Local History

October 29th 2020
WWI Surgical Dressing Class at Somerville High School

The development and improvement of new weaponry made World War I the bloodiest war of its time. When Washington expressed a need for surgical dressings, those who could help offered up their time, including some Somerville High School students.

During the war, Somerville High formed the Somerville High School Patriotic Association to help with the war effort. Under the leadership of this association, the Surgical Dressings Department was formed. A faculty member by the name of Miss... Read Post

September 24th 2020
Sam Walter Foss portrait

We have had some amazing library staff over the years. One of our more famous staff members is librarian Sam Walter Foss.

Sam Walter Foss was born in Candia, New Hampshire in 1858 to Dyer and Polly Foss. Sam spent his childhood helping with his father’s farm and would later attend Portsmouth High School. After graduating, Foss would go on to attend Brown University in 1878 where he was known as the Class Poet. After graduating college in 1882, he began work as a journalist. With the... Read Post

August 27th 2020
Peter and Oliver Tufts House Somerville Postcard

Did you know that there is a house in Somerville that was built before the Revolutionary War? The “Oliver Tufts House” sometimes referred to as the “Peter and Oliver Tufts House” is believed to have been built on a parcel of farmland back in 1714. According to a June 26, 1935 Somerville Journal article by William Preble Jones, the house “formerly occupied the small knoll at the corner of Sycamore and Pembroke streets, midway between Medford street and the Lowell railroad bridge.”

... Read Post

May 15th 2020
Somerville Public Library West Branch vintage postcard

Next time you are out and about by the West Branch Library in Davis Square - since we can't yet go in - take a moment to appreciate the details of the entrance to the building that has welcomed readers for more than 100 years. Lamps are positioned on either side of the staircase, and on the landing at the top of the stairs, two columns frame the doorway, supporting a triangular pediment over the door. Look up above the pediment, and you’ll see another pair of lamps on either side, though... Read Post

March 26th 2020
somerville public library renovation 1976

We are missing our patrons and we hope you haven’t forgotten what we look like!  Maybe you are one of our patrons who would come in and head to the third floor balcony to find a cozy spot to do your work.  Here’s a fun library fact for you, there wasn’t always a third floor balcony! That’s right, the Central Library went through a major renovation in its past.  The renovation began in June 1975 and the library was reopened July 1, 1976.

Some of the new features of the... Read Post

January 9th 2020
early 20th century book delivery boys somerville ma

The library bookmobile is one way that libraries can meet their users who might not be able to use the library ordinarily. Bookmobiles date way back in the United States, beginning around the early 1900s. Back then they were typically referred to as “traveling libraries” or “wagon libraries”. Libraries would use various forms of transportation, such as bicycles, carts, wagons, or even donkeys to get books to readers!

Somerville Public Library joined this new way of serving patrons by... Read Post

May 16th 2019
humulus lupulus "hops"

You might guess from the book groups we run at Remnant and Aeronaut Brewing that we are fond of hops, and you would be right! But would you have guessed that New England was once the center of hops production in the U.S., and that a Ten Hills resident revolutionized the processing of harvested hops?

Samuel Jaques, an avid plant and livestock breeder known for his luscious peach variety (Jaques Admirable) and dairy cattle breed (Jaques Cream Pot, famous for its rich milk) bought the... Read Post

April 18th 2019
West Branch Somerville Public Library

Before the West Branch library got a proper building in 1909, library service in West Somerville (and in East, North and South Somerville) was delivered by partnerships with local businesses, which became the early branches - then usually called agencies - of the SPL. These agencies served as pickup/dropoff points for library books, but for the most part provided no reading rooms or other library services.

In 1896 the library trustees voted to establish an agency for West Somerville... Read Post

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

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