Bedford’s Highways & Byways – What’s In A Name?

This antique map of Bedford shows resident names along the roads where they lived.  Image (c) Bedford Historical Society, all rights reserved
This antique map of Bedford shows resident names along the roads where they lived. Courtesy image (c) Bedford Historical Society, all rights reserved

By Brian Oulighan and Don Corey
Special to The Citizen, reprinted from the Bedford Historical Society’s newsletter, The Preservationist

Did you ever wonder how some Bedford Streets got their names? Many ancient ways have had their names changed over the past century or more as a result of Town Meeting action.  I think every town has an Elm and Maple Street, a Pine and School St. – maybe a North and South Road.

Here are some interesting facts about Bedford streets. Bedford’s 1866 map was the first to show a few street names.  They included:

  • Spring St. – This was the road to the Bedford Springs Hotel. The name was officially changedfrom Spring St. to Spring Rd. in 1896, but we all know it as Springs Road (plural).
  • South St. – This was also changed from South St. to South Road in 1896.
  • Main Street – The name Main Street applied from the road’s intersection with Pine Street (now Shawsheen Road) at the gate to Shawsheen Cemetery through the center of town and out what was originally named River Street leading to Carlisle.  In 1896 Main Street became The Great Road.

The 1875 map showed River Street as Carlisle Road, but the name went back to River Street on the 1889 map.  It officially became Carlisle Rd. in 1896.

Some other interesting names on that 1875 map included:

  • Billerica Road – This isn’t where you think it is – that was the name for what is now North Road!
  • East Street – This road had been variously known as the Way to Bacon’s Mill, Mill Street and East Street.  In 1896 it officially was renamed “Old Road to Billerica” and we all know it now as Old Billerica Road.  In order to add to the confusion, town maps and directories in the 1880s and 1890s showed that Brooksbie Road was called East Street as well during that period.  It became Brooksbie Road in 1896.
  • Huckins Street – The road that leads to the Brother’s Rocks and the Pickman lands was first called Chestnut Ave.  Samuel W. Huckins settled here in about 1870.  He was respected for his good judgment and held various offices in town. The road became Huckins St. until 1896, when it became Dudley Road.
  • Page Road – This ancient way was named for the Page family.  Nathaniel Page settled here in 1688.  His descendant, also Nathaniel Page, received the warning from Lexington couriers early in the morning of April 19, 1775, and alerted the townspeople that British troops were on the march.  As Cornet of the Minutemen, he carried the Bedford flag at the Concord battle.  The east end of Page Road has had various names – Grove Street is shown on the 1875 map.  Where it formerly split near the Lexington town line, the road into Lexington was called Cummings Road, and the road to Burlington (now gone) was called Kendall Road.

Although its name wasn’t shown on most maps, West Street was also an ancient way.  It was renamed Davis Road in 1896 for the Davis family.  Dolor Davis had settled in Concord in 1655, and descendant Lt. Eleazer Davis of the Bedford militia lived on that road when he marched to the April 19, 1775, alarm.

New roads were built for more homes or for improved access to other roads due to Bedford’s expanding population.  In 1880, there were 931 people in Bedford – by 1980, the population was over 13,000.

Some of the newer roads that appeared over a century ago included:

  • Loomis St.- This was built after 1874 as an eastern approach to the new railroad station. It was named after its developer, Elihu Loomis, who was a prominent attorney and judge in Bedford and Boston.  Judge Loomis son’s Ralph, Hubert, Samuel and William served in WWI.
  • Lane Ave. & Winthrop Ave. – These short roads between The Great Road and Loomis St. were named for one of Bedford’s largest families, the Lanes, and for Gov. John Winthrop.  Job Lane purchased the Winthrop grant and settled here in 1664.  In 1775, ten Bedford men named Lane marched as militia and Minutemen to the Battle of Concord.  By 1940, only Edith L. Lane (74), Willis G. Lane (79) and Walter M. Lane (41) lived in Bedford.
  • Webber Ave. – Captain John Webber came to Bedford in 1760 and settled in East Bedford in the Danforth-Webber Inn (aka Shawshine House). He served in public office as Collector, Treasurer, and Town Clerk, as a delegate to important conventions during the Revolution, and as State Representative.  Four generations later, Webber Ave. was built by Wallace Gleason Webber (founder of Paine Webber investment firm) in 1884.
  • Hillside Ave. – This road was built in 1888 and also developed by Wallace G. Webber.  It was formerly called Stiles Ave. Thomas Stiles came to Bedford as a young man, served first as a store clerk and later became the proprietor. He was a Justice of the Peace and the Postmaster; was Town Clerk from 1846 to 1863, and held other important town offices.
  • Sweetwater Avenue – In 1889 Town Meeting voted to accept “the doings of the Selectmen in the matter of laying out a road from the land of Dr. Wm. R. Hayden near the Bedford Springs Railroad Station to a point on North Avenue as per record of same filed with the Town Clerk”.  It was built for the cost of $2,000 and helped assure the success of Dr. Hayden’s hotel.
  • Hartwell Rd. – This road was originally called Forest St. and was renamed for the Hartwell family in 1896.  William Hartwell came to Concord in 1636 and in 1666 owned 247 acres in what is now Bedford.  Forest Street and much Hartwell land were taken for construction of the Army Air Base in 1940.
  • Bacon Road – This was named for the prominent Bacon family.  Michael Bacon built his mill in about 1663 and settled here in 1671.  There were six Bacons from Bedford who served as Minutemen in the Concord fight.
  • Hartford St. – Named for Dudley Hartford, who came to Bedford in 1879. He was a florist in Bedford and Boston for many years. He was also a Selectmen and Assessor for the town in the 1890s.
  • Crescent Avenue – This street, formerly a private way owned by Charles O’Dowd that ran from South Street to Hartford Street, was laid out as a public way in 1904.  Its original name, Crescent Street, was changed to Crescent Avenue very early.
  • Cutler St. – Named for the Cutler family.  They settled at Cambridge Farms (now Lexington) in 1651,
  • near the eastern part of Concord that became Bedford. The Cutler settlement was quite extensive. Thomas C. Cutler was Collector of Taxes for 25 years. Clara Cutler was a Bedford schoolteacher.
  • Fletcher Road – Named after Mary Fletcher, who inherited the land in this area and began its development in the 1880s.  The street was originally known as Fletcher Avenue, and the area being developed was called Colonial Park.  The Fletcher house originally stood at the corner of The Great Road (now the Blake Block location), but she had it moved up Fletcher Ave.

New System Of Street Lightingfrom Bedford’s 1904 Town Report

“One of the most notable improvements of the year was the introduction of electricity for lighting the village streets. The lighting system includes (63) sixty-three lights covering three miles of streets and has been in operation since July 1st.  The advantages of a modern system of lighting are generally appreciated by our citizens and it is no idle boast to say that Bedford is now one of the best-lighted villages in Massachusetts.

“The Town has a five years contract with the Lexington Gas & Electric Company for maintaining the system at $16.50 per light per year.” This comes to $1,039.50 per year.  It was a great deal, but it put the lamplighters, James Clark, Charles Flint and Samuel Carter, out of work.

It cost the Town up to $400 per year to keep the gas street lamps lit and in good repair. By 1917 electric streetlights cost the town around $3,000 per year due to the expanded coverage.

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