Houses, Buildings & Land
The best place to start researching your house is the Massachusetts Cultural Resource Information System (MACRIS), a database of historic properties and areas maintained by the Massachusetts Historical Commission. If your house isn’t included, look for the neighborhood history that often describes the timeline of development of the area.
Keep in mind that all house numbers in Watertown were changed in 1912. Some streets also had address changes before; certain properties may have had as many as three different numbers.
The library’s digitized town directories (1869-1938) and resident lists (1939 to the present) are a great place to look if you want to trace the ownership of your house. Other library sources include conveyances, deeds, and mortgages from 1870 to 1894, digitized photographs of houses from the library’s collection, maps, and valuation reports.
Beyond the library, you might continue your research at City Hall (zoning records, building permits, and assessment records) or the Registry of Deeds for Southern Middlesex County.
Watertown’s present Town Hall at 149 Main Street evolved from a “Proposed Location for Town Hall Together with Other Changes in Watertown Square” (1921 report) to a “Proposed New Administration Building” (1930 report). The library building has also changed over time, as described on our History page and through historic photographs of the Main Library and branches.
Information on other town buildings can often be found in our digitized annual reports and maps.
A thorough history of the land along the shores of the Charles is found in the 1895 Report on Town Lands along Charles River by Jeremiah J. Sullivan. This document includes a typescript of documents used as sources in the report, including transfers of deed, wills, mortgages, town reports, depositions, testimonies and the complete Court of Common Pleas transcripts.
Watertown – The Wears – The South Side – Morse Field, a paper read at the April 1890 special meeting of the Historical Society of Watertown by one of its life members, Charles S. Ensign, also details property transfers, particularly on the south side of the Charles. The three sections of the paper are “The Wears,” “The South Side,” and “Morse Field.”
The more recent Topographical History of Watertown by Charles T. Burke (1975) closely follows the shifting borders of the town, as well as its infrastructure, housing stock, industry, and bodies of water.
The library has digitized selected valuation reports from the office of the Town Assessor.