~ Contributed by Donald Corey, Bedford Historical Society
Editor’s Note: This presentation was offered by Corey during the Society’s lecture in September, 2022
Click this link to read Tales from Old Billerica Road ~ Part One
Images, Don Corey and the Bedford Historical Society (c) all rights reserved Click each image to see it at full size.
In June 1900 Willard Hospital bought the Butterfield farm (former Maxwell farm). It consisted of a 60-acre parcel with house and barn and a 65-acre parcel with a spring that supplied water for the farm. In 1902 the 65-acre parcel was sold to Dr. Sydney B. Elliott, who was the Secretary of the hospital corporation and a major investor. In June 1903 the Willard Hospital also bought the Lyons farm. It consisted of a four-acre homestead lot on the west side of Old Billerica Road, a barn on the east side of the road, and a 100-acre parcel straddling the Shawsheen River. Thereafter the Willard Hospital for treatment of alcoholism operated on roughly 160 acres – the southerly 60 acres of the Butterfield farm and the 100-acre Lyons farm.
The Historical Society has a booklet of a Belle Meade Shetland pony farm on Old Billerica Road. It was described “on the old road to Billerica, at the junction of the Burlington Road.” The pony farm owner was the same Dr. S.B. Elliott associated with the hospital, where he was the resident physician. So, the 65-acre parcel that he bought from the hospital was the Belle Meade pony farm. The booklet also suggests, “Buy your children a real living miniature horse, one that will last them all the years of their childhood, fill their lives with happy memories, develop their judgment, sense of care and ownership as well as prove a source of endless, healthful amusement.”
During the first decade of the 20th century, many properties on this stretch of Old Billerica Road had new owners and new uses. William Lyons and John Butterfield had sold their farms to Willard Hospital. Charles Clark had acquired the mill. The next parcel on the west side of the road had become the Belle Meade Shetland pony farm, catering to children of well-to-do families. Just beyond that, the Fitch farm, with land on both sides of Old Billerica Road, was sold out of the Fitch family after 170 years in 1902. The farms beyond that on both sides of the road belonged to the Parker family with their large-scale commercial market produce, dairy herd, and trotters. Old Billerica Road had largely departed from its 300-year history of subsistence farming.
While Willard Hospital was operating, charitable efforts based on Frances Willard’s other interests were proceeding elsewhere that later surfaced here. Miss Caroline Caswell had been so inspired by Frances Willard that she turned her talents toward providing social services to women needing help. Her achievements show that Ms. Caswell was a very capable individual both in identifying urgent needs and in finding both the physical and financial means to solve them. Her first project in 1894 was a small rest and recreation center for factory girls in Boston, which was quickly outgrown. In order to address the needs of more young working women, Ms. Caswell in 1897 established a Home for Working Girls, then in 1903 she incorporated the Frances E. Willard Settlement, and by 1907 acquired the Vincent Memorial Hospital and adjacent Church of St. Andrew for her social service work in Boston.
At the same time, Ms. Caswell’s attention also turned to middle-aged women who were exhausted from long months of work and needed rest, others who were convalescing from illness, and others who were out of work, discouraged and disheartened who needed a helping hand and often moral and spiritual uplift as well. That led to in a convergence here in Bedford of two of Frances Willard’s charitable passions – the temperance movement and social services for needy women.
Regrettably, neither the Willard Hospital nor the Belle Mead Farm survived for long. Dr. Sydney Elliott’s death in 1909 ended both ventures. In late 1909, his 65-acre portion of the Butterfield farm and the hospital’s 60-acre portion were conveyed to Ms. Caswell’s Frances E. Willard Settlement. That was the starting point for what has become Carleton-Willard Village. Willard Hospital struggled to operate at the Lyons farm for several more years, but in Nov 1912 it sold that property, thus ending that temperance endeavor in Bedford. To add insult to injury, after 27 years as a dry town, Bedford voted at Annual Town Meeting that year to resume granting liquor licenses.
Meanwhile the new Frances E. Willard Settlement house for working women, located on the Maxwell, then Butterfield farm, and then Willard Hospital site, was named Llewsac Lodge (Ms. Caswell’s name reversed) in honor of her efforts. Both the house and barn were in considerable need of repair, and after they were refurbished the Lodge opened in 1910. It provided a rest home for women and included an Industrial Center where the women could earn a portion of their board by weaving linens, making rugs, canning preserves, and other tasks.
Cook Hall, later called the “Main House.” was built soon after that in 1913 to provide more lodging and better workspace. It was named for a friend who was a substantial donor to the project.
Llewsac Lodge’s mission and programs are best described in an early Open House brochure, “Llewsac Lodge is meeting a long felt need in supplying a temporary home for worthy … women between 40 and 60 years of age. There are many scores of these … women who need judicious help, not charity. Those out of work, out of funds or needing a rest from overwork or overwrought nerves, are admitted and find a pleasant home life, cordial good will and encouragement which help them to again take up the battle of life when physically equal to so doing.
Residents of the Lodge desiring to do so may earn a part if not all of their board [in the Industrial Center]. The loom room is turning out fine work … Baskets in variety, dainty leather articles, etc. are also furnished. Vegetables, preserves, pickles, jelly and catsup made of produce grown at Llewsac are put up for sale … .”
Never seeming to stand still, in May 1916 Miss Caswell bought the former Fitch farm. Miss Caswell’s acquisition of that homestead, barn, and land on both sides of Old Billerica Road increased Llewsac Lodge’s size to about 185 acres. It allowed her to start a summer recreational camp for working girls from Settlement houses in Boston.
Llewsac Lodge, the Industrial Center, and the Summer Camp for girls were very successful for years. They had annual open houses and holiday celebrations and encouraged the public to purchase the products made there. Newspaper articles from the period were consistently positive, as were messages on postcards sent by guests to their families. As a sample, one postcard message was, “There are 30 cows in the barn. All [guests]have rich milk twice a day and lots of cream… This place has about 185 acres, in cultivated lands – gardens, fields, woodlands, and a beautiful river down across the road runs through the property. They plan to raise 50% of table expenses right here. The acres of gardens are a sight to behold! The place is becoming quite dear to me as well as to hundreds of other women who come here year after year….”
This view of the property was taken in the 1920s. Old Billerica Road is out of the scene on the left. Facing it at top left is Cook Hall/Main House and at the lower left Llewsac Lodge. The Butterfield barn is at lower right, and Harvey Cottage is next to it. The second view is toward Old Billerica Road, and the third is the barn and Harvey Cottage. The Harvey cottage housed the looms where rugs and other woven articles were made and where preserves were canned. It was lost on a bitterly cold morning – 14 degrees below zero – when it caught fire and burned due to an “overheated chimney”. Those operations were then moved to Cook Hall, the “Main House.”
There was one more group of women that Ms. Caswell felt compelled to do something for and to whom the existing facilities offered nothing. These were women who were not so ill as to need nursing care, but they could not be cared for in Llewsac Lodge, where each guest had to be able to attend meals in the dining room and take care of her own room. These women needed some attendant care, or a special diet, or were not able to pay more than a nominal price for such care. Miss Caswell had the Fitch homestead across the road renovated in 1926 to become the Worthen Memorial, and a wing was added to accommodate 21 women. A Registered Nurse was in charge who was assisted by one or two practical nurses.
During the mid-1920s the Federal government needed a location for a veterans’ hospital specializing in treatment of brain injured veterans from WWI. Both Bedford and Lexington were favored locations due to their proximity to Boston and convenient transportation. The responses of the two towns are interesting and reflect something of their respective characters. Lexington feared the potential loss of land from its tax base for such a hospital, and vigorously opposed its location there. Bedford, after much consideration, unanimously approved the proposal at a meeting and invited the government to locate the hospital here. The Frances Willard Settlement’s positive image probably helped to influence public opinion here. By the end of the decade, Bedford had two major facilities – the Frances Willard Settlement (Llewsac Lodge) and the Veterans Hospital on the other side of Springs Brook – that were each addressing the needs of large and underserved portions of the population.
By the 1930s, the Parkers were aging and slowing down. Arthur Parker sold his interest in the Shawsheen River Farm, including the two other farms he had acquired. Frederic Parker sold his southernmost property containing the greenhouses to Robert Little. Family farming was resumed at each, but the 1938 Great Hurricane destroyed Mr. Little’s greenhouses.
After WWII feed costs and labor shortages made farming very marginal. With the State’s construction of Route 3 in 1953, which ran through the easterly part of their land, the Parkers sold the last of their property by 1955. However, the Parker homes, Arthur Parker’s trotter stable, and the Michael Bacon home still stand and are included in the Old Billerica Road Historic District listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
While other farms on Old Billerica Road were being subdivided for housing, Paul Little reinvented his farm in the 1960s as the Bedford Country Club. It had a 9-hole public golf course and family ski area during the winter. Many old timers have fond memories of the golf course and ski area. Mr. Little tried to have the town purchase the golf course. Regrettably, the Board of Selectmen had no interest, so the property was sold and Bedfordshire Condominiums were built there in the 1980s.
Returning to Llewsac Lodge, it continued to flourish throughout the Great Depression and WWII. In 1938 the original Butterfield house was demolished, and the Myra Higgins House was built to replace it. Ms. Higgins had been the first Director of Llewsac Lodge. The Higgins House is the only structure left from the Settlement.
Llewsac Lodge’s mission was expanded after WWII to also serve as a women’s retirement home, as noted on this 1945 postcard: “Spending one grand holiday in this beautiful country land… In my walks an alluring path beckons to me from the roadside and I can’t but yield to the call. Businesswomen come here seeking a quiet, restful vacation. This also makes a permanent home for those wishing to come on retirement… This is a winter scene but shows the entrance and drive to the Lodge.”
Circumstances required reconsideration of some of its mission. The Worthen Memorial had met the needs of women requiring attendant care until 1946, but due to deferred repairs during the war so much work was necessary that it was decided to sell the property. The Fitch house, barn, and land on the east side of the road were sold, ending both the Worthen Memorial and the girls’ summer camp. Farming at Llewsac Lodge also ceased in 1947 when feed costs and labor shortages made it unprofitable. At that same time, the Town of Bedford bought the Clark mill, demolished it, and dynamited out the dam across the Shawsheen River, ending the mill’s 284-year history. In 1960 the surplus farmland at the northern end of Llewsac Lodge was sold to a developer, leading to construction of the Wagon Wheel Drive/Old Stagecoach Road subdivision.
In 1975 people from the Elizabeth Carlton House in Roxbury began discussions with Llewsac Lodge and the Town of Bedford about a new continuing care community. It reflected serving newer needs that resulted from changes in social and financial conditions, and in particular the aging population. The resultant merger created Carleton-Willard Village, which opened in 1982. In 1988 it became the first accredited continuing care retirement community in Massachusetts. In 1993 Carleton-Willard reacquired the Fitch Home across the street, which is of course now the C-W guest house. The wing that had originally been added to serve women needing attendant care had been moved by a developer to a separate lot and is now a private residence. And finally, in 2006 Carleton-Willard acquired the site of the former Lyons home opposite the end of Burlington Road, where more C-W units have been built. Under Barbara Doyle’s leadership, additional features and services continue to be added.
Now as you drive up Old Billerica Road, modern subdivisions are everywhere that obscure the road’s long and varied history. However, tucked away along the road, historic vestiges remain as reminders of its important and interesting past.
Thank you Don Corey for all that wonderful information. It was eye opening.Barbara
Found this interesting as Paul Little was my dad’s cousin!
WOW! What a history lesson! Thank you for this!
Thank you Donald Corey and the Bedford Citizen for this incredibly informative article.