Stage-Routes — Post-Office — Postmasters —
Industries — Residential Town — Inventions.
The opening of the Chelmsford road, so called, in 1823, contributed greatly to the facilities for travel, and Bedford Centre became a popular thoroughfare. Competitive stage-routes were established from Concord, N.H., to Boston, in one of which Bedford merchants were stock owners. This fact, together with the popular roads and well-kept taverns, led to the selection of Bedford as a way station, where relays of
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horses were kept. Other stage lines passed through the village, one of which was from Lowell to Woonsocket. An enterprise, strange, indeed, to the present generation, was created by the regular coming and going of the coaches, loaded inside and out with merchants and tourists. A public conveyance led to the establishing of a post-office in Bedford and in 1825 Elijah Stearns, Esq., was appointed the first postmaster. The first mail that left the town contained but one letter. Postage was an item of importance, and with many people correspondence was necessarily limited. The rates ranged, according to distance, from six cents to twenty-five, and pre-payment was optional. A letter from Billerica to Bedford must necessarily go through Boston, incurring a postage of ten cents. A widow at Bedford received, in one day, letters from four sons, who were struggling for an education in different schools, and her bill at the post-office was one dollar. The postmasters in the order of their appointments are: Elijah Stearns, John A. Merriam, Reuben Bacon, Thomas Stiles, Jonas Munroe, Thomas Stiles, Henry A. Gleason, Marcus B. Webber, Charles G. Fox, Marcus B. Webber, Henry A. Gleason.
Industries.— Bedford has always been classed with the agricultural towns of the State; although in common with all inland settlements during the colonial period, the people were largely engaged in supplying their own wants, hence every family conducted its own manufacturing. The cumbersome loom, with its oaken beams, spinning-wheels great and small, hetchel, cards and the like, were requisites here longer than in towns on the direct line of the first public coaches. With this primitive machinery the lamb’s warm fleece was turned to cloth, and dyed with indigo at the chimney-corner, while the flax, from the fields, was made into snowy linen by the same deft hands that were equally skillful in manufacturing golden butter and savory cheese, not only for domestic use, but to exchange for other necessaries. The housewife had her annual season for preparing the year’s stock of “tallow-dips” or candles and manufacturing soap for family use.
The blacksmith hammered out the nails of all sizes, and with the aid of the woodwright supplied the farmer with all his tools. The itinerant cobbler made the boots and shots from leather tanned in the neighborhood vat. The village had its brick-kiln. Charcoal was manufactured and Tarkiln Brook (crossing the south part of the town) suggests a day when the sap of the early forests was boiled to tar and resin on its winding banks. When the brave pioneer’s life was over the village carpenter made the coffin for his body. It was early in the present century that the people of Bedford began to contribute to the increasing demands of a growing population outside of its own borders. In 1805 Jonathan Bacon and John Hosmer began the manufacture of children’s shoes for Boston market. They were both of an inventive
mind,— made their own lasts and prepared their own patterns. The business increased and other firms engaged in the enterprise; among them were Benjamin Simonds, Zebedee Simonds, Reuben Bacon, Chamberlin & Billings. Several hundred people of both sexes were employed. Young men from other localities were apprenticed in the service of the different firms, many of whom settled here and became leaders in public affairs. When the business was at its height the annual sales amounted to upwards of ninety thousand pairs, at an estimated value of fifty thousand dollars. This was all hand work, and the employees were, to an individual, American born. [^1]
“No shoes were in better credit than those made in Bedford.” [*1]
When machinery was introduced elsewhere, and all classes of people were employed in producing all grades of work, the demand for the superior articles, made here, gradually slackened, and after a time the business entirely ceased. Another enterprise carried on here quite extensively, when the shoe business was at its meridian, was the manufacture of band-boxes. [*2] Women were employed chiefly and many young women were attracted to the town to engage in this employment. Not a few of them formed holy alliances with the young men of the shoe firms and together became the founders of some of the most enterprising families.
George Fisk in the north part of the town and Amasa Lane in the east carried on this line of manufacturing. At first thinly-shaved wood for the foundation work was obtained from New Hampshire, but later a machine was introduced and the whole work was done here. The size of the boxes varied according to the fashion of the ladies’ bonnets, which was variable in those days, as at the present, and created a demand equal to the supply.
About the year 1812, inquiring minds were turned to a geological formation that had already been used for paint. The first meeting-house, when repaired after the Revolution, was painted with the material known as the “Bedford Yellow.” As before mentioned, it was found in the largest quantities on the Sprague farm. [*3] Thompson Bacon and others engaged in the enterprise. For some years it was used as a mineral paint— yellow ochre.
A stratum of clay was discovered on the southern border of the town and citizens engaged in the manufacture of bricks for local use. The clay was teamed to the centre, where a kiln was prepared and sufficient quantities burnt to build several houses and chimneys for others. The manufacture of charcoal became an important industry at one time. David Rice, the village blacksmith, burnt the coal for his own forges in a field near Carlisle bridge, while in the south fields the business was carried on more extensively, a market being found in and about Boston.
About the year 1830, Jonathan Bacon invented and patented a blind fastener known to the trade as “Bacon’s Patent Lever Blind Fastener.” They were
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made by hand and were the most approved article of the kind in the market for some years. [*4] In the year 1832 about 4000 sets were made in town. Mr. Bacon received encouragement from Edward Everett, who pronounced the first pattern exhibited to be an article of value, as it proved to be. This patent was a source of a good income to Mr. Bacon, and the manufacture of them gave employment to several work-men in iron. Tanning and currying as an industry was carried on in the latter part of the eighteenth century and the opening years of the nineteenth. It was carried on at the centre by James Wright, Sr. and Jr., successively, and by the Convers family in the south part of the town. It was chiefly of local interest and prepared leather for home market. The farmers’ habit of wearing leather aprons and sheep-skin breeches created a local demand, long since discontinued. The bark for tanning was ground by revolving stones after the manner of a corn-mill. The Wrights were succeeded by Benjamin F. Thompson, who in after years removed the industry to Woburn.
About 1840 a paper-mill was established on the site of the Wilson corn-mill, on Vine Brook, and the manufacture of coarse paper was carried on for a series of years, giving employment to many hands. The business was removed after the destruction of the mill by fire, causing the removal of one-tenth of the inhabitants of the town. After this calamity the industries, “with the exception of the manufacture of local necessities,” were chiefly agricultural, until after the close of the Civil War. The opening of the Middlesex Central Railroad in 1873 furnished direct and easy communication with Boston, only fifteen miles distant, and prepared the way for a decided change, which is now rapidly taking place. Men, whose business centres are in Boston, are establishing homes, and the centre of the town is fast becoming a residential village.
The old system of farming is giving way to the culture of small fruits and vegetables, and acres are covered with glass for the purpose of securing early crops. The Colonel Jones farm of colonial days, in the west part of the town, comprising many acres of the “Great Fields” sought by the first settlers, is being used for the propagation of nursery stock.
Grazing has become an important feature of agriculture, and the production of milk for Boston market has increased rapidly with the improved facilities for transportation. About six hundred and fifty cans of eight quarts each are daily shipped from Bedford. Many tons of superior quality of hay are annually produced, for which there is a good local market. Acres are annually planted with cucumbers, for which a ready market is found at a packing-house where cucumbers, gathered when quite small, are manufactured into pickles.
A wood factory for the manufacture of miscellaneous articles, gives employment to several men, and the town has its complement of cartwrights, black-
smiths and other artisans. Several men are employed with teams in marketing wood, cut from the forests of the town, but the growth keeps even pace with the consumption. [*5] The “Bacon Snow Plow,” invented by Isaac P. Bacon, is considered the best horse-machine in use for clearing snow from sidewalks, and is used in the large towns of the county. The inventor died without having secured a patent and the industry is lost to the town.
- Brown’s History of the town of Bedford (1891) pp 38–40
- employees ∨ employés
- cf. Shattuck’s History of the town of Concord (1835) p 271
- “meridian”: zenith
- cf. (in this volume) p 13
- “blind fastener”: [ ask BHS ] [??]
- cf. (in this volume) Brown’s “Supplementary” (p 110)