Lyndell’s Bakery

Lyndell’s Bakery, the long-standing Ball Square establishment, has been serving cakes, donuts and other treats since 1887. Across four owners and over one hundred years of operation, the store remains mostly unchanged with its decor recalling a bygone era of American life and its pastries made each day according to antique recipes. Amid changing storefronts, new neighbors and a growing community, Lyndell’s has been a well-loved Somerville tradition.

Birger C. Lindahl was born in Sweden in 1866. Upon arriving in the United States in 1882, he began using the Americanized spelling Lyndell. On May 5th, 1887, the same year he founded the bakery, Birger married Mary Emma Allen, an American whose father was from Maine and mother from Ireland, at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Boston. Eight years later, on October 11th, 1895, Mary gave birth to the couple’s only son: Allen August Lyndell, named for Mary’s family and Birger’s father August. The Lyndell family moved around for several years, to Boston, Newton and Malden, before settling down in Somerville’s Powderhouse Square, just a short walk from the bakery. Around this time, in 1904, the Lyndells made a cross-Atlantic trip to Sweden, presumably to introduce Mary and Allen to Birger’s relatives there. In a time before commercial air travel, this was no easy jaunt. Their return passage to the United States required them to sail from Gothenburg, on Sweden’s Western coast, to Liverpool, England and from there to traverse the Atlantic Ocean aboard the SS Cretic to Boston. A few years before, in 1901, the Lyndells made a much shorter trip from Dudley Square to Sullivan Square as passengers on the Boston Elevated Railway’s inaugural ride along that route. Seventy-five years later, Allen was one of a dozen or so surviving passengers invited to ride the first Orange line train from Sullivan Square down to North Station.


Birger Lyndell

Birger and Mary were both greatly involved in their civic community. He served as a member of the New England Bakers Association as well as several fraternal societies in the area, including the Somerville Lodge of Freemasons. She was deeply committed to veteran’s causes and served as Secretary of the American War Mothers of Massachusetts and as President of the Welfare Association of the 101st Engineers, the Massachusetts National Guard battalion to which their son Allen belonged during World War I. In 1937, Birger and Mary celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary in the gold room of the elegant Hotel Kenmore in Boston. Befitting their many connections and commitments, the large party had over one hundred guests, including Somerville Mayor Leslie E. Knox. On August 22nd, 1944, Birger Lyndell died at age 80. Almost exactly one year later, Mary Lyndell, Birger’s wife for over fifty-seven years, died at age 84.

Birger Lyndell sold his bakery to Eugene and Albert Klemm, a pair of German-born brothers, in 1932. Both Klemm brothers came to the business with considerable experience. Eugene had been living with his sister Maria and her husband Frank Favorat in Malden. Frank owned Nelson’s Bakery in Malden and employed Eugene as a baker. Around the same time, Albert was living in Lynn with their uncle Carl and his family. Carl owned Klemm’s Bakery in Lynn where Albert learned his craft. After purchasing Lyndell’s, both brothers moved to Somerville: Albert with his wife Erica and Eugene with his wife Clara and their daughter Louise. In 1972, the Klemms sold the bakery to Herman and Janet Kett, two long-time Lyndell’s employees. Eugene hired Herman in 1959 and sponsored his immigration to the United States. Herman, 24 years old at the time, had been a baker’s apprentice in Germany and found the job through a neighbor there – Eugene and Albert Klemm’s mother. Janet had grown up across the street from Lyndell’s and began working there at age 14. She and Herman met at the store and later married. Under the Ketts’ management, the Klemm family continued to be involved with the bakery. Eugene continued to keep the books and helped out during the holidays. Walter Klemm, Eugene and Albert’s nephew, has been Lyndell’s master baker for over thirty years, and has worked for the Ketts as well as the store’s current owners.


Lyndell’s Bakery in Ball Square.

When Lyndell’s current owners purchased the bakery in 2000, they also bought the store’s collection of hundred-year-old recipes. Included among the pies and strudels are Lyndell’s moons, which have become one of the bakery’s featured items. A moon, a disc of golden yellow cake frosted with white buttercream on one half and chocolate on the other, is similar to New York City’s famous black and white cookies but with a lighter base – more of a fluffy, moist cake than a dense, crumbly cookie – and creamier frosting, rather than the stiff fondant that tops the black and white. Moons are popular throughout upstate New York and New England and Hemstrought’s Bakery in Utica, N. Y. is sometimes attributed with inventing the treat. Lyndell’s says it has been handmaking moons for over one hundred year, which puts Hemstrought’s, opened in 1925, claim into question. One theory suggests that both moons and black and white cookies are American descendants of a German cookie, one with a similar base but frosted entirely in white. That cookie is, however, commonly known as an “amerikaner” (“American”) in Germany, which leads to a chicken-and-egg situation: did Germans bring the cookie to America, or did Americans bring the cookie to Germany? Both answers may be true, with German and Jewish immigrants first bringing the recipe to the United States in the 1800s and the cookies later becoming so popular with American servicemen in WWII, who were reminded of sweets they had eaten at home, that amerikaners were named in their honor.


Ball Square


When John N. Ball moved to Somerville, his neighborhood, which today is named in his honor, had only recently begun to develop. Bordered on the west by Quarry Hill (now Nathan Tufts Park) and on the east by the Boston and Lowell Railroad, the Ball Square strip along Broadway was predominately farmland until the 1880s.

John N. Ball was born in 1835 in Antrim, N.H. The Ball family had resided along the side of Antrim’s Robb Mountain since 1787 when John’s grandfather James Ball (1764-1850) took refuge there following Daniel Shays’ armed rebellion against the US government (one of the rebel leaders in that conflict, Job Shattuck, was a distant cousin of James’ wife and organized protests in and around Groton, Mass., near James’ native Townsend, Mass). Soon after John’s birth, his parents moved the family to Marlow, N.H., a few towns over. John stayed in Marlow for his boyhood, striking out at his own at age seventeen and moving to Nashua, N.H. to manage a hotel. He made his life in Nashua for eight years before heading out to see the country: living first in Wisconsin and then in New Orleans under the employ of the US Custom Service. Around 1875, John returned home to New England, settling in Somerville, where he would find success in business and politics and spend the remainder of his life.

John Nichols Ball

In those days, John boarded with his uncle Alden Nichols who owned an insole factory, Nichols, Lovejoy and Co., in Boston.  Following the path of his uncle, John found employment in the sole manufacturing business, working first as a factory foreman before starting his own company. In 1879, he married Emma Thrasher and by 1881 the couple was boarding with Emma’s widowed mother Hannah. Both the Nichols and Thrasher homes were located on Broadway, and in 1883, John opened his insole factory along that same road, at 686 Broadway, between Josephine and Rogers Aves. He, Emma and their three children: Gertrude, Edwin and Ethel, made their home next door at 694 Broadway.

Now a notable area businessman, John took up politics in 1895. That year, he began his term as a member of Somerville’s Common Council. In 1897 he was elected to the Somerville Board of Aldermen and by the next year served as Board President. John was discussed as a potential Republican candidate for mayor. Instead, he chose to enter state politics, running successfully as Representative for the 7th Middlesex District in 1900. John was well liked enough in his first term that he was reelected to the House in 1901. His burgeoning political career was cut short, however, by his death that October at age 56.

Ball Square in 1910

John had been ill for several months leading up to his death and took a vacation to Maine and New Hampshire in hopes of recovery. Returning to Massachusetts, his health declined again and he was taken to either Massachusetts General Hospital or the Massachusetts Homeopathic Hospital (accounts vary) for a kidney operation and died while under ether. The funeral, held at the West Somerville Baptist Church, was attended by several prominent individuals, including the Speaker and Sergeant-at-Arms of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, Mayor Edward Glines, former mayor Zebedee E. Cliff, state Representatives from Boston, Cambridge, Chelsea, Marlborough, Medford , Winchester and Woburn, several city Aldermen and members of the town’s business community. Somerville’s flags flew at half-mast that day as a show of respect to the much-liked politician. The House of Representatives passed an official resolution that declared “[John] won the confidence and respect of all those who had the opportunity to observe the uprightness of his character, the sagacity of his judgement, and the faithfulness of his work.” Likewise, the local Republican Club issued a statement that “those bound to him by family thus suffer a loss which we are well aware our sympathy cannot assuage. Yet we would have them know that this man was appreciated and beloved by his fellowmen, and that in their grief they are not alone.” Their condolences perhaps acknowledge how young John’s family was: his son had only graduated from grade school a few years earlier, as well as the esteemed position he held in the community.

Ball Square today

Shortly before his death, John relocated his insole business to South Boston. His wife remained in their Broadway house until 1909. In 1911, the former Ball properties were torn down and the Ball Block, which stands today, was opened in its place. By taking the Ball name, the new development helped preserve John’s legacy in the square. In 1922, the Board of Aldermen received a petition to rename Ball Square. Had the proposal succeeded, the neighborhood would have been called Judson G. Martell Square, in honor of a Somerville-born Army Lieutenant who was killed in action during World War I near Cunel, France on Oct. 14th, 1918.

The Hillson Building


The Hillson Building, financed by local tinware manufacturer Hyman M. Hillson, has been described by the Massachusetts Historical Commission as the “most elaborate building in [Ball] Square.” Occupying the corner of Broadway and Boston Ave., its embellishments include composite column capitals, leaf-shaped acroteria and bas-relief urn medallions. As emblazoned across its facade, the structure was completed in 1925 during a period of increased development along Broadway. The Hillson and its neighbors in Ball Square were constructed to accommodate the growing population of the Powderhouse area, which had been farmland until the late 1800s.

Broadway around 1910.

Hyman Moses Hillson was born in Poland on February 23rd, 1853. In 1870, he moved to the United States at age 16, coming first to Boston and later moving to Baltimore, Md. and Revere, Mass. before settling in Somerville. He may have founded the H. M. Hillson Company, which manufactured tinware kitchen goods including bread pudding molds, cake pans and measuring cups, as early as 1878. By 1898, the company employed 23 people and in 1916, it placed a want ad seeking a foreman with the experience to manage a staff of 100 men. Hillson’s operation included a factory in the Ten Hills neighborhood of Somerville and storerooms in Boston. On July 22nd, 1922, while in their Ten Hills office, Hyman Hillson, his brothers Joseph and G. Irving Hillson and five employees were held up by a trio of gunman. The three robbers, the youngest aged about 18, the oldest about 24, entered the building while the Hillson brothers were handing out pay envelopes for the week. They escaped in a small, “shabby” getaway car less than three minutes later with $1,775 in cash. Dirt and grime rendering their license plates illegible, Somerville police were unable to track down the three young men.

A Hillson measuring cup made around 1931 or 1933. Part of the Smithsonian collections.

Joseph Hillson (born in 1865) worked as a foreman at his older brother’s factory. Outside of the family business, Joseph involved himself in the civic, religious and political life of the city of Somerville. As an alderman, elected in 1913 as Alderman-at-large from Ward 4, he helped govern the city. He was also highly influential in establishing Temple B’nai Brith at the corner of Broadway and Central St. As President of the Hebrew Educational Society, he was among a group of petitioners who called on the Commonwealth to construct the synagogue and school that would become B’nai Brith . He also served as President of the local B’nai Brith lodge chapter, which became, under Joseph’s leadership, the largest lodge of its order in the Eastern US, growing from 170 members to more than 1,400. Hyman supported the B’nai Brith effort as well and was named Chairman of the congregation when construction on the temple began in 1915. Joseph was unable to see the project come to completion, dying in March of 1923, just a few months before work was expected to end. Joseph’s death at 44 was sudden and unexpected. While returning from a short vacation down south, he dropped dead on the deck of the steamship Arapahoe. Joseph was survived by his wife Sophia, a daughter and two sons. Only two years later, his son Meyer, a member of the Yankee Division, died at age 29.

The Hillson Building was once adjoined by the Ball Square Theatre. For more information, visit:

Hyman Hillson retired from the tin business in 1925. By that time, he was not only a founder of B’nai Brith, but also of the Associated Jewish Philanthropies and Beth Israel Hospital in Boston. He had also spent time as a member of the Boston Chamber of Commerce and was involved with several fraternal organizations. In 1929, he and his wife Elka celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary. The Hillsons had five daughters: Rachel, Sarah, Dora, Ida and Miriam. Two of Hyman’s sons-in-law: Harris Gordon and Benjamin Morse, married to Dora and Miriam, respectively, would later manage the family’s properties, including the Hillson Building. They also had at least one son, Robert, who left the tinware business in 1921 to pursue a career in vaudeville with his cousin Ralph Hillson. The H. M. Hillson Company appears to have stayed in family hands, with a third generation of Hillsons later taking over management. Hyman died in Havana, Cuba in 1933. He had been in failing health and had taken a cruise through the West Indies in hopes of recovery. Had Hyman survived, he would have turned 80 years old the following week. He was interred at the Tifereth Israel Cemetery in West Roxbury, joining Elka who died in 1931. Funeral services for both were held at the B’nai Brith congregation to which they had been so devoted during their lives.