Public Grounds — Deed of Back Common —
Location of Public Buildings — Wilson Park.
If I were a painter, I could paint
The dwarfed and straggling wood,
And the hillside where the meeting-house
With wooden belfry stood,
A dozen steps from the door,— alone,
On four square pillars of rough gray stone.
Alice Cary. [*1]
This town has but few parks or public grounds. The “Training Field, or Common,” now comprises the land about the meeting-house which was erected in 1816 by the town.
The enclosed tract represents but a fractional part of the land at first held by the town for public purposes. According to records referred to in a previous chapter, the gifts of land in 1729
“towards the encouragement of the new town”
amounted to thirteen acres, but it is evident that a much larger portion was held by the town. [*2] It is possible that the tract given by the several donors proved by survey to contain more than the recorded promise indicated, as was the case in the Winthrop farm. It appears from the vote of Oct. 13, 1729, that land was obtained by purchase as well as by gift.
“Samuel Fitch and Stephen Davis were chosen to tacke cear of the Bond and to tacke the Deed for the Town of the land that Wadkins sold to the Commeety.” [^1]
This doubtless refers to land bargained for before the incorporation, on which to begin the meeting-house in anticipation of the new township. As the only committee at work before the incorporating act was passed, that needed land, was the building committee, the conclusion most naturally is that the land on which the meeting-house was erected was obtained by purchase, and not by gift, as tradition has led many to believe.
Sixteen acres of the common land went to Rev. Nicholas Bowes as a portion of his settlement fee; about one acre was assigned for a burial ground in the lot given by Israel Putnam; and from time to time highways have been taken from the common land.
It is evident that the site selected for the meeting-house was covered with heavy timber, and that the present village site was an unbroken forest, save where a few bold pioneers had made clearings and established homes away from the parent villages. “Trodden paths” had been marked out in winding courses by travellers in their journeys from one settlement to another.
Evidence leads to the conclusion that the
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meeting-house was built from timber cut and hewn on the ground, and that more was standing when the question of providing a school-house was decided in the affirmative in 1741.
The vote was to build a house, or buy one of Benjamin Kidder, and if the committee decided to build they were to cut the timber on the town’s land—
“the bigness of the house to be twenty feet in length and sixteen feet in width and seven feet and a half stood.”
As the committee succeeded in buying Kidder’s house for £12, the school building was provided without cutting the giants of the forest, and they remained until a later period.
Land divested of the timber was of but little value when this town was incorporated, and bounds were very indistinct for a good many years after that time. In a conveyance made in 1758, by Daniel Walker to Benjamin Kidder, is the following: [^2]
“Bounded partly on range way and every other way by sundry lots of land.”
In setting off the “widows thirds” of the estate of Joseph Bacon is the following description of bounds:
“It turns and runs two polls by the onion garden, then running to the road through said onion garden.” [*3]
In 1730 the town appointed a committee
“to stake out so much of the town’s land as is convenient for the use of the town about the meeting house, and a training place.”
Forty years later it appears that another committee appointed to settle the bounds of the Common reported the boundary line upon its southerly and easterly sides the same as the previous committee. The records lead to the conclusion that the first meeting-house was erected on the northwest corner of the Common and near the highway, and that the first school house was erected on the northeasterly corner. About the time of the erection of this school house the town had the Common surveyed; and a plan of it, made by Thompson Bacon, Esq., is to be seen in the record book. But little attention was given to improving the Common, and it was travelled over in a promiscuous manner until about 1850, when the fence was built by the united efforts of the parish and citizens, and travel across it by team was discontinued. Trees were planted and well-defined walks laid out, and it is now a most attractive spot. When the town and parish became distinct corporations the ownership of the Common became a disputed question, both parties having enjoyed its privileges and contributed towards making necessary repairs. The plan already referred to shows that Joshua Page owned all of the land bounding the Common on the west, in the year 1806. Sheds for the protection of horses had
been located about the Common at different times, but about the year 1825 they had been more systematically arranged on the westerly side, and the owner of the adjoining land had but a limited frontage. Mr. Page, the owner of the land, was an enterprising man, and desired to put his possession upon the market for building lots, for which there was a pressing demand, and he succeeded in getting a vote of the town to remove the sheds to another location and to open a street. His statement to the town, styled a “memorial,” is of interest in many ways. [!!] It serves to mark an era of great progress in the town; shows the condition of the surface of the land in that vicinity when in its natural state; indicates the aggressiveness of the man, and shows what prompted Mrs. Hannah Reed to give the land known as the “Back Common” to the town.
[ portrait silhouette ]
The deed of conveyance from Mrs. Reed was made March 3, 1831, and contains the following:
“The intention of this conveyance is to furnish the town of Bedford with a place or a piece of land where, and on which, such of its inhabitants as have occasion, on the Sabbath, to use horses and carriages to convey themselves or their families to meeting and on public occasions to the centre of the town and may wish for a shelter for their horses and carriages, they may under the direction of the town erect or place stables for such purposes; also to furnish said town with a place where as it may have occasion, it may erect or place sundry small buildings as a school house— hearse house and the like, provided that no such building shall
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[ portrait photo ]
J. A. Bacon.
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[ portrait painting ]
Abigail (Clark) Bacon.
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be of such size or be so placed as to inconvenience the use of said land for stable ground . . . nor interfere with the reserved rights of ways, and the area not so used shall be forever open to the Inhabitants of said town as a promenade walk, or Training field — and where it bounds on said Common shall at all times be kept open and no inclosure or incumbrance shall be suffered within the area thereof. The Town shall always have the right of prescribing and controlling the location of the stables and other building lots.”
This gift was but one of many acts of generosity recorded to the honor of Mrs. Hannah Reed. The town purchased the Flint land in 1891 for a school house and play ground, and the full benefit of the Common has since been realized by the town.
Besides the buildings already mentioned, there were upon the town’s land the “Pound” and the “Bell House.” The former was deemed indispensable in a well-regulated community, and a corner was assigned for it in January, 1732–3. Its location was changed in a short time, and the abandoned “Pound” at length became the foundation of John Bacon’s shoe shop. [*4] A new “Pound” was built in a corner of the Back Common, and this remained until the spring of 1891, when its walls were put into the foundation of a new School House. [*5] The location of the Bell House is fixed by the vote taken Oct. 9, 1753:
“Voted, To hang the bell about two rods and one half northward of the School house and as near to Mr. Benjamin Kidder’s wall as can be with convenience. [*6] Voted also to build a house not less than twelve feet nor more than fourteen feet square and that the house be so high as to hang the mouth of the bell sixteen feet high.” (See Frontispiece.)
A few rods west of the village there is a triangular piece of ground which remained unimproved for many years. When the Village Improvement Society was organized this ground was graded and ornamented, and is now a place of interest. There stands upon it one of the most symmetrical oak trees to be found in this locality. [*7] The indications are that it is as old as the town. Captain Jonathan Willson marshaled the “Minute Men” of the town in this vicinity on the morning of April 19, 1775, before going to Concord, where he lost his life; [^3] and the people by general consent have named this improved angle of ground Wilson Park. [*8]
- Brown’s History of the town of Bedford (1891) pp 51-53
- that Wadkins ∨ that Wadkins that he
- following: ∨ folllowing:
- Willson ∨ Wilson
- cf. Cary’s “If and if” in The friend of progress (August 1865) pp 317-318
- cf. (in this volume) p 10
- “two polls”: about 10 meters
- “John Bacon’s shoe shop”: near 29 Elm Street (HPN) p 62
- “a new School House”: now Town Center: 12 Mudge Way
- “two rods and one half”: about 12½ meters
- “one of the most symmetrical oak trees”: the Old Oak
It was “so badly damaged in the hurricane of 1938 that it had to be cut down”. (Johnson) p 40
- “Wilson Park”: now Willson Park