Somerville was first settled in 1630 as part of Charlestown. It was known as “Charlestown beyond the Neck” because it was part of the Massachusetts mainland, not the Charlestown Peninsula. Charlestown Neck was a narrow strip of land that joined the two places. In 1842, the incorporation of Somerville 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, Thomas Walford. However, this name was not adopted by the separation committee. Charles Miller, a member of this committee, proposed the name “Somerville”, which was ultimately 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”.
Paul Revere, in one account wrote of his ride to warn the colonists, mentions a location in Somerville, then part of Charlestown. The location was the site where twenty years earlier a local slave known as Mark, owned by John Codman, was publicly gibbeted. The location is probably near the site of the present day Holiday Inn on Washington Street.
Traffic on the Middlesex Canal began its famous journey from the mouth of the Charles River in Charlestown to Lowell via East Somerville, where several historical markers are found today.
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, the town’s late 19th and early 20th century 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 United States. The delicate, detailed original maps are on display at the main branch of the Somerville Public Library.
The earliest American flag was raised on Prospect Hill on January 1, 1776.
In 1877, the first residential telephone line in the country was installed in the Charles Williams Jr. House to the Court Street laboratory in Boston, where Alexander Graham Bell worked.