In the years before settlement some of the wilderness surrounding Boston Harbor had been stripped of trees by native Algonquin tribes for hunting, camping and fishing grounds. By the time the British had arrived, the Indian population had been diminished by diseases introduced by European explorers. Ample amounts of uninhabited land were left behind for the Europeans to settle. In 1629 Thomas Graves led a scouting party of 100 Puritans from the settlement of Salem in the Bay Colony to prepare the site for a large party of Puritans emigrating from England. Graves named Charlestown after the River Charles, itself named for Charles I, Kind of England. He designed a "Great House" that would serve as a seat of government and a Puritan meeting house, and later, a "publick house" called the Three Cranes Tavern. The community was planned around a series of elliptical street in the eastern region of the peninsula known as Town Hill.

Revolutionary Period and The Battle of Bunker Hill
By 1775, there were over 400 buildings in Charlestown and an evolution into a shipbuilding center and a major port of commerce. Charlestown had the greatest volume of trade of all Colonial American ports except Boston. The entrepreneurial colonists of the Massachusetts Colony were among the most vehement protesters of British tyranny in taxation and trade restriction, and so it was fitting that this area was the starting point for the American rebellion. The Battle of Bunker Hill on June 17, 1775, resulted in fires that destroyed all of pre-Revolutionary Charlestown. Only the town's old street pattern and graveyard tablets survived the blaze. Although the battle was actually fought on Breed’s Hill where the Monument now sits, the plan had been to attack the British on Bunker Hill, and the name forever stuck. The American rebels lost the battle but took along with them many British lives. The overwhelming human loss suffered by the British at the hands of the Americans was a turning point in the war and gave the American cause an enormous and well needed boost. Paul Revere's midnight ride was another event connected to Charlestown history. On April 18, 1775, Paul revere rode from Boston, passing through Charlestown, to Lexington to warn John Hancock and Sam Adams of the coming of the Regulars.

Post-Revolution: Transportation Advances
"Charlestown Square" was created from the ashes of the Three Craves Tavern and adjacent buildings. A new church building serving as the meeting house and a new government house were built directly to the west of the site of the former Great House. In 1786, a group of private citizens, including John Hancock and Nathaniel Gorham, constructed a toll bridge over the Charles River to Boston. It was considered to be the greatest engineering feat of its time because it was the longest bridge in existence in America. A new bridge over the Mystic River (1803) and a new waterway dubbed the Middlesex Canal (1803) connecting Charlestown to the Merrimack Valley, were civic improvements that raised Charlestown's worth as a transportation hub. To handle the increased traffic a second bridge connecting Charlestown to Boston was built in 1828.

In 1835 a fire destroyed all of the Charlestown waterfront from the Charlestown Navy Yard (which had been established by the Federal Government in 1801) up to and including half of Charlestown Square. In the burnt-out district, extensive landfill pushed out the shoreline, creating new high ground, including Chelsea and Water Streets. The style of architecture began to change dramatically with the introduction of three and four-story row houses, and commercial buildings.

The 1830s brought the railroad,
whose presence further enhanced Charlestown's industrial character. Waterhouses, wharves, and factories began to pop up and take over the waterfront. This busy period saw the incorporation of Charlestown as a city in 1847, and the corresponding name change from Charlestown Square to City Square. It was around this time too, in 1842, that the Charlestown Bunker Hill Monument on Breeds Hill was completed.

The years following the Civil War saw a sharp population increase and the acquisition of Charlestown by the City of Boston in 1877. At this time the city was characterized by budding trade and rising commercialism. The impressive Victorian municipal and mercantile buildings, including several hotels and lodging houses were examples of Charlestown's rapid and sturdy growth. City Square, the former site of the Great House, transformed into a formal circular park, sconced by iron railings at its perimeter and an elegant fountain at its center.

19th Century: Immigration and Industry
Throughout the nineteenth century and into the latter years of World War II the Navy yard was a busy center of activity, and, as source of employment, a draw for waves of immigration from Europe and the British Isles. In 1899, a new bridge, known as the Charlestown's Bridge, connected Charlestown to Boston. Specifically incorporated into the bridge's designs was the ability to support elevated rail transit.

In 1901, a rail line, starting in Sullivan Square, was built above Main Street, across City Square, and atop the new bridge to reach today's North Station area. Commuters were now able to travel to and from Boston and nearby areas in a timely manner, however, the elevated rail inflicted upon this strip of Charlestown
a steady, noisy clamor and heavy shadow.

The 20th Century: The Fall of The "El" and Charlestown's Urban Renewal

Charlestown was not a mecca of beauty in the early to mid 20th century. With the opening of the Tobin Bridge over the Mystic River in 1950, local traffic increased through City Square as it became the main channel for were erected high over City Square (and the existing elevated rail line) to help with some of the bottlenecks by connecting the Tobin with the newly constructed Central Artery. These roadways were the source of constant noise and visualvehicles entering and existing the highway bridge. In the late 1950's, two arteries obstruction. At this point in time the two most dangerous, heavily traveled sections of the limited access highway system in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts were in this vicinity. One was the S-curve to and from the Tobin Bridge, and the other was the dangerously short vehicle merge area at Interstate 93 where Storrow Drive and Tobin Bridge traffic met. This, coupled with the lingering aftermath of unemployment in the peacetime after World War II (when thousands of workers were laid off) and a peak population of over 40,000 citizens brought a period of decline to Charlestown.

In the 1960s the Boston Redevelopment Authority worked towards an urban renewal in Charlestown, planning to tear down 60% of the housing sock. Charlestown residents dug their heals in and saw to it that only 11% of the neighborhood was razed and rebuilt. Around this time the “El” was dismantled and the urban renewal of Charlestown began.

The traffic accidents associated with the highway shortcomings and congestion made a long-term solution the mission of the Commonwealth's civil engineers. In the mid-1970s, representatives of the Massachusetts Department of Public Works presented the Charlestown community with a proposal for the City Square area that included adding two overhead Tobin Bridge connectors to supplement the existing ribbons of elevated concrete. In response, a Charlestown citizen countered with a plan that would place these connectors underground. This novel approach would free up land for a new City Square and would eliminate the barriers of the elongated ramps that cut off most of Charlestown from its waterfront facing Boston. Protect design moved forward with unprecedented involvement by Charlestown activists. When funding for the highway tunnels was rescinded by the Federal Highway administration in 1982, the community under the leadership of the Charlestown north Area Task Force, and with the support of elected representatives, succeeded in the effort to convince Congress to restore Federal funding of $310,000,000 for construction work in the North Area. Once highway planning was well under way, the Task Force spearheaded the drive the for the establishment of a new state park in City Square, which the Commonwealth agreed to fund at a cost of over $4,000,000 for design and construction. This park is known today, as City Square Park.


Today Charlestown is a community of over 15,000 people composed of young professionals, families, and urban housing projects. It is a tourist stop largely due to its importance in the Revolutionary War. In addition, the USS Constitution is harbored in the Navy Yard, the Freedom Trail runs through the city, and the Bunker Hill Monument sits high atop of Breed's Hill. Other sites of interest include the Warren Tavern, which claims to have been one of Paul Revere’s favorite establishments, the town's first Catholic Church, St. Mary’s, and Phipps Street Burying Ground, Charlestown’s first cemetery.

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