Sidetracked: The Old Powder House

Powder House2

The Old Powder House near Davis Square in Somerville, Massachusetts is shaped like a bullet. It sits on craggy little Quarry Hill and is now surrounded by a small, peaceful park. Paul Revere didn’t pass by this stone structure on his ride, but it was close by, and it played a role in his historic ride of April 19, 1775.

We all know that Revere’s ride was to warn the colonists that the British were coming. But for what? They were coming to raid the powder house in Concord, Massachusetts. That’s where they were marching to through the night. (There was a suspicion too, that the Redcoats could arrest prominent patriots John Hancock and Samuel Adams who were staying in Lexington.)

This Somerville powder house had already been raided by the British. On September 1, 1774, the British had conducted a surprise, dawn raid and emptied the tower. It had held the largest supply of gunpowder in the colony. The fallout, dubbed “the Powder Alarm,” fueled a fire of animosity between British and Patriots and precipitated the battles of Lexington and Concord.

The Old Powder House was actually built as a windmill in 1705 by Jean (John) Mallet. In 1747 it was bought by the Province of Massachusetts Bay for use as a storage facility for gun powder and armaments. During the Revolutionary War, colonists re-stocked it with armaments. After the war, Peter Tufts bought the building along with the land around it and farmed the area. In the 1870’s a pickle maker named George Emerson stored his products there. They became known as Old Powder House Brand Pickles. In 1893, this patch of land was turned into a park and named for Nathan Tufts (George’s descendent) who donated the parcel to the city. During the Great Depression, a nice stone house was added, built by the WPA.

The day that I drew in Nathan Tufts Park couldn’t have been more pleasant. As I drew, an annual event was being set up: Taste of Somerville. For it, people buy tickets allowing them to sample participating local restaurants, breweries and liquor distributers. Table after table was brought in and set up along the walkways. Games were set up for kids. It’s a popular event and proceeds support two local charities. As for me, I’m excited that pickles will return to the Old Powder House.

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