Somerville, Massachusetts

Somerville, Massachusetts
Somerville, Massachusetts
—  City  —
Davis Square, Somerville

Location in Middlesex County in Massachusetts
Coordinates: 42°23′15″N 71°06′00″W / 42.3875°N 71.1°W / 42.3875; -71.1Coordinates: 42°23′15″N 71°06′00″W / 42.3875°N 71.1°W / 42.3875; -71.1
Country United States
State Massachusetts
County Middlesex
Settled 1630
Incorporated 1842
 – Type Mayor-council city
 – Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone
 – Total 4.2 sq mi (10.9 km2)
 – Land 4.1 sq mi (10.6 km2)
 – Water 0.1 sq mi (0.3 km2)
Elevation 12 ft (4 m)
Population (2010)
 – Total 75,754
 – Density 18,147.6/sq mi (7,019.3/km2)
 – Demonym Somervillian
Time zone Eastern (UTC-5)
 – Summer (DST) Eastern (UTC-4)
ZIP code 02143, 02144, 02145
Area code(s) 617 / 857
FIPS code 25-62535
GNIS feature ID 0612815

Somerville (play /ˈsʌmrvɪl/) is a city in Middlesex County, Massachusetts, United States, located just north of Boston. As of the 2010 census, the city had a total population of 75,754 and was the most densely populated municipality in New England. It is also the 17th most densely populated incorporated place in the country. It was established as a town in 1842, when it was separated from the urbanizing Charlestown. Somerville was a 2009 All-America City Award recipient.



Somerville was first settled in 1630 as part of Charlestown. It was known as "Charlestown beyond the Neck"[1] because it was part of the Massachusetts mainland, not the Charlestown Peninsula. (Charlestown Neck was the narrow strip of land that joined the two.) The incorporation of Somerville in 1842 separated the largely rural town from the urbanizing Charlestown.

The original choice for the city's new name after breaking away from Charlestown was Walford, after the first settler of Charlestown. However this name was not adopted by the separation committee. Mr. Charles Miller, a member of this committee, proposed the name "Somerville" which was chosen. It was not derived from any one person's name. A report commissioned by the Somerville Historical Society found that Somerville was a "purely fanciful name"[2] (though "Somerville" is a surname of Franco-British origin).

Traffic on the Middlesex Canal began its famous journey from the mouth of the Charles River in Charlestown (now part of Boston) to Lowell by going through East Somerville, where several historical markers can be discovered today.

Historically Somerville encompassed many of the less desirable railway and industrial lands squeezed between the Charles River to the southwest and the Mystic River to the northeast. For all its problems, Somerville's late 19th and early 20th centuries industrial revolution left behind a rich historical record of Sanborn Maps, apparently invented in Somerville in 1867, and subsequently used for fire insurance appraisal across the USA. The delicate, detailed original Sanborn Maps are on display at the main branch of the Somerville Public Library.[3]

Somerville's industrial past left one special legacy, the invention of Fluff, the marshmallow creme. In 1914, the city became the home of the original Economy Grocery Store, which later grew into the Stop & Shop grocery chain. Two related food service chains, Steve's Ice Cream and Bertucci's, sprung from adjacent lots in Somerville's Davis Square.

One of the earliest American flags was raised on Prospect Hill, above Union Square, on January 1, 1776.[4]

Until the 1990s, Somerville was colloquially referred to as "Slummerville",[5] on account of its blue-collar residents and its reputation for crime, especially in the city's east, where James "Buddy" McLean and Howie Winter and the "Winter Hill Gang" were based.[6] The city also had a very high car theft rate,[citation needed] once being the car theft capital of the country, and its Assembly Square area was especially infamous for theft.[7] However, after the gentrification period the city went through in the 1990s and an influx of artists to the area, this name has mostly faded from use and the city has instead gained a reputation for its active arts community and effective government including being named Massachusetts' "Best Run City"[8] by The Boston Globe. More recently, lobbying by grassroots organizations is attempting to revive and preserve Somerville's "small town" neighborhood environments by supporting local business, public transit, gardens and pedestrian/bike access.

Political history

The first Democratic Mayor of the city was John J. Murphy in 1929. He succeeded on his seventh try by uniting the Irish, Italians, Greeks, and Portuguese. There were "Candle Parades" with thousands marching to giant rallies in the middle of Union Square (and other squares too).


Somerville is located at 42°23′26″N 71°6′13″W / 42.39056°N 71.10361°W / 42.39056; -71.10361 (42.390546, -71.103683),[9] bordered by Cambridge, Arlington, Medford, Everett, and the Charlestown neighborhood of Boston.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 4.2 square miles (11 km2), of which, 4.1 square miles (11 km2) of it is land and 0.1 square miles (0.26 km2) of it (2.61%) is water.

Squares and neighborhoods

Somerville has a number of squares that are bustling business and entertainment centers, as well as a number of other neighborhoods:[10][11]

Sullivan Square is just over the Charlestown border; Porter Square, Inman Square, and Lechmere Square are all just over the Cambridge border.


The following are the "Seven Hills"[15] of Somerville:

  1. Central Hill
  2. Clarendon Hill
  3. Cobble Hill
  4. Mount Benedict (or Plowed Hill)
  5. Mount Pisgah (or Prospect Hill)
  6. Spring Hill
  7. Winter Hill

Paths and parks

The Somerville Community Path is a tree-lined rail trail that runs from Cedar Street to the Cambridge border near Davis Square. It connects with the Alewife Linear Park, which in turn connects with the Minuteman Bikeway and the Fitchburg Cutoff Path. Community activists hope to extend the path eastward to Lechmere Square, which would connect with the Charles River Bike Paths and the proposed East Coast Greenway. As of 2010, the city has a total of 63 parks, playgrounds, playing fields, and community gardens.[16]


Somerville has a mayor-city council form of municipal government. The Board of Aldermen consists of 4 at-large (city-wide) positions and 7 ward representatives (each ward is a specific section of the city).[17] The current mayor of the city is Joseph Curtatone.

Somerville is part of Massachusetts's 8th congressional district for purposes of elections to the United States House of Representatives. It is represented by Rep. Michael Capuano (Democrat), a former mayor of Somerville and a candidate for Ted Kennedy's US Senate seat following Kennedy's death in 2009.[18]

For representation to the Massachusetts Senate, Somerville is part of the "Second Middlesex" and "Middlesex, Suffolk, and Essex" districts.[19] For representation to the Massachusetts House of Representatives, Somerville is part of the 26th, 27th, and 34th Middlesex districts.[20]

Voter Registration and Party Enrollment as of October 15, 2008[21]
Party Number of Voters Percentage
  Democratic 24,456 54.74%
  Republican 2,128 4.76%
  Unaffiliated 17,636 39.48%
  Minor Parties 453 1.01%
Total 44,673 100%


Somerville Public Schools operates 11 schools for pre-K to grade 12 students,[22] including the East Somerville Community School, which was temporarily closed after a fire in 2007, and as of 2009 is undergoing demolition and reconstruction.[23] Also included in the school district is the Somerville Center for Adult Learning Experiences. The former Powder House Community School (which was closed due to low enrollment in 2004) is being considered for redevelopment, either as a consolidated location for city offices if funding is obtained under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 or as some other type of development.[24]

Police, fire and ambulance service

Somerville's Police Department responds to, investigates and prevents crime, responds to non-crime emergencies including fires, medical emergencies and accidents, and enforces traffic. They have divisions including the patrol division, neighborhood policing, special operations, auxiliary, K-9 unit, detective unit and traffic bureau. They operate marked patrol cars, unmarked cars, motorcycles, bikes, paddy wagons, traffic enforcement SUVs, speed monitoring trailers and an incident command truck. The Somerville Police operates out of a headquarters and two neighborhood substations. They respond to approximately 45,000 service calls a year. Somerville police officers all have Certified First Responder certification or are basic emergency medical technicians. The Somerville Police Department does not have a SWAT team, but relies on Massachusetts State Police or NEMLEC (northeastern Massachusetts law enforcement council) for SWAT support. SPD also has a communications division that takes 911 calls for police, fire and ambulance for the city of Somerville.

Somerville is protected full-time by the 150 professional firefighters of the Somerville Fire Department. The department provides fire suppression, training and prevention emergency medical services, hazardous materials response, water rescue, confined space rescue, trench rescue, and natural disaster response). The SFD runs at Basic Life Support emergency medical services level with about half the firefighters being Certified First Responders. The other half are basic Emergency Medical Technicians, and one firefighter is a Paramedic. SFD operates out of five fire stations located throughout the city, and maintains a fire apparatus fleet of six engines (one reserve engine in service if staffing allows), three ladders, a brand new heavy rescue unit, a rescue boat, a HAZMAT response truck and decontamination trailer, a rehab squad,a special operations truck, a lighting squad, a flood pump-out squad, an air supply unit, various cars, and a fire investigation unit. The SFD does not provide ambulances, but operates as medical first responders with the Somerville police department. The SFD responds to approximately 9,000 emergency calls per year.

The Cataldo Ambulance Service provides BLS and ALS, emergency and non-emergency ambulance coverage to the city of Somerville.

Engine Company Truck Company Special Unit Command Unit Address
Engine 1, Engine 4 Tower 1 651 Somerville Ave.
Engine 2 Ladder 2 Rescue 1 Car 2 (Deputy Chief) 378 Massachusetts Ave.[clarification needed]
Engine 3 255 Somerville Ave.
Engine 6 Ladder 3 6 Newbury St.
Engine 7 Car 3 (District Chief) 265 Highland Ave.


Historical populations
Year Pop. ±%
1850 2,540
1860 8,025 +215.9%
1870 14,685 +83.0%
1880 24,933 +69.8%
1890 40,152 +61.0%
1900 61,643 +53.5%
1910 77,236 +25.3%
1920 93,091 +20.5%
1930 103,908 +11.6%
1940 102,177 −1.7%
1950 102,351 +0.2%
1960 94,697 −7.5%
1970 88,779 −6.2%
1980 77,372 −12.8%
1990 76,210 −1.5%
2000 77,478 +1.7%
2001* 77,292 −0.2%
2002* 76,921 −0.5%
2003* 76,757 −0.2%
2004* 76,374 −0.5%
2005* 75,916 −0.6%
2006* 75,674 −0.3%
2007* 75,691 +0.0%
2008* 75,718 +0.0%
2009* 76,491 +1.0%
2010 75,754 −1.0%
* = population estimate.
Source: United States Census records and Population Estimates Program data.[25][26][27][28][29][30][31][32][33][34]

Somerville has a mix of blue collar Irish-American, Italian American and to a slightly lesser extent Portuguese American families who are spread throughout the city; immigrant families from Brazil, Haiti and El Salvador, who live in East Somerville, from South Korea, Nepal, and India, in the Union Square area,[citation needed] and college students and young professionals, many of whom live in sections near Cambridge where Harvard and MIT are located, or near Tufts University, which straddles the Somerville-Medford city line.

With only slightly over 4 square miles (10 km2) of land, Somerville is the most densely populated city in New England according to the 2000 Demographics of the United States.

As of the census[35] of 2000, there were 77,478 people, 31,555 households, and 14,673 families residing in the city. The population density was 18,868.1 people per square mile (7,278.4/km²). There were 32,477 housing units at an average density of 7,909.1 per square mile (3,051.0/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 76.97% White, 6.50% African American, 0.22% Native American, 6.44% Asian, 0.06% Pacific Islander, 4.96% from other races, and 4.85% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 8.76% of the population.

There were 31,555 households out of which 18.8% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 32.2% were married couples living together, 10.3% had a female householder with no husband present, and 53.5% were non-families. 31.0% of all households were made up of individuals and 8.8% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.38 and the average family size was 3.06.

In the city the population was spread out with 14.8% under the age of 18, 15.9% from 18 to 24, 42.6% from 25 to 44, 16.2% from 45 to 64, and 10.5% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 31 years. For every 100 females there were 94.9 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 93.2 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $46,315, and the median income for a family was $51,243. Males had a median income of $36,333 versus $31,418 for females. The per capita income for the city was $23,628. About 8.4% of families and 12.5% of the population were below the poverty line, including 14.3% of those under age 18 and 13.6% of those age 65 or over.

Somerville has experienced dramatic gentrification since the Red Line of Boston's subway system was extended through Somerville in 1985, especially in the area between Harvard and Tufts Universities, centering around Davis Square. Gentrification has historical cycles in the city of Somerville due to its proximity to these and many other colleges and universities.[citation needed] This was especially accelerated by the repeal of rent control in the mid-1990s being directly followed by the Internet boom of the late 90s. Residential property values approximately quadrupled from 1991 to 2003 and the stock of rental housing decreased as lucrative condo conversions become commonplace. This has led to tensions between long-time residents and recent arrivals, with many of the former accusing the latter of ignoring problems of working-class families such as drugs, gang violence, and suicides. Incidents such as anti-"yuppie" graffiti, appearing around town, have highlighted this rift. The economic clash between several areas of the city of Somerville and its neighboring cities of Boston, and in particular Cambridge, has created a culture of anti-intellectualism and anti-gentry sentiment that has spanned many generations.[1] Symptoms of this include petty crime, and in some cases, violence against outsiders.[2] Recent years have seen the arrival of community groups such as Save Our Somerville (SOS), dedicated to improving relationships between old and new residents and ensuring that the concerns of the Somerville working class remain at the forefront of the city's political concerns. SOS in particular is headed by young residents of the city who claim to desire unity between all residents but also focus on the difficulties that young adults in Somerville face. They enjoy support from a number of well-known, local adults, including elected officials. Many such community-led groups find it difficult to attract wide support as many would-be advocates choose to move to other towns due to the density of the population or to the strong economic forces that have made Somerville an expensive city to live in.

In November 1997, the Utne Reader named Davis Square in Somerville one of the 15 hippest places to live in the U.S.[36] The article illustrates how Somerville is in an era of socio-economic change shared by many other working-class and industrial areas of the country.


Though formally listed as being located in Medford, Tufts University is also located in Somerville. The Somerville-Medford line runs through Tufts' campus splitting the main library. The school employs many local residents and has many community service projects that benefit the city, especially those run through the Leonard Carmichael Society and the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service.

Similarly, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences lists its address in Cambridge, but has its main entrance on Beacon Street in Somerville.

Somerville is home to a thriving arts community. Regular arts-related events, such as the annual "ArtBeat" festival, occur throughout the year. In addition, numerous galleries and music clubs showcase the talents of residents and others. Live music performance venues include Johnny D's, Somerville Theater, Precinct, Sally O'Briens, PA's Lounge, and others.

Two major art studios, the Brickbottom Artists Building and the Joy Street Studios, are located in former industrial buildings in the Brickbottom District of Somerville, located between McGrath Highway and the Fitchburg Line railroad tracks, adjacent to the Inner Belt District. The Brickbottom Artists Association has been hosting annual open studio events in the fall since 1987.[37][38]

Davis Square is home to lively coffee houses, vintage stores and other independent retailers. It is also home to the Somerville Theatre, which houses the Somerville branch of the Museum of Bad Art and plays host to the Independent Film Festival of Boston each spring.

The volunteer-operated Somerville Museum[39] preserves memorabilia chronicling Somerville's roots, with historical and artistic exhibits. It is located on 1 Westwood Road, on the corner with Central Street.

The Somerville Arts Council and Somerville Open Studios both host annual events involving the community in homegrown arts. The Boston chapter of the Dorkbot community meets in Somerville at the Willoughby & Baltic studio (in the Brickbottom district).

The Boston Review, a political and literary magazine, has its offices in the city and the public radio show Living on Earth is recorded in Davis Square.

Candlewick Press, a major children's book printing company, is operated in Somerville.

Somerville boasts a large number of restaurants and taverns, including Redbones, The Independent, Gargoyles on the Square, Namaskar, Diva, Highland Kitchen, Taqueria la Mexicana, Dali and others. The Rosebud is a 1941 diner. Noteworthy cafes include Sherman's, Diesel, Bloc 11, True Grounds, The Biscuit, and the cupcake bakery Kickass Cupcakes. There are numerous National Register of Historic Places listings in Somerville, Massachusetts.


Major highways

Massachusetts Route 28 runs north/south through Somerville, separating East Somerville from the rest of the city. Rte. 28 is called "McGrath Highway" from Cambridge to Interstate 93, and it is called the "Fellsway" north of I-93 and on into Medford.[40]

Interstate 93 runs northwest/southeast through Somerville, separating Ten Hills and Assembly Square from the rest of the city. This massive highway is elevated for almost its entire length through Somerville and runs directly alongside and/or above Mystic Avenue (Massachusetts Route 38).


Somerville Highlands Station, 1908

At present, rail transit serves periphery points of Somerville: to the northwest, Davis Square on the Red Line and to the southeast, Sullivan Square on the Orange Line at the border with Charlestown, providing easy access to Harvard Square and to downtown Boston. Porter Square (just over the Cambridge border) also has Red Line service and an MBTA Commuter Rail station, providing access to Boston's North Station and to locations westward on the Fitchburg Line.

Massachusetts state officials have agreed, both in court settlements and legislation, to extend the Green line rapid transit system through Somerville. This would bring rail transit service to the core sections of Somerville. This commitment was made, in part, to offset the additional burdens in traffic and pollution within the city due to completion of the Big Dig infrastructure. The Green Line Extension would be built along existing commuter rail rights-of-way, and would extend service to much of central Somerville, to Tufts University and surrounding areas of Medford, and (along a separate spur) to Union Square.[41] Controversy has surrounded the repeated delays by the state in providing funding for the project, most recently when Governor Deval Patrick decided to delay work an additional two years in order to seek up to $300 million in federal financing for the project. This decision makes it unlikely that the previous completion date of 2014 will be met.[42]

In April 2008, Governor Deval Patrick signed into law a $3.5 billion transportation bond bill that includes the $600 million necessary to fund the Green Line extension. The target completion date remains 2014.[43]

A new Orange Line station has been proposed, to be built near the Assembly Square Mall in eastern Somerville, between the existing Sullivan and Wellington stations.


The city is served by buses that connect to these subway stations:

  • Orange Line stations:
    • Sullivan Square in Charlestown
    • Wellington in Medford
    • Malden in Malden
  • Red Line stations:
    • Davis Square in Somerville
    • Kendall, Central, Harvard, and Porter in Cambridge
  • Green Line stations:
    • Lechmere in East Cambridge
    • Cleveland Circle and Reservoir, at the Brighton/Brookline line

Local news media

The city is served by a number of news sources, including:

  • The Boston Globe (and its daily online edition Your Town Somerville)
  • The Somerville Journal, weekly (and its daily online edition Wicked Local Somerville)
  • The Somerville News, weekly independent community newspaper (which also publishes an online edition and blog)
  • Somerville Patch, daily online news site
  • Somerville Scout, an online and print magazine
  • Somerville Voices [3]

Notable residents


  1. ^ The History of Prospect Hill
  2. ^ cf. Haskell, Albert L., "Haskell's Historical Guide Book of Somerville, Massachusetts", section on "Somerville: Why So Named".
  3. ^ Somerville Public Library
  4. ^ Historical postcards of the raising of the Grand Union Flag in 1776.
  5. ^[dead link]
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^ Keane Jr, Thomas M. (2006-05-14). "The Model City". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 13 August 2011. 
  9. ^ "US Gazetteer files: 2010, 2000, and 1990". United States Census Bureau. 2011-02-12. Retrieved 2011-04-23. 
  10. ^ Somerville City website
  11. ^ Somerville Neighborhood Map
  12. ^ 48 Reasons Why Somerville is GREAT (Finished for Now) « Greg’s Words of Wisdom
  13. ^ Compare Google Maps streetview to historic postcard.
  14. ^ Community Path-overview.pdf Somerville Community Path briefing, p. 5
  15. ^ City Of Somerville - Somerville Historical Information
  16. ^ "Somerville Parks". Retrieved 2011-09-17. 
  17. ^ City Of Somerville - Board of Aldermen
  18. ^ Mason, Edward; Dwinell, Joe (September 8, 2009). "Capuano takes out papers for Ted K’s Senate seat". Boston Herald. Retrieved September 8, 2009. 
  19. ^ Massachusetts General Court - Senatorial Districts
  20. ^ Representative Districts
  21. ^ "Registration and Party Enrollment Statistics as of October 15, 2008" (PDF). Massachusetts Elections Division. Retrieved 2010-05-08. 
  22. ^
  23. ^
  24. ^
  25. ^ "TOTAL POPULATION (P1), 2010 Census Summary File 1, All County Subdivisions within Massachusetts". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved September 13, 2011. 
  26. ^ "Massachusetts by Place and County Subdivision - GCT-T1. Population Estimates". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved July 12, 2011. 
  27. ^ "1990 Census of Population, General Population Characteristics: Massachusetts". US Census Bureau. December 1990. Table 76: General Characteristics of Persons, Households, and Families: 1990. 1990 CP-1-23. Retrieved July 12, 2011. 
  28. ^ "1980 Census of the Population, Number of Inhabitants: Massachusetts". US Census Bureau. December 1981. Table 4. Populations of County Subdivisions: 1960 to 1980. PC80-1-A23. Retrieved July 12, 2011. 
  29. ^ "1950 Census of Population". Bureau of the Census. 1952. Section 6, Pages 21-10 and 21-11, Massachusetts Table 6. Population of Counties by Minor Civil Divisions: 1930 to 1950. Retrieved July 12, 2011. 
  30. ^ "1920 Census of Population". Bureau of the Census. Number of Inhabitants, by Counties and Minor Civil Divisions. Pages 21-5 through 21-7. Massachusetts Table 2. Population of Counties by Minor Civil Divisions: 1920, 1910, and 1920. Retrieved July 12, 2011. 
  31. ^ "1890 Census of the Population". Department of the Interior, Census Office. Pages 179 through 182. Massachusetts Table 5. Population of States and Territories by Minor Civil Divisions: 1880 and 1890. Retrieved July 12, 2011. 
  32. ^ "1870 Census of the Population". Department of the Interior, Census Office. 1872. Pages 217 through 220. Table IX. Population of Minor Civil Divisions, &c. Massachusetts. Retrieved July 12, 2011. 
  33. ^ "1860 Census". Department of the Interior, Census Office. 1864. Pages 220 through 226. State of Massachusetts Table No. 3. Populations of Cities, Towns, &c.. Retrieved July 12, 2011. 
  34. ^ "1850 Census". Department of the Interior, Census Office. 1854. Pages 338 through 393. Populations of Cities, Towns, &c.. Retrieved July 12, 2011. 
  35. ^ "American FactFinder". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2008-01-31. 
  36. ^ Jay Walljasper and Daniel Kraker, "Hip Hot Spots: The 15 Hippest Places to Live". Utne Reader. November/December 1997. 
  37. ^ Brickbottom Artists Association Website
  38. ^ Social Web article on Brickbottom District
  39. ^ The Somerville Museum
  40. ^ Street map from City of Somerville website
  41. ^ "City Of Somerville - Green Line Extension Info". Retrieved 2007-08-26. 
  42. ^ Cummings, Claire (2007-08-09). "Proponents rap delay to extend Green Line - The Boston Globe". Retrieved 2007-08-26. 
  43. ^ "State fully funds Green Line extension - Somerville News". Retrieved 2008-05-01. 


1852 Map of Boston area showing Somerville and the Middlesex Canal.

  • Sammarco, Anthony Michael (1997). Images of America: Somerville. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing. ISBN 0-7385-1290-7. 
  • Somerville, Arlington and Belmont Directory. 1869; 1873; 1876.

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