Tag Archives: Massachusetts

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.


Holy Bathtubs of Somerville

Somerville, MA has been known to have an exceptional number of “bathtub shrines”. Clustered in spots throughout the country that were heavily settled by Roman Catholics, these lawn shrines were historically made by burying an old bathtub halfway into the ground and placing a statue of the Virgin Mary inside. Though the bathtubs usually house a model of Mary, other prominent Catholic figures are occasionally displayed.

Traditional bathtub Madonna shrine in Somerville

High concentrations of traditional bathtub shrines are found in places around the country including Wisconsin and Minnesota. Though a handful of those still exist here, more common are the scallop-shelled or fluted stone shrines mass-produced for the bathtub lawn shrine industry that apparently had a boom in Somerville not so long ago. I think I’ve heard that there are over 400 of these shrines on various lawns throughout the city, though don’t quote (and feel free to correct) me on the number. Click to enlarge:


DAILY TRIVIA: The first Somerville public library opened in 1873.


Just the Facts

According to the 2000 demographic census, Somerville is New England’s densest city, housing 76,000 residents in only 4.1 square miles. This equates to more than 18,000 people living in every square mile of space!  Its landscape is dotted with mostly triple-decker homes barely an arms’ length apart in some spots.

This makes it all the more impressive how many accolades the city has received for its well-organized government. In 2006. Somerville was recognized for being the best run city in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.  Mayor Joe Curtatone deserves much praise for implementing SomerStat, a data-driven style of government that he modeled after New York City’s CompStat and Baltimore’s CitiStat programs.  With it came the creation of the 311 Somerville helpline. Accessible from any phone in the city by dialing 311, residents can call the line anytime with a myriad of questions, which will either be answered immediately or assigned a case number and followed up on accordingly. I once called to report a stretch of my road with several broken street lights. I received a call back the following day thanking me for my report, and the lights were fixed within the next couple of weeks. For such a large community, the communication between city government and residents is worth calling out as exceptional.

View of Boston from the Winter Hill section of Somerville


DAILY TRIVIA: The 1842 census lists the population of Somerville as 1,013.