The report says although Bacon is a notable person of Bedford, the house itself is not historical.
A leading historic preservation firm believes that with the proper design, the new Bedford Fire Station that will be built at 139 The Great Road will sufficiently fit into the locale without compromising the historic nature of the area.
The Preservation Collaborative, located in Medford, recently finished its investigation and documentation at the request of the Town of Bedford of the Bacon-Williams-Christie House at 139 The Great Road, which is located in the Bedford Center Historic District.
The company was hired to conduct “a thorough investigation of the existing building to understand its age and integrity.” Preservation Collaborative President Ryan D. Hayward, architectural historian, undertook investigations of the house during multiple visits.
The evaluation was done using the guidelines established by the National Park Service for the National Register of Historic Places program. The documentation process “utilized architectural history to understand the building’s construction and changes during its occupation and use.”
The Collaborative said, “In the context of a group of buildings, including the Bacon House at 133 Great Road, and within the Old Bedford Center district, the building at 139 Great Road contributes to the understanding of broader patterns of history… Although they play a lesser role, we feel a need to acknowledge the two subsequent owner-occupants. We have applied the name of the Bacon-Williams-Christie House to reflect the property’s history,” which is delineated below:
Research reveals that Jonathan Bacon*, a prominent Bedford resident, had the two-story Greek Revival dwelling with outbuildings at 133 The Great Road built in 1836, where he and his wife Abigail and their 10 children lived. The carriage house property was later separated from the main house and became 139 The Great Road.
Jonathan Bacon was educated in Bedford, worked on his father’s farm, and made women’s and children’s shoes for the Boston market. He also invented, manufactured, and sold various devices, including sash and blind fastenings, latches, and assorted carriage appliances, many of which were patented. Bacon was also chairman of the Board of Selectmen of Bedford for several years.
After John and Abigail died in the mid-1800s, their son Jerome inherited the house and expanded the estate, including the carriage house, to 18 acres. The carriage house was later removed, having been last documented on the map of Bedford Center in 1906.
Jerome was a gold-beater, then a papermaker whose later business collapsed. Upon his death in the early twentieth century, the estate was left to his third wife, Anna Bacon neè March, who was forced to develop the property to raise funds to retain ownership, but to no avail. The estate remained in the Bacon family until 1925.
The report states, “After divesting the surrounding holdings, the core property was sold to a developer, divided, and flipped. The first owner-occupants were Joseph Williams, president of the Williams and Burditt Hardware Store in Boston, and his wife Isabel Prior. The Williamses owned the property for approximately 15 years.
The last owner-occupants were Richard and Ethyl Christie. They operated a poultry business and remained in Bedford for a little more than 35 years.
The property was then sold to Utah State University, which owned the property up until its acquisition by the Town of Bedford last year.
The following further substantiates The Collaborative findings:
The “Bacon-Williams-Christie House is a twentieth century resource that is marginally significant and possesses little integrity. The building has a weak connection with the Bacon family. The subsequent owners fall into the category of the broad patterns of history. They play a minor role in the history of Bedford Center, and no one person rises above their neighbors. These are persons with no influence on society, nor do they exemplify the cultural, political, economic, or social history… For these reasons, its loss would not be detrimental to the historical or architectural heritage of the Town of Bedford.”
The Collaborative notes that the building is listed in a National Register Historic District. This honorary designation highlights a building or a site’s contribution to local, state, or national history, culture, or architectural heritage. The report points out, “It is a formal recognition of a property’s significance and integrity, but in no way limits the owner’s use of a property. It also places absolutely no restrictions or conditions on changes made to private property. The entire local district and additional buildings are inside the National Register Historic District, but none are subject to any additional review.”
The Collaborative report annotates that the “composition [of the property] consists of two late nineteenth-century framed structures that were joined together to form a residence in the twentieth century” by Anna R. Bacon, [who] “was responsible for most of the development of the Bacon Estate in the first quarter of the twentieth century.”
The reports also indicate that there was, at one time, a carriage house on the site, but this was removed and replaced with the current building. This “so-called Bacon Carriage House is, in actuality, a Bacon Tenement House… a rental property that was ultimately sold as a private residence along with the rest of the Bacon Estate.”
Also noted: “The building is a Colonial Revival structure that echoes the architectural expressions of earlier buildings within the neighborhood. There are, however, far more elaborate and better-preserved examples of the style. In fact, there are some two-dozen buildings recorded in the Old Bedford Center inventory form. A handful are high-style buildings and are the best examples of the style in the community. The rest far exceed the details found on this building. The bulk of the character lay in its elaborate entrance. The rest appears to be more vernacular.”
The Bacon family did undertake a series of improvements that are documented in maps and tax records. However, the lack of information about these buildings before their current configuration meant The Collaborative could not “consider any part of them as having any [historic] integrity. We must solely look at them as a piece of the later twentieth-century fabric.”
The Preservation Collaborative believes “it is possible to build a sympathetic structure within the historic district. There have been a handful of new buildings in Bedford Center that demonstrate that a carefully planned building that responds to its surroundings can fit. The new building will undoubtedly take all the considerations into account and be designed to meet the community’s needs. The Bacon-Williams-Christie Building is a prime example of why historians should challenge longstanding histories.”
The report concludes, suggesting, “Bedford should use this building as a great example of how we can use history to move forward, make an informed decision, and do the best with a lasting record of this structure.”
To read the entire report, go to http://www.bedfordma.gov/DocumentCenter/View/2126/139-Great-Road-Report—Preservation-Collaborative?bidId=.
*To learn more about Jonathan Bacon and his historical significance in and to Bedford along with other interesting facts, visit https://thebedfordcitizen.org/2022/03/jonathan-bacon-and-139-the-great-road-the-proposed-site-of-bedfords-new-fire-station and/or https://walkiesthroughhistory.com/2022/04/03/jonathan-bacon-house.