Somerville Neighborhoods in Focus: Powder House Square


powerhouse-193x300Powder House Square is a beautiful neighborhood and a landmark rotary located in the city of Somerville in Massachusetts. The area is also referred to as Powder House Circle by the locals and is considered an historical treasure of major significance. Located on one of the oldest crossroads in the area, the Square has been a landmark for close to four centuries.

The Square is situated along the southern edge of Tufts University’s main campus and borders the northern tip of Nathan Tufts Park. It was named after the 18th century Powder House that overlooks the rotary from the park.

The island contained within the traffic circle is replete with benches, walkways, and finely manicured bushes and flora. There is also a big 360 degree directional post that points in the direction of numerous communities such as Winchester, Arlington and Medford. Several businesses are located on or around Powder House Square which includes a number of restaurants and small medical and dental practices.

Nathan Tufts Park/Powder House Park

In a way, it all started with a windmill. In the early 1700s, French immigrant Jean Maillet built a windmill on a top of a hill which is now known today as Somerville. He of course wasn’t privy to the fact that the 30-foot-tall structure would one day play a part in the American Revolution or that it would become the city’s most well-known landmark and one of its most crowning features.

After Maillet stopped producing grain in the windmill, colonists started storing gunpowder in its thick stone walls. In 1774, when the British raided the cache, the colonists were so enflamed that researchers believe that it triggered the revolution. After the war, a family by the name of Tufts bought the land and donated it, along with the mill/powder house, to Somerville in 1892. A park was eventually established and named after Tufts family member Nathan Tufts.

Today, the park has kept its majestic landscaping and graceful curving paths intended by the designers. Used primarily for recreation now, it’s the perfect respite from busy Powder House Square. Built during the Great Depression, a stone field house is now used for youth programs and community meetings. The park is also on the National Register of Historic Places, and the powder house is pictured on the Somerville city seal. Sculptured bronze monuments can be seen around the park and refers to the area’s past uses as a mill, a farm, storage for gunpowder, and even a pickle factory.


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