What is it that makes up a strong neighborhood? In most cases, the economy, the location, or the citizens that belong to that neighborhood have something to do with it. However, in order for a community to become a strong one, it takes more than just luck. Centerville neighborhood is a good example of how teamwork and perseverance can really make a difference. Like many areas throughout early America, Centerville started out as just an idea. Through hard work and relentless years, Centerville was transformed from nothing more than farmland to the large residential, economical, and expanding community it is today. Centerville is indeed an example of the positive difference a community can make when it strives together for one common goal.
In it’s earliest days, Centerville was inhabited by a small group of farmers from Essex and Beverly who decided to settle on Bald Hill. Agriculture was the dominant occupation of the families who settled here. These families decided to call their community the Bald Hill District and they founded it as such in 1680. However, just prior to the Civil War, the area was called Monserrat, but soon after the war ended, the name of “Centreville” was adopted. Finally in the year 1910 this name was changed yet again to the name “Centerville” which it stands as today. ¹
Centerville begins where Essex Street extends off of Colon Street and it continues all the way past Arbella Drive and Gateway Lane right before it ends just short of Nicole Street. The northern edge of Centerville extends to its farthest point at Balsam Drive. Its most southern border ends at the railroad tracks near Paradise Road. Centerville includes over sixty different streets, some of the most significant are Hull, Cole, Grover, Groce, and Hathaway, which were named after important families from the area. ² (see map)
Centerville unlike other neighborhoods had an economy that was for the most part based on agriculture. Centerville had lots of wide-open space for farming which enabled agriculture to thrive into the early part of the twentieth century. It wasn’t until much later that Centerville’s farms began disappearing as the northeast moved toward an industrial-based economy around the mid twentieth century. However, most of the farmland remained undeveloped and was later kept as woods. It wasn’t until after World War II that Centerville began to drastically change its economy. ³
Since Centerville was mostly made up of farmlands in its youth, the people of early Centerville who attended church were required to travel to Beverly, Beverly Farms, or Wenham Neck to attend church services. It wasn’t until 1901 that the process began for the building of a church in Centerville. It was at a meeting for the Centreville Christian Endeavor Society that first word was brought up about the plans for a new church. At the meeting of the society held on April 29, 1901, “it was voted to buy one-eighth acre of land from Mrs. Sarah Patch and Mrs. Abbie Day for $75.00.” (This land is that place where the present day church now stands.) Later in that year four thousand dollars was set aside by the society for the building of the church.
Construction began in 1907 when Mr. Alfred J. Gallagher, a general contractor, was commissioned to build the church. In 1908 the church was completed and the total cost was six thousand dollars. When the church was completed it proved to be a marvelous collaboration of teamwork. The men of the congregation had excavated the cellar and landscaped the grounds while, The Ladies Aid Society which was a club that had been formed in 1906, had purchased the pews and decorated the interior of the church. As proof of their hard work, the church needed no major repairs for its first sixty years in use.
On February 18, 1908 the Centreville Christian Endeavor Society decided to mortgage the property for the extra money that had exceeded the original budget. At this meeting it was also decided to name the church “The Centreville Christian Endeavor Church” after the society which had worked so hard to construct it. (see image)
Just like in many others communities throughout early America, the place where community activities and meetings took place was in the school house. Throughout Centerville’s history there had been many schoolhouses built over the eighteen and nineteen hundreds. The third school built after the first two Bald Hill Schools, was the first of two Centerville Schools that lasted from 1870 to 1965. After this school was built, the town loaned the previous school to the community to serve as a meeting house to be used for religious and social gatherings.
Meeting houses like the one just described was where many clubs and social gatherings took place. Centerville had many different clubs, societies, and unions that served recreational purposes. The Centreville Religious Union, The Centreville Christian Endeavor Society, and The Ladies Aid Society all worked mainly with the church functions. The Centerville Improvement Society organized parades and functions to benefit the needs of the community (see binder). They also helped build the “Pine Room” which was later a popular gathering place for Centerville citizens. Lastly there was also a Centerville Athletic Club that existed in 1916 which was run by Harold Whittemore.
Right down the street from The Centerville School and the Pine Room which were both built on Essex Street, was the Centerville firehouse. Centerville’s fire department started out when Francis Lovett, who was a member of The Old Fire King Company, created “Hose Company No. 4” in 1874. Later in 1904, a new firehouse was built in the same area named “Combination 4”. This firehouse later changed it’s name to “Engine 4 B.F.D.”, which is the name it has today. Unfortunately, unlike it’s fire department, Centerville never had much of a police department. Since Centerville was rather spread out and far away from the center of town, a separate police department never existed. The fact that Centerville is located far away from the busy waterfront and rail lines kept it rather isolated for many years. ¹
It wasn’t until more automobiles came into existence that Centerville began to drastically change. Since Centerville had always been a rural neighborhood in the past, the population remained small. With an increase in transportation, Centerville immediately saw an increase in population. It was this increase in population that led to the booming number of residents that have moved into Centerville today. ¹¹
In terms of Centerville’s ethnicity, using Essex Street as an example it is easy to see that the residents of Centerville were mostly from Massachusetts. Eighty eight percent were Massachusetts natives while only four percent were from Maine, and two percent were from Canada, California, and England. This proves that throughout the years Centerville remained made up of local people. ¹² (see chart)
In conclusion, Centerville went through many changes in order for it to become the growing community it is today. Centerville’s extensive church and school history provide great examples of the close knit working community that Centerville was many years ago. A neighborhood can be defined as, “A comparatively small populated region or district possessing some quality or character that distinguishes it from other areas.” This definition definitely holds true to Centerville’s distinguishing character as described in it’s ever present past.
|ETHNICITY OF ESSEX STREET IN CENTERVILLE|
|PLACE OF BIRTH||NUMBER OF RESIDENTS FROM THAT LOCATION||PERCENT OUT OF TOTAL NUMBER OF RESIDENTS|
|50 TOTAL RESIDENTS|
1. Frederick Sillars, “A History of the Centerville Christian Endeavor Church” 2, no. 1 (1968).
3. Jay Lindsay, “Founding farmers wouldn’t recognize Centerville,” Beverly Citizen, 13 December 1996, vol. 2, No. 16.
4. Frederick Sillars, “A History of the Centerville Christian Endeavor Church” 3, no.1 (1968).
6. Frederick Sillars, “A History of the Centerville Christian Endeavor Church” 4, no.1 (1968).
7. Beverly City Directory for 1916, (244 Cabot St. Beverly, MA), 316.
8. Beverly City Directory for 1923, (242 Cabot St. Beverly MA), 419.
9. Beverly City Directory for 1877, (Beverly MA), 305.
10, Beverly City Directory for 1904 (Beverly MA), 524.
11. Jay Lindsay, “Founding farmers wouldn’t recognize Centerville,” Beverly Citizen, 13 December 1996, vol.2, no. 16
12. United States Census, 6 June 1900, (Beverly MA), by Louis Moser, 74.