Bedford Explained – The Jenks Trail

May 24, 2023

Have you ever wondered about that path running in front of the High School? It’s a lovely path between two stone walls. It is tree-lined and is very bucolic. But why is it there?   

That path is called The Jenks Nature Trail. This year, as in years past, the Prom Stroll will take place there on Thursday, May 25.  

Jenks Nature Trail- who was it named after?

The Bedford Historical Society

The Jenks Nature Trail is named after Charles Jenks (1848 – 1921) who was the great grandson of Jeremiah Fitch, of Fitch Tavern fame. Fitch Tavern on the Great Road is where the Minutemen stopped on their way to Concord on April 19, 1775.  

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Not only did the Fitches own the tavern, they also owned a large farm in the heart of Bedford. What is now the Jenks Trail was a path between the farmhouse and the pasture. Called the “cow run,” the trail was a path to bring cows up from the pasture to the barn.

So who was Charles Jenks? He graduated from Harvard, lived in Boston for the first part of his life, and had a successful career in the paper industry.  Jenks was known to be a nature lover and he returned to his ancestral home in Bedford after retirement. (see story below).

After returning to Bedford, Jenks was involved in many civic activities in Bedford. He served as the Town Moderator for 20 years. He was also a Library Trustee and was the first Tree Warden Bedford ever had.  

Soon after his death in 1921, the town acquired 36 acres in the center of town from his estate. That land is where the police station, high school, library, and many of the playing fields are now. 

The Bedford Historical Society

To honor him and all his contributions, the Bedford Conservation Commission had the area designated as the Jenks Nature Trail in 1963. They also added new plantings and worked to make it a study area for students. Science, art, and English classes use the trail for lessons. 

Also in 1963, the Massachusetts Audubon Society made a presentation to the town and called it the Jenks Nature Trail – complete with a map.  (see below).  

In 2003, the town brought a warrant article to Town Meeting to officially designate the town-owned area in front of the high school as The Charles W. Jenks Nature Trail.  

In 2012, there was a rededication of the Jenks Nature Trail and the unveiling of the sign.

To learn more about Charles Jenks, here is an article about him that the Bedford Historical Society published in their “Preservation” newsletter:

Do you have other things around town you would like explained?  Let us know.

The Country Life – 

From the : The Bedford Historical Society Newsletter –  The Preservationist April 2007 

The country life – The story sounds familiar: a businessman, tired of the hurly-burly of the city, retires to the country and becomes a gentleman farmer. The year was 1884, the businessman-turned-farmer was Charles William Jenks, and his version of “Green Acres” was Stone Croft Farm, now known as Fitch Tavern, Bedford.

 It all made sense. Charles Jenks was the great grandson of Jeremiah Fitch, who provided breakfast for the town’s fighting men on April 19, 1775. Charles no doubt had visited the family farm many times during his childhood when it was owned by his aunt Caroline Fitch. It was still a working farm. Across from the house was a large barn (it stood approximately at the head of Mudge Way where it meets The Great Road) with plenty of acreage for farmyard and pasture. 

 Charles Jenks was born in Boston in 1848, the son of Mary Rand Fitch and John Henry Jenks. He attended Boston Latin School and graduated from Harvard College in 1871, then went on to work as a paper manufacturer in Boston. But in spite of his city birth, upbringing, and career, he seems to have been born to study and enjoy nature. He joined the Mass. Horticultural Society in 1865, and before settling down to business life, he did a year of postgraduate work at the Bussey Institute, a biological school of Harvard University.

Thus, he was ready to begin a new life in the country. In addition to running the farm, he planted extensive gardens around his house and roamed the woods and fields. A keen botanist, he helped to compile a comprehensive description of the plant life of Middlesex County. For many years, he used his love of nature to serve the government by making daily notations as a volunteer weather observer.

Like many a “retired” person in Bedford, he led an active civic life. Among other things, he served for 20 years as the Town Moderator; was the town’s first Tree Warden; was a library trustee; advised the Winifred Thorndike Simonds Nature Club; and helped to charter the Bedford Grange #238. He further demonstrated his commitment to the town by donating two acres of land for the Junior High building (the current Town Hall) as well 16 acres adjoining Shawsheen Cemetery. 

 Another lasting contribution is now housed in the Archives of the Bedford Historical Society. From 1910 to 1925, he filled six scrapbooks with every available newspaper clipping about Bedford, supplemented with a wide array of Bedford memorabilia such as photographs of Old Home Day in 1912 and many Bedford Grange programs. The scrapbooks are such a valuable source of information about Bedford life in that era that they have been microfilmed and a copy placed at the Bedford Public Library. 

 For many years, Charles shared his home at Stone Croft Farm with his two sisters, Mary F. and Caroline E. Jenks. He died on Christmas Day, 1929, survived by his nephews Henry A., Charles F., and Frederic A. Jenks, the sons of his brother, the Rev. Henry Fitch Jenks. After services at the First Parish Church in Bedford, he was buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery. As his obituary states, “No project of benefit to the town was too small for him to lend his aid, and his thoughtfulness to others was one of his most lovable traits.” Though not a native son, he was a true son of Bedford. 

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