Teele Square


Somerville’s Teele Square was only developed in the last hundred-odd years. Prior to the extension of Holland St. from Davis Square in 1867, the area around the Broadway and Curtis St. intersection belonged to a large farm and orchard owned by the Teele family. In the subsequent years, their agrarian land was transformed into a residential neighborhood where the Teeles’ name has been retained even as their homes and fields have been lost to newer developments.

Teele Square as depicted on a 1909 postcard.

Holland St. was extended to Broadway in 1867 and buildings began to go up around the square soon after. Some of the earliest included a church and schoolhouse. The Teele Square fire house (at the corner of Newbury and Holland) was already built by 1909 when it was pictured in a town guidebook published that year. Zebedee E. Cliff developed several commercial and residential properties in the square, including The Cliff Building in 1905 on the northwest corner of Broadway and Curtis St. and The Cliff on the northeast corner in 1912. He was also responsible for a third business block at 1150-1152 Broadway. 1922 saw the opening of the Teele Square Theatre at the corner of Broadway and Clarendon Ave. It is no longer standing, but was a prominent feature of the neighborhood and boasted a mirrored lobby, a mahogany ticket booth and a $25,000 Wurlitzer organ. The theater was home to both stage productions and films until its closure in 1967. The building was subsequently used by the Charles H. Stewart Co. as a storage facility for theatrical backdrops. In 1993, the building was declared a health hazard by the city and demolished.

Teele Square Theatre, 1941

William Teele, the earliest recorded member of this family in Massachusetts, lived in what is now Malden and was then Charlestown as early as 1686. Between his two wives, first Mary and later Hannah, he had twelve children. It is William’s great-grandson Jonathan Teele (1754-1828), a son of Samuel Teele and his wife Elizabeth Tufts Teele, for whom the square was named. Jonathan first acquired land near Clarendon Hill in 1782 when he bought eighty-two acres from his brother Benjamin. He continued to add to his property there over the next ten years. Jonathan was a veteran of the Revolutionary War, assembling at the Battle of Lexington on April 19th, 1775 and subsequently serving in the militia for five days. He and his wife Lydia Cutter Teele had seven children. Their eldest son, also Jonathan (1784-1850), maintained a large fruit tree nursery on the family farmlands. He inherited the property after the elder Jonathan’s death and built his family a home, which became well-known in town, at the corner of Broadway and Curtis where The Cliff stands today.

Teele Square Fire Station, c. 1909

The younger Jonathan Teele and his wife Lydia Hill Teele had eight children. Their third-born son Samuel Teele (1818-1899) lived his entire life on the family land and was described by the Somerville Journal newspaper as “the oldest native resident of Clarendon Hill” when he died at age 80. He built his home up the road from his father on Curtis St., near today’s Professor’s Row. He sold the home and part of his property in 1867 to Tufts University and relocated to a newly constructed domicile across Curtis. The school moved the house up the street where it served as a home for Dr. Thomas J. Sawyer, first Dean of the Tufts Divinity School. It later fell into the hands of the Delta Upsilon Fraternity, which remodeled the home beyond recognition in 1938, retaining only a small wooden section at the rear of the building. The fraternity still occupies the home at 114 Professor’s Row.

Samuel Teele

Samuel married Phoebe Libby (later Teele) of Ossipee, NH and together they had six children. Their eldest son, Samuel Ferdinand Teele, enlisted in the Twenty-Sixth Massachusetts Regiment of the Union Army and served for nine months under General Philip Sheridan, fighting in the Battles of Winchester and Cedar Mountain during the Shenandoah Valley campaign of the American Civil War. Their second son, Jonathan Merle Teele, studied at the neighboring Tufts University and practiced as as physician in the Dorchester Lower Mills neighborhood of Boston. One of Samuel and Phoebe’s daughters, Phoebe Janette Teele, taught in the public schools. In 1902, she wrote a neighborhood sketch of her family’s land for Historic Leaves, a journal published by the Somerville Historical Society. In her essay, Janette records for future generations of readers the Teele family’s history in Somerville.

For more information on the history of the Teele Square Theatre (and more historic pictures of Teele Square) visit: http://www.losttheatres.org/album.php?album=teele


The F. H. Newton Company

DSCN0962The F. H. Newton Company was founded in 1915 by Frederic Huntington Newton of West Roxbury. The company manufactured doors and door frames, windows, medicine cabinets, porch rails and other woodworked architectural features. While its main offices were located near Boston’s Haymarket, at the corner of Portland St. and Sudbury St., the company’s workshop and warehouse buildings can still be found on Cameron Ave. along the border of Somerville and Cambridge.

Frederic Newton was born in Roxbury in 1865. He had light brown hair, hazel eyes and a prominent nose. His parents, Robert and Bridget Newton, were Irish immigrants and had lived for a time in Canada, where they delivered Frederic’s older brother John. In 1892, Frederic, about age 27, was married to Frances Haigh, herself born in England but raised in the United States. Frederic and Frances had three children: Elliott, Philip and Dorothy. Their first child, Elliott Haigh Newton was born in 1893, but died three years later from diphtheria, a leading cause of childhood death in the US before widespread immunizations became available in the 1920s. In 1907, The Newtons donated a stained glass window, Christ and the Children, to Emmanuel Episcopal Church in West Roxbury in Elliott’s memory. Today, it is among the oldest windows in the church. Frederic and Frances died months apart in 1950 – he went first in April, with his wife following in August. Services for both were held at Emmanuel Episcopal Church. Philip took over the business after his father’s death, retiring in 1962.

An advertisement in the 1918 Boston Register and Business Directory

Fires were a typical occurrence in the early 1900’s and the F. H. Newton warehouses were the site of two widely reported fires. The first, in 1917, drew fire engines from Somerville, Cambridge and Arlington and took over an hour and a half to put out. The fire, likely started by a workman’s discarded cigar, caused an estimated $20,000 in damages. It threatened nearby houses as well as the neighboring M. R. Carr Jewelry Manufacturing company but was extinguished before it could spread. Fire broke out again in 1930, this time costing $100,000 in damages and taking the life of a Cambridge fireman. While fighting the blaze, Thomas J. King collapsed from exhaustion and suffered a brain contusion in the fall. He was taken to Cambridge City Hospital but did not survive his injuries. King was 54 at the time of his death and had been a Cambridge firefighter for 24 years. Another man, a spectator who was struck by a falling timber, was also taken to Cambridge City Hospital. The burning warehouse gave off sparks and embers that were carried by the winds to nearby rooftops. Fire spread to several homes in the neighborhood across Cameron Ave. as well as a passing freight car – tying up street and train traffic and adding to the firefighters work. Drifting embers even ignited a Cambridge fire engine that had reported to the scene, necessitating that the firemen turn their hoses upon their own vehicle.

Fire at the F. H. Newton Co. plant on Cameron Ave., Sept. 1930

The F. H. Newton Company has a predecessor in the Jackson and Newton Company, whose warehouse was located across town on McGrath Highway. The company was founded in 1894 and named for Frederic Newton and his business partner Henry Webster Jackson. Jackson’s father Jacob gave his occupation as “moulder” and seems to have passed along the woodworking trade to his son. Henry Jackson’s son, Ernest Webster Jackson also entered the business (joining in 1915). Although Frederic left the company in 1915, his brother-in-law James R. Haigh continued on with the business and in 1928 led the firm in a merger with two other corporations. The newly formed Brockway-Smith-Haigh-Lovell Company took up offices in Charlestown and continues on today as BROSCO (Brockway-Smith Company) in Wilmington, Mass. The F. H. Newton Company did not enjoy the same longevity, however. In 1964, following an apparent bankruptcy, its remaining inventory was sold off at a public auction.

The Jackson and Newton Door and Sash Manufacturing Co. on McGrath Highway. The F. H. Newton company occupied this space from 1905 to 1926, when it relocated to Medford. (Photo taken in 1990)

Seven Hills Park


Seven Hills Park, behind the Davis Square Red Line stop, was completed in 1990. Like much of the Community Path that runs through Somerville, the park was built on property formerly occupied by the railroads. The park commemorates, on large, weathervane-like structures, the Seven Hills of Somerville – named in homage to the legendary Seven Hills of Rome.

Moving west from the Davis T station, the Walnut Hill sculpture, a clock announcing the name of the park, is the first encountered. The hill has also gone by the name “College Hill” and was chosen by the Universalist Church in 1854 as the site for Tufts University. It was selected in part because of its close proximity to Boston. The land had previously been owned by Boston businessman Charles Tufts, who donated twenty acres of land to the Church. He would later increase his gift to 100 acres of land around Walnut Hill in Somerville and Medford.

Ballou Hall, (c.1860), the first building to be constructed on Tufts’ campus, named for the school’s first President: Rev. Hosea Ballou.

In the early and mid 1600s, much of Somerville was an open pasture where Charlestown settlers brought their cattle to graze and was known as the “Stinted Pasture” or “Cow Commons.” Dairy farmers traveled over Spring Hill along the “Milk Row” back to Charlestown and Boston. This road still exists today as Somerville Ave. The city remained a pasture until the 1680s, when the land was split into lots with rangeways running between the divided parcels (today, these rangeways persist as the streets of Franklin, Cross, Walnut, School, Central, Lowell, Cedar, Willow, Curtis and North – the first east of McGrath Hwy., the last west of Tufts University). Spring Hill began to develop as a residential area in 1843, after the Fitchburg Railroad extended passenger service through the area. In the park, the hill’s agricultural past is commemorated by a cow sculpture.

The First Baptist Church of Somerville which formerly stood at the top of Spring HIll. Today, the Martin W. Carr School stands in its place.

Of Somerville’s seven hills, two: Cobble and Ploughed have been carved away. Cobble Hill is represented in the park by the Joseph Barrell House, which was demolished in 1925. Barrell was a Boston merchant and exporter and moved to Cobble Hill (which he called “Pleasant Hill”) in 1792. Barrell died in 1804 and in 1816 his vacant home (designed by Charles Bulfinch, who also designed the Massachusetts State House and made significant modifications to the US Capitol Building) was purchased by the Massachusetts General Hospital and repurposed as an asylum (later to be known as “The McLean Asylum for the Insane” and today called “McLean Hospital”). In the asylum’s early days, before the waterways separating Lechmere’s Point and Charlestown were filled in with land, Cobble Hill looked out over the Charles River with the Massachusetts General Hospital visible across the water. The asylum relocated to Belmont, Mass. in 1875. After the hospital vacated, the railroad companies moved in and built a freight terminus around the former asylum grounds. Cobble Hill has also been called “Asylum Hill” after its most famous structure and “Miller’s Hill” after Thomas Miller, who owned the land at one point.

The Joseph Barrell Mansion

For much of the city’s history, Clarendon Hill was agricultural land. On April 13th, 1861, just a day after the start of the American Civil War, US troops were organized around the hill in Cambridge and Somerville. Their quarters on Clarendon Hill were named “Camp Cameron” in honor of President Lincoln’s Secretary of War Simon Cameron. The encampment grounds extended from Clarendon Ave. to Shea Rd. in one direction and from Massachusetts Ave. to Holland St. in the other (140 acres in all). The camp was only used until 1862 and residential homes were built on the land in the 1870s after the Lexington and Arlington Railroad opened a station nearby. To celebrate the hill’s involvement with the war, several streets in this area are named for Civil War battles (including Glendale, Fair Oaks, Yorktown, Malvern and Seven Pines). Cameron Ave. runs through the middle of the former encampment. Clarendon Hill extends to Alewife Brook and is represented by an alewife fish in Seven Hills Park.

A notice from Camp Cameron forbidding soldier from leaving camp without a pass.

Of Somerville’s many hills, Prospect Hill is its best known and appears in the city’s seal. The hill is not only important in the history of Somerville, but the history of America: home to a revolutionary fort (known as “The Citadel”), Prospect Hill flew the first flag of the American colonies on January 1st, 1776. A replica of that flag, which displayed the thirteen red and white stripes of the modern flag but with the crosses of St. George and St. Andrew in place of today’s stars, still flies over the hill. Somerville’s independence from Charlestown was also forged on Prospect Hill when, on March 3rd, 1842, the town elected its first officials as a separate municipality. The tower, which represents the hill in Seven Hills Park, was constructed in 1903 as a memory to soldiers who had fought in the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. The hill has also been known as “Mount Pisgah,” a biblical reference used by British soldiers to mock the rebels who could see, but not enter, Boston from the hill much like Moses who viewed an inaccessible promised land from the biblical mountain. This name has fallen out of use, particularly as large parts of the hill have been removed to fill in Miller’s River, which once ran through Somerville.

Prospect Hill Park before 1955 (when the concrete retaining walls around the tower were added).

Paul Revere, on his famous midnight ride from Boston to Lexington, passed through Winter Hill along Broadway (which has also been known as “Winter Hill Road” and the “Road to Medford”). Today, a stone slab at the corner of Broadway and Main St. marks Revere’s path. Like the neighboring Prospect Hill, Winter Hill became heavily fortified after the Battle of Bunker Hill. In October of 1777, a group of German Hessian mercenaries, hired by the British army, were captured in Saratoga, N. Y. and brought to the Winter Hill Fort where they were detained for about a year before being relocated to Rutland, Mass. and later Virginia. The prisoners’ departure would mark the end of Somerville’s involvement in the war. Winter Hill is represented by an apple tree in memory of a large orchard which previously occupied the region.

A 1775 map of Boston and Charlestown with Winter Hill, Prospect Hill, Ploughed Hill and Cobble Hill (Miller’s Hill) marked. Middle Hill (today known as Central Hill) can also be seen.

Ploughed Hill, like Cobble Hill no longer exists. It was known as Ploughed Hill because of the way the fields surrounding the hill were ploughed in large circles around the summit. The hill has also gone by the names “Mount Benedict” and “Convent Hill” after the Ursuline Convent, which also represents Ploughed Hill in the park. In 1828, Catholic, French-Canadian nuns of the Ursuline order built a convent and boarding school on the hill. During its seven years of existence, the convent was not welcomed by the largely Protestant community. Rumors, fueled by a rising anti-Catholic sentiment in the region, that students were being mistreated and that nuns were being held against their will spread around town. On August 4th, 1834, men began to gather outside the convent grounds. They proceeded to force their way into the building and eventually set the structure on fire. The rioters had previously announced their intentions to destroy the convent on that night, however they were not met with much resistance from town officials. Similarly, while fire engines appeared on the scene, there is no record that they attempted to extinguish the fire. Of the many rioters, thirteen were arrested and tried. Only one, a seventeen year old boy, was convicted of any crime. He served seven months in prison. No nuns or students died in the incident as the women fled the building once their gates were torn down. Church leaders sought restitution from the government for their losses but their proposals were turned away several times. After the riots, the Ursulines relocated to Roxbury, where they continued to meet resistance. Eventually, the Ursulines left Boston – most returned to Quebec or joined another order in New Orleans. The ruins of the convent continued to stand on the hill for nearly fifty years.

The Ursuline Convent