A Look Back at Bedford’s Postal History, and Ahead to What the Future Might Hold

Town Historian Sharon McDonald provided a photo of the Bedford Post Office in the late 1800s, It is in a building with several business enterprises, located at the intersection of The Great Road and School Avenue. You can make out the words Post Office just below the Flour and Grain sign.

 

Today Bedford is served by a retail Post Office located in the Bedford Marketplace.  It is staffed by Postmaster David Zaher, who also serves the Hanscom AFB post office and four clerks who have been in Bedford for some years. They handle all retail operations. There are around 650 Post Office boxes of which some 400 which are currently rented. The letter carriers for the 15 Bedford routes work out of the Burlington office.

Employees of the Bedford Post Office have been working out of temporary quarters – Image (c) JMcCT, 12/12/2015, all rights reserved

During the demolition of the old shopping plaza and the building of Bedford Marketplace, from 2015 to 2018, postal services were relegated to a trailer for almost 18 months, under conditions that were extremely difficult for both postal workers and customers.

It was a happy day indeed when the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new retail location took place on May 18, 2018.

Click this link to read about the ribbon cutting and customer appreciation day, or this link to read about the new retail space.

The building that many residents still call “the post office” was demolished in 2014 Image (c) JMcCT, 2014

But – and this is still a mystery to many – why did Bedford lose the functionality it once had? In the old shopping center, you may recall there was a substantial brick building located on the corner where the B-good restaurant now stands, with a retail unit on the other side of the driveway.  Mail was sorted on the premises in the brick building. In those days, you could mail a letter to a Bedford address and be reasonably certain it would be delivered the next day. Today, a letter posted to a Bedford address must go to Burlington for sorting before it finally makes it back to the addressee in town, which can add as much as two days to delivery time.

Collection boxes were marked “Local” and “Outside,” with the first collection time at 7 am. With the rearrangement of the traffic pattern, there is now one drive-up box awkwardly located behind the building, literally in the lane for the Bank of America’s ATM window. The latest outgoing collection in this box is 5 pm. Savvy customers anxious to get a letter in the earliest outgoing mail know they can zip over to the Nutting Lake Post Office on Middlesex Turnpike in Billerica, where there is a 7:45 am pickup. The earliest pickup at the retail location in Bedford is noon.

Many small-town post offices were built during the 1930s, as part of the federal government efforts to provide work for the unemployed during the Great Depression.  President Franklin Roosevelt believed that constructing public buildings would reduce unemployment and boost morale. He authorized some 1,300 post offices, handsome buildings often decorated with murals by unemployed artists.  Most likely, given the size of Bedford in those years–under 3,000 residents–we did not qualify for a substantial red brick building such as you see in many small towns around the country.  Source: Winifred Gallagher, “How the Post Office Created America”, Penguin Press, 2016.

Town Historian Sharon McDonald verified that in the 1940s and 50s, the Post Office was located in the brick building on the corner of The Great Road and South Road, in the spot now occupied by UPS-a fact confirmed by long-time resident Art Smith whose family moved to Bedford in 1942. Art recalls that the post office occupied two sections. The end section (currently UPS) was where the mail was sorted and the postmaster sat. The second section (currently the tailor’s shop) was where the public entered, with mailboxes on the right wall and the business counter windows to the left. Art confesses he has forgotten the combination to his family’s mailbox!

Town Historian McDonald further helped our research on the early days by providing us with a photo of the Post Office in the late 1800s, in a building with several business enterprises located at the intersection of The Great Road and School Avenue. You can make out the words Post Office just above the Flour and Grain sign.

In his privately printed book, “An Awesome Century,” Williston Farrington, wrote that in the early part of the 20th century the Post Office was in a building that contained two stores: a general store on one side where you could buy groceries and hardware; down a slight incline was the Mudge Sisters’ (there’s a familiar name!) Dry Goods Store. The Post Office “was a cubbyhole with a barred window and glass front mailboxes.” You called at the window to collect your mail, as there was no home delivery then. In 1900 the town’s population was around 1,200.

For Additional Information

In today’s world, the US Postal Service is at some risk. Click this link to read Dot Bergin’s sidebar to this story, “Is the USPS Going Down the Tubes?”

 

 


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