Bedford Historical Society celebrates its centennial
Hyman Glasser’s Bedford Store
Photos Courtesy of the Bedford Historical Society
Growing up on the edge of Bedford Village in the 1950s, I had no idea how indebted my glorious childhood was to the Bedford Historical Society. The village’s exceptional historic charm I took for granted because its gracious old colonial buildings, dating from when it was the seat of northern Westchester County (1787 to 1870), were all in use. Sixty years ago, Bedford Village was a vibrant, little commercial center, a multiethnic microcosm of the American dream.
The merchants were great people and always greeted me as I passed their stores on the way to the post office to get the mail (Box 333, combination A1T) or to buy some candy or a fishing lure at Trela’s, the fabulous, ramshackle general store that had everything a kid could possibly need.
Sometimes in the winter, there was a solid foot of black ice on Kinkel’s Pond, on the other side of the village, and everybody would dress up in mittens, wool hats, and snow pants to skate on it, as if in a Norman Rockwell painting. John Kinkel was one of the nine
founding members of the Bedford Historical Society, which is celebrating its centennial this year. Edith Leonard Colgate, whose house was across the road from the pond, was another founding member. She saved the A&P, one of the last columned A&Ps in the country, and it is now a store catering to Bedford’s equestrian set. In my day it was still the A&P, and sometimes you’d even get an Indian-head penny in your change. Ed the butcher, a big jolly man in a blood-stained white apron, always had a big hello for us kids.
Mrs. Colgate was the widow of Lathrop Colgate, the third-generation CEO of the toothpaste-and-soap company founded by his grandfather. She had a formal garden with busts of prominent Greeks and Romans on pedestals. There was an old road, overgrown with brambles, between her property and Captain and Francie Woods’s huge mansard-roofed Victorian.
he road led to the Mianus River and crossed it by way of an old curving stone bridge, below which was a big pool that was one of my favorite fishing holes. The road continued up a steep hill to the deep, water-filled Baylis Quarry, where Kinkel had mined feldspar. Adelaide Baylis was another of the historical society’s founders.
Two other BHS founders were Delia Marble and Eloise Luquer, who also started the Trailside Nature Museum at Ward Pound Ridge Reservation. They were also founders of the first chapter of the Garden Club of America in 1935.
While other communities in New England have older historical societies, they tend to be genealogy-oriented or museum-oriented. What stands out about Bedford’s is that from the very beginning it has focused on architectural preservation, which, according to current executive director Evelyne Ryan, made it way ahead of its time. The American architectural preservation movement was not galvanized until New York City’s magnificent Penn Station was demolished in 1962.
In 1916, the Methodist Church, which had been moved from Succabone Road to the village green, stopped holding services, was de-sanctified, and picked up at auction by a Pole who wanted to turn it into a tenement. This prompted community members to band together to keep downtown Bedford from being sullied by a multi-family dwelling.
They raised the money to buy the property and formed the Bedford Historical Society to manage it and preserve other old buildings in town. The BHS was a creation of the progressive period between the two world wars, which also saw the building of Northern Westchester Hospital, where my sister and I and my two eldest boys were born, and where my mother and father died, as did the parents of my contemporary, singer-songwriter Loudon Wainwright III, who grew up on Tarleton Road and wrote a haunting song about it called “Hospital.”
The old Bedford Store, where the historical society office is now, was Mr. Trumpy’s antiques store in my day. Then it became John Renwick Jr.’s real-estate agency, which is still in town and now in its fourth generation. Before Trumpy, it was Hyman Glasser’s general store.
Old Mr. Glasser, whom I remember sitting on his porch below the courthouse and Sharlach’s hardware store, came from Latvia in 1920 and had started as an itinerant peddler, bringing local farmers what they needed in a handcart. Prospering, he built the Empire Building, which was where most of the stores were in my day, including Glasser Brothers clothing store, run by his sons Jake and Al, where we got our duds, and Morris Glasser’s adjacent grocery store.
All of us who grew up in Bedford Village have many wonderful memories of the town. Now that I understand the vital role the Historical Society has played in keeping Bedford much the way it has been for the last 237 years, I just want to say thank you. May the centennial celebration events be hugely successful, and keep up the great work!