History

Revere Society for Cultural & Historic Preservation

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Historical Revere Beach Video

 

BRIEF HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

The City of Revere is situated in eastern Massachusetts (Suffolk County) and borders Winthrop, East Boston and Chelsea to the South, Everett and Malden to the West, Saugus and Lynn to the north and the Atlantic Ocean to the east. It comprises 10.0 square miles, although 4.1 miles are open water and wetlands and not suitable for development. Of the 5.9 miles of developed land, 70% is used for housing. Revere is located approximately 5 miles from downtown Boston.

Revere’s first inhabitants were Native Americans who belonged to the Pawtucket Tribe and were known as the Rumney Marsh Indians. The leader, or sachem, of the Pawtuckets was Nanepashemet of Lynn.

Before colonization of the area by the English, the Indians were ravaged by war and plague, which greatly reduced their numbers. The neighboring Taratines, living east of Penobscott, waged the war, which lasted many years, and the numerous raids conducted by this tribe took their toll on the local Indians. In 1616, an epidemic, probably smallpox, which was more devastating than the wars, swept the region killing thousands in its wake. Nanepashemet retired to the Mystic River in what is now Medford, but was found murdered in 1619 at his fort on the brow of Rock Hill overlooking the river.

Three sons succeeded him in his reign. One of them, Wonohaquaham, also called Sagamore John, had jurisdiction over the Indians at Winnisemmit (later Chelsea) and Rumney Marsh.

Much like today’s vacationers, the Indians would camp next to the seashore during the warmer months where food was more plentiful. For entertainment, different tribes were challenged to compete in various events and games of skill held on the sandy beaches, to contend for pelts and wampum placed on a pole. The Indians, who had a simple lifestyle and culture, had no concept of ownership of land, especially land that was always open and free to them. It was only after they had sold their land to the English that they realized it would interfere with their hunting and fishing.

White men first discovered Rumney Marsh when Captain John Smith   (this was a different Captain John Smith) explored the coast of New England in 1614. It was part of the first permanent settlement in Boston Harbor at Winnisemmet (now known as Chelsea) by Samuel Maverick in 1624.

The early colonists of Massachusetts Bay found the local natives to be a pleasant, attractive people. Often, the Indians, with their intimate knowledge of the vast yet unexplored wilderness, would help the settlers in their struggle to survive.

During King Phillip's War, the local friendly Indians were placed on what is now Deer Island where many of them perished. Later, some of the Indians on the island were enlisted to help the colonists defeat the other warring tribes. The first Indian deed given in Revere was recorded in 1685, and although early historians claim that the sale of land by the natives was equitable for both sides, this was not always the case. All of what is now Nahant was purchased for a new suit of clothes.

The Indians could not adapt to the White man's civilization whose numbers were increasing at a constant rate, and the race lapsed into obscurity, being practically starved out of existence, although as late as the 1890's Native Americans could still be seen hunting seals in Boston Harbor. Now, one can only imagine these children of the forest and marshes as they frolicked along the sandy beaches on a pleasant summer day with the gulls gliding overhead and the sun setting upon a wild untamed land which today is Revere.

Rumney Marsh was originally divided and allotted to twenty-one of Boston's most prominent citizens. By 1639, the original 21 allotments had been consolidated into seven great farms.

Farming was, and continued to be, the principal industry of Winnisemmet, and Rumney Marsh in particular.

On September 25, 1634, Rumney Marsh was annexed to Boston, which had received its name only four years earlier. Winnisemmet and Pullen Point (which was later to be known as Winthrop) were also annexed to Boston. The first County Road in North America stretched across Rumney Marsh from the Winnisemmet Ferry to Olde Salem in 1641. Many travelers, attracted by the fertile soil and lovely crescent beach returned here to settle.

In 1739, Rumney Marsh, Winnisemmet and Pullen Point were set off from Boston and established as the Town of Chelsea. Revere was the largest of the three settlements, and therefore was selected as the Town Centre.

In its early years, such famous and controversial people as Captain John Smith, Governor Winthrop and, of course, Paul Revere, visited the Town. George Washington is said to have dined at the home of Isaac Pratt. Revere played a role in the American Revolution as the site of the first naval battle in 1775 at Rumney Marsh.

Winnisemmet grew more rapidly than the other two towns. By 1846, 2,100 people lived in Winnisemmet and only 900 in Rumney Marsh and Pullen Point combined. Rumney Marsh and Pullen Point were set off and incorporated as the Town of North Chelsea. In 1850, nearly the entire population of Rumney Marsh was employed in farming. Even the Marsh was harvested, producing "salt hay" for livestock.

In 1852, Pullen Point was set off from North Chelsea and established as the Town of Winthrop. That same year, Chelsea became a city. In 1871, North Chelsea adopted the name of Revere. The population was 1,197. The name of the Salem Turnpike, which had been completed in 1803, was changed to Broadway.

The completion of the Eastern Railroad, in 1838, (later to become the Boston & Maine) and the Boston, Revere Beach and Lynn railroad (the Narrow Gauge) in 1875 signaled the beginning of rapid population growth for the town and the development of the Beach as a summer resort. They increased accessibility of Revere Beach, which became famous as a resort. By 1885, ten years later, the town had increased to 3,637 people, more than tripling in size over 15 years. By 1890 the population grew to 5,668.

From the time of Revere's incorporation as a City in 1915 until the present, Revere's growth continued and all its farmlands are now developed. Rapid growth and residential development occurred after World War II and into the 1950s.

In 1906, Revere's greatest attraction ever, Wonderland Park, opened. Situated approximately where the Wonderland Dog Track is today, it was one of the nation's earliest and most spectacular fantasy amusement parks. Similar in concept to Disneyworld, it opened and closed long before Walt Disney ever dreamed about Mickey Mouse. It covered 25 acres of land and featured such attractions as a Wild West Show with over 100 cowboys, Indian raids, a circus, and a scenic railway. Its most spectacular feature was "Fighting the Flames", a re-creation of a great city fire. The park suffered financial difficulties and closed in 1911. It lasted only five years, but its impact is still felt today, in name and in area.

During the two World Wars, service men from all over the United States and from the allied nations spent many of their off duty hours here enjoying Revere's pleasurable hospitality. Thus did Revere become famous worldwide.

Nothing is more closely identified with the City of Revere than its stretch of sand and water: Revere Beach. In its hey day, it was known as the Coney Island of New England. More than 250,000 bathers would relax along Revere's shores on hot summer afternoons.

The Narrow Gauge roadbed was originally on the crest of the Beach along what later became the boardwalk on the East Side of the Boulevard. The Beach itself became covered with small bathhouses, eating places and small buildings. The Great Ocean Pier was constructed in 1881 along with the opening of the Pines Hotel. By this time, the Beach had become a lively and heavily used resort area, but because of the closeness of the tracks to the water at high tide and the number of beach structures, it was not safe.

In 1896, the Beach was taken over by the Metropolitan Park Commission (which was later to become the Metropolitan District Commission). That year, the process of clearing the beach of the buildings and moving the tracks of the Narrow Gauge back to the alignment now used by the MBTA Blue Line began. On July 12, Revere Beach was opened as the first public beach in the nation. Thanks to landscape architect Charles Eliot’s design, Revere Beach was "the first to be set aside and governed by a public body for the enjoyment of the common people". An estimated 45,000 people showed up on opening day to see and enjoy Revere Beach.

The use of Revere Beach as a pleasure resort actually goes back to 1834 when the first small tavern was built in the Point of Pines. Sportsmen, who found excitement in duck hunting on the salt marshes or in fishing offshore, followed their activities with a well-prepared chowder in the tavern at the end of the day.

In 1881, a company of prominent Massachusetts men, among them the ancestors of former United States Senators Leverett Saltonstall and Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. formed a company and purchased 200 acres of land in the Point of Pines. They invested $500,000 in a complete summer resort with hotels, bandstand, racetrack, amusements, piers and bathhouses. They provided gaslight illumination through beautiful arches above the walks and driveways, using gas jets and special globes. Over 2,000 people were present at opening ceremonies for the Pines Hotel, considered the largest on the Atlantic coast.

At the other end of the beach, at the foot of Beachmont Hill was he Great Ocean Pier, which extended 1,450 feet out to Cherry Island Bar, completely roofed over to within 200 feet of the end. It was used as a dance pavilion, a sumptuous cafe and a large skating rink, all on a grand scale, with steamer service every half-hour to Boston and Nahant. The foundation required 2,000 piles; 1,200 yards of canvas covered the piazza and 500,000 shingles were used on the various roofs.

The main entrance to the beach was at Revere Street. A visitor had a number of choices as to where he or she would spend the holiday or vacation. Each presented its own assortment of pleasures but all shared the rolling surf, the beauty of the open sea, the cooling breezes and the view of the crescent shaped beach which extended 4.5 miles from end to end.

From its inception, Revere Beach was "the people's beach", used mostly by the working class and the many immigrants who chose to settle in the area. Visitors were described in 1909 as "industrious, well-behaved and a really desirable class of people, of many nationalities to be sure, but neighborly and polite…with one another."

When people reminisce about Revere Beach however, it is not the sand and surf they remember most. It is the amusements. The Whip, the Ferris Wheel, Bluebeard's Palace, the Fun House, Hurley's Dodgems, the Pit, Himalaya, Hippodrome, Sandy's, the Mickey Mouse, the Virginia Reel and many more provided hours of enjoyment for residents and visitors alike. Of course, the biggest attraction was the Cyclone, among the largest roller coasters in the United States. Opened in 1927, its cars traveled at a speed of 50 miles per hour and its climb reached a 100 feet.

In addition to the sand, surf and amusements, there were two roller skating rinks, two bowling alleys, and numerous food stands. There were also the ballrooms, including the most famous, the Oceanview and the Beachview, each the site of many dance marathons which were popular in the 1930s

The Beach began to deteriorate in the 1950s, and by the early 1970s had become a strip of honky tonk bars and abandoned buildings. The "Great Blizzard of '78"' proved to be the final death knell for the "old" Revere Beach, as many of the remaining businesses, amusements, pavilions and sidewalks and much of the sea wall were all destroyed. The Beach was the focus of a major revitalization effort by the MDC and the City in the 1980s and was officially reopened in May 1992. It now boasts high rise housing units, a resanded beach, restored pavilions and a renovated boulevard. On the weekend of July 19, 1996, Revere commemorated the centennial of the first opening of Revere Beach with a spectacular, three-day celebration.

Today, with a population of 53,179 people, Revere is a densely populated residential community with little industry. Its beach is still used by large numbers, but not to the extent that it was in the early 1900s. The MBTA Blue Line replaced the Narrow Gauge and it continues to serve the community as a link to Boston. Revere has a long, proud history and is looking forward to a bright, optimistic future.

 

(The above is an excerpt from "A Profile of Revere", 1996 Monograph)