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Common Street School Once Occupied the Training Field

The building's history stretches back to before Charlestown was a city.

The three-story brick apartment building at 5 Common Street was once a two-story public grammar school.  It was located, not at 5 Common Street, but across the street, inside the Training Field.

Built in 1828, 5 Common Street is the oldest extant public grammar school form in Charlestown, as well as one of the oldest extant schools in Boston.

For twenty years the school operated inside the Training Field. The year Charlestown incorporated as a city, 1847, the school was moved out of the park to its present location.  On the evening the school was removed, one of the patricians declared it had been ‘the needless destroyer of the symmetry of the park.’ There may have been some truth to that, considering how perfectly balanced the Training Field is today. There are no obstructed views.

(For more about Charlestown’s 'Outdoor Room', see ).

For the next 140 years the school operated at 5 Common Street, first as a public and later as a private school. For many years it was called the Nahum Chapin School, named after a successful businessman, state legislator and long time member of the Charlestown and Boston School Boards. According to the 1914 City of Boston Public Schools Manual, the six room Chapin School had two kindergartens, plus grades one through three. The curriculum offered classes in sewing, cooking and ‘manual training.’

St. Mary’s later acquired the building for use as part of its elementary school.  5 Common Street was converted for private residential use in 1967.

  • Where is it? 5 Common Street
  • When was it built? 1828. A third floor was added circa 1848.
  • Who built it? The Town of Charlestown
  • What was it built for? As a public school
  • Why was it built? With Charlestown’s growing population, new schools were needed.
  • How was it built? Of brick and stone, in Federal school house style
  • What are the future plans for the structure? 5 Common Street is privately owned and occupied.


Information for this article was compiled from various research materials, including Charlestown Schools by Carl Zellner; Boston Landmarks Commission; Boston Evening Transcript, August 13, 1897; Manual of the Public Schools of the City of Boston, 1914.

Nancy Hannan August 06, 2012 at 11:29 AM
More facinating Charlestown history. Thank you Helen! The 1828 red brick building was actually moved?
William H Buckley August 06, 2012 at 11:38 AM
I don't know about all your dates but St Mary's (5 Common St) was still open in 1973, when I was in the 3rd grade.
Fedor Smith August 06, 2012 at 03:39 PM
It was moved, and they added a story on the bottom - you can see the difference in the brick. Amazing considering the limited technology they had at their disposal. The building was purchased and converted starting some time in 1973-74. 5 Common Resident, Fedor Smith
DOTTIE NARDONE August 06, 2012 at 05:01 PM
ANY INFORMATION ON 10 COMMONS STREET WHEN IT WAS A BOARDING HOUSE AROUND 1873. NAME OF BOARDING HOUSE, WHO OWNED IT, ETC.
Helen O'Neil August 06, 2012 at 06:53 PM
Thank you for your information, William. Boston Landmarks Commission gives 1967-1968 as the dates for conversion to residential use but your facts are the reliable ones, since you had the actual experience of going to school there. Thank you for letting us know.
Helen O'Neil August 06, 2012 at 06:56 PM
Nancy, see the comment from Fedor Smith. It is hard to believe that they could actually move a brick building across the road.
Carl Zellner August 07, 2012 at 03:42 AM
Carl Zellner For Dottie Nardone: According to property maps of Charlestown, the house at 10 Common St. was owned in 1875 by Mrs. G.O. Hall and in 1912 by Geo. O. Hall, (see www.suffolkdeeds.com/Atlas%20Index.asp). According to Boston city directories for 1875, 1885, and 1905, the house was occupied by George O. Hall, engineer (see www.bcd.lib.tufts.edu) There is no mention of a boarding house or its name, though it may have existed, operated by the Halls.
Mishka Ua Néill August 07, 2012 at 11:24 AM
Thanks for one more interesting history lesson, Helen.
DOTTIE NARDONE August 15, 2012 at 07:45 AM
CARL ZELLNER IN 1873 THERE WAS A DOUBLE MURDER AND SUICIDE AT THIS ADDRESS. GEORGE KIMBALL MURDERED HIS WIFE AND STEP DAUGHTER AND KILLED HIMSELF. THE NEWSPAPERS I HAVE READ SAID IT WAS A BOARDING HOUSE.
Carl Zellner August 16, 2012 at 10:04 PM
Nancy, if you found moving the Training Field School hard to believe, you will be astonished to learn that two other large buildings were moved in Charlestown even earlier in the 19th century. In 1817, the Indian Chief Hotel and Tavern that sat on the parcel now occupied by the Charlestown Branch Library was moved to the corner of Main and Miller (now W. School) Streets to make way for the construction of the Second Congregational Church, later known as the Harvard Church. The hotel was renamed the Eagle Hotel and was still standing in 1902. (Ref. Timothy T. Sawyer, Old Charlestown, 1902.) In 1835, the First Church's Parsonage, built atop Town Hill in 1791, was moved to the corner of Elm and Hancock Streets where it stood until 1886. The Parsonage was built of wood, two stories high, and measured 52x40 feet. Moving it off Town Hill and up Breed's Hill must have been quite a feat. It was moved to make way for the construction of Harvard Row, a series of brick row houses that still exists on Harvard Street. (Ref. James F. Hunnewell, A Century of Town Live, 1883.)
Carl Zellner August 17, 2012 at 03:38 AM
Dottie, if you have not already done so, you might wish to research the answers to your questions in the two weekly Charlestown newspapers that were being published in 1873, the Bunker Hill Times and the Charlestown Advertiser. The Microtext Department of the Boston Public Library in Copley Square has microfilm copies of both papers for that year that can be scrolled through and read on reader machines in the department.
Nancy Hannan August 22, 2012 at 03:34 PM
Thank you for such amazing facts about what seems impossible Carl. It would be fascinating to watch a recreation of this on film, don'tcha think? Helen, Once again you've stimulated such an interesting exchange of good ideas. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

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