History of Economic Development in Watertown

No Taxation Without Representation

In 1632 Watertown citizens voted not to pay a tax imposed by the General Court to help fortify the City of Cambridge because the tax had been levied without Watertown’s representation, thus sowing seeds for the rally cry during the American Revolution – No taxation without representation.

Booming Industrial Growth

Watertown’s fertile lands were ideal for farming and cattle raising. After Thomas Mayhew built America’s first grist mill in 1638 – in what is now known as Watertown Square – the Town grew into a mill village whose river and its falls accounted for the booming industrial growth along the riverbanks still in evidence today. The Town soon became a major gateway to the West, and grew from a Puritan settlement to a hub for trade and commerce.

During the Siege of Boston

Provincial Congress, the sole governing body of Massachusetts Bay, moved to Watertown in April 1775. For 18 months, Watertown was the provisional Capital of Massachusetts. George Washington was Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army and first met Massachusetts leaders of the revolution here on July 2, 1775. Between April 1775 and March 1776 during the siege of Boston, Paul Revere lived on the south side of the Charles River near the rapids in what was the known as the Cook House, and printed the currency that paid the Continental soldiers.

In the early 1800s, large portions of Watertown were bought as estates for rich Bostonians seeking relief from the Town's Summer heat.

Factories that were Built in Watertown

The Bemis Factory built in 1807 was the first in America to make duck a cotton sail cloth. It was here that the sails were woven for the U.S.S. Constitution. Other small factories that developed along the riverbanks produced chocolate, cotton starch paper, dyes, lace, and shirts. There were also many manufacturers of well known items such as the Stanley Steamers and the famous Crawford Stoves built by the Walker-Pratt foundry and were shipped all over the world.

Watertown Arsenal

During the years 1816-1829, the Watertown Arsenal (PDF), one of the first in the Country, was built along the Charles River. Its architecture was designed by Alexander Parris, who also designed Faneuil Hall in Boston. For its early function of ammunition storage, the Arsenal’s role was involved in arms and materials research that played an important role during World War II. Part of the facility was sold to the Town in the early 1960s and during World War II and was redeveloped to encompass a large retail shopping mall, 13-acre park, housing development, and health care facility. The remainder of the facility was closed by the Federal Government, redeveloped, and sold to Harvard University in 2001.