Rebuilding of the 1890 Bedford Census

January 23, 2014

By Brian Oulighan
Reprinted from The Preservationist, the newsletter of the Bedford Historical Society

HistSoc logo1890 was a banner year for Bedford, for it finally passed the population mark of 1,000 for the first time.  It had nearly reached that mark 35 years earlier in 1855, when the State census showed the population at 986.  However, the 3rd quarter of the 19th century was a hard time for Bedford.  The Wilson mill burned, putting much of the population out of work.  The cottage shoe industry that had provided income to hundreds of families was wiped out by the emergence of large shoe factories.  Farmers from all over New England left the rocky fields for richer soil in the upper Midwest that the Federal government had opened to homesteaders.  And the Civil War had taken a tremendous toll on the town.  By 1865 the population dropped by 17% to 820 hardy souls.

The railroad brought new growth to the town in the last quarter of the 19th century, and in 1890 Bedford’s population reached 1092.  Who were the newcomers?  This information normally would come from the Federal Censuses, which were done every ten years and which still go on to this day.  However, the 1890 Federal Census was damaged by a fire in Washington D.C. in 1921.  Surviving fragments from the original 1890 census included veterans’ schedules, the Native American census, state censuses, and city and county directories.  Census Director Sam Rogers reported the extensive damage to the 1890 schedules, estimating 25 percent destroyed and 50 percent of the remainder damaged by water, smoke, and fire.  Congress authorized destruction in February 1933, and at least one report states the 1890 census papers were finally destroyed in 1935.  A small scribbled note later found in a Census Bureau file states “remaining schedules destroyed by Department of Commerce in 1934 (not approved by the Geographer).”

An 1890 Bedford Census that was subsequently assembled from a Town Directory and complied by the Mormons in Salt Lake City had only 444 names.  I took other directories from earlier and later and found more people and family members that were in Bedford in 1890.  I used the 1900 census and included the people that were in Bedford in 1880 and did the same with the directories.  They were certainly in Bedford in 1890.  I used Marriage records that showed the places of residence of the couples.  I also used Birth and Death records which showed the parents of the new and older residents.  I used the 1890 Civil War Veterans list that had not been damaged; there were still 31 veterans in Bedford in 1890.  Nine widows were listed with the veterans, whose husbands had died during the war or sometime before 1890.  After about a year of work, we now have a complete list of the 1890 Bedford Census and know something about the newcomers.      

In 1890, Bedford had a population of 1092.  There were 95 farms, 15 industries, 230 dwellings and 239 families.  Thirty-three people were working for the Railroad, 4 times as many as in 1880. There were only 6 Shoemakers left, one that worked in Lynn and three from other towns, working in Bedford.  Six people worked as Blacksmiths, almost the same as in 1880.  At least 35 people were working in Boston at various trades, presumably commuting by rail.  Eight people were connected to the Coal business, and six were in the Grain business.  There were 5 Door Makers, 5 Grocers, 24 Carpenters (only 5 in 1880), 12 Painters, 4 Butchers, 24 Laborers and 7 Salesmen.  Many of these people had farms to work on as well as their other occupations.  Ten people were retired from their trade, but other than those everyone else was working.  There were 86 people that had been born in Ireland living in Bedford in 1890, down from 107 from Ireland in 1880.  There was an influx of Canadians to Bedford, with at least 38 born in Canada (compared to just 18 in 1880).  The first 5 Danish immigrants to Bedford had arrived, as well as 9 Scottish immigrants (compared to just 2 ten years earlier).  Bedford was a Town that was growing in many ways.

In past Preservation newsletters, we looked at how life was in Bedford in the 1860’s, 1870’s and 1880’s.  We will take a look at the 1890’s, some changes that had occurred and a glipse of what life was like in Bedford.  By the end of the decade in 1900, the population had grown to 1208, with 116 new people either born here or moving to Bedford.  The 1890’s had 220 births recorded and 195 deaths.  

A few of the highlights in town included:

  • The Union School (now Town Center) was dedicated on Dec 31, 1891, and opened in 1892, with 4 schoolrooms and 8 teachers.  In 1890, teachers’ salaries ranged from $7.50 to $10.00 a week
  • The Bedford High School graduating class of 1891 was: Frederick A Laws, M. Alice Piper, Jennie N. Murray, M. Lenore Flint.
    In 1890, Bedford had 3 college graduates: Francis Warren Bacon from Harvard; Annie M. Smith from Wellesley; and Bessie S. Sampson from Mount Holyoke.
  • Bedford Lumber and Manufacturing was chartered in May 1891 and was the largest employer ever in town to that date
  • History of the Town of Bedford was published in 1891 by Abram English Brown
  • Bedford Historical Society was founded in 1893 by A.E. Brown and others

Other Books by A.E. Brown:

  • Glimpses of old New England life: Legends of old Bedford, 1892
  • Bedford Old Families, 1892
  • Flag of the Minute Men, April 19, 1775, Its Origin and History, 1894
  • Beneath Old Roof Trees, 1896
  • Beside Old Hearthstones, 1897
  • John Hancock – His Book, 1898

During the 1890s George R. Blinn was President of the Bedford Library and Lottie May Corey was the Librarian. In the late 1890s the Parker Brothers moved from Boston to Mill St. (Old Billerica Road) and purchased 350 acres of land and 8 houses.

Things going on elsewhere in the 1890s included:

  • 1890 – Idaho and Wyoming were admitted to the Union.
  • 1893 –  Grover Cleveland became President for the second time.
  • 1894 –  John and Will Kellogg invented Corn Flakes.
  • 1896 – Henry Ford built his first car; Gold was discovered in the Yukon; and Utah was admitted to the Union.
  • 1897 – William McKinley was elected president.
  • 1898 – Spanish-American War

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Noreen O'Gara
February 6, 2014 11:50 am

Would it be possible to get a copy of the re-constructed 1890 census for the BFPL?

Alethea Yates
January 28, 2014 8:04 am

Fantastic! Great work, Brian!

February 19, 2014 8:03 pm
Reply to  Alethea Yates

Thanks Lee, Great job on the Postcard book.! I saw all the snippets.

January 23, 2014 11:27 pm

I enjoyed this article very much and I am impressed with the amount of research that was done to reconstruct the 1890 census.

Nancy Bergin DuMont
January 23, 2014 6:38 pm

I really enjoyed reading this! Nice work, Brian

January 23, 2014 4:38 pm

A fascinating article and excellent detective work, to piece together so much information even though the US Census for 1890 was destroyed.

January 26, 2014 7:00 pm
Reply to  Dorothy Bergin

I have to thank Don Corey for his editing skills here. He knows how to focus on the most important points of the story and add details that I missed. Yes, it was quite time consuming, but it had to be done. It is about 22 pages, and if you want to see it, just let me know. Brian O

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