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.


Porter Square


The North Cambridge neighborhood known today as Porter Square takes its name from Zachariah B. Porter, a highly successful innkeeper once described as “a host no one could excel and very few could match.” Porter’s Hotel was demolished long ago to make way for new developments and his large cattle stockyards are now occupied by houses and business blocks. However, Porter’s name persists throughout the square.

Zachariah B. Porter, “Old Zach” as his patrons and friends called him, was born in 1797 in Vermont. In the early 1830s, Porter managed the Cattle Fair Hotel, a large hotel near the Brighton Stockyards. Brighton was, at the time, an important center of commerce for New England’s livestock industry and droves of cattle, sheep and pigs were brought down from Maine, New Hampshire and elsewhere to be slaughtered and sold. Porter remained in Brighton until 1837, when a falling out with the Cattle Fair’s owner, John Bennett, led him to a new business venture across the Charles River in Cambridge. Porter and his business partners – Colonel George Meacham and carriage manufacturer Ebenezer Kimball – purchased a recently foreclosed stockyard, slaughterhouse and hotel that had been constructed in 1931 by Sylvester Edson. The Cattle Market Hotel’s new owners would rename the business Porter’s Hotel, and under their watch it would become a Cambridge landmark.


Porter’s Hotel

The hotel, a drab-colored, three-story wooden structure with a row of gabled Lutheran windows projecting out from its sloped roof, stood at the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Upland Road. The surrounding stockyards occupied seventeen and a half acres and stretched all the way north to today’s Creighton Street. Cattlemen from as far away as Michigan would bring their droves to Porter’s before selling them in the Boston markets. In 1843, the Fitchburg Railroad was built through Porter Square, allowing even greater numbers of stock animals to be brought to market. Porter capitalized on the growing cattle trade and catered to the drovers’ needs – boarding cattle in the yards for free and offering discounted meals (drovers often ate for twenty-five cents while other patrons might pay a dollar or more for the same fare). Porter’s legendary hospitality quickly attracted the attention of well-to-do Cantabrigians and Harvard students, who were served side-by-side with the visiting cattlemen. People of all stripes appreciated the hotel’s beautifully decorated dancing hall, fresh cuts of beef and athletic contests and Porter’s became a fixture of the Cambridge community for generations.


The Porterhouse Steak at Peter Luger Steakhouse in Brooklyn

How famous was Porter’s Hotel? So famous it may have left a permanent mark on the American menu. Although competing legends exist, one theory asserts that the popular porterhouse steak may be named for the North Cambridge tavern and its beloved host. The porterhouse, a thick cut of beef with a T-shaped bone dividing a New York Strip Steak (also known as a top loin) and a large tenderloin filet, may have been first served at the hotel sometime after the Civil War, according to a report from one of Porter’s former cooks. Skeptics have pointed out that Old Zach’s establishment was always referred to as “Porter’s Hotel” and never “Porter’s House.” In the 1800s, many taverns did bill themselves as “porter-houses” after the dark, malty porter beers they served. Two such establishments – one in Manhattan and the other in Georgia – claim to have invented the porterhouse steak. Sandusky, Ohio also claims to be the steak’s birthplace. The story goes that, while on a 1842 tour of America, author Charles Dickens spent an extended stay at the Porter House, a Sandusky hotel. Later in his trip, in Buffalo, N. Y., Dickens requested “a steak like you get at the Porter house in Sandusky.” Dickens’ Buffalo innkeeper wrote Sandusky for the recipe and later advertised that his establishment sold a “Porter-house steak like Charles Dickens likes.” An 1842 register from the Sandusky Porter House bears Charles Dickens’ signature, but his thoughts on the steak (and what it was called) were not recorded.

Zachariah Porter died in 1864 and was buried in Mt. Auburn Cemetery. Following his death, the hotel was leased to Amos Pike, who continued to operate an inn on the premises. The neighboring cattle markets were closed in 1871, but the hotel persisted with a succession of proprietors at the helm. By 1901, the tavern had come under the management of Edwin I. D. Houck, who had occasional run-ins with the law over illegal stores of liquor kept at the hotel. Houck disappeared one night in August 1901 and his wife Cora became the hotel’s new proprietor. The Cambridge papers at the time reported that “domestic infelicity is attributed to his sudden disappearance,” suggesting that he may have run out on his wife and skipped town. In 1903, Caroline Porter, Old Zach’s daughter, sold the property to real estate managers William F. Brooks and James J. Conley, who already owned much of the land in the surrounding area. Under Brooks and Conley, the hotel was mostly unsuccessful and in 1907, they moved the building to the back of the lot so that a more modern business block could be put up on the corner. The hotel was converted into apartments, which proved to be an unpopular venture. By 1909, Brooks and Conley had demolished the historic inn and built a large garage in its place.


Adjutant General Josiah Porter

Many turn-of-the-century articles eulogizing Zachariah Porter and his famous hotel also make mention of his son Josiah. Born in 1830, Josiah was a Harvard graduate and led a decorated military career. He served as Captain of the Massachusetts 1st Battery during the Civil War and later as Colonel of the 22nd Regiment of the New York National Guard. In 1886, he was appointed Adjutant-General of New York (the state’s highest military office). He died on December 14th, 1894 after suffering a stroke while aboard the Third Avenue elevated train in Manhattan. He was buried near his father in Mt. Auburn Cemetery. In 1902, the 22nd Regiment honored his memory with a statue in Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx. The inscription reads: “erected by the National Guard of New York in appreciation of his fidelity as a patriot, his qualities as a soldier and his services on behalf of the National Guard.”


Gift of the Wind

Today, Porter Square’s most eye-catching feature is Gift of the Wind, a large-scale steel sculpture set nearly fifty feet in the air. The sculpture, three red, balloon-like wings which flip in the wind and rotate around their aluminum base, is located just outside the Porter Square MBTA station and across the street from the former location of Porter’s Hotel. It is one of the most recognizable pieces in the MBTA’s art collection and was commissioned as part of the “Arts on the Line” initiative in 1985. Its sculptor is Susumu Shingu, an Osaka-born artist who has created large, kinetic installations for public spaces around the world. The Boston area is home to two other Shingu works: Echo of the Waves, a marine life-inspired piece outside the New England Aquarium, and Wind Traveller in Eastport Park.

Holland Street


Part 2: The Death of Holland Bennett

Holland St., the road joining Davis and Teele Squares in Somerville, Mass. was named for Silas Harvey Holland, a carriage maker, farmer and politician who spent a large part of his life in Somerville. Silas was born in Boston in 1814 to Samuel Holland and Martha Rogers Holland. Born in Liverpool, England, Samuel made his living in America as a sailor. Only a few months after the birth of his son, Samuel captained a ship out of Boston and was lost at sea. Silas and his older brother James, two years old at the time, were left fatherless. Martha remarried in 1819 to Ephraim Trowbridge, a wool merchant from Marlborough, Mass. The Hollands moved to Ephraim’s hometown, where he and Martha had four children of their own.

The family relocated to Northborough, Mass. While there, Silas learned the carriage maker’s trade. In 1835, his new career took him to Cambridge, where he found employment with the railroad car manufacturers Davenport and Bridges. The firm was one of the most successful railroad car companies of its time and owned factories in Cambridgeport and Kendall Square. Silas remained with the business until 1853, when health problems caused him to retire. His working days behind him, Silas and his family moved to West Somerville, purchasing a farm on Broadway from Thomas Teele in 1856.

In Somerville, Silas raised fruits and vegetables for sale in a small market-garden operation. In his 35 years on the farm, he became well-ingrained in the community, rising to several civic positions. In the local government, Silas spent several years as an Assessor and was elected to the Board of Selectmen from 1866 to 1869. He lent his reputation and talents to the Somerville Savings Bank where he served as a Trustee and Vice President and to the Somerville Hospital where he was a founding board member. Silas took an active role in the city’s religious life – he was a board member of the Park Avenue Methodist Episcopal Church, which was organized by a group of Methodist families in West Somerville seeking a larger meeting place for their religious services. He was also a Vestry member of the St. James Episcopal Church, a Cambridge church located at the corner of Massachusetts Ave. and Beech St. The church organized a mission chapel near Teele Square in 1876, where Silas also served. He may have felt compelled to give back to Somerville on account of being one of the city’s wealthiest residents. An 1888 article in The Boston Globe lists him as one of a small number of rich men living in the city, with “something like $200,000” (comparable to about $40,000,000 today).

Silas Holland

Silas married Sarah Shattuck Locke of Lancaster, Mass. on May 13th, 1844. Sarah, the daughter of Major Jonathan Locke of Charlestown and Mary Tufts Locke, had worked as a school teacher before marriage. The couple was married for 54 years until Silas’ death on September 23rd, 1898. He lived long enough to see his namesake road laid out in the late 1860s. Sarah would follow him ten years later in November 1908. Both she and Silas are buried in Cambridge Cemetery.

The Hollands had three children – Harriet “Hattie” Reed Holland, who never married; James Franklin Holland, who died in infancy and Sarah Jane “Jennie” Holland, who married Josiah Quincy Bennett in 1879 and who had five children of her own: Holland, Harold, Ruth, Edward and Clark. Like his great-grandfather, Holland Bennett met his untimely end at sea. While on his honeymoon in Italy, Holland disappeared aboard a steamship to Naples. His mysterious and shocking death became international news with rampant speculation concerning his final moments appearing in papers across the country. Was it suicide? Murder? Was he still alive? Read more in Part 2: The Death of Holland Bennett.

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.

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:

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

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.

The Gorin Building


The Gorin Building, at 255 Elm St., has only stood in Davis Square since 1986, relatively young compared to many of its neighbors. However, it shares both its location and name with the family’s previous venture: Gorin’s department store, which, for many years, provided West Somerville with an affordable shopping destination.

Nehemias Gorin was born in 1880 in Poland, then a part of the Russian Empire, and immigrated to the United States, 20 years old, in 1900. In that same year, he founded Gorin’s in Woburn, Mass. The store quickly became known for its low prices across departments including men’s, women’s and children’s clothing and accessories, infant wear, lingerie, shoes, linens, housewares and furnishings. Gorin’s burgeoning business grew past Woburn with stores opening in Everett, South Boston, Watertown Square, Central Square in Cambridge and Union Square (at the corner of Bow St. and Warren Ave.). The Davis Square location, occupying both floors of the building, as well as a basement and an overlooking mezzanine connected to the first floor by a broad staircase, may have been built as early as 1920 and was certainly in operation by 1934 when it participated in a boycott of Nazi goods led by the American Jewish Congress.

Gorin’s in Davis Square on December 16,1970 – From the City of Somerville Archives (picture is linked to the Archive’s Tumbr)

In September of 1951, to celebrate its 51st anniversary, Gorin’s raffled off a series of high-ticket items featured in its window displays. Winners included Walter Golden of Somerville, who received a deep freezer unit. In all, the 20 prizes held a retail value of $2,000. By this time, the business employed over 3,000 people working in over 20 stores, including a brand-new location at Shopper’s World in Framingham, designed with an eye for modern fashion and convenience. Its purchase of the Almy, Bigelow and Washburn department store chain added locations in Salem, Danvers and Beverly. Later acquisitions and mergers expanded the company to New Bedford, Mass, Manchester, N.H., Waterbury, Conn. and Rochester, N.Y.

Gorin’s Department Store in Davis Square, 1955.

Nehemias Gorin passed away in 1961 at the age of 82. He was still actively involved in the company at the time of his death. He and his wife Rebecca had several children, many of whom worked in the family business. In 1984, the Gorin family sold their company, by this time 32-stores strong and re-branded as  “Almy’s,” to an investment group. The Gorin’s business had been struggling to make a profit since 1978. By 1985, the new owners had sold most of the Almy’s chain to the Stop & Shop Companies. The Davis Square location, however, was purchased by members of the Gorin family for redevelopment, anticipating the growth and renewal the neighborhood would see after the Davis Red Line stop was built in 1984. In redesigning the facilities, the Gorins replaced the original facade and filled in the mezzanine level which had once overlooked bustling shoppers on the ground floor.

The Sprague and Hathaway Co.


The Sprague and Hathaway Company, which once occupied the four-story brick building on Day St. in Davis Square, began life in 1874 as a small, three-person enterprise at the corner of Harrison Ave. and Beach St. in Boston’s Chinatown district. By the end of the nineteenth century, Sprague-Hathaway had become one of West Somerville’s premier industries with products shipped across the country and around the world.

Four years after its founding in Boston, Sprague-Hathaway relocated to less-expensive Somerville, Mass. As the business grew, from its original work producing and enlarging portraits to the manufacturing of picture frames, easels and mouldings (and later albums, adhesives and a variety of other photo mounting equipment), it outgrew its office space at the corner of Holland St. and Wallace (near Davis Square Dental today.) In 1887, the company had moved across Davis Square, erecting a brand new building on the corner of Day and Elm. Sprague-Hathaway’s new $40,000 complex included company offices, artists’ studios, manufacturing space and a showroom displaying an assortment of frames and moulding in cases of oak and glass. The building’s first floor held retail space rented to other businesses while the fourth floor contained a lodge hall used by eight different fraternal organizations and secret societies and a banquet room with capacity for 100 people. At the time, Sprague-Hathaway employed over 150 people and with its vibrant, multi-purpose building likely contributed heavily to the development of Davis Square and West Somerville, which began to develop and thrive. In 1890, the business was incorporated with $100,000 in capital. A second building, on which the Sprague and Hathaway Co. name can still be found, was put up at the corner of Day and Herbert streets.

Illustration from the Cambridge Tribune, 4/28/1888.

While the company kept the name of both W. D. Sprague and James Foster Hathaway, the latter seems to have had a more direct involvement with the company. Sprague retired from the company in its second year, citing poor health. Hathaway, who married Bertha Bell Sprague in 1858 and was very likely W. D. Sprague’s brother-in-law, continued on as President. A Somerville resident (first at 23 Wallace St., later at 88 College Ave.,) Hathaway was quite engaged civically, and served as a Director of both the Somerville National Bank and the Somerville Trust Company. He was also a charter member of the Somerville Hospital board when it was founded in 1891. Within his industry, J. F. Hathaway appears to have been well known and liked. He frequently attended trade conventions and helped organize the first New England Convention of Photographers in Boston. After his death on January 13th, 1913, his obituary was run in Photo-Era Magazine. It included a note of sympathy from Eastman Kodak founder George Eastman who described Hathaway as “a man who has always had the respect, admiration and friendship of the entire photographic trade.”

In 1915, to commemorate the completion of the Panama Canal, San Francisco held the Panama-Pacific International Exposition. Sprague-Hathaway, at its convention booths, exhibited portraits and sepia-toned enlargements. The Photographic Journal of America reported that over one million people visited the company’s demonstration. Even before this world’s fair, the studio’s products were sold internationally, with the shipping department fulfilling orders from Mexico, Canada, the British Empire and elsewhere. Sprague-Hathaway claimed to be “the largest establishment in this line, in the world,” and The Somerville Journal proudly celebrated J. W. Hathaway as having made Somerville known in “every state in the Union.”

The Sprague-Hathaway factory, from a 1909 guide to the City of Somerville published by the Edison Electric Illuminating Co.

The Sprague-Hathaway building made history on the night of Jan. 16th, 1916 when it became the site of one of Somerville’s worst fires. Described in the city’s 1916 annual report as “one of the most disastrous fires that has visited our city for more than 25 years,” the fire was discovered at 10:19 by a company foreman who smelled smoke billowing down from the third floor. The third and fourth floors of the building were engulfed, with flames climbing through the roof and causing nearly $100,000 in damages. While no deaths were recorded, ten firemen, arriving from North Cambridge, were injured, with seven treated at Somerville Hospital. The upper stories of the studio destroyed, Sprague-Hathaway temporarily relocated operations to the Henderson Carriage Factory in Cambridge. By the next year, damage to the studio was repaired, and Sprague-Hathaway’s employees commemorated the new building by presenting the company’s President Charles Wallis with an American flag amid music, readings and celebration.

The Sprague Hathaway Co. was dissolved in 1958. A successor company appears to have formed in Woburn, Mass. and an 1987 job posting advertises positions for frame cutters and assemblers, stock clerks and truck drivers for the Sprague Hathaway Co., Inc. The Better Business Bureau lists a Woburn company “engaged in the manufacturing and distribution of wholesale frame,” established in 1874 and incorporated in 1971. This company no longer appears to be in business. Besides the two buildings on Day St., the company’s name survives on several antique prints, portraits and frames produced in its Somerville factory and studio.

The Studio Building on Elm St.

The Studio Building on Elm St.