The Pickman Family in Bedford

Pickman Meadow, along Dudley Road - Image (c) Bedford Historical Society
Pickman Meadow, along Dudley Road – Image (c) Bedford Historical Society

By Brian Oulighan

The original Pickman homestead on Dudley Road Image (c) Bedford Historical Society
The original Pickman homestead on Dudley Road Image (c) Bedford Historical Society

The Pickman family was one of Bedford’s very prominent families from the late 19th Century until recent years.  The original family immigrants came from England to Salem in 1639, and the Pickmans became a Salem merchant dynasty related to other prominent Salem families such as the Derbys, the Pickerings, Saltonstalls, Rogers and Crowninshields.  Their business was extensive, and their vessels (brigs and clipper ships) made voyages to all quarters of the world. They were among the first to engage in trade with Zanzibar and Madagascar, but their principal business was with Sumatra, Java and the Philippine Islands. 

Dudley Leavitt Pickman was born in 1851 in Salem, son of William Dudley Pickman and Caroline Silsbee.  After graduation from Harvard in 1873, he became a lawyer and worked with his father at the Boston law firm of Silsbee, Pickman and Allen.  In 1884 he married Ellen Rodman Motley, daughter of Edward Motley and Ellen Rodman.  They settled in Boston at the Hotel Agassiz on Commonweath Ave.  In the same year that they were married, the Pickmans acquired their first parcels of land in Bedford, which included 228 Dudley Rd. and the old Stearns mill site on Mill Brook at the Billerica line.  Bedford became their second home, although they never became permanent residents here.  In 1885, Dudley Leavitt Pickman Jr. was born, and Edward Motley Pickman was born in 1886.

In the 1889 Town Report we find the following announcement:

“Engraving of the Brother’s Rocks – The Winthrop and Dudley boulders, natural monuments that date back to Colonial times in Massachusetts and remind us of its eminent first governor, have been suitably marked through the public spirit of Mr. Dudley L. Pickman, the present owner of the spot where Winthrop and Dudley landed in 1638 and located their farms.
GEORGE R. BLINN, President”

The family established that Dudley L. Pickman was in fact descended from Deputy Governor (later Governor) Thomas Dudley, on whose original grant they had settled.

By 1899, Dudley Pickman purchased a gravel pit from the Town, built and installed a stone crusher and began improving Dudley Road (then Huckins Street) as well as other roads through his woods.  The road was only a small lane connecting 4 farms – the Chester Barnes farm (formerly Huckins), Berry Farm, Duane Carpenter’s, and the Old Farm (1798 Abner Stearns House at 141 Dudley Road across the brook in Billerica).  The son Edward and his wife Hester later made their home at the Old Farm and had 6 children -Anthony, Margaret (Daisy), Jane, David, Martha and Deborah.

Dudley Pickman helped the town with other roadwork.  The 1906 Town Report contains the entry: “The special appropriation of one thousand $1,000 dollars for the North Road was expended near the intersection of Dudley Road where there was urgent demand for thorough repairs. A good portion of the material for subgrade was given by Mr. Pickman and Mr. Hooper. While these gentlemen were not thereby impoverished, it made it possible to build more feet than otherwise could have been done.”

Again in 1912 the Town Report showed that Dudley L. Pickman was paid $9.00 for stone to repair the North Highway and also was paid $317.00 for stone to repair Carlisle Road. This was taken from the gravel pit he had purchased from the Town in 1899 or made with his stone crusher.

In 1917 a severe infestation of gypsy moths caused great damage to vegetation and actually caused the town to establish a Gypsy Moth Department.  Dudley L. Pickman was paid $713.00 for work done with the Gypsy Moth Department.

After the First World War, in 1920 the following report was made: “Through the munificence of Mr. Dudley L. Pickman, who for years has been so good a friend to the town, although not one of our citizens, it is our pleasure to report that a fund has been created for the aid of those Bedford boys and girls who were in the service of the United States during the World War, and of other worthy persons. This fund has been given by Mr. Pickman in memory of Oliver J. Lane, who, for many years, was a real town father, holding from time to time practically all the offices in the gift of the town. The fund is called the “Oliver J. Lane Memorial Fund.”

The Pickmans gradually acquired more land along Dudley Road and the Concord River.  By 1921, they owned 518 acres of land.  In later years they acquired even more.  In the wetlands adjacent to the Concord River, Dudley L. Pickman established a bog garden with exotic plantings for which he was awarded a Silver Medal in 1932 by the Massachusetts Horticultural Society.

In 1935 the town accepter Dudley Road as a public way and paved it.  According to Earl Sorenson (son of the Pickman’s caretaker for years), “The Dudley Road kids really enjoyed riding their bikes on the new pavement.”

After World War II, the Pickmans donated much of their land along the Concord River to the Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge.  Later, the remaining land was sold and the Huckins Farm Condominiums were built there, with bridal paths and extensive wildlife corridors throughout.

Dudley Pickman’s older son, Dudley Jr., and his wife Vivian (Cochrane) Pickman had their primary residence at 303 Commonwealth Avenue in Boston by 1932.  Their lifestyle was a little extravagant for proper Bostonians.  Cleveland Amory describes the “coming out” parties for Nancy and Lucy Cochrane, Vivian Cochrane’s children by her first marriage: “Mrs. Pickman gave her balls right on Commonwealth Avenue, but her version of the Boston at-home debut was some distance from the traditional. For Nancy’s ball the Pickman house was entirely transformed into a Paris street scene, complete with sidewalk cafés, lampposts and twinkling stars. For Lucy’s ball two years later, the home became almost equally unrecognizable, the entrance hall being transformed by a vigorous array of potted trees and plants into a garden scene and the dining room being hung from top to bottom with gold satin looped up mountain laurel and hemlock boughs.”
Lucy Cochrane later became an actress and author under the name C. Z. Guest.

Over the years, the Pickman family donated about 283 items to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Dudley was also Chairman and a Trustee of the museum for many years.

This article and photo is brought to you in collaboration with the Bedford Historical Society; it was previously published in the Society’s newsletter, The Preservationist.

The Bedford Historical Society was founded in 1893 and exists today to preserve Bedford’s history. Learn more about the Society at its web page, or on its Facebook page. Visit the Historical Society in its archives in the Bedford Police Station. Contact the Society by email at or call 781-275-7276 for hours or directions.

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1 Comment

  1. It’s wonderful to learn so much about a family from Bedford’s past that had such a positive role in the town’s development. Bedford is lucky to have citizens who have dedicated themselves over the years to poring through old state and town records in order to reveal so much interesting detail about the town’s history. It’s also fortunate to have a Historical Society so active in preserving the history and finding many ways to bring it before the public.
    One small note regarding the Huckins Farm land — a path for horses is a bridle path, named after the horse’s headgear. Bridal pertains to brides. One way English is tricky is in having a number of pairs of words with the same sound but different spellings and meanings.

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