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.
This tour is also available in Spanish.
Directorio de Recorridos a Pie en Español
Access to the complete photo collection
Walking Stop #1
78 Winnisimmet street
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.
walking stop #2
Winnisimmet Street at Wharf Street
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.
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.
Industrial, working areas such as Chelsea's waterfront are rarely photographed.
The former industrial site was vacant as of early 2021.
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.
The waterfront site pictured here is now the home of Eastern Salt.
walking stop #5
1 Winnisimmet Street
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 from the north 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.
A vital means of transport, the Massachusetts Court regulated the ferry's fares and schedules and enforced safety protocols. The occasional perils of this water route are described in the diary of Cotton Mather (1681-1724): ‘A fearful hurricane and thunderstorm overtook us, just as we got out of Winnisimet Ferryboat (a ferry three miles wide), which, had it overtaken us four or five minutes earlier, we had unquestionably perished in ye waters.’
walking stop #6
1 Winnisimmet Street
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.
walking stop #7
24 Beacon Street
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."
walking stop #8
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.
walking stop #9
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.
walking stop #10
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.
walking stop #11
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.
walking stop #12
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.
walking stop #13
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.
This segment of Chelsea has a long history of serving those journeying to and from Boston. As recorded in the 1937 The WPA Guide to Massachusetts: "The hazards of wind and tide often delayed travel; so, before long, taverns sprang up near the ferry, where, besides a night’s lodging, ‘strong waters’ might be had to console or embolden the traveler."
Photo by Arnie Jarmak
Photo by Arnie Jarmak
walking stop #14
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 so it survived the years of Prohibition. In the 1980s it was owned by Joshua Resnick and Arnie Jarmak, respectively the editor and photographer of the Chelsea Record newspaper. Benign neglect reigned here so little had changed at The Beacon over the decades 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.
Photo by Arnie Jarmak
photo by Arnie Jarmak
Ghosts of painted signage shows the way to the pool hall and bowling downstairs.
Photo by Arnie Jarmak
walking stop #15
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.
walking stop #16
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.
Walking stop #17
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.