Watertown Square may have changed significantly over the past decade, but local author Cara Marcus found out how the area near the Charles River truly transformed from an industrial center centuries ago to the commercial downtown, while researching her book Watertown Square Through Time.
The heart of Watertown Square, the grassy Delta, once was the site of a grist mill where farmers brought their grain to be ground. Where a parking lot for the MBTA sits on Galen Street used to be a soap factory in the later 1800s.
The book goes back to the 1630s, Marcus said. She also stated she was most surprised by how industrial the area used to be was centuries ago.
“Just about everything you can make, they made it here,” Marcus said.
Through the book, Marcus shows historic photos and drawings from the 1800s and before, and contrasts them with modern-day photographs. Watertown Square Through Time is part of Fonthill Media’s America Through Time series and published by Arcadia Publishing.
She found many of the historic photos at Watertown Free Public Library, through the state’s Digital Commonwealth website, and with the help of the Historical Society of Watertown.
Marcus collected the modern photos through a variety of methods. Some businesses in the Square provided photos. Other photographs were family photos or came from current and former Watertown Police officers and Firefighters, and even from Watertown News. Many of these photos will be published for the first time when they appear in Watertown Square Through Time.
When she could not get a photo, Marcus took them herself.
“I was out there every single day with two cameras and a notebook,” Marcus said. “Sometimes I was taking a photo of one thing, then there would be goslings crossing the street. It worked out wonderfully.”
Historical research has been an interest for Marcus since she was young. When she was in junior high school she did so many oral history projects that her bequeathment in the yearbook said, “Will Cara do anything but interview?”
“I love learning about people’s background — people and places,” Marcus said.
She found that the people running the businesses and organizations in Watertown Square often did not know what used to be in the spot they currently occupy, or even that their business used to be located on a different street.
Marcus turned her passion for research into a career as a librarian. Currently she works at the National Rural Transit Assistance Program office in Woburn.
“The most historic thing I do is Throwback Thursday on social media,” Marcus said.
She wrote Watertown Square Through Time while she was between full-time work. This is her second book, after writing a book in the Images of America series called Faulkner Hospital in 2010.
She was approached by her editor about doing another book and Marcus thought about doing one on the town she has called home for 30 years. A book about Watertown had already been published, so Marcus was asked if she wanted to focus on a section of town and she chose Watertown Square.
As part of the book launch, Marcus will appear at a number of local events. On April 30, from 6–8 p.m., a meet-the-author event will be held at Molana Restaurant, 5 Spring St., Watertown. Marcus will speak about the creation of the book during an event hosted by the Watertown Art Association on May 5 from 2–4 p.m. at The Church of the Good Shepherd, 9 Russell Ave., Watertown. And, on May 22, she will present a comprehensive book talk, with slides, at the Watertown Free Public Library from 7–9 p.m.
The book can be found at Uniforms for America, 25 Main St., Watertown, can be purchased online at arcadiapublishing.com, and copies of it are available to borrow from the Watertown Free Public Library.