Once the meatpacker of New England, Somerville grew rapidly as an industrial and suburban city from its incorporation in 1842 through World War II. The city began as agricultural grazing land for the 1630 Charlestown grant. Brick making, especially in West Somerville, emerged as a significant industry in the eighteenth century and continued to its peak in the early 1870s. The Middlesex Canal (see WO5; 1803) soon eclipsed by railroad lines from 1835 on, insured easy access to the Boston market. After incorporation, the civic center developed along Highland Avenue, with commercial nodes at Union and Davis squares. Livestock farms and multiple rail lines allowed the meatpacking (and other food-processing) industry to flourish in the second half of the nineteenth century, the North Meat Packing Plant becoming the region's largest by the 1890s. With the electrification of the streetcar lines at the turn of the century, suburban residential development became another major industry. Spring and Winter hills welcomed substantial single-family residences; two-family houses and three-deckers grew out from the industrial fringe. By World War I, most of the available land had been developed, but Somerville continued to accommodate new workers through World War II, when it reached a population peak of nearly 106,000. Loss of industrial activity since then has brought a population decline, but proximity to Boston has maintained the city's role as a residential community.
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