Union Square (Somerville)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

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 in the southeastern part of Somerville, Massachusetts. It is centered around Union Square proper, which is located at the intersection of Washington Street, Webster 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, and the Prospect Hill Monument is located several blocks away atop Prospect Hill. 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, Union Square is home to a number of community institutions, including the Union Square Post Office, Somerville Police headquarters, Somerville Community Access Television (SCATV), and Boston Free Radio.[1]


Sand Pit Square[edit]

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.

American Revolution[edit]

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]

Somerville is one of several locales claiming to have hosted the first raising of the U.S. Flag, called the Grand Union Flag.[5] Tradition claims that George Washington raised the flag on Prospect Hill on January 1, 1776, and a plaque on the hill indicates such.[6] However, some scholars dispute these traditional accounts, concluding that the flag raised at Prospect Hill was probably a British Union Flag.[7] Since a favorable surrender was then being offered to the rebelling colonists, the raising of a flag similar (or identical) to the Union Jack was briefly mistaken for a gesture of surrender.[8]

Industry growth[edit]

Steps which formerly led to the Union Square station on the Fitchburg Railroad

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 railroad station served the meat packing and manufacturing district, which included a slaughterhouse, brickyard, and glass shop. Later the rail yards became an industrial area.[1]

After 1853, the square was known as Liberty Pole Square, in honor of the liberty pole erected there by anti-slavery firemen. In 1861 it was again renamed as Union Square as a pro-reunification gesture for the American Civil War and after the square's Revolutionary War history.[9]

In 1917, the first Marshmallow Fluff to be sold in stores was produced in Union Square. In honor of this, since 2006 an annual Somerville Fluff Festival has been held in Union Square.[10]

Service to the Union Square railroad station ended in 1938, as some local stops on the Fitchburg Railroad were dropped due to competition from streetcars.[11] By then, Union Square was well served by Boston Elevated Railway streetcars and later buses.

Commerce and gentrification[edit]

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.[12][13]

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,[14] ([non-primary source needed] and others producing everything from popsicles to string cheese in the square.

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.[15][16] A landscaped community garden,[17] with regularly scheduled concerts and artistic events, sits just outside Union Square at the site of an old school, at 22 Vinal Avenue.


Site of the future Green Line station in 2011

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.[18] As of November 2014, Union Square station is expected to open in December 2017.[19]


  1. ^ a b "Union Square/Boynton Yards - Somerville Strategic Planning and Community Development". Somervillema.gov. Retrieved 2010-08-04. 
  2. ^ "Prospect Hill, Somerville, Massachusetts". Muldermedia.com. Retrieved 2015-07-03. 
  3. ^ "Prospect Hill: History". Muldermedia.com. 1903-10-29. Retrieved 2015-07-03. 
  4. ^ [1][dead link]
  5. ^ 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. 
  6. ^ "Prospect Hill: History". Muldermedia.com. Retrieved 2015-07-03. 
  7. ^ Ansoff, Peter (2006). "The Flag on Prospect Hill" (PDF). Raven: A Journal of Vexillology 13: 77–100. ISSN 1071-0043. Archived from the original (PDF) on 5 July 2015. Retrieved 4 July 2015. 
  8. ^ Crotty, Rob (14 September 2010). "A funny thing happened on the way to the Revolutionary War". Prologue: Pieces of History. National Archives. Retrieved 4 July 2015. 
  9. ^ Doherty, Bob (3 April 2013). "The Somerville News Historical Fact of the Week – April 3: Eagle Feathers #23 – Liberty Pole Square". The Somerville Times. Retrieved 4 July 2015. 
  10. ^ Annear, Steve (26 September 2013). "What the Fluff?: The History of Your Favorite Sandwich Confection". Boston Magazine. Retrieved 4 July 2015. 
  11. ^ Central Transportation Planning Staff (January 2004). "Chapter 5C: Service Expansion" (PDF). 2004 Program for Mass Transportation. Boston Metropolitan Planning Organization. Archived from the original (PDF) on 16 February 2008. Retrieved 5 December 2012. 
  12. ^ "Get a taste of Brazilian culture in Union Square". Thesomervillenews.com. 2011-09-08. Retrieved 2015-07-03. 
  13. ^ "Somerville celebrates Punjabi, Sikh cultures in Union Square". Thesomervillenews.com. 2010-09-05. Retrieved 2015-07-03. 
  14. ^ "A Modern, Craft Cider | Made locally in Massachusetts from fresh press apples". Bantamcider.com. Retrieved 2015-07-03. 
  15. ^ "union". Massfarmersmarkets.org. Retrieved 2015-07-03. 
  16. ^ [2][dead link]
  17. ^ "Somerville Community Growing Center Homepage". Thegrowingcenter.org. Retrieved 2015-07-03. 
  18. ^ Rosenberg, Steven A. (5 December 2013). "Somerville poised to grow along Green Line". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 7 December 2013. 
  19. ^ "Washington Street and Union Square Stations: November 6, 2014" (PDF). Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. 6 November 2014. Retrieved 5 July 2015. 

External links[edit]