Autumn is my favorite season, for many reasons. In Phoenix, it marks the understanding that relief from our sweltering summer will soon be realized. For me, it’s the sweet spot for American sports, namely college football and post-season baseball. It’s the harbinger of pumpkin pie, turkey and stuffing and eventually, yuletide cheer! In almost every other region in the United States, it also means the vibrant colors of majestic deciduous trees, prior to shedding their leaves in preparation for the harsh winter ahead. The sights and smells remind me of home.
I will admit that because of my residency in the Sonoran Desert, the biggest share of my exposure to the colorful fall foliage has been limited to television and movies. Throughout the years, I had built up a image of perfection of what Autumn is like in areas like New England. Central to these expectations would be an idyllic small town, with winding roads, front porches decorated with pumpkins and hay bales, a town square, and a rich history. Even I was able to realize that those expectations were unrealistic. And yet, that quintessential small town in New England exists with all of the criteria above! Alas, I introduce Concord, MA!
Although considered part of the greater Boston area, Concord is situated 50 plus miles to the Northwest from the bustle of downtown Boston; the confluence of the Sudbury and Assabet Rivers, forming the Concord River. Concord magically retains its small town charm, even being so close to a major metropolitan area. Laden with history and being one of the best locations in New England to soak in the changing leaves, Concord offers the complete package for a Fall travel destination! Here are some of the things that Concord has to offer!
A Revolution Begins
A view across the Old North Bridge
Minute Man National Historical Park
Yes, Concord is rich in history. Most notably, along with nearby Lexignton, Concord was the location of the first battle of the American Revolution. After the brief skirmish in Lexington, roughly 1800 British troops began their march to Concord, the rumored site of a weapons cache for the American rebels. As they approached the Old North Bridge, which leads to Concord, they were met by about 4,000 Massachusetts militiamen. A battle ensued that ended with an American victory, sending the British troops retreating back to Boston. The Concord Battlefield offers a rich experience in showcasing this early American historical event.
The Old North Bridge
The Old North Bridge was the main focal point of the battle. While the original bridge was removed in 1793, a replica based on original drawings of the bridge now stands in its place. A visit offers a effectual representation of troop positions at the time of the battle and commemorates the sacrifices of both the American Militia and the British troops involved in the battle on April 19, 1775. It’s very easy to develop an appreciation of the frenzied battle as it unfolded on this narrow crossing of the Concord River. And it’s a joy to photograph.
The Old North Bridge spanning the Concord River
The gravesite of the first British casualties of the American Revolution
The Old Manse
Built in 1770 for William Emerson, the Georgian home sits next to the Concord Battleground. From here, Emerson witnessed the battle on the Old North Bridge on April 19, 1775. Years later, Emerson’s grandson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, would write his famous essay, Nature, while he made the Old Manse his home. Any other home would be satisfied with such a historic pedigree, but not the Old Manse. After Emerson’s residency in the 1830s, the house would be home to Nathaniel Hawthorne and his wife starting in 1842. During the Hawthornes’ three year residency, he would pen about 20 sketches and tales, some of which would be included in his 1846 collection Mosses from an Old Manse. One could argue that no one piece of real estate would prove more influential in the formation of this new nation.
The Old Manse
Ralph Waldo Emerson’s grandfather witnessed the Battle of Concord from the Old Manse
Dead American Authors
It doesn’t take spending a lot of time in Concord to begin to appreciate its beauty. I use the word idyllic in a lot of my descriptions of Concord. It is the embodiment of beauty and beauty brings rise to more beauty. I have no problem understanding how this town can inspire the creativity of artists and thinkers. Perhaps, this is what attracted so many great authors and early American philosophers to call Concord their home. In addition to the aforementioned Emerson and Hawthorne, Concord was also home to Amos Bronson Alcott, Louisa May Alcott and Henry David Thoreau. Concord was America’s first literary center.
Today, the former homes of Emerson, Hawthorne and the Alcotts can be visited as museums for the authors at the heart of America’s Transcendentalist movement. One can also visit Walden pond, where Thoreau lived while he wrote his masterpiece Walden in 1854. If you are at all interested in American literature, Concord offers an intimate glimpse into the home of some of America’s most influential writers.
The former home of Ralph Waldo Emerson
Sleepy Hollow Cemetery
Sleepy Hollow Cemetery
To the Northeast of Concord Town Center, is the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. Bearing no connection to Washington Irving’s American classic The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, it is yet a most befitting name for the final resting place for Concord’s literary legends. Opened in 1855, Ralph Waldo Emerson gave the dedication speech upon its opening. The design of the cemetery incorporated many design elements directly related to Emerson’s writings and the Transcendentalist movement as a whole. Most notably, the cemetery is dominated in the natural vegetation native to the area, as opposed to the being replaced by a green lawn and ornamental shrubs popular elsewhere during the time period.
The Thoreau family grave marker
Henry David Thoreau’s modest grave marker
The cemetery is still accepting new permanent guests. The older part of the cemetery is laid out in a natural amphitheater carved into a hillside. At the top of the hill is Author’s Ridge. It is here you will find the final resting places for Emerson, Hawthorne, the Alcotts and Thoreau. Even in death, their memorials exude the compounding beauty of this small town of really big things.
Louisa May Alcott’s grave on Author’s Ridge
Concord’s Colonial Inn
Built in 1716, the structure now known as the Colonial Inn served several different purposes in Concord life. Ever wonder where that weapons cache was located, the one the British Army came for in 1775? Well, many were housed in the Colonial Inn. The building would later serve as a storefront and residence. Thoreau lived here while he attended Harvard in the 1830s. By the middle of the 19th Century, it was used as a boarding house and was branded the Thoreau House. In 1889, the building would transform into its current use as an Inn, where visitors could rent rooms while visiting the idyllic New England small town. The Inn has hosted many early, influential Americans, include George Washington. Today, the Inn provides an intimate and charming experience for those wishing to absorb all that is Concord. It’s also rumored to be haunted!
Need a cozy place to stay while soaking in the Fall foliage? Try the Colonial Inn.
The Concord Grape
Who doesn’t love a good peanut butter and jelly sandwich? For me, there’s only one appropriate jelly for use in the culinary treasure: grape jelly. And for grape jelly, the Concord grape is the original, real deal. Developed in Concord in 1849 by Ephraim Wales Bull, it was introduced to the marketplace in 1854. In 1869, local Concord Reverend Thomas Bramwell Welch produced the first Concord grape juice, to be served to his church during communion. Today, Welch’s Foods Inc. still is headquartered in Concord.
Today, if someone were to ask me where I would want to live, if not in Phoenix, I respond by saying, “I want to live with the dead authors.” Shani likes to remind me that I would not enjoy living in Concord once I experienced the following:
- Making my first mortgage payment
- Commuting to work in Boston
- Shoveling snow
- Maintaining 200 year old home in an unforgiving New England climate
I respond with:
- You saw the Fall color, right?
- We’ll befriend an incredibly wealthy elderly patron who will leave their fortune to us instead of their ungrateful children, and we can retire there!
- We can pay someone to shovel snow.
- I would undoubtedly find unlimited inspiration for writing and become a renowned author myself.
- You can retire there.
All of the silliness aside, if I ever found myself independently wealthy, I would find a way to have at minimum, a seasonal home among the nation’s literary giants. I’m pretty sure I could convince Shani to live there in October. Until then, I’ll have to find myself contented with the periodic visit to my favorite American small town. Preferably in October.
Featured Image @ top: The boathouse at the Old Manse