According to state labor officials, Watertown’s employers represented a combined job market of 19,000 positions as of last September. With data showing 18,600 residents are employed, in town or elsewhere, the near balance undercuts its reputation as a bedroom community.
“We’re a very popular destination for start-ups that had some success but have trouble adding space because of rents in Cambridge,” said Steve Magoon, the town’s economic development director. “We’ve been getting a lot of those companies who have found some success in Watertown.”
The town is also going through something of an upsurge in housing. In recent years, Planning Board officials approved a total of 650 new apartment and condominium units along a 1.2-mile stretch of Pleasant Street, which hugs the Charles River.
Even with the new development, residents actively prefer to keep their town’s New England legacy intact — and regularly succeed. Spirited crowds recently loudly opposed a Walmart coming to town, with the result that the chain abandoned its plans for the store. And neighborhood resistance to a complex adding 14 condominiums along Pleasant Street helped kill the proposal.
Census figures show Watertown is home to a wide variety of ethnicities, including residents of Irish, Italian, French, English, German, Greek, Russian, Polish, Portugese, Arab, and African heritage.
But the most prominent group are Armenians. The US Census Bureau says there are between 1,700 and 3,000 Armenians in Watertown, but local Armenians think the population is larger. Their community’s identification with Watertown is strong, bolstered by the presence of the Armenian Library and Museum of America and several Armenian churches.
Many Armenians emigrated to America in the 20th century looking to escape persecution in their native land, and many settled in the Watertown area because jobs were often available at Hood Rubber Co., on the east side of town. The factory, founded in 1896, served as a major local employer for nearly 75 years, hiring as many as 10,000 laborers at its peak.
Now, a cluster of Armenian restaurants and shops near Coolidge Square is known as “Little Armenia,” while headquarters for national Armenian newspapers and organizations are located throughout town.
“They want to be able to walk down the street and hear their native language spoken, and also be able to walk to church and other places around town,” said Gary Lind-Sinanian, curator of the Armenian Library and Museum on Main Street. “There’s only one community that fits that profile, and that’s Watertown. It’s small and safe and people can walk to places, and it just has that feeling.”
Susan Pattie, the museum’s executive director, said although she moved to Watertown only six months ago, she sees a deep passion among residents for their hometown.
“It’s very touching to see generations of people so attached to Watertown,” Pattie said. “It’s a place where Armenians have settled and become American, and carry on their heritage from the past, but are also living in the present and creating this Armenian-American culture.”
Jaclyn Reiss can be reached at email@example.com.