Union Square (Somerville)

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Coordinates: 42°22′47″N 71°05′47″W / 42.3797°N 71.0964°W / 42.3797; -71.0964

The Prospect Hill Monument flying the Grand Union Flag, overlooking Union Square in Somerville, Massachusetts

Union Square is a neighborhood of Somerville, Massachusetts located in the southeastern part of the city about half a mile from Inman Square in neighboring Cambridge. It is located at the intersection of Washington Street, Bow Street and Somerville Avenue.

The name "Union Square" comes from the square having been used as a recruitment and mustering site for the Union Army in the American Civil War. A plaque commemorating the mustering site sits at the southwest corner of the square between Somerville Avenue and Washington Street. Union Square is now the commercial center of a primarily residential neighborhood with many restaurants, bars and neighborhood stores.

As the oldest and largest commercial area in the city,[1] Union Square is home to a number of community institutions, including the headquarters of the Somerville police. The Prospect Hill Monument, Union Square Post Office, Somerville Community Access Television (SCATV), and BostonFreeRadio.com are all in Union Square.


Union Square was Somerville’s earliest commercial district to develop when it was still a part of Charlestown. Early trade routes passed through the Square and a tavern was built there as early as 1770. Originally called "Sand Pit Square," the area's sandy, clay pit-dotted pastures yielded a fine grade of silica used in glass and brick-making. Then from 1853–61, the name was changed to Liberty Pole Square, in honor of the liberty pole erected there by anti-slavery firemen.

It was during the American Revolution, however, that Union Square took center stage.

Historic Prospect Hill's castle and park overlook Union Square and points south and west and provide outstanding panoramic views. Because of its location and height, Prospect Hill, dominating the road from Charlestown, had great strategic importance in the Revolutionary War and became known as the "Citadel".[2] The castle, dedicated in 1903,[3] is a monument commemorating the fortifications atop the hill during that war. A tablet inside reads: "This tablet is erected in memory of the soldiers of the Revolution and of the Civil War who encamped on Prospect Hill and of the banners under which they valiantly fought."[4] It is said by some that George Washington first raised an early version of the U.S. Flag, called the Grand Union Flag, on Prospect Hill, on January 1, 1776.[5] Others claim evidence the flag was flown earlier. Somerville is one of several locales claiming to have hosted the flag's first raising.[6] However, some scholars dispute these traditional accounts, concluding that the flag raised at Prospect Hill was probably a British Union Flag.[7]

In its early years, Somerville was an agricultural suburb, supplying the growing urban area surrounding Boston. Union Square became a major commercial center due to its location at an important crossroads in eastern Somerville during the early 19th century. After the Revolution, the Warren Bridge opened, linking Charlestown and Boston. This caused a considerable increase in traffic along Washington Street and Charlestown Lane. In the 1800s, rail access through Boynton Yards and the Union Square passenger stop served the meat packing and manufacturing district, which included a slaughterhouse, brickyard, and glass shop. Later the rail yards became an industrial area.[1]

Members of the Sikh community gathering in Union Square

A large influx of immigrant populations has been recognized in recent years by the ArtsUnion program, which has celebrated the Brazilian, Punjabi, and Sikh cultures of the area, among others.[8][9]

Commerce and gentrification[edit]

360 Degree Panorama from Union Square in Somerville, Massachusetts

Union Square's location at the juncture of working-class East Somerville and the city's tonier western sections have made it the focal point of changing demographics. While Union Square still offered ten dollar Brazilian haircuts as of 2005, more upscale cafes and restaurants have opened since the 1990s, bringing gentrification deeper into Somerville and nourishing pedestrian street life, though with a highbrow twist.

Union Square is a hub for bars, although this feature, too, is fast changing. Current establishments include Bull McCabe's (formerly Tir na nÓg), P.A.'s Lounge, The Independent, Brass Union (formerly the Precinct), Sally O'Briens and Cantina La Mexicana (formerly Irish Eyes). Local restaurants include Journeyman, India Palace, The Neighborhood Restaurant, Sweet Ginger, Taquería la Mexicana, Bloc 11, Macchu Pichu, Union Square Donuts, El Potro, Ebi Sushi, Casa B, and Mama Gina's.

Many markets in the area are run by and cater to the various ethnic groups that live in and around Union Square. International Market is a Salvadoran store, Solução and Pão de Açucar sell Brazilian foods, Little India and New Bombay Market are Indian grocery stores, Capone's is an Italian grocery, and Reliable Market features Asian ingredients, primarily Korean. The area is also becoming known for food production, with Culinary Cruisers, Taza Chocolate, Fiore Di Nonno, Bantam Cider Company,[10] and others producing everything from popsicles to string cheese in the square.

Community amenities[edit]

Union Square Main Streets, a local development group, began running a Saturday morning farmers' market in 2005 as one of its first visible efforts in the square.[11][12] A landscaped community garden,[13] with regularly scheduled concerts and artistic events, sits just outside Union Square at the site of an old school, at 22 Vinal Avenue. Marshmallow Fluff was invented in Union Square in 1917. Every September, Union Square Main Streets holds the "What the Fluff?" festival to honor this invention and Union Square's part in marshmallow history.[14]


Union Square is a minor hub for MBTA Bus service, with 5 routes passing through:

Green Line Extension[edit]

As part of the Green Line Extension project, Union Square station is being built just south of the square. In September 2013, the state secured funding and signed a 51-month $393 million contract that will allow Union Square station, along with the new Washington Street station and relocated Lechmere station, to open in 2017.[15]


  1. ^ a b "Union Square/Boynton Yards - Somerville Strategic Planning and Community Development". Retrieved 2010-08-04. 
  2. ^ The History of Prospect Hill Retrieved 2014-10-11
  3. ^ The History of Prospect Hill, part 3 Retrieved 2014-10-11
  4. ^ Prospect Hill Park Retrieved 2014-10-11
  5. ^ The History of Prospect Hill, part 2 Retrieved 2014-10-11
  6. ^ Gordon, Edward W. (September 2008). "Union Square Revisited: From Sand Pit to Melting Pot" (PDF). somervillema.gov. Somerville Historic Preservation Commission. Retrieved 7 December 2013. 
  7. ^ Ansoff 2006.
  8. ^ "Get a taste of Brazilian culture in Union Square", Cathleen Twardzik, Somerville News, October 8, 2011.
  9. ^ "Somerville celebrates Punjabi, Sikh cultures in Union Square", Ashley Troutman, Somerville News, September 5, 2011.
  10. ^ http://www.bantamcider.com([non-primary source needed]
  11. ^ Union Square Farmers' Market
  12. ^ City Of Somerville - News Detail
  13. ^ growing center homepage
  14. ^ "What the Fluff? festival, Somerville, Massachusetts". Retrieved November 3, 2008. 
  15. ^ Rosenberg, Steven A. (5 December 2013). "Somerville poised to grow along Green Line". bostonglobe.com. The Boston Globe. Retrieved 7 December 2013. 

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