Topographical and Miscellaneous.


Bedford is in about the central part of Middlesex County, fourteen miles northwest of Boston and twelve miles south of Lowell. It is connected with both cities by rail.

It has Billerica on the north, the same with Burlington and Lexington on the east, Lexington, Lincoln and Concord on the south, and Concord and Carlisle on the west, from which it is separated by Concord River.

The village stands on a slight elevation and constitutes a water-shed. Peppergrass Brook extends in a winding northwesterly course and Trout Brook in a southwesterly course to Concord River. Shawshine River enters the town from Lincoln at its extreme southern point and flows the entire length of the town, east of the village, entering Billerica at the north. It receives the waters of Tar Kiln Brook soon after entering Bedford, and after crossing Lexington Main Street it receives Elm Brook, which drains a long range of meadows on the Concord side and takes in Hartwell Brook on its course.

Spring Brook, an outlet of Fawn Lake at Bedford Springs, unites with Potash Brook or Ash Gutter in its southeasterly course to the Shawshine, which it reaches near the East School-house. Vine Brook enters the town from the east and becomes an important tributary of Shawshine River. Other small streams are tributary to either Concord or Shawshine Rivers. The only motive-powers utilized at present are on the Shawshine River and Vine Brook. [*1][^1]

“The soil,”

says Alfred C. Lane, of Boston, a grandson of Bedford, in “Notes on Geology of Bedford,”

“may be divided into three kinds — the dark peat of the swamps and meadows, boulder clay and high level sand-beds.” [*2]

The peat is found on the lines of the water-courses, where a considerable portion of the surface appears to have been formed of vegetable matter and was used for fuel, before the development of coal-mines; a firm white sand subsoil which underlies this vegetable deposit made it comparatively easy to cut out the peat or turf in convenient pieces to stack for drying. It is also used as a very good fertilizer for the sandy soil of high lands. The cranberry and an inferior quality of grass are natural productions of this soil, and turned to some profit by the farmer. The boulder clay is composed of sand, pebbles and boulders, together with clay varying in quantities according to the location. This is supposed to have drifted here with the ice and been deposited during the glacial period. The underlying ledge crops out in some locations and shows unmistakable signs of the southerly course of the ice-fields. The most noticeable is in the vicinity of the North School-house.

The boulder clay is the soil found in the northerly part of the town, more generally than elsewhere; it is hard to cultivate, but productive when broken and fertilized; if left in its natural condition it produces the huckleberry and other small fruits of comparatively little value.

The sand, besides forming the subsoil of the peat lands, is thrown up many feet above the stream level and found in beds; by digging in these beds one may easily detect layers of successive deposit, which indicate the action of the water when the ice was disappearing, before any well-defined water-courses had appeared and this territory was an inland lake. The pine trees seem to be the natural production of this soil, which is light and dry, but when enriched becomes productive and is easily cultivated.

In general the geological formation is calcareous gneiss and sienite, in which are found good specimens of garnet.

“In Bedford the strike of the gneiss is northeast and the dip nearly perpendicular.” [*2]

Hitchcock mentions the yellow ochre in connection with a rusty mica schist.

Bedford is indicated as a locality for garnet by Dana and Hitchcock both, and at one time the attention of the people was turned to this formation, as of merchantable value, but it was not remunerative. The iron and sulphur springs indicate the decomposition of certain mineral properties that are visible in some locations about Bedford Springs.

The village is well drained and free from miasmatic influences. It is classed among the very first localities of the State in point of healthfulness. No destructive contagion has visited the town since about 1750, when a throat distemper battled the skill of physicians and brought sorrow to families in the east part

[ p 46 ]

of the town. Longevity is noticeable in the families that represent the first settlers and particularly in the Davis, Lane, Page and Hartwell families.

Trees.— Besides the pine already mentioned, there is the white cedar, that takes kindly to the peat of the low lands in the vicinity of Concord River, and the red cedar found in small quantities, making its slow growth in the boulder clay, where oak, maple and birch flourish the most abundantly; the elm flourishes here, having been planted by the early settlers for shade, and many venerable specimens are standing— useful monuments of the past. [^2]

Flora: The following is condensed from a local work, “Some of the Wild Flowers of Bedford,” by Charles W. Jenks, a careful student of the soil and productions of his ancestral territory: [*3]

“The wild flowers of Bedford are neither numerous nor rare. We have few deep valleys of rich soil, and few running brooks falling over rocks, both of which localities are the chosen haunts of many species. The earliest, perhaps, of all our flowers is one rarely noticed, the skunk cabbage, which may often be found in March, with its peculiar spathe of yellow or red, peeping out from some damp or swampy place.

Soon after, along the banks of ditches or in low meadows, the cassandra or leather leaf, with its long line of heath-like bells; this plant, if gathered in fall or winter and kept in a warm room, will blossom freely. Together with this is generally found the sweet-gale, a low shrub with small and insignificant catkins, but having a delicious aromatic fragrance. Then, after the hazels and alders have flung their delicate tassels to the wind, the whole array of spring flowers is upon us— seven species of violets, blue and white (the yellow I have never seen in the town limits, though I have found it in the neighborhood); the wood anemone, with its neat and prettier relation the rue anemone; [^3] the columbine or honey-suckle, the Houstonia, false Solomon’s seal often called wild lily-of-the-valley, and that little marvel of beauty and color, the fringed polygala; [*4][^4][^5] the marsh marigold, under the false name of ‘cowslip,’ lighting up the meadows with its brilliant yellow; [^6] occasionally on some rocky land, the early saxifrage, the bell-flower with its pale yellow lily-like flower, and deep in some pine grove the moccasin flower or lady’s slipper; [^7][*5][^8] and one of the most curious of the remarkable family of orchids, the trillium or wake Robin which among us is represented by its least attractive form, the nodding species— these, with many others, make up what may be called the spring flowers. Then the shrubs begin to blossom— the shad-bush, the rhodora, with its purple flowers, followed by the many viburnums and cornels, the wild cherry, the choke, and the more palatable black or rum-cherry; [^9] the barberry, with its nodding raceme of yellow flowers, whose sensitive stamens throw the pollen onto any insect visiting it, to be borne to some other flower; the low

and high bush blueberry, huckleberry and the azalea, with its clammy white and spicy flowers.

About the middle of June, in the meadows, will be found the side-saddle flower, more commonly known as huntsman’s-cup or pitcher-plant; about the same time of year, and generally with the side-saddle flower, are found two of our early orchids, the arethusa and pogonia or adder’s-tongue, resembling each other in shape,— the former of a deep magenta color and the latter much paler, but with a delicious fragrance. [*6] A little later, in these same meadows, will be found the yellow lily, the tall meadow-rue, the trumpet-weed with its large heads of dull purple and the button-bush with its globular head of flowers, while hidden in the grass, but making itself known by its odor, is the meadow mint. Then along some water-course, either ditch, brook or meadow bursts forth the flaming cardinal flower, one of the brightest and most brilliant of all our flowers, and never so handsome as when seen in abundance in its native place. With this fore-runner of autumn come the goldenrods; the clematis, clothing the bushes over which it climbs with a beautiful wreath of white flowers, followed by the feathery fruit; the ground-nut with clusters of fragrant chocolate-colored flowers; the clethra or white alder lining the road in some swampy place and sending forth a rich spicy odor from its pure white spikes; [*7] then the asters, purple and white, along the roads, the woodlands and meadows, of as many species and as difficult of determination as the golden rods; the gerardias, the tall yellow and the smaller purple species; [*8] the gentians, the deep blue with its closed flower, and among our latest, if not the last of all, the fringed gentian, by many considered our most exquisite flower. The only companion of the gentian is the witch hazel, with its weird-like yellow blossoms, which comes late in the fall and does not mature its fruit till the next season.

The plants found in and along the river seem worthy of special mention. Among the earliest is the yellow water-crowfoot, which is found in May, and resembles a large buttercup. Later in the season the shores are lined with the blue pickerel-weed and the white arrow-head, while farther out are the white and yellow pond lilies,— the latter in two species, one much larger than the other; the bladder-worts are also found. [^10] In August the hibiscus, or swamp rose-mallow may be found on the river’s banks, while in the river itself is the water marigold and the beautiful floating heart. [^11]

The family of composites is largely represented at all seasons of the year. The dandelion, golden-rods, asters, cone-flower, wild sunflower, trumpet, iron-weed, thistle, hawkweeds, climbing hempweed, elecampane, white-weed or ox-eye daisy, and tansy are of this family. Among the orchids are the lady’s slipper, pogonia and arethusa, four or five species of rein-orchis, including the ragged-fringed and the pur-

[ tipped-in page ]

[ portrait photo ]
Louisa (Hodgman) Hartwell.

[ p 47 ]

ple-fringed, the rattlesnake plantain, two species of ladies’ tresses, the calopogon and rarely the coral-root.

There are a few parasitic plants found in Bedford, the dodder being one of the commonest; the Indian pipe is found in some of our woods and in many pine woods, the pine sap or false beechdrops, and rarely the one-flowered cancer-root. Rushes, sedges and ferns are also found here and furnish interesting study to any one enjoying the science of botany.”



  1. motive-powers ∨ motive-powers,
  2. [[ paragraph break ]]
  3. rue anemone; ∨ rue anemone,
  4. Houstonia, ∨ houstonia,
  5. polygala; ∨ polygala,
  6. yellow; ∨ yellow, and
  7. bell-flower ∨ bell-bower
  8. slipper; and one ∨ slipper, one
  9. rum-cherry; ∨ rum-cherry,
  10. In August ∨ “In August
  11. the river’s banks ∨ its banks


  1. “motive-powers”: [ presumably ] water wheels (and the like)
    NB: This would certainly be a non-standard use of the word!
  2. cf. “Notes on the geology of Bedford” (1887) [ no scan ]
    in The Bedford book [1] (unpaged)
  3. cf. Jenks’ “Some of the wild flowers of Bedford” (1887) [ no scan ]
    in The Bedford book [1] (unpaged)
  4. The columbine and the honeysuckle belong to two different orders.
  5. “bell-flower”: [ perhaps ] Campanula
  6. The pogonia and the adder’s tongue belong to two different orders.
  7. The clethra and the white alder belong to two different orders.
  8. “gerardias”: [ perhaps ] Agalinis
Create your website with
Get started
%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close