at the end of the Revolutionary War.


DAILY TRIVIA: Bow Street was once referred to as “Doctors’ Row”, for the many doctors and dentists that established residences with offices there.


Prettying Up Union Square

Deriving its name from the Civil War era, Union Square was once a major recruitment center for the Union Army. Today it is a melting pot where the working class of East Somerville intersects with the city’s fashionable western parts, and is one of the oldest and largest commercial areas in town.

There is much to say about bustling Union Square, but for today I wanted to write specifically about one step that was taken a few years ago to better the community through art and the active involvement of its residents, a hallmark of Mayor Curtatone’s legacy.

In 2005 the Somerville Arts Council held a design competition for local artists and craftsmen to design and build street furniture. The competition was based on 4 objectives: to engage local artists/craftsmen in design and fabrication, to recognize the city’s cultural diversity, to celebrate Union Square’s unique character, and to create beautiful and innovative new street furniture designs. The uncommon furniture can be found throughout Union Square.

Glass-top benches: Aaron Binkley; copper benches: Mitch Ryerson; trash barrel covers: Christina Lanzl, Phil Manker; engraved design on glass: Heather Townsend, Jeff Czekaj, Julie Chen, Wes Boyd.


DAILY TRIVIA: The Queen Anne residential building at 113 College Ave. became a major national focus in 1968 for an alternative Jewish religious movement; it is still the home of the Havurat Shalom community.


Powder House Park

The Nathan Tufts Park, known locally as Powder House, is a place rich in colonial history. The Massachuset Indians were drawn to the area for the abundance of alewife in the nearby Mystic River, and the natural stone outcroppings that defined the landscape provided an abundance of materials for tools as well as a clear vantage point for surveying the area.

By the early 1700’s the Two Penny Brook Quarry was established on the land to make use of the blue-brown bedrock known today as Somerville Slate or Cambridge Mudstone.  A French refugee by the name of Jean Maillet bought the quarry in 1704 and erected a windmill, which was unique to the area in that it was built of stone and operated with only the top part moving to catch the wind, instead of the entire body.

The province of Massachusetts purchased the stone mill in 1747 and began using it as a gunpowder storage facility. During the 1775-76 siege of Boston the Powder House was a critical Continental Army munitions depot, or ‘powder magazine’. Peter Tufts, a farmer, purchased this land in 1818, and the Tufts family bequeathed it to the City of Somerville in 1892 to be turned  into a public park.

The Field House was constructed in 1935 using stones from the demolished Highland Railroad Station as a testimony to F. D. Roosevelt’s efforts to create jobs during the Great Depression. The building is available today for public use by petition.

The Powder House mill remains the oldest stone building in Massachusetts, and is depicted in the City of Somerville’s official seal.


DAILY TRIVIA: Local legend is that a virtuous young woman once took refuge in the mill to hide from a man with dishonorable intentions, and that when he came for her, became tangled in the mill’s machinery and died.


Crazy Tacos

If one day you happen to be driving down lower Broadway and find yourself, for reasons beyond my personal comprehension, tempted to make a stop at Taco Bell for lunch, I implore you to keep driving. Just a half mile up on the other side of the street is the best Mexican joint in town – Taco Loco.

Everything I’ve ever tried from their menu is fresh and delicious, not to mention very affordable. I usually try to sample different things when I go, but I have to admit I have a tough time forgoing the $2 tacos. There’s a small seating area downstairs, but it’s often full.

I don’t recall ever seeing another “gringo” there when I stop in; I almost always get a double-take from one or two of the Hispanic folks waiting in line. The people behind the counter are always smiling and friendly. If you’re nearby and haven’t checked this place out, the tasty food and pleasant vibe make it well worth the ride over.

Vegetarian taco and chicken tamale.


DAILY TRIVIA: 600-acre Ten Hills Farm, which spanned parts of present-day Somerville and Medford and was home to Massachusetts’ first colonial governor, utilized Native American slaves. Slavery in MA ended fairly unremarkably when slaves petitioned the courts for their freedom after the Revolutionary War, though it was never officially outlawed.