If you heard a loud blast in South Boston Monday afternoon, that was the sound of a 19th-century cannon being fired at the groundbreaking ceremony for Washington Village, a new mixed-use development that’s being built in Andrew Square.
It was also a homecoming of sorts for the cannon, which was manufactured in that part of South Boston back in 1862.
Civil War reenactors from the 9th Massachusetts Battery appeared in period uniforms and brought the cannon there for the groundbreaking ceremony.
Elliot Levy, who portrays John Bigelow, the captain of the 9th Massachusetts Battery, said firing the cannon at the site where it was made was special.
“For us it was a thrill to be on that ground,” he said. “It was great. It’s a tie-in to the history that we love so much.”
Located at the intersection of Old Colony Avenue and Dorchester Street, Washington Village is being developed by Samuels & Associates, Core Investments Inc., and Intercontinental Real Estate Corp. The first phase will include the construction of a mixed-use building with 214 rental homes and 20,000 square feet of ground floor retail and restaurant space that’s a short walk away from the Andrew Square MBTA station.
This part of South Boston has a long history that many people aren’t aware of, according to David Pogorelc, founder and chief executive officer of Core Investments. The triangular piece of land bounded by Dorchester Avenue, Old Colony Avenue, and Dorchester Street first became known as Washington Village in the mid-19th century, in honor of George Washington’s occupation of Dorchester Heights in 1776. For many years the area was home to an iron foundry owned by Cyrus Alger. Alger’s company made cannonballs during the War of 1812 and supplied the Union Army with guns, cannon, and ammunition during the Civil War.
In 1891 Washington Village was renamed in memory of the late Massachusetts Governor John A. Andrew, and the name stuck. It’s been called Andrew Square ever since.
Now, with the construction of the new mixed-use development underway, the name Washington Village is returning.
“The name got lost, and we just wanted to bring it back and tie it back to the history of the area,” said Pogorelc.
Pogorelc and Core Investments wanted to chronicle the history of this section of South Boston in a book, so they enlisted the help of Bennie DiNardo, a former Boston Globe editor, and the late Richard Kennedy to write one. Former Boston Globe journalist Tom Palmer oversaw the production of the book, which is titled “Washington Village: A South Boston Neighborhood Rediscovered,” and features historic newspaper clippings, photos, and maps that detail the evolution of this section of South Boston.
“This area, in my opinion, for the last 75 to 80 years, has been overlooked,” Pogorelc said. “This is like a renaissance. And it’s a story of freedom. It was here that Alger cannons were cast to help the North end slavery.”
The South Boston Historical Society posted photos from the groundbreaking on Facebook. “An Alger gun returns to South Boston,” the post said. “At the ground-breaking for Washington Village, the Ninth Massachusetts Battery, Light Artillery brought this 1862 cannon manufactured here in the Alger foundry. Great to see and hear this piece of our history in Andrew Square—named for the Governor who commissioned the unit.”