By Bob (Monty) Doherty
Some of the meanings for the phrase “head for the hills” are to take the high ground during a battle, to move away to safer ground during a flood, and to flee from danger. If this is true, then Somerville should be one of the safest cities around, for she abounds with hills.
One of her nicknames is The City of Seven Hills, in reference to her most prominent elevations and reflecting the similarity to the seven hills of Rome. We say “most prominent” because there are more hills than seven. Many more. In fact, there are 15 hills with at least 30 different names to them in this city. No wonder confusion arises and people can’t readily come up with the names of the most prominent seven hills.
There is no easy way to remember the names, but I’ll try, starting with Winter Hill, the most familiar. Winter comes before spring, and spring follows winter, bringing the birth of the walnuts on its trees. This accounts for the first three: Winter Hill, Spring Hill and Walnut Hill, leaving four more to go. Now let’s try to keep this politically correct. Oh, that’s it…P.C. …Ploughed Hill, Cobble Hill…P.C….Prospect Hill, Clarendon Hill.
In a nutshell (pun intended), the names of the major hills are Winter Hill, Spring Hill, Walnut Hill, then Ploughed Hill, Cobble Hill, Prospect Hill, and Clarendon Hill. WSW- PC-PC. Try it out. Winter + Spring + Walnut and Ploughed + Cobble and Prospect + Clarendon.
Through the years Somerville has honored her hills in various ways. Many businesses reference the hills in their titles, while the city honors her hills through street names: Cobble Hill Road, Winter Hill Circle, Spring Hill Terrace, and Prospect Hill Avenue, to name just a few. She has had social clubs such as the Hillside Club, a public-spirited club that placed tablets throughout the city that marked historic spots. The Heptorean Club (Greek for seven hills) was the first woman’s club in the city and was organized to bring women from all over the city and those seven hills to join in common social causes. There was also The Winter Hill Club which was a social organization formed in the 1880’s by thirty prominent citizens.
Somerville’s Seven Hills Park – the best way to find out the quick history of her hills – is to take an enjoyable trip to Davis Square. Behind the Somerville Theatre, you’ll find an eye-catching and colorful little park, a microcosm of Somerville’s history and a hidden jewel of the area. Whimsical symbols of the individual hills leap into the air on tall pillars. The history of the hills is explained on the solid pedestals at their base. So, if your destination is a restaurant, movie, pub, or ice cream parlor in Davis Square, set aside a little time for a visit to this pleasant park. You’ll be both enriched and impressed.