The Bunker Hill Monument that towers above Charlestown is one of Boston's most well-known historic markers. But a group of Charlestown residents say it isn't a sufficient recognition of the first major battle of the American Revolution.
Johanna Hynes is a long-time Charlestown resident and president of the recently-formed nonprofit Charlestown Historic Battlefield District Committee. The group is named for the designation it seeks to protect against encroaching development — which some other residents welcome.
On a recent sunny day in Charlestown, Hynes strolls through the neighborhood, recounting historic connections on nearly every corner, and explaining why she hopes to get the designation, which would cover the larger footprint of the battle, by the 250th anniversary in two years.
"So this whole area, the British came up along this edge," Hynes says, standing on the corner of Decatur and Medford streets. "Everything from Medford — that way — toward the monument, is part of the original peninsula."
Charlestown was almost completely surrounded by water when the battle occurred in 1775, before landfill was used to expand the neighborhood. Near the landfill area and in the distant shadow of the monument is the 1930s-era Bunker Hill Housing Project, which is currently being demolished and redeveloped after years of community activism and negotiations.
Many residents, like Betty Carrington, welcome the redevelopment, as their units have deteriorated. Hynes greets Carrington with her nickname, Big Momma. She says she wants Carrington and other project residents to be able to continue living there, but is concerned about the number of old trees being cut down and the impact on the historic land beneath the housing. She and Carrington, who have been friends for years, quickly fall into friendly disagreement.
"I believe that the fight you’re fighting should have been fought a long time ago," Carrington tells Hynes. "And I believe that they should’ve done something about it a long time ago. What I don’t think is that we the people in this development should go without housing because of it."
After agreeing to disagree, Hynes walks on toward Monument Square, where rebel soldiers constructed an earthen fort in 1775 in preparation for the first battle against the British army. Now it’s a national historic park, and the 221-foot-tall granite Bunker Hill Monument is on the National Register of historic places.
"The monument’s on the register, but it’s a marker of a battlefield that is not," Hynes says.
Hynes says much of the history of the neighborhood is recognized in the form of plaques and markers, but points out that a number of these are not well cared for. And, she says, "these things are not being recognized on the local, state and national registers where they ought to be. And when places or sites aren't recognized on these registers, they're not eligible for the same sorts of protections."
Hynes says that if the Bunker Hill battlefield had those protections, Charlestown residents would have more power to fight for measures that would keep their neighborhood from becoming a heat island and flood zone. Her group is taking steps to establish a Charlestown Landmarks Commission that they believe would have the ability to bestow the historic battlefield designation.
The neighborhood celebrated the 248th anniversary of the battle on Saturday. Hynes is hopeful that by 2025, it will be celebrating with those protections in place.
This segment aired on June 20, 2023.