Charlestown is on a peninsula between the Charles and Mystic rivers, across from downtown Boston, and with views of the harbor and the city skyline. Some blocks of the neighborhood evoke small coastal towns like Newburyport or Salem, with a mix of restored historic clapboard houses and Greek Revival brick rowhouses.
One of Boston's oldest neighborhoods. Settled in 1629 – a year before Boston itself – Charlestown is the oldest neighborhood in Boston. Upham's Corner in Dorchester is the next-oldest, settled in 1630. Most of Charlestown's original buildings were burned during the Battle of Bunker Hill in 1775, and the town was rebuilt shortly thereafter.
Just north of downtown Boston, Charlestown offers a brisk walk across the Charlestown Bridge to the North End, and the feeling of being in a historic fishing town with clapboard cottages and shingled houses, as well as pockets of Federal brick rowhouses in the gaslamp district. In addition, the Navy Yard – the waterfront of Charlestown – commands some of the highest prices within the neighborhood.
The western edge of the neighborhood is served by several Orange Line stops, including Sullivan Square and Community College. Those in the southeastern part of the neighborhood can walk across the bridge to North Station, with orange and green line connections. And there is also water taxi service to Boston.
However, the central and northern parts of the neighborhood are rather distant from subway connections.
Charlestown is one of the northernmost neighborhoods of Boston, with East Cambridge to the south; Inner Belt, East Somerville, and Assembly Square neighborhoods of Somerville to the west; and the North End, Waterfront, and East Boston across the harbor.
The land which became Charlestown was called Mishawum by the Massachusett tribe.
The first English settlers, Thomas (c.1599-1666) and Jane Walford, arrived in 1624. They received a grant from Sir Robert Gorges, with whom they had settled Weymouth in September 1623. Walford, a blacksmith who also enjoyed a virtual monopoly on the region's furs, had built an English thatched cottage behind a palisade wall. When colonial governor John Endicott asked him to serve as interpreter for a team of settlers looking to establish what would become Charlestown, he had no idea that his Episcopalian beliefs would cause him to be banished from Massachusetts within three years. He settled in Strawbery Banke, in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Similarly, William Blackstone (1595-1675), the first European settler of Beacon Hill, also found the Puritans difficult and severe, and moved to Rhode Island to avoid them.
Endicott's team, with the guidance of the Walfords, laid the groundwork for John Winthrop's settlement in 1629. That year, engineer Thomas Graves, one of its early settlers, laid out an elliptical urban plan for Charlestown that followed the contour of a hill near the harbor. Charlestown was the first capital of the colony, until it moved to Boston in 1632.
Although today it is a one square-mile neighborhood within the city of Boston, Charlestown originally included what is now Melrose, Malden, Stoneham, Somerville, Medford, Everett, Woburn, Burlington, and parts of Arlington and Cambridge. These gradually split off to form independent towns. Meanwhile, Charlestown became a city in 1848 and was annexed to Boston on January 5, 1874.
However, when the Puritans led by John Winthrop (c.1587-1649) found Charlestown to be without clean drinking water, they received an invitation to move into Boston from its first European settler, William Blackstone, who lived alone on Beacon Hill with a significant library and an extensive flock of sheep. Three thousand miles from England, and in what was then the New World, school ties nevertheless connected the two settlements: Blackstone and Winthrop had been classmates at Cambridge. However, he had little patience for the Puritans, and soon after they arrived, he left Boston to become one of the first European settlers of Rhode Island.
Revolutionary War. On April 19, 1775, Paul Revere began his celebrated 'midnight ride' here, to warn of the British march to seize the colonists' gunpowder and weapons at Concord. Months later, the Battle of Bunker Hill took place on June 17, 1775 (although much of the battle actually took place on Breed's Hill). Most of the colonial-era buildings were destroyed in the battle, changing the look of the town. The Bunker Hill Monument was erected 1827-1843 using granite from Quincy.
Charlestown Navy Yard. Charlestown was also home to the first dry dock in America, built in 1678. In 1800, the government established an 87-acre Navy Yard along the waterfront. During the Civil War, the navy yard built some of the most celebrated vessels of the conflict, including the Hartford, the Merrimack, and the Monadnock. In addition, over 26,000 soldiers joined the Union effort here during the Civil War. Today, it is home to the USS Constitution (Old Ironsides), built in 1797 and the oldest warship in the world still afloat. It was one of six ships built by order of President George Washington. The retirement ceremony for the pioneering technologist, Rear Admiral Grace Hopper (1906-1992) – whose thinking led to the creation of COBOL – was held on Old Ironsides, in 1986.
Organized crime. Charlestown has a history of organized crime, particularly from the 1960s to the 1990s. In the 60s, the Charlestown organization, led by the McLaughlin brothers, frequently clashed with
Somerville's Winter Hill Gang led by Whitey Bulger. Charlestown has been the setting for a number of related films, including Monument Ave. (1998), Townies, and The Town (2010).
Thomas Dalton (1794–1883), and his wife Lucy, African American abolitionists and education activists
Samuel Dexter (1761–1816), prominent lawyer and cabinet member under John Adams
John Harvard (1607–1638), English benefactor and namesake of Harvard University ... Forget about Cambridge. Both the carpenter who constructed the first building of Harvard College (later Harvard University) and John Harvard himself lived in Charlestown. Not long after being named assistant pastor to the First Church of Charlestown, Harvard contracted and died of tuberculosis at the age of 30. He is buried in the Phipps Street Burying Ground.
Robert Sedgwick (c.1611–1656), English merchant, first major general of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and first governor General of Jamaica
Daniel C. Stillson (1830–1899), inventor of the Stillson pipe wrench