In the 19th century, the small Massachusetts village of Concord was a hive of literary and philosophical activity, with a small community of Transcendentalists including the Alcotts, (most notably Little Women author Louise May), philosopher Henry David Thoreau, poet Ralph Waldo Emerson and author Nathaniel Hawthorn. Today, it is a up-scale Boston suburb that is still homes many prominent American writers such as Robert Coles and Gregory Maguire.
Just an hour from central Boston, on a train that flies through some of New England’s most glorious golden-leaved towns, Concord is an upmarket suburb that all travellers wanting a taste of ‘real’ America, away from the cities, must spend a day in. It is the oldest European-settled town in New England and, where many founding members of the Tea Party and political thinkers originated. The first shots of American Revolution were in neighbouring Lexington on April 19, 1775 and the site of the first American victory was on Concord’s Old North Bridge, just a mile from the centre of town.
If you only have a day in the town, leave early and grab a coffee as you amble your way down Main Street, the culture here is rich compared to many satellite towns. The old book-store in particular has many special editions of locally written novels and philosophical texts. There are many antique shops and clothing stores that could peruse in all day – but don’t, there’s so much more to Concord if you wander a little further.
If you go in Fall (everyone should go to MA in the Fall) the colours are spectacular and air is cool and fresh enough for you to spend the whole day outside in comfort. Here are the Concord top five…
#1 Orchard House. The house where Louisa May Alcott was inspired to write 19th Century favourite Little Women is a literary mecca for most girls and fans of the book about four sisters growing-up during the Civil War. The tour is hugely informative and you can see all the original notes and diaries of the girls, as well as paintings and sketches by the youngest sister, May Alcott. As well as sitting in the parlour where the family and their philosophical friends used to gather to discuss important political issues and debates. The house itself is built in the original colonial style and the gardens are long, with sweeping views down toward the town.
#2 Henry David Thoreau’s House. A quick tip for any visitor and literary scholars naive to the transcendentalist movement (such as yours truly), take a copy of Thoreau’s poem ‘Walden’ and walk around the ground of his home, just opposite Orchard House. The house is also open to the public and there are tours and talks on his life and the movements he was involved in. Whilst in Concord, it is well worth contemplating the movements that made America the country it is today and the important figures that contributed to the American mindset and values. Thoreau’s vision and beliefs may be little-mentioned today but many folk in the town will happily talk for hours of him.
#3 Walden Pond. For visitors who want more than a literary or historical trip, the attraction of Walden Pond offers just this. Off the shores of Walden Pond you may picnic, swim, boat, bike and fish. There are facilities for families or solo travellers and enough sand for hundred to sunbathe. There are daily tours and literary talks about the local area and literary history if the soporific shore gets too much. #Literaryfact Walden Pond is where Amy March fell through the ice in Little Women
#4 Old North Bridge. The site of the first American/English battle, Old North Bridge is a piece of American history like no other. There are plaques and statues offering information about the battle and the trip is quick (if history’s not really your thing). A real highlight of the bridge is postcard-perfect grounds that it is set in and museum of American history on the other side of it. Just next door to it, is Little Manse House, home of novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne, again there are tours and trips around the bridge and the house if you’re not quite maxed-out on the glittering literary history of the town.
#5 Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. As you walk back down Author’s Ridge and into central Concord stop by Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. The site itself is picturesque and holds the graves of all the big literary stars of Concord. Although not the most uplifting place in Concord, Sleepy Hollow allows for some quiet reflection on the town illuminated by the greats of North American history.
A couple of Concord Tips: If you do your research before you go you’ll be able to catch the best of the talks and tours on offer at the museums and houses. There are also the famous battle re-enactments every year in the town, if you’re not American and you’d love to see one, book early and see the locals dress up and fight each other.
Of all the small towns I visited, Concord has to be the most captivating and nuanced in terms of history and American culture, whether you’re into novels or not, the locals are chatty, friendly and knowledgeable about their town’s incredible past and will be happy to fill you in. Concord is certainly a town that has a way with words.