Housing in Bedford: A Look Back at 1955

By Dot Bergin

1955-Real-Estate-BrochureIf there’s one subject guaranteed to get everyone in town talking today, it’s housing.  Longtime residents are continually amazed by the rapidly changing face of the residential neighborhoods in town.  Recently, a former Bedfordite (Beverly Hatfield Porter, BHS Class of 1969) sent the editor of The Citizen a carefully preserved real estate advertisement dated 1955.  Click here to view a printable, scalable PDF of the 1955 brochure

Note that “Riverview at Bedford” was offering three bedroom ranches, expandable Cape Cods, and Colonials for prices ranging from $14,850 to $15,600.  Veterans needed to pay only $300 down to buy one of these properties.

This fascinating glimpse of an earlier time prompted your reporter to make a trip to the Bedford Room at the Library, where the annual Town Reports are stored.  If it had not been ‘way past lunchtime, this writer would probably still be there, poring over the now-yellowing books, printed with no illustrations and only the most cursory reports from town boards.  But what a snapshot of Bedford and how we grew in the years following World War II!

Since the ad that triggered The Citizen’s interest was from the mid ‘50s, this seemed a good decade to explore, and the years between 1949 and 1959 were a goldmine of information.  In those years, all births were reported by name in the annual town reports, along with the number of building permits issued for residential, commercial, industrial and other buildings.  Two data points that presented a clear picture of Bedford’s rapid growth in those heady post-war years were number of births and number of residential permits issued. Here is a quick tabulation, which almost speaks for itself:

  • 1950 – 76 births, 104 permits for new houses
  • 1951 –   120 births, 82 single houses
  • 1952 –  100 births, 250 single houses
  • 1953 – 163 births, 180 single houses
  • 1954 – 222 births, 138 new houses, one school
  • 1955 – 282 births, 115 single houses
  • 1956 – 282 births, 73 single houses
  • 1957 – 313 births, 43 single houses, 14 commercial/business permits and three churches
  • 1958 – 327 births,88 single houses
  • 1959 – 374 births, 76 single  houses

In that era of rapid growth, ranches and Capes were the favored architectural style.  One developer, Martin Cerel of Framingham, specialized in building entire neighborhoods that alternated between ranches and Capes (Hilltop Drive and Hemlock Lane were Martin Cerel developments; most homes on both streets have undergone significant alterations, as growing families needed more space.) This reporter and her family purchased a Hilltop Drive ranch in 1954 for $16,500. As the 1955 ad shows, an expandable Cape in the West Bedford area could be purchased for $13,900. And Beverly Hatfield Porter told the Citizen her father still lives in the same house he purchased in the “Riverview at Bedford” development, now assessed at many times its original purchase price .

Of course the “old” center of Bedford boasted homes from the Colonial era as well as some very solid early 1900s homes.  Fletcher Road is a prime example.  And there were several estates in town, notably the Pickman family homes in the area that is now Huckins Farm. But the explosive growth of the 50s was marked by moderately-priced Capes and ranches that allowed young families an opportunity to live in Bedford. These are the very homes that are being torn down today and replaced by much larger homes, loosely identified as “New England shingle” designs, most priced at more than a million dollars. Interestingly, Bedford never built many of the “mid-century modern”housing style so prominent in Lexington (Peacock Farms and Five Fields come to mind as examples.)

Home construction activity is a positive sign of economic development in town. Although some residents deplore the number of teardowns of smaller properties and the subsequent “mansionization” of new construction on the same lots, there are hopeful signs of home preservation: in driving around town you can see properties that are being renovated, yet are retaining the original footprint. Two examples are 112 North Road and, from a few years earlier, the home at 26 Concord Road.

A recent Fact Sheet from the Planning Board reveals that from January 1, 2000 to January 8, 2014 there were 299 single-family detached houses built, and 122 teardown/replacement houses.

Chris Laskey, Code Enforcement Officer, provided the following update for 2014 and the first half of 2015:

  • Single Family Dwellings in 2014 – 9
  • Teardowns/Replacement Dwellings in 2014 – 29
  • Single Family Dwellings in first half of 2015 – 0
  • Teardowns/Replacement Dwellings in first half of 2015 –  6

Keep our journalism strong! Support The Citizen Journalism Fund today. Contact The Bedford Citizen: editor@thebedfordcitizen.org or 781-325-8606

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