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Charlestown, Boston

Neighborhood of Boston
Charlestown's former City Hall
Charlestown's former City Hall
Official seal of Charlestown
Motto: Liberty A Trust To Be Transmitted To Posterity
Settled 1628
Incorporated (City) 1847
Annexed by Boston 1874
Time zone Eastern (UTC-5)
 • Summer (DST) Eastern (UTC-4)
Zip Code 02129
Area code(s) 617/857

Charlestown is the oldest neighborhood in Boston, Massachusetts, United States.[1] Originally called Mishawum by the Native Americans, it is located on a peninsula north of the Charles River, across from downtown Boston, and also adjoins the Mystic River and Boston Harbor. Charlestown was laid out in 1629 by engineer Thomas Graves, one of its early settlers, in the reign of Charles I of England. It was originally a separate town and the first capital of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

Charlestown became a city in 1848 and was annexed by Boston on January 5, 1874. With that, it also switched from Middlesex County, where it had been located since 1643, to Suffolk County. It has had a substantial Irish American population since the migration of Irish people during the Great Irish Famine of the 1840s. Since the late 1980s the neighborhood has changed dramatically because of its proximity to downtown and its colonial architecture. A mix of Yuppie and Upper-middle class gentrification has overtaken much of the area, as it has in many of Boston's neighborhoods, but Charlestown still maintains a strong Irish American population and "Townie" identity.


  • History 1
  • Geography 2
  • Government and infrastructure 3
  • Places of interest 4
  • Education 5
    • Primary and secondary schools 5.1
    • Colleges and universities 5.2
    • Public libraries 5.3
  • Organizations 6
  • In popular culture 7
  • Notable residents 8
  • See also 9
  • References 10
  • Further reading 11
  • External links 12


The Bunker Hill Monument

Thomas and Jane Walford[2] were the original English settlers of Mishawaum (later Charlestown); they settled there in 1624. They were given a grant by Sir Robert Gorges, with whom they had settled at Wessagusset (Weymouth) in September 1623. John Endicott, first governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony, had sent William, Richard and Ralph Sprague to Mishawaum to lay out a settlement. Thomas Walford, acting as an interpreter with the Massachusetts Indians, negotiated with the local sachem Wonohaquaham for Endicott and his people to settle there. Although Walford had a virtual monopoly on the region's available furs, he welcomed the newcomers and helped them in any way he could, unaware that his Episcopalian religious beliefs would cause him to be banished from Massachusetts to Portsmouth, New Hampshire within three years.

Originally a Puritan English city during the Colonial era (a time to which many of the neighborhood's structures date), Charlestown was founded in 1628, and settled July 4, 1629, by Thomas Graves,[3] Increase Nowell, Simon Hoyt, Rev. Francis Bright, Ralph, Richard and William Sprague and about 100 others who preceded the Great Migration. John Winthrop's company stopped here for some time in 1630, before deciding to settle across the Charles River at Boston.

1629 site of Puritan leader John Winthrop's "Great House" in City Square, uncovered during the Big Dig
Birdseye view of Boston, Charlestown, and Bunker Hill, between 1890 and 1910

The territory of Charlestown originally included what is now Melrose and Malden (both until 1649),[4] Stoneham (until 1725),[5] Somerville (until 1842), Medford, Everett, Woburn, Burlington, and parts of Arlington and Cambridge.[6]

On June 17, 1775 the Charlestown Peninsula was the site of the Battle of Bunker Hill. Much of the battle took place on Breed's Hill, which overlooked the harbor and the town and was only about 400 yards from the southern end of the peninsula; Bunker Hill is near the northwest end of the peninsula, close to Charlestown Neck and about a mile from the Charles River. The town, including its wharves and dockyards, was destroyed by fire during the battle.

Around the 1860s an influx of Irish immigrants arrived in Charlestown. The neighborhood remained an Irish stronghold in the cultural, economic, and Catholic traditions of neighborhoods like South Boston, Somerville, and Dorchester. The city developed a water supply from the Mystic Lakes.[7] On October 7, 1873, a vote was held to determine whether Charlestown should leave Middlesex County and join Boston as part of Suffolk County; Boston residents approved the question, 5960–1868, and Charlestown residents also approved, 2240-1947.[8]

During the early 1960s, the city initiated plans to demolish and redevelop sixty percent of the housing in Charlestown.[9] In 1963, the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) held a town meeting to discuss their development plans with the community. The BRA's dealings with Boston's West End had created an atmosphere of distrust towards urban renewal in Boston, and Charlestown residents opposed the plan by an overwhelming majority. By 1965, the plan had been reduced to tearing down only eleven percent of the neighborhood, as well as the removal of the elevated rail tracks.[10]

Throughout the 1960s until the middle 1990s, Charlestown was infamous for its Irish Mob presence. Charlestown's McLaughlin Brothers were involved in a gang war with neighboring Somerville's Winter Hill Gang, during the Irish Mob Wars of the 1960s. In the late 1980s, however, Charlestown underwent a massive Yuppie gentrification process similar to that of the South End. Drawn to its proximity to downtown and its colonial, red-brick, row-house housing stock, similar to that of Beacon Hill, many Yuppie and upper-middle class professionals moved to the neighborhood. In the late 1990s, additional gentrification took place, similar to that in neighboring Somerville. Today the neighborhood is a mix of Yuppies, upper-middle and middle-class residences, housing projects, and a large working class Irish-American demographic and culture that is still predominant..


Sailboats moored on the Charlestown side of the Charles River with Bunker Hill Monument in the distance

Charlestown is located north of downtown Boston on a peninsula extending southeastward between the Charles River and the Mystic River. The geographic extent of the neighborhood has changed dramatically from its colonial ancestor. Landfill operations have expanded much of Boston, lowering hills, and have expanded Charlestown, eliminating the narrow Charlestown Neck that connected the northwest end of the Charlestown Peninsula to the mainland. The original territory also included present-day Somerville, which was incorporated as a separate town in 1842, and the northern part of Arlington. At the time, the Charlestown Peninsula was urbanizing, while Somerville was still largely rural.

City Square in the southern part of Charlestown is the location of the historic city hall. It is also the terminus of the Charlestown Bridge and the former Warren Bridge, and was formerly a stop on the Charlestown Elevated. The Central Artery was built between 1951 and 1954, routing elevated ramps through City Square. The Central Artery North Area (CANA) project moved these underground, into the City Square Tunnel, making way for a revitalized surface park.

Thompson Square is located at the confluence of Main Street, Dexter Row, Green Street, and Austin Street. It was also formerly a stop on the Charlestown Elevated.

Government and infrastructure

The Massachusetts Department of Correction operated the Charlestown State Prison until its closure in 1955. The former prison site is occupied by Bunker Hill Community College.[11]

The Boston Navy Yard was located in Charlestown from 1801 until it was closed in 1974.

The United States Postal Service operates the Charlestown Post Office.[12]

Charlestown is well served by public transportation. On the MBTA Orange Line, the Community College station serves the center of the town and the Sullivan Square station serves the area near the Charlestown Neck. Two bus lines serve Charlestown. Both routes start at Sullivan Square and travel to the Financial District. The 93 bus travels along Bunker Hill Street,[13] and the 92 bus travels along Main Street.[14] The MBTA also operates a ferry between the Charlestown Navy Yard Ferry Terminal and Long Wharf (near the New England Aquarium),[15] making this a popular choice among both commuters and tourists.[16]

Places of interest

Interior of St. Mary's Church (1887–1893)
Bunker Hill Monument. Bunker Hill Day, Boston, and Charlestown, between 1890 and 1901
Winthrop Square
Soldiers Monument

Charlestown contains several places of historical interest, many of which are marked by the northern end of Boston's Freedom Trail. The Freedom Trail ends at the Bunker Hill Monument commemorating the famous Battle of Bunker Hill. The USS Constitution, the oldest commissioned vessel in the US Navy, is docked in the Charlestown Navy Yard. Charlestown was also the location from which Paul Revere began his famous "midnight ride" before the Battles of Lexington and Concord. A restaurant opened in 1780 and still in operation, Warren Tavern, claims to have been one of Revere's favorite taverns. Of Charlestown's churches, St. Mary's (1887–1893) is considered one of the masterpieces of Patrick Keely. In St. John's Episcopal Church, on Devens St, the central stained glass above the altar is a notable work of William James McPherson, a Boston designer who later designed the stained glass for the Connecticut State Capitol.[17]


Primary and secondary schools

Boston Public Schools operates public schools. Harvard/Kent Elementary School,[18] Clarence R. Edwards Middle School,[19] Warren-Prescott K-8 School,[20] and Charlestown High School are located in Charlestown.[21]

The Holden School, a private school, was formerly located in Charlestown. COMPASS, Inc. and the Holden School merged on July 1, 2007, and the combined system operated at two sites, including the Charlestown site, beginning in September 2007. The COMPASS board of directors decided to close the Charlestown site, beginning on June 26, 2009. The Holden School building on Pearl Street is currently used as part of the Warren-Prescott School.[22]

Colleges and universities

Public libraries

Boston Public Library operates the Charlestown Branch. The library first opened in the Warren Institution for Savings building on January 7, 1862. The library moved to a larger space in the new Charlestown City Hall in 1869. In 1913 the branch moved to the intersection of Monument Avenue and Monument Square, in proximity to the Bunker Hill Monument. The branch moved to its current location in 1970.[23]


Charlestown is home to several organizations and non-profits, including

  • The Charlestown Historical Society,[5] an organization for gathering and recording the history of Charlestown and of individuals and families associated with the town, by collecting, preserving and exhibiting historical artifacts and relics.
  • The Charlestown Mothers Association,[6] a non-profit organization run by unpaid volunteers dedicated to strengthening community bonds in the Charlestown neighborhood and ensuring that Charlestown remains a vibrant and safe community to raise children. Membership is free for families in Charlestown.
  • The Charlestown Preservation Society,[7] whose mission is to preserve Charlestown's historic character by protecting historic architecture and landscapes, advocating for preservation, guiding responsible development and educating people about the unique character of the community.
  • Home Away Boston,[8] a charitable organization that offers three fully furnished and equipped apartments at no charge to families whose child is receiving medical care at either MassGeneral Hospital for Children or Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital.

In popular culture

The 1998 Independent drama "Monument Ave." directed by Ted Demme stars Denis Leary as Bobby O'Grady; an Irish-American criminal who becomes conflicted when the code of silence puts his loyalty and sense of self-preservation to the test after his two young and close cousins, also fellow criminals, are brutally gunned down by their boss.

Charlestown was also the setting for the 2010 action-thriller The Town, directed by and starring Ben Affleck, which follows the lives of a group of Boston bank robbers and the law enforcement personnel attempting to stop them.[24]

The Bunker Hill housing development, an area known for its crime and drug use, is featured on the front cover of Blood for Blood's album "Serenity".

Other movies that were set in or filmed in Charlestown include:[25]

But the jury they found me guilty,
And the judge he wrote it down,
"For breaking of the Union Bank,
You are sent to Charlestown."

Notable residents

See also


  1. ^ "Boston's Neighborhoods: Charlestown". Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA). 2010. Retrieved August 17, 2010. 
  2. ^ "Walford Family Line". Retrieved 2009-05-04. 
  3. ^ Thomas Graves the engineer was from Gravesend, County of Kent, England and signed a contract with the Massachusetts Bay Company in March 1629, arriving in New England in July 1629 where he laid out Charlestown. He is not to be confused with Rear Admiral Thomas Graves (1605-1653) who also settled in Charlestown in 1636 or ’37. Also see Descendents of Thomas Graves, Engineer...
  4. ^ "A Condensed History of Melrose".  City of Melrose. Retrieved 2010-07-15
  5. ^ R. H. Howard and Henry E. Crocker, ed. (1880). A History of New England. Volume 1. Boston: Crocker & Co. p. 202. 
  6. ^ History of the Town of Medford, p. 2
  7. ^
  8. ^ "The Result in Figures", The Boston Globe, p. 5, October 8, 1873.
  9. ^ "Charlestown District Study #5", Boston City Planning Department, Comprehensive Planning Section, March 14, 1960, p. 1; "Charlestown Preliminary Sketch Plan", Boston Redevelopment Authority, December 15, 1961, p. II-2.
  10. ^ Jones, Michael, The Slaughter of Cities: Urban Renewal and Ethnic Cleansing pp. 528-29, St. Augustine's Press, South end Indiana, 2004. ISBN 1-58731-775-3
  11. ^ a b Barbo, Theresa Mitchell. The Cape Cod Murder of 1899: Edwin Ray Snow's Punishment and Redemption. The History Press, 2007. 29. Retrieved from Google Books on May 23, 2010. ISBN 1-59629-227-X, 9781596292277.
  12. ^ "Post Office Location - CHARLESTOWN." United States Postal Service. Retrieved on May 23, 2010.
  13. ^ MBTA, Bus 93 Schedule
  14. ^ MBTA, Bus 92 Schedule
  15. ^ MBTA, Ferry F4 Schedule[Long Wharf (Boston)]
  16. ^ Celebrate Boston
  17. ^ "Connecticut State Capitol Facts". Retrieved 31 May 2014. 
  18. ^ "Harvard/Kent Elementary School." Boston Public Schools. Retrieved on May 23, 2010.
  19. ^ "Clarence R. Edwards Middle School." Boston Public Schools. Retrieved on May 23, 2010.
  20. ^ "Warren/Prescott K-8 School." Boston Public Schools. Retrieved on May 23, 2010.
  21. ^ "Charlestown High School." Boston Public Schools. Retrieved on May 23, 2010.
  22. ^ "Holden School." COMPASS. Retrieved on May 23, 2010.
  23. ^ "Charlestown Branch Library." Boston Public Library. Retrieved on May 23, 2010.
  24. ^ Boston Globe
  25. ^ "Charlestown's Movie Roles". Boston Globe. Retrieved 23 March 2014. 
  26. ^ Oxy-Morons at Retrieved 2014-03-27
  27. ^
  28. ^ a b c Who Was Who in America, Historical Volume, 1607–1896. Chicago: Marquis Who's Who. 1963. 
  29. ^ A Sedgwick Genealogy, Descendants of Deacon Benjamin Sedgwick. New Haven: New Haven Colony Historical Society. 1961. 
  30. ^ Daniel C. Stillson 1830-1899

Further reading

  • Sammarco, Anthony Mitchell, Charlestown, Arcadia Publishing, Images of America series, 2004

External links

  • Boston Public Library on Flickr. Photos of Charlestown
  • The Charlestown Neighborhood Council - the elected representative group for the community
  • CharlestownOnline.netOne of the community's web sites,
  • History in pictures and maps
  •  "Charlestown, a city of Middlesex co., Massachusetts".  
  • "Charlestown (Boston, Mass.)". Boston TV News Digital Library.  
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