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.
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.
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.
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 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
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