Local History

September 20th 2018
Hurricane 1938 Somerville Smashed Car

This week we were spared the worst of Hurricane Florence’s destruction, but 80 years ago on September 21, the 1938 hurricane known as the Long Island Express walloped New England with 100+ mph winds, killing more than 700 and leaving more than $300 million in damage (in 1938 dollars).

Here in Somerville, the damage was estimated to be $1 million. According to the Somerville Journal, the storm hit around the 5pm rush hour, injuring a dozen people, uprooting thousands of trees, and... Read Post

August 2nd 2018
West Branch of the Somerville Public Library

The West Branch of SPL opened to the public on May 27, 1909. It was one of 2,509 libraries built in the U.S. with funds from Andrew Carnegie - the Central Library and East Branch were also built with Carnegie funds. The image here shows the adult reading room in the early 20th century, now home to mysteries and audiovisual materials. Wait, is that a ghost in the picture? See if you can find the double-exposure "ghosts" in the frame. More images (and more ghosts!) of the West Branch in its... Read Post

July 18th 2018
George Dilboy at Camp Keyes, Concord, NH

Dilboy is a familiar name our city: Dilboy Field in West Somerville, the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 529 – Dilboy Post - on Summer Street; the statue of Dilboy by City Hall. He was killed in action on July 18, 1918, near Chateau Thierry, France, and awarded the Medal of Honor for bravery posthumously. In May of this year, he was honored along with other World War I veterans at the Chateau-Thierry American Monument in France, where the American Battle Monuments Commission launched an... Read Post

June 21st 2018
SHS Radiator cover 1945

Today we know the Somerville High School Radiator as the annual yearbook, but in the 19th and for part of the 20th century it was a monthly student literary and news magazine, often with striking cover art and design. The group of covers we're featuring for today's Throwback Thursday were created by Bill Hanley, who graduated from SHS in 1945. His later work appeared on the covers of the Boston Globe Magazine and other magazines, book jackets, and commercial advertising. He was the art... Read Post

May 25th 2018
The Well-Informed Are Buying Ice

We at the library recently created a Flickr page for sharing photos and images from our local history collection. So far, we've scanned and uploaded photos of Somerville kids dating back to the 1920s; the city's centennial celebration in 1972; Davis Square landmarks from the 1960s, before the Red Line; Somerville High School, and advertising from 19th- and 20th century Somerville businesses, like the Metropolitan Ice Company card featured with this post. We'll be adding more images regularly... Read Post

March 24th 2018
Mae D. Frazar, Somerville MA , writing in the Boston Globe - Would a woman make a good president?

As National Women's History Month draws to a close this week, our spotlight is on Mae Durell Frazar (1852-1919) an accomplished writer, editor, world traveler, and entrepreneur who lived most of her life on or near Prospect Hill.

Frazar is chiefly known as Somerville’s first female publisher. In 1887 she created a 16-sheet paper called The Home Life, which was printed by the Somerville Journal, and "crammed with original matter, illustrated stories, prizes, premiums, music and book... Read Post

February 24th 2018
Reference Desk at the Somerville Public Library, early 20th century

Would you believe that word-puzzle contests were so popular in the mid-20th century that many libraries had to put their dictionaries under lock and key? Puzzle-solvers devoured dictionaries, encyclopedias, and other reference works in pursuit of cash prizes, and deluged library staff with requests for answers to puzzle questions. They ripped pages from dictionaries and hid reference books to thwart other contestants’ chances.

In a recent browse of our local history room, we... Read Post

August 31st 2016

Blog by Kathryn Smith, author of “The Gatekeeper: Missy LeHand, FDR and the Untold Story of the Partnership That Defined a Presidency.”

Thanks, Cathy, for letting me be your guest blogger today.

Missy LeHand was one of Somerville’s most famous residents in the 1920s-1940s, when she was the private secretary of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Especially during her White House years, 1933-1941, every visit to her family home at 101 Orchard Street generated an interview by the Boston... Read Post

July 15th 2016

Have you ever taken a stroll in Somerville, to come across an octagon shaped house with all the windows boarded up and cameras leering down at you? Well, if you know what I'm talking about, you've seen the Round House at 36 Atherton Street in Somerville. Although, it may not be as mysterious as we all think. The house was built by Enoch Robinson sometime around 1847, right after the locksmith and designer moved to Somerville. He lived in the house with his wife, three daughters, one son and... Read Post

April 15th 2016
One of SPL's most valuable resources for Somerville history is the Somerville Journal, the city's oldest newspaper. We have the complete run of the paper in hard copy and microfilm from the 1870s to the present. Reading old issues is fascinating. Not only do they give a sense of how important newspapers were for news and entertainment before competition from radio, television and the Internet, they also reveal the issues that were on people's minds that seldom make it into the history books. ... Read Post
September 4th 2015
Our latest staff profile is of Kevin, who you will recognize if you've ever been to the second floor of the Central Library. “I'm Kevin. First and foremost, I work at the reference desk answering questions for library users, trouble shooting computers, helping people find books, and suggesting books to people who aren't sure what they want. I speak Spanish, so I often help Spanish-speaking patrons. I also select books for the Library in Spanish, Portuguese, French, and Chinese. I find it... Read Post
July 14th 2015
Last week we asked you to share your stories of how the Library has impacted your life or the life of a loved one.  Over the last few days we've received some amazing responses, and they're too good to keep to ourselves.  Here's one for a start, and we'll post more soon! When I was a senior in Somerville High School in 1957, I applied for a job as a librarian in the Somerville Public Library on Highland Avenue near the high school.  I was hired part-time to help repair the plastic covers of... Read Post
June 4th 2014
Postcard from 1930

Somerville Public Library’s central branch is marking its centennial this year. Way back in January of 1914, the Italian Renaissance-style building at 79 Highland Avenue opened for patrons after its dedication on Dec. 17, 1913. Famed library architect Edward Lippincott Tilton designed the new building. According to the Somerville Journal in an article dated Dec. 12, 1913, the library was constructed at a cost of $125,000 (which is $2,993,333 in today’s dollars).... Read Post
June 3rd 2014
Books for Somerville Reads 2014 have arrived and are now available at all SPL locations! Somerville Reads is a project that promotes literacy and community engagement by encouraging people all over the City to read and discuss the same book. The book that has been selected for 2014 is Dark Tide: the Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919 by Stephen Puleo. A companion children's book has also been selected: The Great Molasses Flood: Boston, 1919 by Deborah Kops. Both of these authors will be... Read Post
August 12th 2013
It's official: Whitey Bulger has been found guilty - of a whole lot of stuff - and will presumably be spending the rest of his life behind bars.  Many of us would like to forget all about the notorious thug but, human nature being what it is, a fair number of us want to know all there is to know about Whitey and his doings.  To that end, here's a list of relevant books available through the Minuteman Library Network. Whitey: the Life of America's Most Notorious Mob Boss by Dick Lehr and... Read Post

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