The Bedford Oak
This tree has stood as a symbol of the Town of Bedford’s strength, beauty and heritage, predating, some think, even the beginning of the Town itself.
A white oak, with branches spanning approximately 130 feet and a girth more than 23 feet, it is thought by some to have been 200 years old when the 22 men from Stamford purchased the Hopp Ground from the Native Americans in 1680.
In 1977, with construction planned on nearby property, a group of Bedford citizens raised money to purchase that property, providing additional protection for the tree. Not only were they successful in raising enough to purchase the property, but the remaining funds provided a fund for the tree’s care.
The Town of Bedford traces its governance to a land transaction, which occurred on December 23, 1680. It was on that date that 22 Puritan men from Stamford, Connecticut purchased land of roughly three miles square known as the “Hopp Ground”. The lands were bought from the native Mohegan Indian Chiefs for an assortment of coats, blankets and wampum totaling “46 pounds 16 shillings and ten pence.” A copy of the original deed is displayed in the Town House lobby.
The new “proprietors” promptly set about to lay out their new settlement, planning for a meeting house, grist mill on the nearby Mianus River, and a burying ground. Today’s Village Green, the graveyard and surrounding principal roadways remain substantially as they were originally planned in 1681.
In 1682 the Connecticut Colony legislature established the name of Bedford for the new settlement. As there is no evidence of a linkage of the settlers to Bedford, England, it is thought that the name was chosen by the legislators in accordance with its principle of keeping alive the memory of England.
For the next 18 years, as both the colonies of Connecticut and New York grew, a dispute developed as to which colony Bedford belonged. In 1700, by Royal Decree, King William III established that Bedford was “henceforth and forever” part of the royal colony of New York.
By 1723, through additional purchases from Chief Katonah and other Mohegan chiefs the Town had grown to over thirty-six square miles. Bedford’s population also grew rapidly. In 1710, but only 156 residents were listed. By 1790, the population was 2,470 persons.
The Town’s importance grew during the Colonial period and it was a model for town meetings and self government. Bedford served as the wartime Westchester County seat during the Revolutionary War after the Battle of White Plains and until Bedford was burned by the British on July 11, 1779.
Three distinct hamlets, each with its own “personality” and rich history, make up the Town of Bedford.
Bedford Village. The original 1680 Bedford settlement was in Bedford Village in the southeastern portion of the Town, with its Village Green and historic buildings dating to the 18th and early 19th centuries. Among these are the 1787 Court House and several homes built after the British burned the village during the Revolution.
In 1972, the Bedford Village Historic District was established by local ordinance and is listed on both the New York State and the National Register of Historic Places. The burying ground, established in 1681, was apparently still in use after the Colonial period as the latest headstone dates to 1885. A museum in the Court House is open to the public. A museum in the Court House, which is maintained by the Bedford Historical Society, contains exhibits of Bedford’s history and is open to the public.
Katonah. Named after Chief Katonah, this hamlet was once located several miles to the north. It was moved to accommodate the expansion of the watershed for New York City. As a result of the move in the late 1890s, and the rebuilding of a new town, the largely preserved architecture provides an attractive glimpse of the Victorian era. The Katonah Village Improvement Society, which still exists today, provided direction for the move, and landscaping for the “new Katonah” was largely the work of the renowned firm of G.S. and B.S. Olmstead. In 1983, the Historic District of Katonah was listed on the New York State and National registers of Historic Places.
Katonah is a vibrant hamlet with a lively and most attractive commercial area. Additionally, it is widely known as home to the Caramoor Music Festival, the Katonah Museum of Art (formerly The Katonah Gallery), and the John Jay Homestead.
Bedford Hills. Originally known as Bedford Station, this hamlet grew up in the mid nineteenth century, primarily to serve Bedford Village. Following the Civil War it grew to be a transportation and commercial hub for the area. By the early twentieth century residents of farms and estates in the broader area of the hamlet, petitioned the Town to change the name to Bedford Hills. A Centennial celebration of this event occurred in May of 2010. Bedford Hills extends from its bustling business center at the railroad station to farms and estates as it spreads eastward along Harris, Babbitt and Bedford Center Roads, and south along the Route 117 business corridor toward Mount Kisco. The Community House (originally built to serve the needs of returning World War I veterans) is located in Bedford Hills, as is the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, the largest women’s prison in New York State.
Bedford Hills is the seat of Town government and home to the Town House, built in 1927.