Company officials say that the Macy’s department store in Bedford will be unaffected by changes next year when Federated Department Stores begins replacing the Filene’s nameplate with the Macy’s name - including the store a couple of miles down the road at the Mall of New Hampshire in Manchester.
But the location of the only stand-alone Macy’s in the state has undergone great transition in the 40 years since the masonry landmark was constructed.
Forty years ago, ground was broken for Bedford’s first grand department store. Jordan Marsh was to bring a taste of Boston to a community then rich in agricultural history. Its arrival came 112 years after the industrial section of the town was annexed by the Queen City, leaving only small businesses among the family farms.
“People were kind of happy to see some other means of assistance for the town,” said Doris Spurway, a Bedford resident since 1932 and former president of the Bedford Historical Society.
Nearly 125 years old at the time of its move to the Granite State, Jordan Marsh began as a joint venture between Eben Jordan and Benjamin Marsh in 1841. The Boston company went on to become one of the founders of New York’s Allied Store Corp. in 1935.
Ironically enough, Jordan Marsh’s decision to choose Bedford as the site of its first store outside of Boston came only after the city of Manchester rejected the idea.
“Mayor Vallee and the chamber of commerce felt it would destroy the downtown,” said Jim Quirk who was an assistant to Jordan Marsh Vice President Newton Walser at the time. “We came up on a Wednesday and got Mayor Valley’s word - ‘no’- and that was that.”
Mayor from 1964 through 1967, Roland Vallee served Manchester while the city was participating in President Lyndon Johnson’s Model Cities Program. Vallee was concerned about urban renewal and was committed to the Amoskeag Millyard project. According to Quirk, however, the mayor rejected Jordan Marsh’s proposal on the grounds that it would be detrimental to the city.
Disappointed by Manchester’s decision, Quirk and Walser joined Andrew Murphy, vice president of real estate for Allied, New Hampshire Gov. John King and Walter Dunfey of the international hotel family and a prominent Granite State Democrat for an informal lunch at the Wayfarer Inn on South River Road in Bedford. It was during this luncheon that the idea of making Bedford Jordan Marsh’s new home was sparked.
According to Quirk it was a passing remark made by Dunfey that got the wheels of corporate development turning in Bedford.
“Walter pointed to the big field next to the store and said ‘that would be a great spot for a store,’” Quirk said. “The idea was pursued almost from that instant.”
No tax stamps are registered with the Hillsborough County Registry of Deeds to accompany the 1965 deed for that farmland, indicating that the property may have changed hands for less than $4,000.
The Wayfarer Inn (now a Quality Inn) was owned by the Dunfey family and was barely three years old at the time of Jordan Marsh’s arrival. Built on and around the historic John Goffe’s Mill, it offered a perfect vista of the adjoining farmland, which once housed the turkeys of Rossmore Farms.
“The field was open and the turkeys were there,” Spurway said. “It was one of the highlights of town. If you had visitors you took them by to see the turkeys. And everyone went there to get the turkey for their holiday tables.”
Goffe originally constructed his mill in 1744. After being destroyed twice - once by fire and once by flood - it sat abandoned for 20 years before Dr. George Woodbury, eighth-generation descendant of John Goffe, rebuilt it using it to grind flour and build furniture.
In addition to operating the mill the Woodbury family leased the adjoining farm property to the Craft family, who operated Rossmore Farms on the 13-acre site that would eventually become the home of Jordan Marsh.
The Woodbury family eventually sold the mill and the surrounding land to the Dunfey family in 1962.
The welcome mat
Reflections of the early communications between Allied Stores and the town of Bedford bring back memories for Quirk of a supportive working relationship. Unlike Manchester, Bedford welcomed the idea of a new department store.
“They were more forward-thinking. Bedford recognized that you couldn’t keep out business. They were glad to have us on board,” said Quirk, who opened the brand new department store as operations manager in 1966. A year later, he became general manager, remaining at the Bedford store until 1976 when he returned to Boston to serve as vice president and regional director of stores until 1991.
Visitors to the new store embraced the vast selection of merchandise housed in the 187,000-square-foot building and were pleased to have the new landmark in their town, Spurway said.
Jordan Marsh continued to operate in Bedford for three decades despite corporate changes, including its sale to Campeau Corp. in 1986, a 1990 reorganization and a 1992 merger with Federated Department Stores, owner of Macy’s.
That merger marked the beginning of the end for Jordan Marsh. In 1996, Jordan Marsh — the name that once marked progress in the small agricultural community of Bedford — disappeared once and for all, only to be replaced with the Macy’s nameplate.
Now Federated Department stores is planning to replace the nameplates of their newly acquired Filenes stores as part of post-merger plans with May Department Stores.
Ironically, the most recent changes facing Bedford’s original free-standing department store come during a time of commercial explosion in town - much of which has not been embraced with the same open arms Jordan Marsh experienced 40 years ago.
The current construction of Target and Lowe’s just south of Macy’s was met with great opposition from local residents who argued safety, congestion and aesthetic issues. A similar battle was seen prior to the building of the 10,000-square-foot Walgreens Pharmacy on Route 101 earlier this year, and is now under way over possible construction of a 40,000-square-foot Hannaford supermarket, which company officials describe as a “neighborhood market.”
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This article appears in the August 19 2005 issue of New Hampshire Business Review