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Westfield’s historic homes include Grace Bedell’s residence

October 29, 2015
By Marybelle Beigh - Westfield Historian , Westfield Republican

"Is the Grace Bedell House still standing in Westfield?" Questions such as this are one of the delightful aspects of being Westfield Historian. And right off, the answer is "Yes!"

Of course, the next question is, "Where is it located?" Answer: "36 Washington Street, just one house east of the large brick home at the corner of Franklin and Washington streets."

This house is historically famous because Grace Bedell, who was age 11 in 1860, lived there when she wrote her letter that inspired Abraham Lincoln to grow a beard while he was campaigning for the presidency; "and the kiss he gave her in Westfield on Feb. 16, 1861, when his campaign train stopped for wood and water." (79th of Series "Westfield Past and Present" published in Westfield Republican 1962)

Article Photos

Submitted photo
The Grace Bedell house as it appeared in 1960. Bedell was the 11-year-old who inspired Abraham Lincoln to grow a beard.

According to research by Fred Trump, who wrote the most complete and documented biography of Grace Bedell, "Lincoln's Little Girl," first published in 1971, Grace was the daughter of Norman Bedell, a stove-maker, who married Amanda Smiley (Grace's mother) in 1827, and moved into Orleans County. Bedell helped organize the village of Albion NY, and built several early foundries there along the Erie Canal.

In 1831 they purchased a house in Albion that was their home for over 40 years except 1859 to 1861. In the late 1830s Bedell formed a partnership with another stove-maker, Richard Berry, and founded the Bedell and Berry Company which became a prosperous cast-iron cooking range factory. In 1859, "Grace's father had an opportunity to extend his stove-making knowledge and experience to a large stove works along Chautauqua Creek" in Westfield NY. "He left son George and son-in-law Richard in charge of the company in Albion in October of 1859, just before Grace's eleventh birthday, the Bedells rented out their house, packed their trunks and traveled by train to Westfield." In addition to Grace and her parents, some of Grace's siblings, Helen, Alice, Levant, Frederick, and Stephen with his wife Lucy and baby daughter moved with them.

In Westfield, Norman Bedell rented a house owned by Alfred Couch at 36 Washington Street, two blocks from the Buffalo and Erie Railroad Depot. It is interesting that Grace was the only member of the family to have her own bedroom, the smallest one, located at the rear of the second floor, with a window looking out on the back yard.

Remodeled about 2000, the house does not look very much like the little white cottage believed to have been built in 1821 by Robert Hart who purchased a lot from the many acres that James McClurg owned throughout the village that became known as Westfield. "From 1837 until the mid 1850s, the property belonged to Jonathan H. Taylor, who died in 1846, and to his heirs." (Westfield Past and Present). About 1856, it was purchased by Alfred and Emma Couch, from whom the Bedell family rented for about two years.

At the time the Bedell family lived here, the location of buildings and businesses was very different from today. The Methodist Church which the Bedells attended was on the north side of Clinton Street, with one house between it and North Portage. The Westfield House - hotel, stage coach stop, and livery stables - was on the northwest corner of Main and Portage, just west of which was the bluff that dropped to Chautauqua Creek. On the level area behind the Westfield House between the bluff and the creek, on a bend in the creek was the Townsend Manufacturing Company, a stove-making operation which Norman Bedell was supervising. Next to the hotel on N Portage was Macomber's carriage-making shop, and at the hotel was a livery stable operated Frank and Stephen Bedell, Grace's brothers. The Westfield Republican published their advertisement in the fall of 1960. Around this time, one of Grace's sisters also advertised giving piano lessons.

After Lincoln was elected, he called for 75,000 soldiers, and Westfield responded with men, flags, sermons and rallies (at which two of Grace's sisters sang); July 23rd the first volunteer unit from Westfield left for war. "Meanwhile," writes Trump, "in July Norman Bedell, his neck now obscured by a new growth of whiskers, completed his assignment at the stove works in Westfield. So the Bedell family returned home to Albion. The Westfield chapter in their lives was closed."

Other known owners of the house at 36 Washington include Mrs. Anna Cooper whose home it had been since before World War I, and Elmer Willing, a descendent of Westfield and Volusia pioneers, who sold his farm in Volusia to purchase it from Cooper on Feb. 12, 1920 (Lincoln's Birthday!)

The Willing home was the site of a dedication service on July 21, 1937, for some stones from several historic locations including the Grace Bedell house, to be placed in a stone history tower in Battle Creek Michigan which was to be dedicated September 17, 1937.

The photo printed with this article shows the "Grace Bedell" house as it appeared circa 1960.

Please respect the privacy of the Bova family, current owner-residents of the house, and do not attempt to enter the house. However, you MAY take photos of the house and grounds.



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