Concord, MA: History, Museums, Places to Stay
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.