January 1, 1776, is the date that made Prospect Hill famous. On this day, George Washington ordered that a new flag be raised on a 76-foot schooner mast placed on Prospect Hill. This “Grand Union Flag” was the first true American flag, representing the united colonies. It was raised with a salute of 13 guns and loud huzzahs by the soldiers.
After the war and into the 19th century, Prospect Hill returned to a peaceful life of agriculture. The Munroe family maintained a grist mill near the summit, and the Tufts family owned a large estate just to the west. In 1842, the town of Somerville was born, and in celebration 100 guns were fired from Prospect Hill. Around this time the first houses were built on the hill by grain dealers Robert Aldersey Vinal and Robert Munroe. Other wealthy merchants and real estate speculators bought large tracts of land on the southern slope of the hill, then subdivided them, hoping to quickly resell the land for a profit.
The hill remained generally unoccupied until the 1850s, when there was a burst of immigrants coming into Boston, and when the horse-drawn streetcar started coming to Union Square. Gradually, rural farmland was transforming into a working suburb. As the Civil War began in 1861, Prospect Hill was used as a training camp, while Union Square (its name changed from Liberty Pole Square in support of the Union) served as a recruitment center. On the hill, soldiers raised a flagpole in the same location as their revolutionary ancestors.
The real transformation of the area took place after the war. The Somerville Journal declared in 1870 that “Prospect Hill will ultimately be the most aristocratic and fashionable place in the suburbs of Boston.” In the midst of all this Victorian development, the spirit of conservation arose among many residents. Starting in the 1870s, the Prospect Hill Improvement Society and other civic improvement groups started lobbying to preserve the hill and build a park to commemorate its historic role. These preservation efforts paid off in the new century. The city bought the land for the park (then containing two houses) in 1902, and built a 42-foot granite tower to commemorate the hill for future generations.
Since its creation, Prospect Hill Park remains relatively unchanged. Every year on January 1, Somerville residents gather on Prospect Hill for a ceremony commemorating the historic flag raising. In this peaceful suburb so close to Boston, we still remember the importance of this hill in the birth of the United States.
Historical Sites on Prospect Hill
1. Parting Tree
In the early days of the Prospect Hill Methodist Church, it was customary for some members after attending the evening service to accompany each other to this tree before parting and taking their separate ways home. The plaque at this spot records that during 1936 Mrs John Harper planted a flowering gum, replacing the original tree.
2. Scout Hall
Despite there being a scout troop in Prospect Hall since 1944, the group did not have their own hall until 1968. Previous to this, all scout meetings and events were held in the barn and stable adjacent to the Post Office.
3. Old School and World War II Peace Tree
Around 1887 the school teacher at the time, Mrs Elizabeth Spencer, had a house and large classroom built on this site that was enlarged first in 1914 and again in 1940. The World War II Peace Tree was located in the school grounds. The school and tree were burnt to the ground On Ash Wednesday, 1983.