Bedford Book (1897)


By Rev. Edwin Smith.

Times change and men change with them; hence communities change, and a period of ten years notes not a few changes of one kind or another.

The natural scenery on which the eye has gazed for years presents nearly the same aspect; the hills are the same and the valleys; the familiar walks and drives are as of yore; the sun rises in the same quarter and disappears, as in former days, in the glowing west; many an old landmark remains; the brook and rivulet flow on in their accustomed channel; “the orchard, the meadow, the deep-tangled wildwood” wear the same familiar look.

But in the midst of this seeming permanency, changes have been quietly going on, and this fact should be welcomed, for “each to-morrow finds us farther than to-day.” The “good old times” pass away and give place to far better times. Each generation enriches the succeeding generation. The present is wiser and richer by reason of the past.

A stranger visiting Bedford ten years ago, and coming back to-day, if he had his eyes and ears open, would say the town has been marching on. He would note, in the first place, the disappearance of certain old dilapidated buildings that were an eye-sore and a blot on the otherwise fair landscape. Public sentiment declared against them, and they no longer disfigure our streets. We can sing as not before, the words of the old missionary hymn, “every prospect pleases.”

One lot, made vacant by the removal of an old-time house, is now occupied by a block of stores, which, if not a skyscraper, is a convenience to the town, and the genial occupants of the stores are prepared to furnish the public with drugs and medicines of all sorts, or with choice groceries, as the case may be. [*1][*2] These later comers among us, as well as those who continue at the “old stands,” are all deservedly receiving a share of the patronage of the people, who appreciate honest dealers and honest goods.

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The “annex” of one of our new stores is occupied by a tonsorial artist who is master of his profession, and a visit here transforms a homely man into a handsome man. [*3] Ten years ago such appliances to improve the human face were not found here, and the change is one fully appreciated by the public. We are no longer obliged to depend on Boston for our good looks. Our visitor, after the lapse of ten years, gratefully notes this change. The introduction of street lamps, even if sometimes they make the darkness darker, is another welcome change. The building of concrete sidewalks is a notable improvement of the last decade, and the stranger who on his former visit waded through mud and water, can now go dry-shod. New streets have been laid out, ornamented with shade trees that grow more beautiful each year. Many new and attractive houses have been built, notably those on Hillside Avenue. [*4]

A visit to the “Springs” reveals marvelous changes and improvements there. New buildings, commodious and attractive, adorn the well-kept grounds, which are fast growing into a veritable garden. The residence of Dr. Hayden is conspicuous for its beauty. It overlooks the lake — a thing of beauty. [*5] Another building attracts the lovers of art. Its walls are adorned with choice paintings, and one lingers and admires this free exhibition which the owner’s generosity has provided to increase the love for the beautiful, and to add to the pleasure and enjoyment of his fellow-men. [*6] Money and art and good taste have combined to beautify this section of our town, and if the man who plants a tree, that future generations may enjoy its shade and fruit, is counted a benefactor, we surely must place the name of Dr. W. R. Hayden among the benefactors of Bedford. During the period we are covering, two of the churches in the village have been greatly improved and modernized. [*7]

The conveniences and appointments now are such as to facilitate the various lines of work the modern church is expected to do. [*8] The “Public Library,” too, has kept pace with the onward march, and one visiting the limited space into which the books were crowded ten years ago and then passing into our present enlarged and convenient rooms would exclaim: “How great the change!” [*9][*10] and on roaming about in the well-furnished rooms connected with the Library, his astonishment and gratification at the change and improvement over former days increases.

At the opening of the period before us, Bedford was without telegraph or telephone communication with the outer world. The people were subjected to great inconvenience and annoyance oftentimes, and to heavy expense. But now we are in touch with the great busy world; both these modern helps of life have come among us, and we can now talk with our friends miles away, or send a telegram, as circumstances may require. Ten years ago, we had no manufacturing interest in town, such as we have to-day. The “Boston Wood Rim Company”

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now established here, has brought in many new families and furnishes employment for a large number of men; and the busy hum of industry is a welcome sound. [*11] The community feels the touch of this new life.

While these material changes and improvements are noticeable, there have been even greater changes and improvements along educational and moral lines. The temperance sentiment is stronger. When the writer came to Bedford in 1886, to his surprise and disappointment he found it a license town. [*12] An open bar was a temptation to young men; or, if not this, the vile drink could be obtained easily. For several years the annual vote has been practically unanimous for no-license. One is ashamed now to cast his vote for license. He loses caste with all the better portion of people. [*13] Our schools have reached a higher grade. [*14] They are better housed in the new and convenient school-building which takes the place of the ill-ventilated and poorly lighted rooms of other days. Better salaries are paid, and thus teachers more thoroughly equipped are secured.

The superintendence of the schools by an efficient supervisor, who devotes all his time to schools, is a vast improvement over the old method, and is a change that Bedford welcomes. A love for the higher education of the advanced school is another change we note. More young people are pursuing such courses of study, or have recently completed them from our community than ever before. We have, or have had during the past few years, representatives at Wellesley College, Williams and Harvard and Tufts Colleges, the School of Technology, Tufts Medical College, Andover Theological Seminary, the Boston Latin School, Mount Holyoke College, the Cambridge Latin School and the Concord High School. Such a record certainly speaks well for the town and shows progress in the right direction. Such ambition on the part of parents and children is commendable. No town can afford to remain at a stand-still, or to take backward steps in the matter of education. The abolishing of the district system and the consolidation of the schools is another change worthy of mention, and one that has resulted in rich fruitage. [*15][*16]

Such are a few of the changes that the ten years have brought to us, the improvements that have marked our history. What better things will the next decade bring to Bedford? Will the town continue to advance morally, religiously, intellectually and in material interests? In the words of the immortal Webster: “The largest room in the world is the room for improvement.” [*17]




  1. “an old-time house”: the Lane-Fitch House
    Moved to 78-80 Fletcher Road. (HPN) p 93
  2. “a block of stores”: (what was) the Fletcher-Sheldon Block: 68-84 Great Road
    Demolished in 2011. (HPN) p 92 | Now the Blake Block: 62-88 Great Road
  3. “tonsorial artist”: (professional) barber
  4. cf. “Residence of Wallace G. Webber” house prints (BHB) II: p 43
    Webber’s mansion (and its barn) were built in 1886. (HPN) p 118
  5. cf. “View of Fawn Lake and Bedford Springs” landscape print (BHB) Appendix
    Hayden’s mansion — “Lakeside” — was reportedly built “sometime between ca. 1888 and 1891”.
    Since demolished. (HPN) pp 217-218
  6. cf. (perhaps) “Springs House” house print (BHB) Appendix
  7. The Trinitarian Congregational church was renovated in 1886. (BHB) p 56
    The First Parish meetinghouse was renovated soon after. (Story) unpaged
  8. “conveniences and appointments”: amenities and furnishings
  9. “the limited space”: in Aaron March’s store: beside 4 Great Road
    Moved. Now a private home: 22-24 Loomis Street. (HPN) p 76
  10. “our present . . . rooms”: in (what is now) Old Town Hall: 16 South Road
  11. The Boston Wood Rim Company manufactured wood bicycle rims.
  12. “a license town”: a town that permits the sale of alcohol
  13. “caste”: (social) standing
  14. Bedford began offering a two-year high-school course in 1885.
    This offering became a three-year course in 1889. (BHB) p 20
  15. The Union School was completed in 1891. (BHB) p 109
  16. “fruitage” (i.e., “fruits”): profits
  17. It seems near-certain that this witticism did not originate with Webster. This saying appears to have first seen print perhaps ten years after Webster’s death in 1852– and was not originally attributed to him.
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