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Once a pastoral gateway for travelers to Boston from the North Shore, the industrialization of
Chelsea began in the 1750s. Chelsea’s geography, proximity to Boston, and the entrepreneurial
spirit of its residents, led to Chelsea’s transformation to a compact, bustling commercial center
at the turn of the 20th century. Businesses founded by immigrant entrepreneurs, some of which
enjoy continued success today, were the anchors of this working-class community. 

This tour is also available in Spanish. 

Directorio de Recorridos a Pie en Español

Research and writing by Mimi Graney, Suzanne Perry and Boston University history students of
Professor Bruce Schulman: Sam Amado-Mejia, Roesli Arena, Phileas Gerou, Nick Malvezzi, Alex
Miller, and Elle Nicoletti.

Kayem in 1909.jpg
Stop #1

1 Winnisimmet street

fitzgerald shipyard

Fitzgerald Shipyard can trace its lineage back to the establishment of the Winnisimmet Ferry in 1631, the first passenger ferry in the American colonies.The site of the Fitzgerald Shipyard serviced the ferry and was essential during the Revolutionary and Civil Wars when the water route transported soldiers, cannon, and essential provisions.

After taking possession of the Winnisimmet Ferry in 1897, the site, formerly known as the Green Yard, was dredged to make way for a new dry-dock. This allowed for the service of larger steam-powered ferries to better compete with land-travel innovations like steam railroads.

In 1917, after 286 years of service, the Chelsea Ferry ceased operations, but the shipyard continued to service vessels.


During World War II the Green Shipyard was taken under Wartime Powers Act by the Department of the Navy and served in the war effort as an annex for the nearby Charlestown Navy Yard. At the end of conflict, the property was sold and operated for 40 years as Munro Shipyard. After a failed redevelopment bid in the 1980s, followed by years of decline, the Fitzgerald Shipyard reactivated the dry-dock in 1992 and resumed commercial work at the site. Today it is the only 60-foot-wide, 1600-ton dry-dock on Boston Harbor.

Stop #2

362 Broadway

Gordon's theatre/Olympia Theatre

Gordon’s Theatre, later known as the Olympia, opened its doors in Chelsea in late 1909 or early 1910 as a vaudeville theater.  In the days before TV and radio, live performance, and then cinema, brought the community together for entertainment.  Like many urban communities, Chelsea once boasted multiple venues on Broadway, including the Chelsea Theater across the street at 376 Broadway and the Strand in Chelsea Square.
These variety shows provided entry-level paid work for Jewish immigrants and others facing discrimination in securing other forms of employment. Because the performers were representative of their audiences, they were a popular form of entertainment that powerfully connected to the community they served.  As a sign of its importance to the community, Gordon’s Theatre was one of the first businesses to reopen after the Great Chelsea Fire of 1908. Today, this is the site of New Chelsea Realty, a local real estate management company.

Stop #3

44 Gerrish avenue

standard box co.

Cardboard and rag businesses were major industries in Chelsea, but the nature of the businesses and lax safety standards made them vulnerable to fires. Standard Box Co. was founded in 1908 to make folded paper boxes for shoes, food, and other products. It was originally located at Maple and Sixth Street near the site of the first Great Fire of Chelsea in 1908.

In 1921 Standard Box followed its competitor, Russel Box Company, to Gerrish Avenue.  Here the company thrived into the third generation of owners when Fella Goldberg succeeded his grandfather. By the end of the 20th century,  Standard Box was struggling. In 1997, the machine that put the wax coating on Chinese food boxes caught fire and an eight-alarm blaze gutted the factory. The company had filed for bankruptcy only five months prior.  This devastation recalled the two major fires sparked by rag and cardboard businesses in Chelsea, one in 1908 and another in 1973 that destroyed many acres of the city.

Echoes of Standard Box Co. are witnessed in the ghost sign on the side of the brick structure and in the name the neighborhood continues to carry today: The Box District. Like many former industrial buildings, the structure has been reimagined for housing. This glimpse of Chelsea’s past speaks to Chelsea’s possible future as industrial sites are repurposed to welcome new residents. 

Stop #4

137 Heard street

A.G. Walton Shoe Company

First established in Lynn in 1899 by Arthur G. Walton, the A. G. Walton Shoe Company grew during the early 20th Century, the golden age of American manufacturing. The company specialized in producing children’s shoes, which were distributed throughout the United States.
Walton Shoe moved to the corner of Chelsea’s Heard and Maple Streets in 1907. At the height of the company’s success Walton employed 7,000 workers and produced 12,000 pairs of shoes every day. By 1930, they were the top suppliers of children’s shoes in the United States. Walton, along with other major manufacturers in the area, supported Chelsea’s working-class and attracted immigrants from eastern Canada and Eastern Europe.
By the 1950s, lagging behind their competitor’s technological advancements, the company lost its prominence in the industry. The social and economic ascension of its workers facilitated their exodus to wealthier suburbs. A similar trajectory for another shoe factory can be seen at what is now the residential complex of Spencer Lofts at 60 Dudley Street.  The brick buildings had once manufactured Buster Brown Shoes. Owned by a Missouri-based company, in the 1950s these were the world’s most popular shoes for children. 

Stop #5

West Third Street

Boston Blacking Company (BOstik)

Bostik is a $2 billion-plus corporation based in France that manufactures specialty adhesives and sealants, and it got its start in Chelsea as the Boston Blacking Company. 
In 1889, the Boston Blacking Company was founded as a producer of leather colorings and dyes for the thriving shoemaking industry in the Greater Boston area. By the late 1920s, it had expanded to 12 countries across three continents and employed over 1,000 chemists and technicians. 
The name Bostik started as one of the brands within the company in the 1940s and, after an acquisition of Boston Blacking Company in 1980, the name was used to define the ongoing adhesives manufacturer. Several other mergers and acquisitions followed. Today Bostik is part of Arkema, a global specialty chemical company. 
Regrettably, Boston Blacking Company’s history in Chelsea is most renowned because of its connection to the Great Chelsea Fire of 1908. On Sunday April 12, 1908, a fire alarm was rung on the company’s premises. Despite being quickly extinguished by firemen, the strong wind carried embers to the nearby “Rag Shop District.” The abundance of highly flammable materials, insufficient fire codes, and tightly built, wood-frame buildings fed the fire.  It ultimately destroyed nearly all of Chelsea’s business district and left 12,000 people homeless.  This first Great Fire was a turning point in the city's social structure. Wealthier, native-born residents left the area, allowing the newer Eastern European and Jewish communities to rebuild in their place. 

Stop #6

75 Arlington street

Kayem Foods

It was 1909 when Polish immigrants Kazmierez and Helena Monkiewicz opened their butcher shop in Chelsea.  It specialized in Polish sausages popular among fellow immigrants. Kazmierez sold his products across Boston using a horse and buggy. 
Now known as Kayem, the company employs 600 people in its manufacturing plants in Chelsea and Woburn and is the largest processed meat company in New England.  Matt Monkiewicz, Kazmierez and Helena's great grandson, is the fourth generation CEO and President of the family-owned business.
The company manufactures and nationally distributes under several brand names, including Al Fresco chicken products, Genoa Italian sausages, and Deutschmacher deli meats. They are perhaps best known for their hot dogs and are the official supplier of the “Fenway Frank,” securing the company’s continued ties to New England. 

Stop #7

770 Revere beach parkway, revere

Slade spice mill

Chelsea was formally established as a town in 1739, not long after this Grist Mill was constructed on the shores of the Chelsea Creek.   The new town’s charter stated, “’This mill must at all times hold itself in the readiness to grind corn for any citizen of Chelsea, provided that the corn is raised in Chelsea.’” Powered by rising and falling tides, it was used to grind the corn grown in the area.  During the American Revolution it stood witness to the Battle of Chelsea Creek, the first naval battle of the war, when farmers and other colonists took the British schooner Diana, which had run aground just outside the mill.


Chelsea was once made up of four farms, one of which was purchased by Henry Slade. Beginning in 1827 Henry Slade also began grinding tobacco at the mill to make snuff for sale. He was later joined by his sons who used the mill to grind spices, starting with cinnamon. At the time, cooks would purchase spices whole, grinding at home only what they needed for that recipe. Prepared ground spices proved to be a popular innovation.

By 1846 the site of the Mill was part of the newly established town of Revere and the Slade family owned the mill. Taking over their father Henry’s business, sons David and Levi launched D & L Slade Co. that became the largest spice company in New England for more than 100 years.
The company is best known today for Bell’s Seasoning, a blend of rosemary, ginger, oregano, sage, and marjoram used for poultry.  When the owner of Bell’s Seasoning died suddenly in 1918, D & L Slade Co. bought Bell’s company, keeping the brand name and formula to market alongside their other products. 

The mill carried on for two centuries exclusively using tidal power before installing an electric powered mechanism in 1932.  The site continued to operate into the 1970s before finally ceasing operations. The site is recognized on the National Register of Historic Places.

After a period of dormancy, renovations to the structure in 2004 created the Slade’s Mill Apartments. A museum on the ground floor exhibits original machinery, photographs, and a spice cabinet with glass and metal Slade’s and Bell containers.

Stop #8

300 beacham street

New england produce center

Also called the Chelsea Produce Market, the New England Produce Center is one of the largest wholesale produce markets in the world. The center was built in 1968 when wholesalers moved from historic Quincy Market beside Faneuil Hall in downtown Boston, which had operated as the region’s primary distribution point for fresh vegetables and fruit. The site in Chelsea made better use of rail and road connections to move agricultural items to retailers and restaurants across New England.

The Produce Center is made up of individual companies, many of which are unchanged from the Produce Center’s start.

Nearby, the New England Flower Exchange operates similarly with a group of individual wholesale businesses operating collectively. The Flower Exchange got its start in 1892 as a collective of growers seeking a central site to reach retailers. Gentrification of Boston’s South End forced the Flower Exchange from their warehouse on Albany Street to their new home on Chelsea’s Second Street in 2017.

Stop #9

101 Second Street, formerly 284 everett avenue

chelsea Clock

Founded in 1895 as Boston Clock Company, and renamed Chelsea Clock in 1897 by Charles Pearson, Chelsea Clock is America’s oldest clockmaker and clock repair shop. To this day, Chelsea Clock remains a foremost name in the industry, famous for its Ship’s Bell model with 12-hour chime movement.

Clocks produced by Chelsea Clock Company have been found in the White House, on US Naval Ships, and in homes and offices around the world.

In 2005 Chelsea Clock was sold, with the business going to investor and Chelsea Clock collector JK Nicholas, and the property on Everett Avenue to real estate developers. In 2015 the original factory was demolished to make way for new housing.  The clock company continues to operate in smaller facilities on Second Street, providing final assembly of components manufactured elsewhere.

Stop #10

forbes street

forbes lithograph

Forbes Lithograph Manufacturing Co. was located on Chelsea Creek. Founded in 1862 in Boston, Forbes moved to Chelsea in 1884 where its factory complex spread over 18 buildings.


Forbes Lithograph grew into one of the largest lithograph companies in the United States with branches in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and Detroit. Their wide-ranging work included posters, tickets, tags, embossing and more, even producing banknotes for the Free French government during World War II.


The company was sold in the 1960s and the Chelsea plant was closed.  The site remains vacant as redevelopment and environmental clean-up of the site continues to flounder.

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