In 1775, the Battle of Chelsea Creek was fought here, the second battle of the Revolution, at which American forces made one of their first captures of a British ship. Part of Washington's army was stationed here during the Siege of Boston.
Chelsea originally included North Chelsea -- all of Revere, Winthrop and parts of Saugus. In 1846, North Chelsea was set off as a separate town. Reincorporated as a city in 1857, Chelsea developed as an industrial center, producing rubber and elastic goods, boots and shoes, stoves and adhesives. It became home to a naval hospital (designed by Alexander Parris) and soldiers' home. But on April 12, 1908, nearly half the city was destroyed in the First Great Chelsea Fire. In 1973, the Second Great Chelsea Fire burned 18 city blocks.
In September 1991, Massachusetts enacted special legislation to place Chelsea into receivership. This was the first time since the Great Depression that a United States municipality had such an action taken against it. Events preceding the action included failed financial intervention by the state, a political stalemate over the city's budget, deepening economic decline and a spiraling fiscal crisis. Fortunately, Chelsea had no publicly held long-term debt -- thus, a solution to its problems could be explored in isolation of creditors.
A charter change in 1995 designed an efficient council-manager form of government, which has focused on improving the quality of service the city provides to its residents and businesses, while establishing financial policies that have significantly improved the city's financial condition. Increased emphasis on economic development and capital improvement has led to an influx of new business and homebuyers. In 1998, Chelsea was named winner of the All-America City Award. The community is home to a Carnegie library built in 1910.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 2.5 square miles (6.4 km²), of which, 2.2 square miles (5.7 km²) of it is land and 0.3 square miles (0.8 km²) of it (16661.69%) is water. Located on a peninsula in Boston Harbor, Chelsea is drained by Chelsea Creek.
Major features include:
As of the census of 2000, there were 35,080 people, 11,888 households, and 7,608 families residing in the city. The population density was 16,036.8 people per square mile (6,184.7/km²). There were 12,337 housing units at an average density of 5,639.9/sq mi (2,175.0/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 57.95% White, 7.25% Black or African American, 0.48% Native American, 4.69% Asian, 0.09% Pacific Islander, 22.94% from other races, and 6.58% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 48.42% of the population.
There were 11,888 households out of which 36.4% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 36.9% were married couples living together, 20.1% had a female householder with no husband present, and 36.0% were non-families. 28.8% of all households were made up of individuals and 10.8% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.87 and the average family size was 3.50.
In the city the population was spread out with 27.3% under the age of 18, 10.6% from 18 to 24, 34.6% from 25 to 44, 16.3% from 45 to 64, and 11.2% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 31 years. For every 100 females there were 100.9 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 99.7 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $30,161, and the median income for a family was $32,130. Males had a median income of $27,280 versus $26,010 for females. The per capita income for the city was $14,628. About 20.6% of families and 23.3% of the population were below the poverty line, including 28.8% of those under age 18 and 20.9% of those age 65 or over.
The chelsea school system has historically been plagued by problems, such as corruption and low rates of success. In 1988, the school board made the unprecedented move of handing control of the school district over to Boston University. In June 2008, the school board regained control of the district. It is unclear how successful this program was.