Despite its proximity to Route 128 and major corporate developments, Bedford manages to retain some of its colonial character. Indeed, most of the town's history speaks of agricultural uses and modest population growth until the 1920s.
Incorporated from parts of Concord and Billerica as a separate town in 1729, Bedford benefited from its location on the routes from Boston to Concord and to New Hampshire. The Concord River and the headwaters of the Shawsheen River watered the low rolling agricultural and pasture land. Mining of yellow ochre for “Bedford yellow” paint became one of the few industries. The meetinghouse established a town center around which gathered substantial houses and taverns for Great Road travelers. The mineral resort at Bedford Springs, established in the 1830s, provided further incentive for outsiders to visit Bedford. The railroad lines arrived late (in the 1870s) as secondary extensions from the Lexington to Concord corridor. Street railroad lines extended from Boston to the Bedford Center Historic District (BF1) in the early 1900s but were abandoned by 1920 as the automobile became the more popular alternative.
Federal facilities stimulated residential development, beginning with the Veterans Hospital campus (now Veterans Administration Medical Center; BF2), developed from 1927 on. During World War II, the Bedford Air Base (now Hanscom Field) brought military personnel and associated industries to the area. Military and related research continued after the war, as defense contractor and electronics industries multiplied along the circumferential Route 128, ringing Metropolitan Boston and spurring new development in adjacent towns, such as Bedford.
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