Concord, MA: History, Museums, Places to Stay

When the red-coated ranks of British regulars tramped westward from Boston on the fateful morning of April 19, 1775, little did they know that they were about to catapult the sleepy village of Concord, Massachusetts into the history books. The British captured […]

By Yankee Magazine

Jun 05 2008

Colors of the Fall (user submitted)

When the red-coated ranks of British regulars tramped westward from Boston on the fateful morning of April 19, 1775, little did they know that they were about to catapult the sleepy village of Concord, Massachusetts into the history books. The British captured the rebels’ stores of ammunition and flour and dumped the lot into the millpond in the center of town before being faced down at the Old North Bridge by a freelance militia that sent them scurrying back to Boston.

Before continuing the engagement known as the Revolutionary War, the frugal Yankees of Concord fished the bullets and barrels of flour out of the pond and found that the flour in the center of each barrel was still dry. The loaves of bread baked from that flour must have been especially toothsome to the patriots of Concord.

Literary Legacies

“Four friends who walked in Concord’s pleasant ways / Long years ago. They dwelt and worked apart, / But now the world has crowned them with its bays, / And holds them close forever to its heart,” wrote poet John Clair Minot in praise of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Bronson Alcott, Henry David Thoreau, and Nathaniel Hawthorne. The burial place of these men has become a destination for literary pilgrims.

Authors’ Ridge is easily reached by entering the cemetery through Prichard Gate, off Bedford Street (Route 62), eastbound from Monument Square. Wend your way through the hollow to the far side, following the engraved marker posts. A winding path from the foot of the ridge leads you first to the Thoreau family plot. The Hawthorne family plot is on the left.

Next you will find the gravestones of the Alcotts — father (A.B.A.), mother (A.M.A), and three of the four children, whom we fondly know by the names of the characters in Louisa May’s book Little Women: Louisa May “Jo” (L.M.A.), Abba May Alcott Nieriker “Amy” (M.A.N.), and Elizabeth Sewall Alcott “Beth” (E.S.A.). “Meg,” Anna Bronson Alcott, is nearby with her husband, John Pratt.

Farther along the ridge is the gravesite of the Five Little Peppers books’ author, Margaret Sidney (nee Harriet Mulford Stone, married name Mrs. Daniel Lothrop).

Not to be missed is the Emerson family plot. Granite posts and chains delineate the area, and a sizable, irregularly shaped chunk of rose quartz, in which is embedded a bronze plaque, marks Ralph Waldo’s grave.

In addition to these luminaries resting on Authors’ Ridge, gravesites throughout the cemetery capture contributions to and notable moments in American history. Explore this grove to find Ephraim Wales Bull, for example. Bull was the originator of the Concord grape — which is familiarly used in most grape juices today — and is remembered with the words, “He sowed, others reaped.”

Anne Rainsford Bush: Although not a household name, Bush holds an interesting place in American history as the first woman licensed to drive an automobile.

Franklin B. Sanborn espoused a life of writing and reform activism but is perhaps best known for his participation as a member of the “Secret Six,” a group who financed John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry (an event many consider the start of the U.S. Civil War).

Last, but not least, the graceful phrase “A Heritage of Beauty” memorializes sculptor Daniel Chester French.

NOTE:To request a map of Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, call the Concord Public Works Cemetery Division at 978-318-3233. Cemetery open daily 7 a.m.-8 p.m. Free.

We approached Concord not as the British had, on the Lexington Road (built in 1636 as the Bay Road, it is the oldest road in town), but from the north on meandering Route 119, known as the Great Road in the days of the Minutemen. Today, the rebellious village is an oasis of civility only minutes from the pounding traffic of Route 2 and Route 128. We checked into the c. 1870 Hawthorne Inn, a bed-and-breakfast on the Lexington Road, and set our suitcase beside a canopied bed in a room with a fireplace. We parked the car under the trees beside the inn and set out on foot to see the sights of Concord. We wouldn’t need the car again until we left town.

Even if Concord had not been the epicenter of the Revolution, its next generations would have brought it fame. Ralph Waldo Emerson, Bronson Alcott and his famous daughter Louisa May, Henry David Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and other writers and philosophers of the mid-19th century made Concord renowned. The connections between all of these luminaries are legion: Hawthorne rented Emerson’s grandfather’s house, Alcott sold his house to Hawthorne, Emerson hired Thoreau as a handyman and surveyor and Alcott as a gardener. And they are all buried in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord, on the high ground called Authors’ Ridge.

Across the road from the Hawthorne Inn is The Wayside, most prominently owned (but only briefly occupied) by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Hawthorne bought it from Bronson Alcott, who moved his family here after his Fruitlands experiment in transcendentalism collapsed in 1845. For three years, Alcott gardened on the steep hill behind the house and mulled over his lesson in humility before moving his family a bit closer to town on the same road — to Orchard House, perhaps the most visited historic building in Concord.

Orchard House is where Louisa May Alcott wrote most of Little Women, and anyone who loves that book will instantly recognize the rooms and their aura of affection and perseverance. It’s a rambling, cozy house, where at every turn the visitor expects to find plucky Jo buried in a book or eating apples in the garret, or shy Beth at the piano, or creative Amy painting murals on the walls.

Emerson lived nearby, in a large, square white house where the Cambridge Turnpike branches off from Lexington Road. Once, when his house caught fire, the Alcott girls helped to rescue his manuscripts and books, and all of the neighbors pitched in to restore the Emerson House. Although the contents of Emerson’s study have been moved intact across the road to the Concord Museum (built on the site of one of Emerson’s orchards), many other Emerson family furnishings fill the comfortable home where he wrote his greatest books, poems, and essays, and where he died in 1882.

Having visited The Wayside, Orchard House, Emerson House, and the Concord Museum, we walked another five minutes into town and enjoyed a well-deserved late lunch at Helen’s Cafe on Main Street. Tender grilled chicken in a spinach wrap with Thai sauce and peppery coleslaw made for an eclectic and satisfying meal. We spent the remainder of the afternoon strolling through the shops in the village, where we found everything from local antiques and fancy umbrellas to chichi clothing and (our downfall) shoes. Too small for chain stores and grand coffee places, Concord has unique stores staffed by friendly shopkeepers.

Dinner at the Walden Grille, located in a century-old brick firehouse, rounded out our day (and our persons) with pork chops (apparently from a gigantic breed of pig), fresh scallops seared with lemon and ginger, and other gustatory pleasures. We tumbled into bed under the crocheted canopy and didn’t move until we smelled fresh coffee and muffins in the dining room the next morning.

A brisk walk of about a mile took us past the green and the Colonial Inn and out Monument Street, first to The Old Manse (where Emerson lived as a boy and which Nathaniel Hawthorne and his bride, Sophia Peabody, later rented for three blissful years), and then to the famous North Bridge, “where once the embattled farmers stood, and fired the shot heard ’round the world.” A National Park Service ranger gave a dramatic and detailed account of the battle, and we walked across the famous bridge, past Daniel Chester French’s iconic Minuteman statue, and up toward the Barrett Farm (where a significant stash of arms and provisions had indeed been hidden in 1775). For those who can never learn enough about history, the North Bridge Visitor Center offers the last word on every detail of the fight.

On our walk back to the inn to gather our belongings, it took us a while to reenter the 21st century, and we were glad to be on foot. In Concord, it’s easy to lose yourself in the past.

P.S. A pleasant side trip after leaving the inn took us across Route 2 (by car — not a crossing to attempt on foot) to West Concord, known as “The Junction.” We were in search of the granola we’d enjoyed at breakfast, which our innkeeper said came from Debra’s Natural Gourmet. We found Maple Almond Granola (made by the Stark Sisters) at Debra’s on Commonwealth Avenue, plus a gathering of charming stores (outdoor clothing, fine gifts, antiques, quilting fabrics, and more) and small restaurants. Concord Teacakes offers excellent coffee, delectable cookies and bars, and other temptations. Well fortified, we recrossed Route 2 and headed home on the Great Road.

LIKE MOST AREAS of New England, a central town such as Concord is a perfect base camp from which to make day trips during a long vacation. Or use Concord as the starting point for a drive through the many towns of the historic Greater Merrimack Valley. Known for its literary legacies and Revolutionary War sites, the valley has a plethora of places worth visiting. It’s easy to tailor your Massachusetts itinerary by mixing and matching activities with great dining and comfortable lodging. Start planning with this roundup of attractions, restaurants, and lodgings from our Editors’ Choice collection.

Day Trip: Home of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Friends Ralph Waldo Emerson and Nathaniel Hawthorne often enjoyed a visit to Cambridge to spend time with poet and cultural arbiter Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. His home was a favorite gathering place for prominent literary figures and philosophers. Longfellow often hosted weekly Wednesday-evening discussions, followed by supper.

Imagine yourself as part of one of his evenings as you tour the c. 1759 house and gardens. Most of the furnishings are original and date from 1837 to 1882, when Longfellow, his wife, Fanny, and their six children lived here. The library collection holds many of their books as well as papers by Emerson. Fine art is displayed throughout the home, including stunning Japanese art collected by Longfellow’s son Charles.

Longfellow National Historic Site, 617-876-4491. 105 Brattle St., Cambridge.

Got Kids?

Discovery Museums, 978-264-4200. 177 Main St., Acton. A large green dinosaur in the front yard lets passersby know something special is happening inside these two hands-on museums. The Children’s Discovery Museum is aimed at toddlers and preschoolers; the Science Discovery Museum offers more challenging experiments for older kids.

Minuteman Bikeway, 781-275-1111. 111 South Rd., Bedford. The Redcoats could have high-tailed it back to Boston a lot faster if they’d had bikes. Roll through history on this 10.5-mile trail between the town of Bedford and the Cambridge MBTA station at Alewife. Free access at all hours, you’ll often meet today’s urban commuter along the way. At the Bedford end of the path, rent bikes from The Bikeway Source; 781-275-7799; 111 South Rd.

Great Brook Farm State Park, 978-369-6312. 984 Lowell Rd., Carlisle. The visitors’ center is an 1830s schoolhouse, the entrance sign advertises ice cream, and the main parking lot is down a tree-lined road by a big red barn. Picnic tables are scattered around a pond, and sheep, goats, chickens, and pigs are penned within toddling distance. In the ice-cream parlor (try the mocha chip), one wall is glass, revealing the inside of the barn itself with its two rows of cows. The 978-acre park also has 20 miles of hiking, biking, and horseback-riding trails.

Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, 978-443-4661. Monsen Rd., off Rte. 62, Concord. An observation tower and two miles of nature trails give dependable sightings of waterfowl. Open daily dawn-dusk. Free.

Walden Pond State Reservation, 978-369-3254. 915 Walden St. (Rte. 126), Concord. An oasis of clear water, more than 100-feet deep, that’s never too crowded. Regulars come to read and walk, fish and paddle, as well as swim. A one-room cabin replicates the one Henry David Thoreau built in 1845 and lived in for more than two years.

DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park, 781-259-8355. 51 Sandy Pond Rd., Lincoln. Nestled alongside a picturesque pond, the sculpture park is a lovely setting with rolling lawns and wooded terrains that contain many rare and nonnative species. Bring the family and picnic on the grounds adorned with over 70 outdoor sculptures. DeCordova provides the only ongoing exhibition of large-scale, contemporary American outdoor sculpture in New England.

American Textile History Museum, 978-441-0400. 491 Dutton St., Lowell. Stop here and see how the weaving industry evolved. This renovated 1860s canal-side mill building houses nearly 100 exhibits dramatizing the evolution of the weaving industry from a 1700s felting mill to a 1950s weaving room and includes many costumes, samples of the five million fabric samples in the museum’s collection, and hundreds of spinning wheels.

Lowell National Historical Park, 978-970-5000. 246 Market St., Lowell. School groups from around New England come here — you should too. Begin at the Market Mills Visitor Center (open daily 8:30-6; free) with its excellent free film, Lowell: The Industrial Revelation, dramatizing the story of the first completely planned mill city. The Boott Cotton Mills Museum’s feature exhibits include 88 thundering and vibrating looms (earplugs are available).

New England Quilt Museum, 978-452-4207. 18 Shattuck St., Lowell. Scheduled exhibitions of contemporary and historic quilts change every eight weeks.

Patrick J. Mogan Cultural Center, 978-275-1826. Lowell National Historical Park, 40 French St., Lowell. Exhibits in an 1830s boardinghouse tell of the many waves of immigrants who came to work in Lowell’s textile mills. First came the Irish to build the canals to power the looms, then the French Canadians to work the looms. They were followed by Greeks, Poles, Lebanese, Armenians, and Turks, among others. After World War II came more Greeks and Portuguese. In the 1950s-70s Puerto Rican and Vietnamese workers arrived, followed more recently by Cambodians and Laotians.

The Revolving Museum, 978-937-2787. 22 Shattuck St., Lowell. This innovative art museum is designed to open the lines of communication between artists and the public.

Kimball Farm, 978-486-3891. 400 Littleton Rd. (Rte. 110), Westford. Kimball’s homemade ice cream has drawn crowds since 1939. New activities at this family-run business include a 6,000-square-foot bumper boat pond and 36 holes of mini-golf. For golfers, there’s a par-3, nine-hole, pitch-and-putt golf course and a driving range.


Places to Eat

The Teapot Cafe, 978-635-1519. 61 Stow Rd., Boxborough. In this cozy tea room, you’ll be served scrumptious tea sandwiches, fresh salads, homemade soups and desserts, and dozens of teas (63, to be exact).

Nashoba Brook Bakery and Cafe, 978-318-1999. 152 Commonwealth Ave., West Concord. On the fringe of West Concord’s brief main drag, housed in a former leather warehouse, this inviting cafe offers hearth-baked breads and delectable pastries made daily, plus hearty soups and sandwiches. Comfy armchairs and couches in the back overlook Nashoba Brook, and there’s seasonal outdoor seating.

Places to Stay

Concord’s Colonial Inn, 800-370-9200, 978-369-9200. 48 Monument Square, Concord. One of Concord’s most enduring landmarks of gracious hospitality since 1716. The inn overlooks historic Monument Square, and individually appointed guest rooms, suites, and executive homes offer all amenities and wireless Internet, plus working fireplaces in public areas. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are available, featuring fine seafood and New England fare with nightly entertainment in the Liberty Tavern.

The North Bridge Inn, 888-530-0007, 978-371-0014. 21 Monument St., Concord. A European-style B&B with elegant and spacious individually appointed suites, each with a cable TV, sitting and work area, and tiled bath, just off Monument Square. This inn is a short walk to the downtown shopping district, local historic attractions, and the Boston commuter train station. It’s perfect for couples and seasoned travelers, as well as families on vacation.

Thoreau’s Walden Bed and Breakfast, 781-259-1899. 2 Concord Rd., Lincoln. This inn is a 1948 expanded two-story Cape on 3-1/2 acres bordered by a state park and conservation land, directly opposite historic Walden Pond. There’s a bird sanctuary on-site, as well as access to Walden Pond for swimming, hiking, biking, and cross-country skiing. The inn is close to Revolutionary War sites and just 18 miles from Boston with easy access to public transportation.

Longfellow’s Wayside Inn, 800-339-1776, 978-443-1776. Wayside Inn Rd., off Rte. 20, Sudbury. One of America’s oldest inns (built in 1716), offering comfortable guest rooms with private baths, air-conditioning, and phones. For lunch and dinner, both guests and the public can feast on hearty, traditional Yankee fare.