In homage to the starch that brought us tater tots, French fries, and hash browns comes a cast stone tribute under Boston’s I-93 overpass.
All partial to potatoes take note: our latest hidden gem is Boston’s little-known memorial to a beloved tuber.
Technically the Potato Shed Memorial isn’t just dedicated to the idea of spuds, but a part of Boston life going back to the Antebellum era. At this time in the mid-nineteenth century the city was still working on land reclamation, or filling in the waterfront for further acreage. What is land now used to hold the Millers River, which had previously divided Cambridge from Charlestown. As a staple of travel and commerce, storage sheds lined the banks of the Millers with goods for the locals. They came to be known for storing potatoes, coming into its own as a popular destination for residents with plenty of taters for sale.
Interestingly, the popularity of the potato sheds corresponds with a massive influx of Irish immigrants streaming into Boston and Charlestown, starting in the mid-1840s. By 1850 Boston’s Irish population would swell to 35,000 strong, and their descendants (including the Kennedy family) would go on heavy influence local politics.
For roughly a century these potato sheds were a cherished part of the community, where locals would greet each other on their weekly trek for delicious tubers. Others worked in the potato sheds and corresponding railyards, and where mischievous children could sneak in and steal potatoes from any number of hefty piles in the warehouses.
This all changed in the early 1960s (or mid-1930s, according to the memorial plaque) when the potato sheds burned down and were never rebuilt. Millions of pounds of food were lost in the fire, which were bound for other cities along the East Coast. Rumor has it that Charlestown smelled like baked potatoes for weeks as a haunting last hurrah from these bygone spud sheds.
Today this industrial area looks decidedly more pedestrian. Millers River has been filled in as part of the land reclamation efforts, and this area now plays host to walkways and parks beneath the Zakim Bridge. But the great potato sheds of yesteryear are not forgotten, cast forever in a grand Potato Shed Memorial of an even grander vegetable.
Maybe our nickname should change from Beantown to Tatertown, no?