The Land on College Avenue

Nathan Tufts Park, a site of national significance, lies steps from the museum.

Its centerpiece is an unusual stone tower dating back to the early eighteenth century. First used as a windmill to grind grain into flour, it became the property of the Province of Massachusetts in 1747. The utilitarian structure became a storage depot for gunpowder. In 1774, British troops seized the magazine-- and the two hundred barrels of gunpowder within-- propelling local citizen soldiers to take up arms against the mother country. Within months the Continental Army had reclaimed and restocked the former mill, a move critical to the 1775-76 siege of Boston. Time passed, and hostilities became a distant memory. By 1836 the Commonwealth had no practical use for a powder magazine and the surrounding farm land.

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The State auctioned off the site to Charlestown's prominent Tufts family.

The close-knit group of kinsmen paid slightly over three hundred dollars for the antique building and surrounding land. Four years later, yeoman farmer Nathan Tufts bought out his relatives for one third of the original cost. His purchase, termed the Powder House Farm, embraced an area stretching from Willow Avenue to today's College Avenue-- then called Elm Street. In 1842, this tract was among other large parcels that made up the four square miles of an independent new town: Somerville.

 

After Farmer Tufts passed away, his heirs donated the tower and immediate land to the City.

They stipulated that the area be set aside as the Nathan Tufts Park. The heirs surveyed the rest of the farm in 1891 with the objective of selling land to families who wanted to move into the up-and-coming neighborhood of West Somerville. They divided the property into two hundred house lots and put them on the market. After passing through several owners, Lot Number 198 would eventually become the site of the Museum.