Concord: City of revolutions

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It’s easy to enjoy Concord’s history. Unlike Salem, a town that peddles its history, Concord preserves it. The North Bridge – where the major engagement of the Battle of Lexington and Concord took place, the Old Manse, Author’s Ridge – they are all part of the town, rather than attractions of the town.
   
The town center is just one street, virtually unchanged since the turn of the century. Little cafes and stores line the street – this is where the people of Concord live and shop. It’s also a good place to set up a base for exploration. The train station is to the west, Author’s Ridge to the east, North Bridge to the, well, north. And, if visitors are intrepid enough, Walden Pond is to the south, although it’s something of a walk.
   
Concord took on a significant role in shaping American history, through an intellectual literary movement. The Transcendentalists lived and wrote in Concord, its members included Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Bronson Alcott (Louisa May Alcott’s father) and Nathaniel Hawthorne. While in Concord, Emerson would write Self Reliance; Louisa May Alcott Little Women; Thoreau Walden and Civil Disobedience; and Hawthorne Mosses from an Old Manse.
   
Rather than hoof it to Walden Pond, visitors can instead go to the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, where Author’s Ridge is located. There, they can find the graves of all of the above-mentioned authors. This way, they can pay tribute to the Transcendentalist movement, rather than just Thoreau.
   
During another century, there was a movement that got the town up in arms. A massive debate raged over the merits of the issue, and advocates used fierce rhetoric to appeal to their neighbors. No, this wasn’t a prelude to the Revolution, but rather something a bit more modern.
   
There was a time when Concord and its residents seriously considered becoming the home to the United Nations. Obviously, the UN ended up in Manhattan – but for a time, there was the idea that one of the most significant institutions in the world could have ended up in Concord.
   
“Oh, the whole idea is ridiculous,” said Leslie Wilson, curator of the Concord Free Public Library. “When I first [learned about this], I said, ‘this has to be a joke, this can’t be real.’ I can’t see diplomatic limos zipping into Concord. But the people in that moment really took it seriously. It was an opportunity for them to react again to the idea of something big happening here in Concord.”

But the biggest thing that happened to Concord was in April 19 of 1775, 170 years before the end of World War II.

As dawn was breaking early that morning in Lexington, the sound of gunfire rang through the area, shortly followed by the sounds of men screaming and running. The engagement ended in confusion, with the militia fleeing from a well-organized and well-respected army. A few hours later, the rag-tag militia at Concord made their stand by the North Bridge, and this time it was the professional army who fled.
   
The North Bridge that stands today is not the original. Still, the battle wasn’t fought on the bridge, but on the riverbanks right by the bridge, with both sides firing at each other from across the water.
   
“It’s a great place to visit to get a feel for our own Revolution and the beginning of the new philosophical thoughts that began in the 19th century in Concord,” said D. Michael Ryan, historian and author of Concord and the Dawn of Revolution: The Hidden Truths. “Not only seeing the physical location but also having the opportunity to get a feel for what the people were like, where they lived, what they saw and did.”
   
Two hundred and thirty two years after the fighting at Concord, I strolled down the path leading to the North Bridge with Ryan.
   
On this particular occasion, he was wearing clothes from the 18th century: militia garb. Down the path was a man wearing a Redcoat uniform. I turned to Ryan and quipped, “Look out, there’s your enemy.”
   
The two men exchanged friendly waves.
   
Ryan pointed to a house not far from the little river that cleaved the land. It was the Old Manse, and Ryan described how Ralph Waldo Emerson’s grandfather lived there and watched while the battle raged downhill.
   
He turned to the opposite direction and pointed to a distant hill, at the trees and said that the militia was waiting there when they saw smoke coming from the town. They thought the British were burning Concord (gun carriages and barrels were being burnt, not the town), so they descended the hill and fought the Redcoats at the North Bridge. After detailing the battle maneuvers, a group of visitors swarmed Ryan, drawn by his clothing.
   
This gave me a moment to reflect on the significance of this place. I stood in the shadow of the memorial obelisk, a statue of a Minuteman made by Daniel Chester French, and thought of Emerson’s enduring lines commemorating it:
   
“By the rude bridge that arched the flood/Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled/Here once the embattled farmers stood/and fired the shot heard round the world…On this green bank, by this soft stream/We place with joy a votive stone/That memory may their deeds redeem/When, like our sires, our sons are gone.”

City:
Concord

City Founded:
1635

City Population:
16,993

Commuter Rail Stop:
Concord, Fitchburg Line

Depart from:  
North Station

Zone:
5

Fare:
$6.25

Tidbit:
During Concord's literary heyday, Henry James called it “the biggest little place in America.

 


Links:

Minute Man National Historical Park (includes Old North Bridge)

Old Manse

Walden Pond

Main Street Market and Cafe