A Slice of History: Bedford Springs, the New York Pharmaceutical Company, and the Hayden House


This 1927 photograph of the Hayden house was made for the files of its architect, Ernest Parsons – Image (c) George S. Davis Studio, 1126 Boylston Street, Boston – Property of the Bedford Historical Society


By Julie McCay Turner

Some would say that a house is just structure built of bricks and mortar, but houses hold the history of their place and the stories of their families.

The residence at One Fawn Circle is still known as the Hayden house. It was built in 1926 by Sarah Holden Hayden to draw her son Arthur Holden Hayden back to Bedford so he could assume control of his father’s company, New York Pharmaceutical Corporation, and continue the production of HVC, Hayden’s Viburnum Compound, after his brother William’s death in 1923.


But how did the New  York Pharmaceutical Company come to Bedford Springs?


Some of the terms of the Shawshin Grant noting the land transfer from Captain Daniel Gookins to Thomas Oakes, including Bedford Springs – Image (c) The History of Billerica by Henry Allen Hazen, Harvard University Library

According to Abram English Brown’s History of the Town of Bedford, Bedford Springs was part of the Shawshin grant that enlarged Newe Towne, soon to be renamed Cambridge, in 1644. Then through a land transfer, Captain Daniel Gookins sold 150 acres of his grant to Thomas Oakes. The land included Sulphur, Chalybeate, and Sweet Water springs that were used medicinally by Nipmuck and Pawtucket healers. Native American tribes living in the area were dispersed when the General Court ceded their land to the Town of Billerica through the Wamesick Purchase in 1685, but tribesmen returned through the 1700s to “fill their leathern buckets with waters from the springs.”

Fast forward to 1835 when Augustus Pierce rented his pasture to local farmers. Livestock grazing near and drinking from the springs were reported to be in better overall health than cattle feeding nearby in apparently better pastures. According to The Gem of New England, Massachusetts’ State Chemist Charles T. Jackson, MD, pronounced Bedford’s spring waters to be valuable in treating disease, “particularly in all scrofulous and cutaneous diseases, rheumatism, and affections of the kidneys.”

Dr. Jackson’s report was confirmed by other scientists and attracted Dr. William Richardson Hayden who purchased the property in 1856 and moved the New York Pharmaceutical Company to Bedford Springs in 1867. The company’s laboratory, now the site of condominiums on Sweetwater Avenue, produced up to 350 different potions based on the spring waters and various healing botanicals.  Its principal products were Compound Phosphorus Pills, Uric Solvent, and Hayden’s Viburnum Compound. In 1889, 25,000 pounds of Hayden’s Viburnum Compound were shipped from the laboratory via the American Express office at Bedford Springs.


The Development of Bedford Springs


An engraving showing Fawn Lake and Bedford Springs taken from Abram English Brown’s History of Bedford – All rights reserved


Dr. Hayden petitioned the Legislature for a charter to bring the nation’s first narrow-gauge railroad, the Billerica and Bedford Railroad, to Bedford Springs along what’s now known as the Narrow Gauge Rail Trail in 1877. After the line’s bankruptcy in 1878, he persuaded the Boston and Lowell Railroad (later the Boston and Maine) to expand the right-of-way with a standard gauge branch line that opened in 1885. In 1888 he established the Bedford Springs Post Office and served as its Postmaster.

The spring-fed pond that became Fawn Lake was reportedly dug during the 1870s by 100 Italian laborers who traveled from Boston each week and lived in a temporary building near the Bedford Springs train depot, according to Willis Farrington in his 1999 book, An Awesome Century. Fawn Lake and its surrounding acreage were turned over to the Town as conservation land by Hayden descendants in 1978.

Dr. Hayden’s original purchase included the Springs House Hotel which was never commercially viable.  After it was demolished in 1897, Hayden began construction of the Sweetwater Hotel.  Handsomely laid out, beautifully appointed, and heavily advertised, the Sweetwater Hotel became a favored destination for Bostonians seeking to escape the city’s summer heat or to take its curative waters.

Click this link to see additional images of Bedford Springs from Abram English Brown’s History of Bedford


Arthur and Ellen Hayden


Arthur Holden Hayden – Image (c) Bachrach – property of the Hayden family

After his father’s death, William Richardson Hayden, Jr., Dr. Hayden’s son and namesake, took an active role at the New York Pharmaceutical Company until his own death in 1923. To entice Arthur Holden Hayden, her second son, to return to Bedford and take his brother’s place in the company, Sarah Holden Hayden hired prominent Boston architect Ernest Parsons of the firm Parsons and Wait to design the house that stands at One Fawn Circle.

Set on just over five acres of land in 1926, the original address was 100 Sweetwater Avenue. With extensive frontage on Springs Road and access to North Road via Sweetwater Avenue, the 18-room house was built in classic English Tudor style by Custance Brothers of Lexington, at a cost of approximately $73,000 — what would be just over a million dollars today.

Ellen Hayden, embarking on the NS Savannah’s inaugural transatlantic cruise – Image, property of the Hayden family archives – Click to view a larger image

Standing on “Marriage Rock” a flat stone promontory at the eastern edge of Fawn Lake, Arthur Holden Hayden married Ellen Krook, his second wife, on April 11, 1934. The rock lies on the Springs Road side of the lake, just past what was then a full-fledged magnolia orchard, of which only four trees remain.

Arthur Hayden served on many corporate, county, and town boards, serving as a Bedford Selectman for many years. Born in Bedford in 1894, he loved his town. He died of a massive coronary in May 1970, at the end of his driveway, coming home after collecting his mail and newspaper in Bedford Center.

Ellen Hayden survived her husband by 23 years.  A self-taught woman with a strong interest in science, she traveled on the nuclear-powered merchant ship NS Savannah as ‘First Passenger’ on its inaugural transatlantic crossing. She is still remembered by local youth who fished or jogged around Fawn Lake. Her daughter is clear, however, that her mother despised guns so their tales of ‘being shot at’ by Mrs. Hayden are apocryphal. Many long-time residents recall Mrs. Hayden and her dogs, driving through Bedford in her Land Rover.


The Hayden House


Even without the property’s compelling history, the Hayden house is, quite simply, romantic.

A rendition of the living room at the Hayden house – Image (c) JMcCT, 2018 all rights reserved

Current owner Laura Bullock first saw the house more than 25 years ago, before the Leighton family brought it up to modern standards. “I’ll live in this house one day,” Bullock remembers saying. And so she has, for the past 12 years, hosting parties, events, and as a stop on Bedford’s 2009 and 2014 Holiday House Tours. “It’s a great house for entertaining,” she claims, pointing to the spacious first floor with its handsome living room, comfortable family room, butler’s pantry, multiple fireplaces, a dumbwaiter, and even a pub. After a trip to London, John Bullock created an authentic English pub in the original library.

Click this link to see additional 1927 images of the Hayden house

Marna Hayden (l) with Laura and John Bullock during a visit in 2016 – Image (c) JMcCT, 2018 all rights reserved – Click to view a larger image

Arthur Hayden’s daughter Marna concurs that the house is great for parties. She visited in 2016 and recalled that each Christmas Eve, every light in every room would be turned on so that the house “simply glowed.” Her family’s Thanksgiving traditions included everyone, “the old aunts and young cousins alike,” running laps around the house after dinner.

She shared childhood memories of rambling through the Hayden land across Springs Road, exploring the old sheep pasture where homes now stand on Gould Road. She fished for pickerel, sunfish, and bass or skated and watched Boston Bruins’ scrimmages on Fawn Lake. The woods held interesting flora and fauna. One summer she and her mother, an accomplished mycologist, collected over 100 varieties of mushrooms and toadstools though most of them were both colorful and poisonous.

Marna Hayden remembers growing up in a happy home. “I only learned from the good things my parents taught my sister Dagmar and me,” she said. “If there was negativity, I let it go, and have always felt rich whether I’ve had money or not.”


A vintage aerial photograph of Fawn Lake – Image, property of the Hayden family archive – JMcCT, 2016 all rights reserved – Click to view larger image


Editor’s Note: The Hayden house is currently offered for sale by Suzanne and Company. Click this link for additional information.