Eagle Feathers #123 – Happy Anniversaries
By Bob (Monty) Doherty
She’s 175 years old this year and counting. It’s not polite to ask a mature lady her age, but she doesn’t mind at all. Her roots as part of Charlestown, her maiden name, go back to July 4, 1629, the day Charlestown was founded. This makes her older than Boston and Cambridge. Thus, her history before becoming Somerville in 1842 is also Charlestown’s history.
Finding a name for the newly created town didn’t come immediately. In 1828, residents from beyond the neck unsuccessfully tried to separate and title the new town, Warren. This was after General Joseph Warren, martyr of the Battle of Bunker Hill. Later, the name Walford was suggested to honor the area’s first settler, Thomas Walford. Then, as the accepted story goes, the name Somerville was suggested, approved, and adopted because it sounded fanciful. Through the years, other noteworthy sources have credited the name after the Tripolitan War hero and United States Naval Captain Richard Somers.
With the legislature and governor’s approval on March 3, 1842, Somerville separated from its mother town. She was the last of ten to do so. Two centuries before in 1642, Woburn was the first. While one hundred guns were fired among cheers from Prospect Hill, beyond the neck citizens reveled in their newfound freedom. In celebration, a grand ball was given with over 300 people in attendance who enjoyed a dinner and dancing at the Porter Hotel in Cambridge. This was Somerville’s birthday and its 1,013 townsmen enjoyed it. The next week, they began to build their community.
The town’s first twenty-five years were very active. The population had grown over eightfold and had just witnessed the brutal Civil War. At the silver anniversary observance of 1867, the new Somerville Town Hall was dedicated, followed by a grand celebration and dance.
On March 3,1892, Somerville celebrated its golden anniversary of fifty years. By then, she had grown into what was known as the “City of Homes,” the bedroom community of Boston.
Twenty-four days after the Pearl Harbor bombings on December 7, Somerville entered its 100th anniversary year. It was 1942 and America was at war. Like all Americans, Somerville residents focused on victory throughout the war. Even the sitting, Mayor John M. Lynch, left the office to serve in the armed forces. Thoughts of rejoicing were put on hold.
In 1992, the city’s 150th anniversary year was a special one. Appreciative sons and daughters of Somerville’ greatest generation strutted the length of the city in a parade of 4,000 marchers in 133 different units. It was a small thank you for the 1942 centennial celebration their parents never had the opportunity to experience.
This year … her 175th celebration … is expected to be first class!