Waterfront TOUR

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What is now a teeming industrial harbor, started out as a marshy shoreline with reeds and grasses. The first Europeans settled in this area in the early 1600s, barely 20 years after Plimoth Plantation was founded to the south. Over the centuries maritime transportation, industrial development and waves of immigration shaped this neighborhood.

This tour was researched and developed by Pepper Fee.  He's lived in the waterfront neighborhood for many years. He's a active volunteer with HubCats Chelsea for the well-being of Chelsea cats and the Chelsea Pride LGBTQ Pride Committee. 

Access to the complete photo collection

US Lighthouse service boat depot 08_06_0
US Lighthouse service boat depot 08_06_0

Sanborn Map 188903 - Plate 11 Winnisimme
Sanborn Map 188903 - Plate 11 Winnisimme

US Lighthouse service boat depot 08_06_0
US Lighthouse service boat depot 08_06_0

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Walking Stop #1

78 Winnisimmet street

Winnisimmet

The native peoples who originally lived in this area called it “Winnisimmet” meaning “good spring nearby.” Sadly, by the time of the first Europeans arrived, their numbers had been greatly reduced by tribal warfare in 1615 and a plague which affected large numbers along the New England coast in 1616.

 

Samuel Maverick settled here in 1624, and built a fenced fort at Noddles Island, what is now part of East Boston, directly facing Winnisimmet. Maverick sold his holdings outside his farm in Winnisimmet to Richard Bellingham, the deputy governor of Massachusetts.

In 1630 Thomas Williams "hath undertaken to set up a ferry betwixt Winnisimmet and Charlestown." Williams died soon after establishing his ferry. His widow married William Stitson and they continued the operation under a grant from Richard Bellingham. 

Admiral's Hill for over 200 years was nearly all marshland and farms, and the inhabitants were primarily farmers and traders. Bellingham’s farm later became the site of the Naval Hospital on Admiral’s Hill.  The Williams farm was in this area too. 

This site, which is now the end of Winnisimmet Street, was the first documented dwelling dating back to 1731.

Pastoral scene of the Chelsea waterfront
Pastoral scene of the Chelsea waterfront

Pastoral scene of the Chelsea waterfront
Pastoral scene of the Chelsea waterfront

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walking stop #2

Winnisimmet Street at Wharf Street

cobblestone streets 

Cobblestones, still found in this area, were once everywhere in Chelsea, and date back to the late 19th/early 20th century. By the late 1800s, trolleys also traveled down these roads.

 

Many of the properties in this area have been recognized as contributing to an historic district of the Chelsea Waterfront Neighborhood. It is only through specific designation that the neighborhood's cultural assets can be saved from demolition. Thanks to work in recent years by the Chelsea Historical Commission this block of cobblestones was given local historic protection so people in the future can continue to see this relic of our past.

Winnisimmet St cobblestones
Winnisimmet St cobblestones

Winnisimmet St cobblestones
Winnisimmet St cobblestones

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walking stop #3

Winnisimmet at Wharf Street 

boston rubber company

George Henry Hood, an early entrepreneur in the growing American rubber industry of the 1830s, founded the Boston Rubber Company in 1877. Though the company later merged with others to form United States Rubber, the factory site continued to house at least two other rubber manufacturing companies well into the 20th century. The condominium building now on this site, which used to house administrative offices and supplies, and the waterfront brick warehouse, are all that remain of what was once a large bustling factory complex.

Boston Rubber Company illustration
Boston Rubber Company illustration

Photograph of Boston Rubber
Photograph of Boston Rubber

Industrial, working areas such as Chelsea's waterfront are rarely photographed.

Former site Boston Rubber
Former site Boston Rubber

The former industrial site was vacant as of early 2021.

Boston Rubber Company illustration
Boston Rubber Company illustration

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walking stop #4

End of wharf St to look across to 25-49 marginal street

US Lightship Depot Yard

As with many shoreline areas, this part of the Chelsea waterfront was originally the site of shipbuilding, and lumber and coal yards. From the late 1800s until about the 1950s this location served as a service depot for lightships in New England and the Eastern seaboard, and also as storage for harbor buoys, lighthouse supplies, etc. The property was later occupied by Quincy Gas, and is currently the site of Eastern Minerals Company. As these areas developed, historic uses of the shoreline led to the continuation of certain industries. Areas like this, which in the past stored wood and coal, evolved into the oil and gas storage facilities which exist to this day.

US Depot Yard view to the harbor
US Depot Yard view to the harbor

Bird's eye view of Chelsea's waterfront
Bird's eye view of Chelsea's waterfront

The waterfront site pictured here is now the home of Eastern Salt.

Eastern Salt Company today
Eastern Salt Company today

US Depot Yard view to the harbor
US Depot Yard view to the harbor

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walking stop #5

1 Winnisimmet Street

winnisimmet ferry 

By the mid to late 1700s, with the growth of the city of Boston across the harbor, ship building and industry developed along the shoreline. And, as the area evolved and grew, people and trade needed a way to travel to and from Boston. The Winnisimmet Ferry, founded in 1631 and located at the end of the street, had already been in continuous operation for 144 years by the time of the American Revolution. For nearly three centuries the ferry moved passengers, animals and goods (with some limitations) back and forth between Boston’s North End and Chelsea, and was a hugely important lifeline to Boston and the surrounding cities. The last passenger disembarked in 1917. However, this location continues to be a functioning shipyard, and has been for close to 400 years.

2%20chelsea%20ferry%20postcard_edited
2%20chelsea%20ferry%20postcard_edited

Etching illustration of Chelsea Ferry
Etching illustration of Chelsea Ferry

Chelsea Ferry postcard #2
Chelsea Ferry postcard #2

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2%20chelsea%20ferry%20postcard_edited

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walking stop #6

1 Winnisimmet Street

fitzgerald shipyard

The direct descendant of the Winnisimmet Ferry, this shipyard is the only active ship repair facility with a 60'-wide, marine railway for vessels of 1600-ton located in the Boston Harbor. This 10-acre waterfront site continues to serve maritime industries around New England and the Eastern Seaboard. The historic lightship Nantucket (LV-112)  is regularly serviced here, including, in 2021 a comprehensive, $1.4 million structural restoration.

Fitzgerald Shipyard Chainrailway
Fitzgerald Shipyard Chainrailway

Fitzgerald Shipyard Chainrailway
Fitzgerald Shipyard Chainrailway

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walking stop #7

24 Beacon Street

immigrant residents

Initially, immigrant workers on the waterfront arrived from the British Isles and Canada. By the end of the 19th and early 20th century, the neighborhood was Jewish, Polish, Italian, and Irish. Today this area is mostly residential, but in those days it was a family neighborhood with flats, tenements, and boarding houses. It’s not difficult to walk around this neighborhood and see the remains of what were once shop fronts, small markets, taverns and clubs. For example, there was a market at the base of the building on the corner of Tremont and Beacon Streets. Children would buy shaved ice there. Another shop occupied the basement of the building at the corner of Tremont and Medford Streets.

As part of her "People of Chelsea" photo project Darlene DeVita interviewed neighborhood residents Bobbie and Rick Zonghi in 2019: "We bought the house [on Medford Street] in 1971 for $1,000 [and finished renovating in 1973]. We went before the Aldermen and told them if they sold us the house we would rehabilitate the building and put it back on the tax rolls, and we would become residents of Chelsea. The not-to-remain-nameless Alderman Jim Mitchell wanted to make it into a parking lot. There were quite a number of vacant places. Many [of the residents] had lived here all their lives, it was an old Polish neighborhood.  A lot of the neighbors came up to us and said they’d sell their building to us for $500-1,000. They thought we were crazy! We knew we were taking somewhat of a chance, but it was worth the investment.  It was a neighborhood then, and it’s still much a neighborhood now. That’s hard to find this day and age."

Beacon Street residences
Beacon Street residences

Beacon Street residences
Beacon Street residences

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walking stop #8

11 Broadway

metropolitan coal company

Currently the location of Global Petroleum, this location previously served as the home of Metropolitan Coal, which had plants  throughout the region. It served as a delivery  and distribution point for coal and oil, and employed many local residents. Prior to the 20th century, this location was the Campbell and Co. Coal and Wood Wharf, a coal and lumber yard, featuring a sawmill, and various machine shops. The footprint of historic industrial areas often give way to similar industries and usage. 

Metropolitan Coal Company
Metropolitan Coal Company

Metropolitan Coal Company letter
Metropolitan Coal Company letter

Metropolitan Coal Company
Metropolitan Coal Company

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walking stop #9

1 broadway

Chelsea yacht club

The Chelsea Yacht Club was founded in 1886. Its mission is to promote and encourage boating and boating activities and to provide a suitable clubhouse and associated facilities for the recreational and social use of its members. Access to the CYC was previously linked directly via the earlier Chelsea North Bridges, which ran between the club and where the Tobin currently sits.

Chelsea Yacht Club historic postcard
Chelsea Yacht Club historic postcard

Chelsea Yacht Club
Chelsea Yacht Club

Chelsea Waterfront
Chelsea Waterfront

Chelsea Yacht Club historic postcard
Chelsea Yacht Club historic postcard

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walking stop #10

Lower Broadway

chelsea NORTH bridge and Tobin Bridge

By the late 1700s, the limitations of the Winnisimmet Ferry had become too restricting. Large freight, animals, and stagecoaches, headed to and from Boston, faced an additional land journey of over 20 miles, via Malden and Medford to the neck linking Somerville and Charlestown. The first Chelsea Bridge linking lower Broadway to Boston was built across the harbor in 1802. The tollhouse for that bridge, which still stands, was built in 1790.

 

The original bridge was replaced by the first Chelsea North Bridge (called North because of the addition of a southern span linking Chelsea and East Boston).  The Chelsea North Bridge was a wooden drawbridge but was rebuilt as a metal pivot bridge in 1935.

 

The Tobin Bridge replaced the Chelsea North Bridge in 1950, and ultimately had a negative effect on the life of the neighborhood.

 

North Chelsea Bridge
North Chelsea Bridge

North Chelsea Bridge
North Chelsea Bridge

Tobin Bridge
Tobin Bridge

North Chelsea Bridge
North Chelsea Bridge

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walking stop #11

28 Broadway

Tollhouse

Built in 1790, this house was the toll stop for the original Chelsea Bridge.  

 

It’s dramatic setting has led a number of film production companies to use the home as a location.  

 

In the industrial era this neighborhood was bustling and noisy:  the smell of the sea, tar, oil and soot coming from local factories; the clanging sounds of shipping; the constant damp smoke hanging in the air; the voices and footsteps of mariners and factory workers coming and going; children running and yelling in the streets; and almost as many shops as residences. All of humanity ran through lower Broadway on their way to and from Boston, across the bridge.

Tollhouse property in earlier years
Tollhouse property in earlier years

Tollhouse today
Tollhouse today

Tollhouse property in earlier years
Tollhouse property in earlier years

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walking stop #12

58 Broadway

polish political club

At the start of the 20th century this neighborhood was made up of immigrants, the largest of that group was from Poland. This section of Broadway had Polish clubs and shops. The Polish Political Club was founded in 1913 to educate, assimilate and provide assistance to Polish immigrants and their descendants as well as those from Russia, Poland, Hungary and Lithuania. The club's "White Eagle Hall" hosts functions.

Polish Political Club
Polish Political Club

Polish Political Club
Polish Political Club

Polish Political Club
Polish Political Club

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walking stop #13

51 Broadway

Old Bridge Cafe

In addition to shops, this lively area at the gateway to the city was the home of a number of taverns and restaurants. The Old Bridge was one such place. It’s license eventually was sold to the New Bridge Cafe, which today operates in the Prattville neighborhood of Chelsea. 

At one time was also the Chelsea Marine selling supplies to fishermen and boaters. 

Former home of the Old Bridge Cafe
Former home of the Old Bridge Cafe

Chelsea Marine
Chelsea Marine

Photo by Arnie Jarmak

Exterior, circa late 1980s
Exterior, circa late 1980s

Photo by Arnie Jarmak

Former home of the Old Bridge Cafe
Former home of the Old Bridge Cafe

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walking stop #14

81 Broadway

Beacon Cafe

For those coming and going along this corridor of Broadway, places like the Beacon Cafe were a place on the way home and provided a kind of second home for gatherings with friends from the city. 

It's believed the bar opened in 1912 soit survived the years of Prohibition.  In the 1980s is was owned by Joshua Resnick and Arnie Jarmak, respectively the editor and photographer of the Chelsea Record newspaper. Benign neglect had ensured that little had changed at The Beacon over the decades when it was in business. Today, ghost images of the painted sign remain on the facade directing customers to the pool tables and bowling available through the side entrance.

Inside the Beacon Cafe
Inside the Beacon Cafe

Photo by Arnie Jarmak

Beacon Pub bartender
Beacon Pub bartender

photo by Arnie Jarmak

Ghost signage at the former site of Beacon Cafe
Ghost signage at the former site of Beacon Cafe

Ghosts of painted signage shows the way to the pool hall and blowing downstairs.

Inside the Beacon Cafe
Inside the Beacon Cafe

Photo by Arnie Jarmak

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walking stop #14

77 Broadway

boston seaman's friend society

Founded and incorporated in 1827 as The Boston Seaman’s Friend Society, Seafarer's Friend's ongoing mission is to provide for the spiritual, social, educational and recreational needs of visiting mariners. The organization continues its services today.

Boston Seaman's Friend Society newspaper
Boston Seaman's Friend Society newspaper

Boston Seaman's Friend Society newspaper
Boston Seaman's Friend Society newspaper

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walking stop #15

120 Broadway

tremont Cafe

Through much of the 20th century this was the site of a hotel and within it the Williams Restaurant (the advertisement for it lingers on the brick wall of Broadway and Medford) and then the Tremont Cafe. 

 

In the mid-20th century, as manufacturing moved out of urban areas throughout the US, and the Tobin Bridge moved traffic out of lower Broadway, the residential area of the waterfront began to fragment. In addition, two major catastrophic fires within a century, and city-wide corruption, proved to be a fatal obstruction to Chelsea’s early dreams of being a world-class city of industry. As the city decayed, the fate of the waterfront went with it. By the late 70s, the waterfront was a place many avoided. Casual visitors saw only the impacts of drugs and crime and not the whole people who continued to call the neighborhood home. 

 

As recounted by Liz Joyce, a former neighborhood resident, “The Tremont was a great little watering hole because it wasn't a tavern so women could go in and have a drink. Next to the Tremont was the infamous card room. It was raided one day and my cousin was arrested, so funny. Everybody played the numbers. We had a neighborhood bookie...every street had one. That's where you spent a dime, a quarter, sometimes a dollar, depending upon how flush you were. Great names for the bookies too – I remember Louie the shoe, lol. We played slot machines and played the dogs and the horses and all the clubs, all of them without exception until it was all closed down."

The District Courthouse was constructed in downtown Chelsea as part of a revitalization effort of the city in the 1990s. 

Williams St at Broadway and Tremont (1).
Williams St at Broadway and Tremont (1).

Roadwork of yesteryear
Roadwork of yesteryear

Corner Beacon Medford ad for Willams rst
Corner Beacon Medford ad for Willams rst

Williams St at Broadway and Tremont (1).
Williams St at Broadway and Tremont (1).

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Walking stop #16

73 wINNISIMMET sT

Parrotta’s Alpine Lounge

A wave of gentrification affecting urban landscape nationwide and fresh investments for Chelsea’s downtown has changed this corner. Formerly it was the home of Parrotta’s Alpine Lodge.

A neighborhood institution and watering hole since 1932, Parrottas had not changed much by the time it was closed. In 2018 Parrotta’s was torn down to make way for the building of a new restaurant and condos.

Alpine bar 2013
Alpine bar 2013

Parrotta's Alpine Lounge
Parrotta's Alpine Lounge

The Winnisimmet Lounge in 2019.
The Winnisimmet Lounge in 2019.

Alpine bar 2013
Alpine bar 2013

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