Histories & Highlights
Here, you’ll find written histories of Watertown that have been fully digitized, as well as some highlights from our Local History Collection.
Charles T. Burke Histories
A Watertown native and lifelong resident, Burke served on the library’s Board of Trustees for more than 50 years. He published his first book in 1966, after retiring from a career as in engineering and business. Here are of Burke’s four shorter, unpublished works: Watertown in the Revolution, 1770-1781 (1973), Watertown in the Eighteenth Century, from Contemporary Documents (1977), Watertown on the Charles (1980, published by the 350th Anniversary Committee), and Growing Up in Union Market (1987). A fifth is found on the Houses, Buildings, & Land page.
Crossroads on the Charles by Maud deLeigh Hodges, 1980
An oversized book replete with images, with an afterword by Charles T. Burke. Based on the author’s The Story of Our Watertown (1956), this edition was edited and updated by former library director Sigrid Reddy and published by the library. Copies are available to purchase at the Circulation Desk for $20.
Great Little Watertown, 1630-1930 by G. Frederick Robinson and Ruth Robinson Wheeler, 1930
The tercentenary history offers a mix of rigorous research and charming anecdote. Also available in digital format is the program from the town’s tercentenary celebration, which featured a pageant and addresses by prominent figures (including Calvin Coolidge).
An Historical Sketch of Watertown by Convers Francis, 1830
Published on the occasion of the town’s bicentennial by its well-known Congregational minister, Rev.Convers Francis. Appendix L is “a brief account of the town, as it is at the present time,” serves as a useful snapshot of the town in its bicentennial year. (Hosted by archive.org.)
Historical Sketches of Watertown, Massachusetts by Solon Whitney, 1890
Whitney was the first librarian of the Watertown Free Public Library and the first secretary of the Historical Society of Watertown. This text was his contribution to D. Hamilton Hurd’s History of Middlesex County (digitized by the Library of Congress and hosted by archive.org). In 1893, it was published as a freestanding book, of which there are multiple copies in the Local History Collection. It provides insight into industry and the “movers and shakers” in Watertown in the late 1800s.
A History of Watertown, Massachusetts, to 1900 by Joseph D. Wallace, 1950
Wallace was a graduate student in education at Boston University when he wrote this paper covering Watertown’s first 270 years. It includes black and white photographs by the author, though several of the photographs are missing.
The Ideal Watertown, 1898
A group called the Young Men’s Assembly produced this special edition of the Watertown Enterprise to present ideas for improvements to the town envisioned by architects and engineers. The proposed Town Hall Project proposed by Arthur F. Gray would later evolve through a Proposed Location for Town Hall Together with Other Changes in Watertown Square (1921 report) to the Proposed New Administration Building (1930 report) that became 149 Main Street.
Library Art Collection
The library building houses works by Watertown’s best-known artists, including Harriet Hosmer and Ellen Robbins, as well as depictions of prominent figures in the town’s history: Reverend Convers Francis, founding library director Solon Whitney, and horticulturist H. H. Hunnewell, to name a few. View images of the library's art collection in our Flickr gallery.
Local Author Collection
Watertown has produced, and continues to support, a number of writers. Over a hundred of their published works are represented in our Local Author Collection, which you can browse in the Local History Room.
Rev. Edward A. Rand, co-founder and president of the Historical Society of Watertown, compiled five volumes of newspaper articles, photographs, postcards, handwritten notes, letters and speeches, and other materials concerning the history of Watertown and the surrounding area. View Volume 1, Volume 2, Volume 3, Volume 4, or Volume 5.
The Town Crier has been published quarterly by the Historical Society of Watertown since 2000, and intermittently prior to 2000. All issues more than three years old are provided here thanks to the Historical Society’s generosity. Current issues are available exclusively to members of the Historical Society. View issues from 1988-1989, 1993, 1995-1999, 2000-2004, 2005-2009, 2010-2014, and 2014-April 2016.