Union Square is Somerville's oldest and largest commercial district and is home to a lively and diverse cluster of local arts, food, and nightlife. The area was originally referred to as Milk Row because of the small family farms that supplied milk and produce to Boston. The nineteenth century saw the establishment of brickyards, slaughterhouses, and industry on the outskirts of Union Square including the American Tube Works and the Union Glass Company. In 1835, a passenger railroad station opened near Union Square. The neighborhoods surrounding Union Square grew up as well and include a mix of graceful Victorian homes, historic apartment buildings, as well as two- and three-family homes.
Today, Union Square is known for its diverse restaurant scene, including award winning establishments serving Peruvian, Mexican, Indian, Brazilian, Thai, Japanese, Korean, American, and German cuisines. Many markets in the area are run by and cater to the various ethnic groups that live in and around Union Square. The area is also becoming known for local and artisanal food production including everything from chocolate, gourmet pasta, and donuts to beer and cider. During the warm weather months, the Union Square Farmers Market brings people to Union Square by offering fresh, locally grown produce and locally produced products.
On weekends, Union Square is a crowded and active spot, with special events and civic gatherings. Union Square is frequently the site of quirky events and arts happenings unique to Somerville. The annual “What the Fluff Festival: A Tribute to Union Square Invention” has had as many as 11,000 people attend. The annual SomerStreets Halloween and Oktoberfest street festivals and many other annual and one-time events year-round draw visitors from across the city and region. Popular events have included the Rock n’ Roll Yard Sale, the Annual Beard Festival, the Mini Maker’s Faire, the Hungry Tiger food festival, and the Circus Sock Hop.
Union Square faces new opportunities and challenges brought on by renewed interest in urban living and walkable, vibrant neighborhoods, the opening of future Green Line stations near Union Square and on Washington Street, and the pace of new development. These changes, while positive, increase the risk of rising rents and property prices, which can lead to the displacement of the diverse communities and businesses who have long called Union Square home. The City of Somerville has taken active steps to mitigate these risks by rezoning much of the square for increased density. The Somerville Redevelopment Authority has enlisted a master developer to redevelop a number of parcels in and around the square to maximize the area’s potential as a center for commercial, research, retail, residential, and recreational uses.
Union Square Farmers' Market
(Photo courtesy of Union Square Main Streets)
Flufferetts at the What the Fluff Festival
(Photo by Leonardo March courtesy of Union Square Main Streets)