Jonathan Bacon and 139 The Great Road, the Proposed Site of Bedford’s New Fire Station

March 18, 2022

~ Submitted by the Bedford Historical Society

Jonathan Bacon ~ Image, A E Brown’s History of Bedford

The Bedford Historical Society wants Bedford residents to know the history of #139 The Great Rd., the house that may be demolished if the March 28 Town Meeting votes to purchase the home and the Bedford Historic District Commission agrees to allow this historic house to be demolished for a new fire station.

In 1836, prominent shoe manufacturer and inventor Jonathan Bacon (1785-1856) moved his family into the house he built on Main Street, now known as #133 The Great Rd.  This large, 2-story Greek Revival home still stands today, and is well-known for its four, 2-story fluted Ionic columns on the front of the house.  Jonathan also built a carriage house and other buildings on his Great Road estate.  The carriage house property was later separated from the main house and became #139 The Great Rd.

Both the Greek Revival house, known as the Jonathan Bacon House, and the Jonathan Bacon Carriage House are listed on the National Register of Historic Places; both with a construction date of 1836.

Noted professional genealogist Kathleen Kelly-Broomer, who has conducted research and prepared nominations for several historic Bedford properties to be nominated for the National Register of Historic Places, confirmed last week that Jonathan Bacon’s carriage house was built on the site of the Bacon estate in 1836, and stands there today.

She noted that “The town has made preservation of the town center a priority for nearly 60 years.  The streetscape contributes to Bedford’s “sense of place” and at this location in particular announces the historic character of the town center to those approaching from the east….Preservation of Bedford’s irreplaceable heritage is in the public interest.  Both the carriage house-turned-residence and the fieldstone wall at the street frontage were identified as elements that contribute to the significance of the Old Bedford Historic District listed in the National Register.”

Jonathan Bacon was educated in Bedford, and in his early life, employed on his father’s farm.  His father, Thompson Bacon, was a land surveyor of considerable skill; his plans and charts are valuable for reference today.

According to historian A.E. Brown:

“Possessing a naturally thoughtful mind, [Jonathan’s] attention was soon turned to mechanical pursuits, in which he displayed an ingenuity which laid the foundation of his eventual success.  Associated with his father-in-law, Jonathan “was the first in this country to engage in the manufacture of women’s and children’s shoes, and his careful management resulted in the establishment of a profitable enterprise.”  

Jonathan was instrumental in promoting the cottage shoemaking industry that thrived in Bedford during the early 1800s.  Shoemaking helped Bedford grow beyond an agricultural economy, and was soon joined by other forms of manufacturing.  Jonathan made patterns for shoes and for “lasts” – what we know as wooden shoe forms that were used in the shoemaking operation to set the final shape of a shoe and hold the leather in place so that the outside can be attached.  He manufactured these himself, and thus opened the way for the display of his inventive powers in other fields.

He soon devoted himself to inventing, manufacturing, and selling various devices, including sash and blind fastenings, latches and various carriage appliances.  One of the smaller buildings on his Great Road estate was used for manufacturing his inventions.

The Bedford Historical Society owns the original patent for Jonathan Bacon’s innovative Blinds Lever Fastener, issued in 1836.  It is a document with great historical significance both in and out of Bedford: A. E. Brown, in his History of Bedford, claimed that Bacon’s innovative invention, “has been for upwards of fifty years on the market, and has never yet been equaled by anything used for the same purpose.”

It is not only the Bedford connection that makes this patent notable. This patent was issued in April of 1836, just eight months before the National Patent Office was destroyed by fire, along with the 10,000 patents that had been filed at the time. A notation on the reverse shows that it was re-registered by the patent office in 1838, presumably because this was Bacon’s personal copy, refiled to secure his patent rights after the originals were destroyed.

Also exciting, this patent bears signatures of several significant, although somewhat controversial historical figures. It is signed by then-Secretary of State John Forsyth, known for his advocacy of the withdrawal of recognition of Native American tribal sovereignty. It also bears the signature of then-Attorney General Benjamin Franklin Butler, who founded New York University in 1831. Unfortunately, Butler also has the dubious distinction, as Secretary of War in 1837-38, of having Cherokee Trail of Tears army post, Fort Butler, named for him.

Most significant, though, this patent bears the signature of President Andrew Jackson. Although Jackson’s large and prominent signature is rather faded, one can still see the characteristic flourishes of our seventh President, making this a document of both local and national significance.

Jonathan Bacon’s innovations were designed to make life easier, including his window sash lock, an improvement of carriage springs, and his lever blind fastener. Bacon manufactured his patented inventions here in Bedford and became a wealthy man.

A passage from A.E. Brown’s History of Bedford sums up this influential man whose story is an important part of Bedford’s history:

“Mr. Bacon, though largely interested in public affairs, neither sought nor accepted office except such as he believed that he could administer for the benefit and welfare of his native town.  He was chairman of the Board of Selectmen of Bedford for many years, only consenting to an election because he believed it the duty of every citizen to bear his share of town burdens, and to perform his part of a townsman’s duty.  Further than this he refused to go, and at one time declined a nomination (equivalent to an election) to the State Senate.  In politics he was a Federalist and Whig, and as long as he lived, after the organization of the Republican party, he was one of its devoted members.  Civil service reform, so far as a part of its policy is concerned, would, if he were now living, be no novelty to him.

“He belonged to a class of men who … ruled the communities in which they lived, not by wire-pulling, trickery and self-seeking, but by advice and counsel, sought and followed on account of their wisdom, and by an honest and earnest effort to put the best men in office, and thus promote and secure the public welfare.

“It will not be difficult to portray the character of the man thus briefly sketched.  With a mind elastic and susceptible of expansion and growth, with a training which had implanted within him a love of truth, integrity and faithful labor, he combined a tenderness of spirit and an affection for his family and home, a regard for public interests and a respect for the rights, comfort and welfare of those about him, which made him a conspicuous figure in his town, and one receiving the entire confidence of his friends and neighbors.”  

This is the prominent Bedford resident whose carriage house was remodeled incorporating Federal details in the early 1900s, and occupied as a single-family home until it was purchased more recently by Utah State University as a graduate research facility.  If the March 28 Town Meeting authorizes the purchase #139 The Great Rd. and the Historic District Commission votes to demolish the historic house, it will disappear as one of the few homes left of this age in Bedford.

Some residents have called for the carriage house to be protected, not demolished, due to the deep relationship of the Bacon family to this town, because of Jonathan’s extraordinary accomplishments that enhanced the residents and the stature of Bedford, and because it is associated with Jonathan’s Greek Revival home next door.

The facts in this article were taken from documents preserved by the Bedford Historical Society and Bedford historian A.E. Brown’s History of the Town of Bedford, 1891.

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