Bedford Revisited – 100 years ago in Bedford via the Town of Bedford Annual Town Report of 1918


By Bob Dorer

In looking at the old town reports, it appears that over the years Bedford was very thrifty with its annual report printing contracts.  It is interesting to see the many different printing firms from Boston, Worcester, even Cambridge’s Brattle Press, which have had the privilege of printing our town’s informative annual reports.   In 1918 A.T. Howard Company of Boston did the honors.   The cover of this report contains the “old” town seal that was first used in the annual report of 1900.  The annual report of 1899 noted the adoption of a town seal to comply with an act of the Legislature of Massachusetts in 1898 requiring each town to have an official seal for use by the town clerk.  The report goes on to note the design of Bedford’s new (now old) seal was developed by Mr. Brown (Abram E., I assume) and signified the original meeting house on “the Common” of the newly cleared forest, with many tree stumps evident, in a central position in the forest between Concord and Billerica, both towns having ceded some of their lands far from their respective centers for the creation of Bedford in 1729.  The stumps on this interesting old seal remind me of another “stump town,” Portland, Oregon.

The Overseers of the Poor and a Superintendent and Matron of the Town Farm positions in town survived but later in the 1918 report one discovers this was the year the town voted to sell the town farm, stock, and equipment by setting up a committee appointed by the moderator with the full authority to sell the property.   Later, at a special town meeting in July with only 29 recorded as voting, the Selectmen were granted unanimous approval for authorization to sell the farm to Dr. Harold D. Cross for $9,500.00.  The report also notes the land had been in town ownership since 1833.  Only two “inmates” remained on the farm at the time of the sale; one was committed to the State Hospital, the fate of the other not clearly described.  More information on the Town Farm, sometimes referred to as the Almshouse or Poor Farm, can be found in a very informative article in the Bedford Historical Society’s newsletter, The Preservationist, March 2014

The town was still grappling with the sale of intoxicating liquors in town but this time it was not a unanimous “no” – the question “shall license be granted for the sale of Intoxicating Liquors in this Town?” was defeated by a vote of 150 to 121 with 7 blank votes.

In other developments Bedford now had a “keeper of the lockup,” with this position first appearing in the 1908 Town Annual Report.

The Board of Health reported a “very trying” year due to the increase in sickness largely caused by the Influenza Epidemic.  On a related note, the Library Trustees reported their reduced circulation for the year was probably due, in part, to the closing of the library for several weeks because of the Epidemic.  Overall, 26 births and 29 deaths during the course of the year are recorded in the report.  A public dental clinic under the direction of the School Committee was established with a budget of $250 although its rollout was also impacted by the Epidemic.

98 dogs (84 males and 14 females) resided in town and Bedford was also well populated with various other animals; 212 horses, 581 cows and other cattle, 165 swine, and 3529 fowl.   The Inspector of Animals made a plea in his report for citizens to write their state and national representatives for increased funding to stamp out tuberculosis and for fair compensation for condemned cattle.

The tree warden reported that the Elm trees in the “centre” of town were sprayed on account of the elm-leaf beetle.  The moth superintendent reported a much-improved moth situation but clearly it was still a significant issue as the moth control budget exceeded both the fire and police department budgets.   A related position, “Superintendent of Work for Suppressing Gypsy and Browntail Moths,” was first noted in the town report of 1906 with the position being renamed in 1908 to “Superintendent of Work for the Extermination of Moths”.  It seems that by 1918 things had settled down a bit on the moth front.   Given recent years maybe we need to bring the moth suppressor / exterminator position back to serve modern day Bedford.

The Police noted a “tremendous increase in automobile traffic through town”, attributed to the Camp Devens traffic from the closing of the State road between Lexington and Concord.   Another familiar story to our challenges in 2018.

In the 25 years since 1893 the town population grew by approximately 25% to 1365 people.  In 1918, 278 citizens voted in the town election and in what seems like an odd note a line in the reported stated, “Total number of women voting for School Committee – 1.”   It appears there was a tight race for the one selectman’s opening with 140 to 134 votes between the two candidates and 4 blank votes.

In the state primary: 49 of 58 Republicans voted for Calvin Coolidge for Governor with 9 blank votes, 15 Democrats spread their votes across three candidates, and one Socialist vote was cast.  The subsequent state election results reported for Bedford were: Calvin Coolidge (R) 131 votes, Richard H. Long (D) 71.  Coolidge went on to serve as governor of Massachusetts for three years before running on the Warren G. Harding ticket as the candidate for Vice-President.   As many know, Coolidge later became the 30th President of the United States when President Harding died while traveling in San Francisco during his first term in 1923.

Finally, a unique and sobering part of this particular town report was the “list of all Bedford men in the service of their country during the present great war for liberty,” a total of 72 names.    One life was lost in a collision, one was killed in action, one died of wounds received in action, three were wounded and one soldier was listed as having been gassed.  Many of the family names would be familiar to modern day town residents.  Three families- Parker, Loomis, and Anthony-each had four members who served.   Later the town further documented the war effort with a supplement to the 1927 Annual Town Report titled, “Bedford in the World War, An Account of the Part Played by the Citizens of the Town of Bedford Military and Civilian in the Great War with Germany 1917-1919.”  This account is attributed to the dedication of George R. Blinn to ensure that a permanent record of the action of the soldiers and citizens of the town was well documented.  The supplement contains detailed descriptions of the service of each person, many in their own words.   The report of the Bedford Branch of the American Red Cross is also contained in the supplement and lists a wide range of activities they undertook during the years of 1917 – 1919.   Providing a stark reminder to the realities of war among the list of items provided by this branch to the war effort were bandages, gauze, and dressings of all types.  Items ranging from 800 gun cleaners to 50 Christmas boxes are also listed as having been provided to the soldiers.    The “Report of Work” of this branch also reveals a particularly important “Home Service” that provided assistance to both returning soldiers and the families of soldiers while they served.  A poignant statement describing the service notes, “it took the families back to the days when the Colonists were all things to one another; in other words it brought to the heart the spirit of friendliness, of neighborliness and it won prompt and grateful recognition.”

Next up – 75 years ago in Bedford, 1943.

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