James Madison Bent (1812-1888)
James Madison Bent was an influential person in town affairs and the economy of the town. During the Civil War he owned the Bent Shoe Factory with his brother William. The factory made use of sewing machines which were invented in 1856, power being generated at first by horses walking in a circle. The factory was later powered by steam engines. Bent had a talent for inventing labor-saving machinery which helped his shoe factory prosper. The Shoe Factory transformed the southern end of town called Cochituate, bringing streetcars, waterworks and electric lights. An 1883 newspaper article quoted in Helen Emery’s book describes the changes:
“Forty (1843) years ago...Cochituate Village...consisted of less than half a dozen weather-stained houses, no church, no school, no post office, no business ...Today substantial residences, also churches and schools abound, the factory of Bent and Sons is daily turning out (shoes), thrift and enterprise are everywhere apparent and the hand whose work is seen in it all is that of James Madison Bent.”
At the main intersection in the southern end of town, several Bent homes were located. The colonial house on the SE corner where he grew up belonged to his father.
The imposing James Madison house , according to Helen Emery’s research, was “built perhaps in the late 1850s or early 1860s diagonally across from the factory on the NE corner (of this intersection). ...(It) became more and more of a showplace. By 1880 there was a fountain in front of the house. ...A newspaper item tells us that a pair of rare Peking ducks had been acquired for the fountain pool. (In) December small spruce trees were placed in the fountain, and their frozen shapes glistening with ice were described as being ‘like fairyland’...(It) was torn down in 1954.”
A Civil War story in the Wayland Town Crier, March 1954, recalled: “Back in 1863, according to the best available deductions, Myron Bent (James Madison Bent’s son), then 14 ran away to join the Union Army. As 14 was somewhat below military age,...the family had him discharged...after he’d reached the South.
He arrived home,...about the dirtiest boy in Massachusetts, and his mother plunked the returned veteran into a washtub and gave him the scrubbing of the century.”
Another son William lived on Shawmut Avenue. William was not the business man his father was. After James Madison died, he and his brother and sons brought the family into debt requiring the factory’s sale to the Dean family.
The bus tour visits the site of Bent’s factory, his nearby home, as well as Dudley Pond where he introduced a steam-powered boat which became the talk of the town.
Bent built his summer home on Dudley Pond 20 years after the war.
As a citizen of the town, he held many offices and” in 1856 he was a member of the lower house of the State Legislature.” He was actively involved in developing the state water system bringing water from nearby Lake Cochituate to Boston.