Historic Events and Education

Within OSPCD's Planning & Zoning Division is the Historic Preservation Division. This division has two distinct work areas – Historic Preservation and Historic Events & Education. Information regarding Historic Preservation can be found here. This page focuses on Historic Events & Education.

  • Keeping Somerville’s history alive by organizing events and activities at our historic sites
  • Helping develop the city’s archive by collecting historic photos and documents
  • Providing community outreach about Somerville's history through lectures and films
  • Running the Somerville Memorabilia Shop
  • News & Events

  • Researching Your House & Family History

  • Preservation Awards

  • Somerville History

  • Photos, Videos, & Memorabilia

  • Get in Touch

Docents and Junior Docents Wanted for Fun Volunteer Opportunities


Researching the history of your house will include the structure as well as the people who lived in your home.

Architecture

First, identify the style of the house. The main styles of homes in Somerville are Federal, Greek Revival, Italianate, and Queen Anne. Also view Style Samples of Somerville Preservation Awards.

Federal Greek Revival Italianate Queen Anne
Somerville home built in the Federal architecture style, featuring flat planes and minimal detailing Somerville home built in the Greek Revival style, featuring columns Somerville home built in the Italiante style, featuring ornate millwork Somerville home built in the Queen Anne style, featuring a turret on its roof
       

Many houses used mass produced millwork that can be identified with millwork catalogs.

Buildings are frequently altered to meet the current fashion, look for building permits and physical evidence for changes.

  • Use Architectural Style Books and Catalogs
    • Late Victorian Plans and Details by William T. Comstock
    • Bicknell’s Victorian Buildings by A.J. Bicknell and Co.
    • Sears Modern Homes, by Sears Roebuck and Co.
    • Roberts’ Illustrated Millwork Catalog by E.L. Roberts and Co.
    • Universal Millwork Catalog by the Universal Catalog Bureau
    • Fences Gates & Garden Houses; A Book of Designs with Measured Drawings by Carl F. Schmidt
  • Examine the house for physical evidence of changes
  • Look for building permits that document changes
  • Find photographic evidence

Researching the owners and architecture together:

  • Maps can indicate location, size, shape, and material of building
  • Evaluate each map for accuracy
  • Changes over time can be followed by looking at a series of maps
  • Many maps indicate the owners of properties
  • Plot Plans are available for some properties at the Registry of Deeds

Key Somerville Maps

  • John G Hales – 1830 (Charlestown)
  • Draper Maps – 1846-1852
  • Walling – 1857-1869
  • Hopkins Atlases – 1874 – 1884
  • Bromley Atlas – 1895
  • Stadley Atlas – 1900
  • Sanborn Atlases - 1900, 1933-1934, 1958

Maps Available Online at:

Photographs

Photographs can show where changes have been made. Here are some sources of photographs:

Identifying Owners

City Resources

Family Histories

Principles

  1. Work from the known to the unknown (i.e. start with your grandparents)
  2. Be skeptical, verify information with family
  3. Be specific (names are not enough; get places, ages, names of spouses)

Whenever possible, use primary sources such as:

Secondary sources can lead you to additional primary sources

  • Town histories
  • Handwritten copies of original documents
  • Published family histories
  • Compilations of birth death and marriage records.

 

Interviews with Past Recipients

Marian Berkowitz is a freelance writer, Somerville parent, and homeowner that has generously volunteered for many years to interview many of the annual recipients of a Preservation or Director’s Award. The intent is to learn more about what they did, why, and what lessons they might have learned. Some of her personal interviews and photos of the owners and houses are published by the local media and a few are attached here.


Bonnie and Celia Proud to be Recognized by the City for a 2017 Director’s Award

By Marian Berkowitz

215 Morrison Ave. in Somerville

In the 1860’s, development occurred in Davis Square in anticipation of a new train station to service commuters to downtown Boston. Nathaniel Morrison owned property just north of the Square and developed what became one of the first residential streets in the area. It now boasts a range of architectural styles of the period, including Italianate, Gothic Revival, Mansard and Queen Anne style residences. In 1985 #197 was designated as a local historic property, in 2010, a couple of other houses on the street (#221 and #222) were designated, and in 2014 #204 was also incorporated into an expanded Local Historic District to be known as the Morrison Ave LHD.

 Very close by, Bonnie Walz and Celia Halstead bought the house at 215 Morrison Avenue in 2000, after Bonnie developed an interest in historic homes during her career as a local real estate broker. She explained that "I love historic homes and always wanted to own one.”  Undaunted by the amount of work that needed to be done on their new home, they had the entire interior gutted soon after they took ownership. Local architects helped them design an entirely different configuration to the interior space to meet their particular needs.  Fifteen months later, the work was completed, and they were able to move in.

There was still much work to be done on the exterior, but they decided to take a welcome break. In 2004, Bonnie and Celia were ready to resume work, with a goal of restoring the exterior to its original condition as much as possible. This work entailed removing all of the vinyl siding encasing the house, as well as a layer of asbestos shingling underneath that!  The original clapboards were pretty deteriorated so they decided to replace every board. They also installed new wood frame windows rimmed with exterior black metal cladding that matches well with their chosen mauve painted clapboards and white trim. 

Artifacts uncovered during the preservation processBonnie and Celia were fastidious in matching the original details and searched their neighborhood for the perfect brackets and moldings that would be appropriate, taking note of the various styles on similar homes. Little did they know that the work on their house would evolve into a wonderful journey into the past. Excavation behind the house turned up a mound of oyster shells. Celia then grabs a large, glass jar from the kitchen to show other findings of interest long buried in the back -- glass bottle tops, a buckle, old nails, a dime from the 1840's, and pottery shards. The storied past of the house’s occupants over the decades is clearly in evidence here, and they are pleased to have unearthed some of it, while simultaneously restoring some of its original charm! 

The Director's Award that they received in 2017 from the Somerville Historic Preservation Commission is both a testament to them and recognition from the City for all of their hard work – congratulations!

 

Jimmy Earns 2nd Preservation Award for 16 Westwood Road

By Marian Berkowitz

16 Westwood Road, Somerville

James Veneziano is certainly no stranger to Somerville. He is a third generation resident who has lived in Somerville his entire life. He has particularly fond childhood memories of the time he spent at his grandparent’s and aunt's house on Westwood Road. Over time Jim developed a passion for property ownership and management, particularly of historic homes, so it is perhaps not surprising that he became the proud owner of two homes on Westwood Road. This street earned the distinction in 1985 of being the only one in the City, beside Bow Street in 1975, which boasted a sizable collection of historically eligible houses, to be known as the Westwood Road Local Historic District (LHD). It has since been expanded further to become the Westwood-Benton Road LHD due to the addition of houses at the top of the street.

Jim won a Preservation Award back in 2002 for restoration work he undertook at 18 Westwood Road. This time, he is receiving public recognition from the City’s Historic Preservation Commission for his work next door at 16 Westwood Road, which he purchased in 1985. It's a beautiful Colonial Revival style house built circa 1900, and known as the Alice E. Lake House. It is particularly distinctive on the street due to its colonial yellow exterior paint color, highlighted by evergreen color on the trim and foundation.  

Jim believes strongly in the need to invest in materials and work that will last over the longer term, so he chose Spanish cedar for rebuilding the railings, posts and spindles on his front porch as this type of wood is well-known for its longevity and resistance against rot. The wood was purchased from Jackson Shelaizi in Waltham. In addition, the dormer was rebuilt and new windows were installed to replace inappropriate sliding metal windows. 

The house is clearly a more spectacular example of the Colonial Revival style architecture that enhances the beauty of this street’s historic streetscape.

Over the years, The Historic Preservation Commission has collected documents, photos, and stories about Somerville’s history. They provide online classes and a variety of materials to people who want to learn about historic properties in the City. There’s also a selection of videos and self-guided tours through the City’s historic districts. Click any of the links below to start exploring Somerville’s fascinating history!

Researching Your House and Family History

 

Find Us on Facebook
facebook.com/SomervilleHPC

Brandon Wilson
Historic Preservation, Planning Division
(617) 625-6600 x2532
[email protected]