On March 29, the City of Somerville came together to toast its 175th year with what it called a “Very Somerville Birthday Party.”
The celebration was part of a yearlong effort to commemorate Somerville’s foundation when it split from Charlestown. A colonial fair and veterans’ memorial parade are among the other events planned for the anniversary.
With a drumming performance, free locally-brewed craft beverages and tables piled high with boxes of Dunkin’ Donuts, the Wednesday celebration captured the spirit of the city in a uniquely Somerville way.
“We wanted something that was kind of funny and quirky, but really celebrating the city and celebrating us becoming our own separate city,” Special Events Manager for the City of Somerville Nina Eichner, who organized the event, said.
The celebration took place at the Somerville-Charlestown line, kicking off in a lot off East Broadway Street and later moving into Mount Vernon restaurants across the street.
“This is the location where we separated from Charlestown in 1842,” Jackie Rossetti, deputy director of communications for Somerville, said. “We wanted to show off the city line.”
She said that the central location was meant to appeal to residents across the city, from commuters to families and passersby.
“We wanted to make sure that we were engaging everybody, whether they’re coming because they wanted to come to the celebration or whether they just see the celebration … on their way home from work,” Rossetti said.
The festivities began with a drumming performance from 12 Somerville High School students, in partnership with international drumming network Grooversity. The Somerville students are part of the Boston chapter of the group which has divisions from Vancouver to Italy.
“We basically do different traditions of music, all types from around the world,” student leader Kevin Pleitez said. “We do Brazilian, Haitian, hip-hop too.”
Each branch of Grooversity is required to do something positive for its community in whatever form they choose, according to Grooversity founder Marcus Santos.
“The group in Somerville is working with the Department of Somerville Public Schools,” Santos said. “We are welcoming immigrants into the American educational public system.”
The group partners with Somerville High School to run a free class that participating students can take as part of their normal class schedule. Santos, who hails from Bahia, Brazil, said that he founded the network as a way of both spreading his love of drumming and giving back to the community.
After loud applause followed the students’ performance, the party moved across the street to celebrate inside the Mount Vernon restaurants.
Inside, partygoers were offered free Aeronaut beer, courtesy of the locally-owned craft Aeronaut Brewing Company, which started in 2014.
When asked what inspired him to start Aeronaut, co-founder Ben Holmes cited a desire to bring the Somerville community together in a more cohesive way.
“We noticed in Somerville there were a pretty limited number of places to get together with people,” he said. “It was getting to be very crowded and we really wanted to do our passion, which was brewing beer, in a space where we could engage. So that was Aeronaut.”
Holmes described Aeronaut as a company built on innovation, and he said that he uses the scientific method to brew and create new types of beverages.
“They’re always sort of experimental, fearlessly engineered beers,” he said. “We always try to experiment with different kinds of flavors.”
At the party, Holmes unveiled a new flavor that Aeronaut brewed specially for the occasion of Somerville’s 175th birthday.
“This particular beer, the beer I’m holding in my hand, is called Municipal Freedom Gives National Strength. That is the Somerville motto,” Holmes said. “This is our sanctuary city session beer.”
Holmes said the beer was meant to commemorate Somerville’s past as both an industrial and residential community.
“We brewed it to celebrate the rich history of engineering and manufacturing and also inclusion in our city,” he said. “Gluten-removed. It’s an inclusive beer for an inclusive city.”
Eichner said that one of the things she values most about the community is its continued diversity.
“We have such a variety of people here, and that’s really important to me. That’s something I really care about and like about Somerville and want to keep that way,” she said.
Reflecting on the city’s progress, Eichner acknowledged that she had seen the community change significantly from when she grew up.
“The city used to have a bad reputation,” she said. “There was still kind of a joke about Somerville when I was younger — people used to call it ‘Scumerville.’ Now it’s thought of as very hipster, even Brooklyn-esque.”
Eichner, a lifelong resident, said that Somerville’s ability to quickly organize events such as the birthday party was one of the things she admired about her city.
“I like that we’re nimble and small enough to make things happen quickly and respond to events, like the rally we had around immigration and sanctuary cities,” she said. “That was put together in a week or two because of the nature of the city.”
Rossetti said that Somerville’s continued appeal to a diverse population is what most excites her about the city’s growth.
“There are businesses that are choosing to relocate here, kids and families that are choosing to make this their forever home,” Rossetti said. “There’s a lot of new interest in Somerville, which is great because it’s growing and thriving in a different way.”
She mentioned Somerville’s community feel and unique local atmosphere as main factors drawing new residents to the city.
“It’s always been really community-oriented, it’s always been about a feel for the local flavor, local businesses, local restaurants,” she said. “I think now there’s a lot more interest in Somerville because of the things we’re doing as a community.”
Despite the city’s rapid growth, Rossetti is confident that Somerville will preserve its tight-knit spirit.
“There’s just this really great balance of people who have been here for generations and are really excited for the way that Somerville‘s growing, and the people who are coming in and bringing a new flavor to the city,” she said.
Rossetti said she enjoyed watching the city grow and change while still maintaining its own personality.
“I love seeing everybody work together to continue to make it better while also retaining what’s so great and what makes us Somerville,” Rossetti said.