Somerville is a city in Middlesex County, Massachusetts, United States, located just north of Boston. As of the 2010 census, the city had a total population of 75,754 and was the most densely populated municipality in New England. It is also the 17th most densely populated incorporated place in the country. It was established as a town in 1842, when it was separated from the urbanizing Charlestown. Somerville was a 2009 All-America City Award recipient. Somerville has been voted one of the best managed cities in America by the Boston Globe magazine.
The original choice for the city's new name after breaking away from Charlestown was Walford, after the first settler of Charlestown. However this name was not adopted by the separation committee. Mr. Charles Miller, a member of this committee, proposed the name "Somerville" which was chosen. It was not derived from any one person's name. A report commissioned by the Somerville Historical Society found that Somerville was a "purely fanciful name" (though "Somerville" is a surname of Franco-British origin).
Paul Revere, in one account he wrote of his ride to warn the colonists, mentions a location in Somerville, then part of Charleston., The location was the site where twenty years earlier a local slave known as Mark, owned by John Codman was publicly gibbeted. The location is probably near the site of the present day Holiday Inn on Washington Street.
Traffic on the Middlesex Canal began its famous journey from the mouth of the Charles River in Charlestown (now part of Boston) to Lowell by going through East Somerville, where several historical markers can be discovered today.
Historically Somerville encompassed many of the less desirable railway and industrial lands squeezed between the Charles River to the southwest and the Mystic River to the northeast. For all its problems, Somerville's late 19th and early 20th centuries industrial revolution left behind a rich historical record of Sanborn Maps, apparently invented in Somerville in 1867, and subsequently used for fire insurance appraisal across the USA. The delicate, detailed original Sanborn Maps are on display at the main branch of the Somerville Public Library.
Somerville's industrial past left one special legacy, the invention of Fluff, the marshmallow creme. In 1914, the city became the home of the original Economy Grocery Store, which later grew into the Stop & Shop grocery chain. Two related food service chains, Steve's Ice Cream and Bertucci's, sprung from adjacent lots in Somerville's Davis Square.
Until the 1990s, Somerville was colloquially referred to as "Slummerville", on account of its blue-collar residents and its reputation for crime, especially in the city's east, where James "Buddy" McLean and Howie Winter and the "Winter Hill Gang" were based. The city also had a very high car theft rate, once being the car theft capital of the country, and its Assembly Square area was especially infamous for theft. However, after the gentrification period the city went through in the 1990s and an influx of artists to the area, this name has mostly faded from use and the city has instead gained a reputation for its active arts community and effective government including being named Massachusetts' "Best Run City" by The Boston Globe. More recently, lobbying by grassroots organizations is attempting to revive and preserve Somerville's "small town" neighborhood environments by supporting local business, public transit, gardens and pedestrian/bike access.
The first Democratic Mayor of the city was John J. Murphy in 1929. He succeeded on his seventh try by uniting the Irish, Italians, Greeks, and Portuguese. There were "Candle Parades" with thousands marching to giant rallies in the middle of Union Square (and other squares too). The current mayor is Joseph A. Curtatone.