Close to Lexington and Concord, this small town in Greater Boston participated in the first exchanges of the American Revolutionary War on April 19 1775.
Bedford is at the terminus of the Minuteman Commuter Bikeway, a 10-mile rail trail that roughly tallies with the route of Paul Revere’s legendary Midnight Ride.
The trailhead is at an historic railroad depot, and from here you can get onto another two rail trails, with tons of interesting things to see along all three routes.
There are fine Colonial houses around Bedford, with captivating Revolutionary history, and the local library preserves a militia flag that is believed to have been raised at the fateful battles.
1. Minuteman Commuter Bikeway
Three abandoned railroad lines converge at Bedford’s Depot Park complex, the most famous being the Minuteman Commuter Bikeway, which has its western trailhead here.
The 10-mile paved trail takes you all the way to Alewife station in Cambridge, on the route of the old Boston & Maine Railroad. The section between Bedford and Lexington dates back to 1846, but people had traveled along this route long before there was a railroad.
The line is on the approximate route of Paul Revere’s famous midnight ride to warn of the approaching British in the early hours of April 19 1775.
The freight house at the depot in Bedford is a museum space, detailing Bedford’s often complex railroad history, and close by Bikeway Source is a dedicated bicycle store in case you need anything for your ride.
2. Job Lane House
At 295 North Road you can tour a Colonial Saltbox house dating back to 1713. The grandson of one of the town’s earliest settlers, Job Lane served as a town officer and church deacon, and his son was a Minuteman who was wounded at the Battle of Concord.
The house passed through several generations of the Lane family until the mid-19th century, and was acquired by the town in the 1970s.
In the early 1990s, the house was accompanied by a barn, built in the style of the 1720s, and today the property is an enlightening window on 18th-century life in Bedford. Tours take place in the afternoon on the second and fourth Sunday of the month, May through October.
3. Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge
The vast majority of this conservation area is composed of freshwater wetlands, making this one of the best inland areas in Massachusetts to spot birdlife.
Several waterfowl species, among them blue-winged teals, wood ducks, black ducks, and mallards nest in the refuge. As the river is a migratory corridor, the list of recorded species tops more than 220.
In spring you may see black and white warblers, tree swallows, turkey vultures, and ring-necked ducks on their way through, while migrants like yellow warblers and rose-breasted grosbeaks are sighted in fall.
4. Bedford Free Public Library
Bedford’s excellent public library goes back to 1876, and moved into its current building in 1968 to meet the town’s fast-growing population.
This building was enlarged in 1999, and today the library offers a wide variety of resources, programs and services for the community.
For people passing through, one great reason to stop by is to see the Bedford flag, believed to be the oldest intact battle flag in the United States.
By oral tradition, it was flown at the North Bridge during the Battle of Concord on 19 April 1775. Made from crimson silk damask, the flag depicts an armored arm holding a sword, framed by the motto, “VINCE AUT MORIRE” (Win Or Die).
The exact origin is unclear, but it was likely made at the turn of the 18th century, and is now kept in a climate-controlled secure room that can be visited on request.
5. Bedford Farms Ice Cream
Bedford’s oldest continuously operating business is an ice cream brand that started out as a dairy in the 1880s. Bedford Farms began making ice cream after WWII, and opened a stand that soon grew into a local institution.
By the 1980s, ice cream had become Bedford Farms’ sole purpose, and the company has continued to expand, establishing a second shop in Concord and building a new production facility since 2000.
Among the perennial standouts are Coffee Oreo, Peanut Butter Cup and Green Monster (mint ice cream, fudge and oreos), and you can choose from a wide assortment of limited edition and seasonal flavors like Pumpkin.
Bedford Farms also serves frozen yogurt, sherbet & sorbet, and soft serve, and you can savor your treat on the benches out front.
6. Narrow Gauge Rail Trail
When it was laid down in the 1870s, the Billerica and Bedford Railroad became the first common carrier two-foot-gauge railway in the United States.
This proved unsuccessful, but did create a blueprint for similar lines that were later built in Maine. By 1885 the railbed had been turned into a standard-gauge extension of the Lexington Branch of the Boston & Lowell Railroad.
The last passenger service came through in 1931, and the line was closed to freight in the early 1960s. The rail trail is paved with stone-dust and runs for three miles to the Billerica line.
On your journey you can pause at Memorial Park, and Fawn Lake is a beautiful spot with an interesting story to tell (more later).
7. Reformatory Branch Trail
A short way west of Depot Park you can get onto yet another rail trail. Four miles long and leading to Concord Center, the Reformatory Branch Trail differs from the others in Bedford as it has been left undeveloped, although there were plans to pave the Bedford portion of the trail when we wrote this article.
The path is on the railbed of the Middlesex Central Railroad, which was built in 1873. The name comes from the Old Concord Reformatory (Massachusetts Correctional Institution – Concord), which became part of the line in 1879.
This is a convenient way of hiking or bicycling to the Concord unit of the Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, as well as the North Bridge, where the “shot heard ‘round the world” was fired.
8. Fawn Lake
There’s a pocket of blissful nature just off the Narrow Gauge Rail Trail in the north of Bedford. Wreathed in woods, Fawn Lake is fed by natural springs and was expanded by Italian laborers in the 1870s for Hotel Sweetwater.
The water was valued for its “medicinal properties” and was the basis for a line of pharmaceutical products at the turn of the 20th century.
The lake has been the subject of cleanup efforts in the last few years to remove a deep infill layer of aquatic plants.
A tangle of blazed trails now courses through the woods and around most of the shore. The surrounding property is quite small, but the shores of Fawn Lake can feel remote thanks to the absence of busy roads.
9. Two Brothers Rocks
Deposited by a glacier some 11,000 years ago, this pair of boulders by the Concord River has been a landmark for people for many hundreds of years.
Three Native American trails once intersected at this exact point, and much later, the rocks marked a boundary between grants given to the Massachusetts Bay Colony governors John Winthrop and Thomas Dudley.
The two men rarely saw eye-to-eye, but the rocks came to symbolize a spirit of cooperation and democracy.
The Two Brothers served as boundary markers until as recently as the early 20th century, and are now within Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge.
You can get here on foot via the blue-blazed trail through the Altman Conservation Area, starting at the Dudley Road Trailhead.
10. Chip-In Farm
The Reformatory Branch Trail runs past this endearing farmstand and general store. Chip-In Farm is known most of all for its fresh eggs, laid by chickens raised on the property.
These are collected, washed and graded daily, and are on the store’s shelves the following day.
You can shop for a bounty of fresh produce here, as well as tempting artisanal groceries, from infused olive olives to fresh sourdough breads, local Bedford honey, maple syrup, grass-fed meats and chocolate-dipped treats.
The farm keeps a number of barnyard animals, like sheep, goats, miniature horses and a pig, and you can buy food for them inside. Check the calendar for activities at the farm, including regular goat yoga classes.
11. Patriot Golf Course
The public is welcome to play this 9-hole course, belonging to Hanscom Air Force Base. This is a well-regarded facility, regularly voted “Best U.S. Military Small Golf Course”, while also representing excellent value, with green fees as little as $24 for nine holes on weekdays.
Military and DoD patrons have priority at peak times, and you’ll need to schedule your tee time at least a day in advance, and over the phone.
Patriot Golf Course has a pro shop with everything you need, as well as a 275-yard driving range, with 20 grass and 8 mat tees.
12. Hartwell Town Forest
You’re never far from a woodland walk in Bedford, as there are several town-owned conservation properties in the town.
These are remarkably well looked after, with clear blazed trails and parking areas. With its towering pines, Hartwell Town Forest is another favorite, abutting Hanscom Air Force Base.
Easy to reach from the Minuteman Commuter Bikeway, the main blue blazed trail is just over 1.5 miles long. This takes you through the pine grove, which is the ideal spot for a picnic, and skirts past swampland on Hartwell Brook.
13. Minute Man National Historical Park
Bedford is moments from both Lexington and Concord, where the first engagements of the American Revolutionary War took place on April 19 1775.
The Minute Man National Historical Park preserves sites like the North Bridge, where the first British regulars were killed, and Lexington Battle Green, which was the scene of the war’s first action.
You can retrace the course of the British retreat along the five-mile Battle Road Trail, and enter historic buildings like the Hartwell Tavern (1733), where park rangers are dressed in Colonial attire.
There’s also riveting literary heritage in the area, as Concord was a literary center in the 19th century. The Wayside, found in the park, was home to Louisa May Alcott, Nathaniel Hawthorne and children’s writer Margaret Sidney.
14. Minute Man Visitor Center
Along Battle Road, near the eastern entrance of the park, the Minute Man Visitor Center is under ten minutes from Bedford. Inside you can get a bit more context about the defining events of April 19 1775.
Recently an archeological survey has taken place at the site of Parker’s Revenge, one of the engagements during the battle, and the center shows off some of the artifacts uncovered at the dig, including musketballs.
An eye-catching exhibit is a 40-foot mural depicting the battle between the Colonists and British regulars, while the “Road to Revolution“ is a gripping multimedia presentation, just under half an hour long.
15. Fitch Tavern
Now a private residence, the Fitch Tavern stands at 12 Great Road, and played a role in the events of 19 April 1775. It was here that around a third of Bedford’s 77-man militia gathered before making for Concord.
The Fitch Tavern dates back to 1710 and is the oldest building in the town. At the dawn of the Revolutionary War, the tavern was run by Jeremiah Fitch, who was a sergeant in Bedford’s militia company.
The story goes that the men assembled by the fireplace in the taproom, with a breakfast of cold cornmeal mush and hot buttered rum.
As they ate, Captain Jonathan Wilson is claimed to have spoken the famous words, “It is a cold breakfast, boys, but we’ll give the British a hot dinner; we’ll have every dog of them before night.”