Submitted by Don Corey
President, Bedford Historical Society
The Bedford Historical Society has assembled an extensive collection of basic dairy industry equipment, including platform scale, large milk cans, cream separator, butter churns, etc., as well as bottles and other memorabilia from the local dairies and local dairy farmers.
Many of these items will be on display at the Job Lane barn from 2 to 4 pm on Sunday, August 13, 2017. The Job Lane Farm is located at 295 North Road, Bedford. Among the activities will be to make cream by shaking butter, pose for selfies with Bridget the papier-mâché cow, and around 3 pm help make hand-cranked ice cream and then eat it up! There s no charge for this family-friendly event.
During the 17th and 18th centuries, Bedford’s economy was entirely agricultural. Everyone, including the minister and the innkeeper, would have had a small farm with at least one dairy cow.
Bedford’s Old Center began to develop around 1800, and within the next 50 years it became a village of homes on lots too small to keep cows. As a result, village residents bought their milk from nearby farmers and thus created the local dairy industry. Over the years a number of local farmers have processed their own milk and sold it under their own dairy names, i.e., Lexford Dairy, Pleasant Farm Dairy, Spring Dale Farm, etc.
In 1880 the J.B. Prescott Co. opened as Bedford’s 1st “collecting” dairy, purchasing raw milk from local dairy farms, processing it and delivering it to homes and retailers.
A 1919 Sanitary Survey of Bedford by the State described Rasmus F. Peterson’s dairy farm, Pleasant Hill Farm, on North Road. He had a big old barn with 19 dairy cows; the milk house was a modern clean room with a cement floor and a recent model bottle-filling machine. He sold milk door-to-door in town.
There was no pasteurized milk in Bedford in 1919. However, by 1930 J.B. Prescott Co. was pasteurizing milk it collected before delivering it to customers within a day.
A 1931 report from Bedford’s Assessors to the Board of Health showed that there were still 53 owners of cows in town, with a total of over 300 cows. The town’s human population in 1925 was only 1,514.
Bedford’s 1947 Annual Report suggests that the dairy industry was still thriving. There were 8 licensed Milk Dealers and 16 dairy farms (“Milk Producers”) in town that year. Both J.B. Prescott and Blue Ribbon were pasteurizing their milk and cream, and Lexford Farm (owned by Dr. G.L. Goulding on Old Billerica Road) was considering pasteurization.
Construction of Route 128 and Route 3 to Lowell in the early 1950s changed Bedford to a suburban town. Feed costs and shortage of farm labor made farming very marginal, and within a few decades the dairy industry in Bedford was gone. Only the specialty ice cream business survives today.