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Like Charlestown across the Mystic River, Chelsea rose from the ashes of a massive fire to assume its current form. A peninsula surrounded by the Mystic, Chelsea, and Island End rivers at the entry to Boston Harbor, the site possessed obvious natural advantages that attracted Englishman Samuel Maverick to establish a trading post in 1625. Chelsea was tied to Boston and Charlestown with a ferry in 1631. The Chelsea Bridge, constructed in 1802, connected to Charlestown; the house of Abel Gardner, the first toll collector for the bridge, survives at 26–28 Broadway, directly beneath the Tobin Bridge (CL10). When the ferry was converted to steam power in 1831, a period of rapid growth ensued, signaled by its incorporation as a city in 1857. The Grand Junction–Eastern Railroad link (1858) from East Boston to Everett encouraged many new industries to migrate to Chelsea: producers of curried leather, elastic web fabrics, wallpaper, and oils and stains. The industrial expansion attracted immigrant workers, especially from the crowded tenements of the North End. By 1908, Chelsea had become one of the most densely populated cities of its size in the country and a major center for Eastern European Jews. Following a fire on Easter Sunday in 1908, which destroyed nearly three thousand buildings, the City of Chelsea began a dramatic and rapid redevelopment. A Board of Control appointed by the governor established a new city plan and guidelines for rebuilding. Strangely, stricter fire codes were not enacted. Postfire rebuilding further changed the demographics of Chelsea to a city dominated by immigrants. Most of the residential development took the form of brick apartment buildings of four or five stories. The city reached its population height of 47,247 in 1925. The figure had dropped by nearly one half in 1975, two years after another major fire had destroyed eighteen blocks of the city.

Writing Credits

Keith N. Morgan

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