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The mission of Historic Preservation, which is within the Planning Division, is to promote and protect the historic elements of Somerville and to provide support to the Somerville Historic Preservation Commission. Maintaining Somerville's historic resources and its unique character will ultimately benefit all members of the community, in particular by drawing visitors to the City.

Preserving Somerville


In order to preserve Somerville's history, Historic Preservation staff, or preservation planners, and the Somerville Historic Preservation Commission (SHPC) work together to enforce ordinances that protect Somerville's historic significance as well as to organize and execute community outreach.  Another purpose of Historic Preservation is to serve as a repository by collecting historic documents, photos, and other information related to Somerville history.  Historic Preservation also manages the renovation of City-owned historic property, such as the Milk Row Cemetery and the Somerville West Branch Library.  Additionally, it promotes private renovations of historically significant buildings. (See the Somerville Historic Preservation website)

Protection and Preservation: OSPCD's preservation planners protect and preserve Somerville's history by supporting the SHPC in enforcing the Historic District Ordinance, the Demolition Review Ordinance, and other ordinances.  Under the authority of these ordinances, the preservation planners and the SHPC monitor and expand Local Historic Districts (LHDs) and review alterations and demolitions to buildings and structures that are part of the City's history.  For more information on LHDs, see the Local Historic Districts Information link. To view the ordinances and how to make alterations to historic properties, see the Historic Regulations link.

Information and Outreach: Fostering community pride in the City's history is an important part of preserving Somerville.  Historic Preservation hosts a number of City-wide events, including reenactments of historic events that had regional or national significance, including Paul Revere's Ride and the First Flag Raising on Prospect Hill.  Historic Preservation periodically organizes guided tours of Somerville's neighborhoods.  Somerville is intent upon developing awareness and appreciation of the city's historic assets among the youth of the community, through local events, school curriculum enhancements, and cooperative partnerships with local youth groups, teachers, and librarians.  Historic Preservation also provides information to the community through sponsorship of  "Preservation Month" in May with special programs on City Cable television, talks about important historic issues, and articles in the local newspaper related to property owners' historic restoration projects.  For more information, go to the Somerville Historic Preservation website and see links to Past and Upcoming Events, and the Photo Gallery.  Neighborhood tours can be found under Brochures and Self-Guided Tours.

Prospect HillRepository: In addition to preserving Somerville's buildings and architecture, Historic Preservation collects and archives stories of Somerville's past.  Through written documents, monuments, and pictures, Somerville aims to archive its past through text and photos in addition to its architecture.  For more information see the Somerville Historic Preservation website and link to Somerville History.

Renovation: Preservation planners manage the renovation of City-owned historic properties and provide technical assistance to private property owners.  Preservation planners write grant applications to help the City secure outside funds to prepare preservation master plans and reconstruct or restore municipal facilities of historic significance.  Past projects have included restoring the Old Powder House and Nathan Tufts Park in West Somerville, stabilizing the Bow Street Police Station in Union Square, and preserving the West Branch Library outside of Davis Square and restoring some of its interior setting.  Staff continues to work on implementation of the Preservation Master Plan prepared in 2002 for the Milk Row Cemetery, located on the periphery of Union Square.  To date, restoration has occurred on several gravestones and tombs, the perimeter fencing and gates, the American Elm Heritage Tree, and various landscaping elements.  The site is now fully ADA accessible and a Docent Program has been established in concert with Historic Somerville, Inc. to open the site to the public on a regular basis.

Awards and Recognition: In 1995, the Historic Preservation Commission initiated an annual Preservation Awards Program to publicly honor local owners who have completed exterior improvements in keeping with the historical character of their property.  Typically twelve (12) awards are given to owners of both historically designated and non-designated older properties.  The Awards Ceremony is usually the culminating event of various public outreach activities sponsored by the SHPC each May as part of "Preservation Month" in Somerville.  (See the link on the Somerville Historic Preservation website).


Image button links to Historic Somerville video library