Life in the Ville by Jimmy Del Ponte
I’ve mentioned before that I’m an eBay enthusiast. I’ve bought lots of vintage and historic stuff and I’ve sold a lot too. You can search for anything on eBay and often I will enter ” Somerville Mass” and see what pops up. Most of the items for sale are old picture postcards, but occasionally I’ll find an old dairy bottle, food labels and ads, store receipts and books.
My latest purchase was a booklet called Somerville’s History, Past and Present, 1896 by famous landscape architect and historian Charles Elliot. Mr. Elliot was the man who designed Revere Beach, the first public beach in the nation among many other architectural and literary accomplishments. The book chronicles Somerville’s history from 1628 to 1896.
As I looked through the yellowing pages of the 125-year-old booklet, I noticed many references to the Civil War. What was happening in Somerville, a Union state, during one of the most tumultuous periods in our nation’s history? Imagine graduating from Somerville High School in June and instead of going to college, joining the Somerville Light Infantry and leaving home to fight in the Civil War. My fellow baby boomers faced a similar situation when the Viet Nam war was raging almost 100 years later.
“As the National Capital was again being threatened, on the 28th of June 1962 President Lincoln made his famous call for three hundred thousand more troops. On July 19th a committee of Somerville selectmen and citizens worked to increase enlistments. A bounty of $125 was paid for signing up. The Somerville Guard were camped on Prospect Hill. It was attached to the 39th regiment as company E under the command of Captain Fred R Kinsley.” where it went to the front and proved to be an honor to the Town and to the State.”
Somerville sent about 569 men as a result of the bounties for joining. By June 1, 1863, at a cost of around $45,000, Somerville paid each man that joined and provided aid for their families. In July of 1863, the war’s demand led to 186 more men signing up and joining the effort but with no bounty offered, showing the true patriotism of the people of Somerville.
The brave citizens of Somerville came through, answered the call, and served heroically when the country needed them.
Somerville Mayor Charles Grimmons, in his January 1907 inaugural address said, “In the early future, I feel that our city should have a grand, imposing monument in commemoration of the efforts of the soldiers of 1861-1865.” (see photo) That inspiring monument has an Angel holding the flag with one hand and the other hand is hovering over a soldier’s head. From what I recall It stood near the Central Library but where it is now, maybe you know. I don’t. I’m sure it’s safe.
The inscription reads: “1861 UNION 1865/TO THE/MEN/OF/SOMERVILLE/WHO SERVED THE UNION/ON/LAND AND SEA.”
Hopefully, the cannons that were near the play area near the library are also in a safe place during the construction. The grass looks beautiful that’s growing in front of the new high school and I’m sure the entire finished project will be stunning. Friends reminded me that in later years they removed the wheels and mounted the cannons’ barrels in cement. They were positioned near the kids’ playground near the Central Library on Highland Ave. Some fellow “Villens” remember putting bottle rockets and firecrackers in the barrels of the cannons. When the Somerville Elks Hall was being torn down, they sold their Elk statue that was out front to The Wakefield Elks. You can see the familiar statue from route 128/95. I hope we didn’t sell the cannons to Chelsea or Medford! As someone said, “I hope the ‘cancel culture’ doesn’t dispose of them.” I’m sure the statues are fine and will return in due time.
The Milk Row Cemetery Monument is at 439 Somerville Avenue. A lasting tribute to 68 men from Somerville who died in the Civil War (an incomplete list). Somerville was the first municipality in the country to erect a monument for Civil War soldiers. Somerville indeed leads the way.