Eagle Feathers #65 – Signs of the Time
By Bob (Monty) Doherty
The “time” was 150 years ago and the “signs” appeared shortly after. America was in the last year of the Civil War, 1864-1865. The war would claim over 600,000 American lives and wound a million more before it ended. Every city and town would be affected in one way or another. Somerville was no different. The Somerville militia’s sacrifice would be 98 killed and 250 wounded out of 1,485, or almost one quarter. Hundreds more served in other military branches. The Somerville Avenue 1863 Civil War Memorial to her fallen troops is said to be the first in the nation. This was a spark for the small town’s appreciation later on.
When the war ended, half of the town was open land and began to be developed as streets were laid out from Spring Hill to beyond Teele Square. During the war, much of this area was called Camp Cameron, named after Lincoln’s Secretary of War. Thousands of regional troops were trained there and on Prospect Hill.
As expansion occurred, a grateful citizenry who lived through that war never wanted to forget what they and their sons had endured. Liberty Pole Square’s name was changed to Union Square. During the war, it had been illuminated with ninety gas lamps to protect it against enemy arson. New street names appeared throughout the town celebrating the victory. In West Somerville more than a dozen new streets acknowledged and still do, the names of Admiral Farragut of the Navy, General Banks, General Burnside, General Hooker, General Hancock, and General Mead of the Army. Malvern Avenue and Seven Pines Avenue were named after battles and Cameron and Garrison Avenues were named after training grounds.
In 1866, the entrance to the new quarters for Fire Hose Company #1 intersecting Webster and Ellsworth Streets was named in honor of the first officer killed in the Civil War, Lieutenant Elmer E. Ellsworth. He was a firefighter and close friend of the president. On Winter Hill, General Grant, General Butler and General Fremont are celebrated, as well as Civil War statesmen, Edward Everett and Daniel Webster. President Abraham Lincoln is honored with four streets and a park.
In East Somerville, street signs honor the New England states of the Union with the avenues of Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. The Western states of the Union are honored with the avenues of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, and Indiana. Pennsylvania, also known as the “keystone state,” joins them together to form the section now known as “the states Avenues.” Garfield Avenue was named after General and later President James Garfield of Ohio, with Union Street, North Union Street and Sherman Street circling all of the states.
For many years, Somerville’s Historical Society featured a Civil War Round Table Room and library where historians and veterans could research and reminisce the war.
A beautiful statue on Central Hill commemorates their valor and conviction. When we honor our combined veterans of all wars on November 11, don’t forget the Civil War soldiers and sailors who died for our freedom and built up this city … They were the soldiers and sailors of the Union.