Townie Tidbits By Sal Giarratani: Charlestown Rocks with Personal Stories

March 28, 2014
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A neighborhood isn’t defined by its geographic borders but by its people and history. Charlestown is only one square mile but inside this little patch of land are a million stories past. present and hopefully into the distant future.

My mother always told me that I was Irish like her. Her family settled in Charlestown about 110 years ago. Both of my grandparents were from Beare Island in West Cork. She was a Sullivan and he was a Harrington. They came here separately. My grandma actually came to St. Marty’s Parish in 1904 with her husband John Callahan. He passed away in 1906. My grandpa heard that Callahan had passed and he left for Charlestown in late 1906. I guess back in Cork, he must have had an eye on my grandma and when he heard the news on her husband’s death, he booked passage on a fast boat to check out the situation. They were married at St, Mary’s in 1907.

My Harrington family chose St. Mary’s Parish as home and lived right behind old Station 15 on either Devens or Rutherford Avenue. They weren’t the only Harringtons in town, there was another up on Bunker Hill Street and my ma always called them  “the other Harringtons.” The other Harringtons probably said the same thing about my mom’s family too.

The other day I was in Thompson Square and saw lots of work being done to a townhouse between what was the old First National Store and the old bank building. A while back as I passed this series of brick town houses, I sawa young woman coming out of the one with the great bay window. She said she loved it inside. Said, “It was to die for.” I responded how odd you should say that.” When she asked why, I told her dead people used the space behind that great window area when it was Wiley’s funeral home years ago. She said she never knew that. I wasn’t surprised, not exactly a selling point.

Hey, here’s some memories for you. Remember Huey McLaughlin, the manager of the First National in Thompson Square? How about Sam Cohen who owned Sam Cohen Pharmacy on Bunker Hill Street across from McGoon’s  five and dime? How about the Gray Shop, the Green Store and the Red Store? Where was the other First National located?

My mother seemed to know all the real Townies when she took me and my little brother over to Charlestown. She would always stop off at Connie McCarthy’s an appl;ance store on Main Street. She and Connie knew each other since childhood. He sold everything from washing machines to flat irons with incredible financing. One could buy a washer by the week. I guess by the time you made your final payment, it was time to buy a new one and go week to week again.

My Uncle Jim (James Callahan) owned and operated F.J. Ward Produce Company down at the Potato Sheds. My family was never short of potatoes. Every time we visited his shed, we got parting gifts in the form of potato bags. Sometimes, a few onions were thrown in to spice things up.

His best friend and co-worker was Jimmy Devlin who grew up a few doors away from, my mom’s family.

I remember well when the sheds became history. It was May 10, 1962 when a horrific fire turned the potato sheds into french fry bins.

Last week I was over at former State Senator Jim Henningan’s home to celebrate his 87th birthday. His old pal from their younger days on Beacon Hill showed up for some birthday cake. Gerry Doherty and Hennigan were both in their 20s when they first met as state legislators for Charlestown and Jamaica Plain respectively. Two living political legends.