Town of Braintree, MA

Thomas A. Watson, the assistant to Alexander Graham Bell and founder of the Braintree Electric Light Department (BELD) in the Town of Braintree, died in 1934. I was hired 77 years later to make his story come alive. He was a maverick, an innovator, and a conservationist.

The Town of Braintree acquired the vacant BELD site – which sits on the Monatiquot River – with the intent to convert the buildings into mixed-use real estate, but¬†local residents had legitimate concerns. Gamble Associates, an architecture and urban design firm in Boston, hired me in 2010. Together we launched a series of community outreach activities to build consensus on the BELD Redevelopment Project.¬†In 2021, we’re back on the project as the lead development team for the site.

The story goes something like this: Alexander Graham Bell and Watson were testing their telephone for the millionth time when Bell yelled, “Watson, come here, I need you,” the first words to be heard over a phone. According to Watson, Bell had spilled battery acid on himself and called for help. Bell had no idea his voice was transmitted through the wires until Watson ran down the stairs and told him.

My research was extensive but very little is written about Watson (Bell generally gets all of the credit). In addition to co-launching the phone, Watson started the first kindergarten in Braintree, built a massive shipyard, and floated a building down the river…with his employees still inside. Here’s an excerpt from Watson’s autobiography “Exploring Life”:

Needing more work in our drafting rooms, we bid on two battleships for the United States Navy. We put a four-story office building on scows and floated it from East Braintree two miles down river and set it on its foundation at our Quincy Point yard without interrupting work in it.

I bought a hard copy of this book on Etsy for eight dollars. EIGHT DOLLARS. To my delight, he had signed the inside cover.

Outcomes

  • 2011 | Received National Parks and Services grant for riverwalk feasibility studies
  • 2012 | Delivered televised community presentation on the history of BELD and Watson
  • 2021 | Placed on residential developer team in lead communications role
  • 2021 | Named the site “Switch House Lofts”