History of Charlestown

By: Jamie Groele

 Sign welcoming residents and visitors to the lovely neighborhood of Charlestown.  Photo taken from https://www.kennedycenter.org

Sign welcoming residents and visitors to the lovely neighborhood of Charlestown.

Photo taken from https://www.kennedycenter.org

While Charlestown Massachusetts may not have as many attractions as Back Bay or the North End,  it is remarkably rich with history. Charlestown was founded in 1628, and officially settled in 1629 by Thomas Graves and about one hundred other settlers. Charlestown is the oldest neighborhood in Boston and is located just east of Somerville and Cambridge. It is a great town to visit if you want to brush up on your U.S history!

A trip to Charlestown means a trip to one of the most historical towns in Massachusetts. It is the home of many monuments such as the U.S.S Constitution, the Bunker Hill monument, and the Charlestown Navy Yard.

 U.S.S Constitution being repaired in the Charlestown Navy Yard.   Photo taken by Jamie Groele

U.S.S Constitution being repaired in the Charlestown Navy Yard. 

Photo taken by Jamie Groele

The U.S.S Constitution was built in 1797 and was used on voyages to places such as France, Holland, and New York. The ship however is most known for her work in the war of 1812. She helped defeat five British warships and captured many merchant ships. Today the U.S.S Constitution sits at Pier 1 of the Charlestown Navy yard. She was declared a museum ship in 1907 and now is used to teach people of the Navy’s role in war. There is a crew of 60 sailors and officers that educate the public and participate in special ceremonies. The ship is open for tours year round as both an attraction and an educational experience.

The Charlestown Navy Yard itself was established in 1800 and was one of the original six yards created to support the U.S Navy. The role of the yard was to build, repair, modernize, and resupply ships. The Charlestown Navy yard was in use for 174 years. Due to technology that was always changing, they needed to continuously resupply existing warships and construct replacements for them. The navy yard is currently home to the U.S.S Constitution and is open to visitors year round. 

 Bunker Hill Monument recognizing those who fought in the Battle of Bunker Hill.  Photo taken by Brandon Turner 

Bunker Hill Monument recognizing those who fought in the Battle of Bunker Hill.

Photo taken by Brandon Turner 

Digging even deeper into the roots of Charlestown, you will find the Bunker Hill Monument. On June 17, 1775, Britain sent troops to Breeds Hill in Charlestown MA to fight the Americans. The fight only lasted a total of two hours, but it proved to be deadly. While the British troops maintained control of the peninsula, they suffered many more casualties than the Americans. The battle was intimate and is known for the saying “don’t shoot until you see the whites of their eyes!”. The battle was named the battle of Bunker Hill, despite being fought mostly on Breeds Hill. 50 years after the battle, a monument was built in remembrance. Citizens formed the Bunker Hill Monument Association in 1823 to begin planning and constructing the monument. It was a big undertaking and was finally completed in 1842. The monument is open to visitors today. It is a well visited monument with 249 steps to climb until you reach the very top. This monument is one of the many stops on the Freedom Trail and is part of the Boston National Historical Park. 

During the late 18th century Charlestown was known as the bank robbery capital of America. With a nickname like this it is impossible to ignore. This drew attraction to Charlestown and directors took interest in the town's dynamic. In 2010 the movie The Town was filmed in Charlestown, starring Charlestown native Ben Affleck. The movie depicted a group of Boston bank robbers setting out to rob the one and only Fenway Park.

Many films have been shot in Charlestown over the years, one of the more notable being Good Will Hunting. The movie follows a gifted young adult (Matt Damon)  working as a janitor at M.I.T. When his talents are discovered he is thrown around to different psychologists, only to stick with one certain psychologist, played by Robin Williams. In the film he is a professor at Bunker Hill Community College, located in Charlestown, MA. The neighborhood gained a lot of popularity after the film's release in 1997. You can take a drive or a walk through Charlestown and check out places that famous and talented people have been! 

Charlestown is known to have a traditionally Irish population. The town holds 16,844 people today; 7,772 males and 9,072 females. Charlestown is very apartment heavy, thus attracting the largest age group which is 25-29 years, as many people are living in Charlestown and commuting to Boston for work. If you want to take a day or two to learn some history that was a crucial part of the formation of the United States, Charlestown is definitely the place to visit.