Walking Tour 2 - Alcotts & Emersons
2 miles (3.2 km), 40-minutes’ walking time, round-trip, + sightseeing time.
This walking tour takes you from Concord Center’s Monument Square to Ralph Waldo Emerson’s family home and, across the street, the Concord Museum, which preserves Emerson’s study and many other Concord historical and cultural treasures.
Then to the Alcott family home of Orchard House, and the neighboring Wayside, sometime home of the Alcotts, and later of Nathaniel and Sophia Hawthorne. You can continue to Grapevine House, home of Ephraim Wales Bull, inventor of the Concord Grape.
The distance from Monument Square to Grapevine House is one mile (1.6 km), or 2 miles (3.2 km) round-trip, about 40 minutes’ walking time, plus 2 to 3 hours for interior visits to the sights along the way.
Start at Monument Square, Concord’s equivalent of the town green or common. The square takes its name from the Civil War Monument, a granite obelisk at its center erected in 1866 to commemorate the sacrifice of Concord men in the Civil War (1861-65).
Around the square are two churches, two parish halls, the Colonial Inn, and the Concord Town House (town hall).
Wright Tavern & First Parish Meetinghouse
At the southeastern end of Monument Square, beyond the flagpole, at the start of Lexington Road, the red Wright Tavern is where the British Regulars set up their headquarters on the fateful morning of April 19, 1775. (Not open to the public.)
Just beyond the tavern to the east rises the steeple of the meetinghouse (church building) of the First Parish in Concord, founded in 1636 just after the settlement of the town, and still thriving nearly four centuries later as a Unitarian-Universalist congregation.
Walk east on Lexington Road (away from Monument Square), cross Heywood Street, pass the grassy fields of Heywood Meadow on your right, to the garage-like brick building which is the gunhouse of the Concord Independent Battery. The Battery’s historic brass cannons are fired on ceremonial occasions to great effect!
Behind the brick Concord Independent Battery building is the trailhead of the Emerson-Thoreau Amble, a 1.7-mile (2.74-km) footpath through fields and woods following (more or less) the route that Emerson, Thoreau and the Alcotts may have used to reach the site of Thoreau’s cabin on the shore of Walden Pond. The walk takes 40 to 60 minutes.
Add 40 to 60 minutes for the circumambulation of the pond, and the return walk to Monument Square, and the total walking time may be two to three hours. (You can also go to Walden Pond by car or bicycle.)
Emerson Family Home
Just past the brick building, at the intersection of Lexington Road and Cambridge Turnpike, is the white Emerson family home, named “Bush” by its eminent owner.
Built in 1829 as a summer house by the Coolidge family, the house was bought by Emerson as a family residence in July 1835. The house was a center for meetings of Emerson and his friends, and still contains original furniture and Emerson’s memorabilia.
It was here that Emerson wrote his famous essays The American Scholar and Self Reliance, here that he entertained Bronson and Louisa May Alcott, his aunt Mary Moody Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Henry David Thoreau, and many others.
Ralph Waldo Emerson died here in 1882. In 1890, his wife Lidian Jackson Emerson died here in 1892, and was buried next to her husband on Authors Ridge in Concord’s Sleepy Hollow Cemetery.
Ellen Tucker Emerson (1839-1909), who did not marry, continued to live in the house until her death, and Emerson’s son Edward Waldo Emerson (1844-1930) lived here until his death. A non-profit preservation association now cares for the house, and opens it as a private museum from late April through late October. Call for information: tel (978) 369-2236.
Today the house is much the same as when the Emerson family lived in it, although Ralph Waldo Emerson’s library is now preserved in Harvard University’s Houghton Library, and the furnishings of Emerson’s study are on display across the street in the Concord Museum. (In the Emerson House, his study is furnished with replicas.)
The Concord Museum, Lexington Road and Cambridge Turnpike, across Cambridge Turnpike from the Emerson House, contains numerous period rooms and galleries, and vividly depicts the growth and evolution of Concord, Massachusetts. The rich collections of documented decorative arts and domestic artifacts were either owned by Concord-area residents or made by Concord-area artisans.
Permanent exhibits include the lantern that hung in the spire of the Old North Church in Boston on the night of Paul Revere’s famous ride; Ralph Waldo Emerson’s study; Henry David Thoreau’s belongings used at Walden Pond; and a collection of early powderhorns including the one worn by the model for Daniel Chester French’s Minuteman statue at Concord’s Old North Bridge.
There are changing exhibitions throughout the year. A guided tour lasts about 45 minutes, or you can wander around on your own if you prefer.
Benjamin Barron House
From the Concord Museum, it’s only a few minutes’ walk east on Lexington Road to the Benjamin Barron House at 249 Lexington Road. The house has been here since 1716. Now a private home not open to the public, it bears an intriguing sign stating that John Jack, in slavery, worked as a shoemaker here to purchase his freedom, the assumption being that he worked “overtime” or in secret, being paid for his labors and eventually escaping the tragedy of bondage.
John Jack’s tombstone on the north side of the Old Hill Burying Ground just off Monument Square is indeed world famous:
“Here lies the body of John Jack, a native of Africa who died March 1773 aged about 60 years. Tho’ born in a land of slavery, he was born free. Tho’ he lived in a land of liberty, he lived a slave till by his honest, tho’ stolen labors he acquired the source of slavery [ie, money], which gave him his freedom.”
See my Walking Tour 1 – North Bridge for information on visiting Old Hill Burying Ground.
Seven minutes’ walk east along Lexington Road brings you to Orchard House.
Dr Samuel Prescott Plaque
Set in the stone wall at 345 Lexington Road, where the road curves, is a plaque commemorating Dr Samuel Prescott who, along with Paul Revere and William Dawes, spread the news of British troop movements on April 19, 1775. The site of Dr Prescott’s Concord house is behind the plaque.
First Settlers Sign
This sign stands at the crosswalk between Orchard House and The Wayside, commemorating the first settlement of Concord along the nearby ridge in 1635.
The Alcotts' Orchard House
From the Concord Museum, it’s a walk of 10 minutes or less eastward to the Alcotts’ Orchard House, 399 Lexington Road, the family’s home from 1858 to 1877. Author Louisa May Alcott lived in Orchard House and wrote Little Women, her quasi-autobiographical best-seller, here in 1868.
Amos Bronson Alcott, although he began his career as an itinerant gizmo salesman, had as his life’s passion the reform of traditional education methods. He founded a school in Boston that treated children not as discipline problems, but rather as fully intelligent beings worthy of respect and affection. His open and natural approach to education was not appreciated there, but it was perfectly congenial in Transcendentalist Concord. Here he was ultimately commissioned as Concord’s superintendent of schools, and he opened a School of Philosophy in a building in his backyard.
Orchard House is a must-see for anyone, especially a child, who has read Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, or seen any of the movies, operas, musicals or TV series based on the book. It’s a thrill to see the real rooms and artifacts of the author’s life, and to be in the milieu in which she grew up.
In 1877, Bronson, Louisa and Anna Alcott moved to 255 Main Street which had once been Henry David Thoreau‘s home. That house is now private and not open to the public.
Just east of Orchard House is The Wayside, 455 Lexington Road, another Concord historic house with literary connections. Now administered by Minute Man National Historical Park,.this is the house that Alcott actually described in Little Women.
(Don’t confuse The Wayside in Concord with Longfellow’s Wayside Inn, which is in the neighboring town of Sudbury, and still an operating inn and restaurant.)
The Alcott family lived in this house, which they called “Hillside,” from 1845 to 1852, when Louisa was a teenager. She later complained that Hillside and nearby Orchard House, where she lived later, were cold, dreary and lacking sunlight.
During her years here, Louisa had a teenage crush on her father’s friend Ralph Waldo Emerson. She was a hiking buddy of Henry David Thoreau, and stories circulate of Louisa and teenaged friends going skinny-dipping in Walden Pond.
In 1852, the Alcotts sold Hillside to Nathaniel and Sophia Hawthorne, who moved in with their three young children Una, Julian and Rose. They renamed the house “The Wayside.”
It remained the Hawthorne family home until Nathaniel Hawthorne’s death in 1864.
In 1870 it was sold by Hawthorne’s heirs, and in 1883 bought by Boston publisher Daniel Lothrop and his wife Harriet Lothrop, a children’s book author who used the pen name Margaret Sidney and was widely known for her book The Five Little Peppers.
Most of the furnishings in the house date from the Lothrops’ time.
A few minutes’ walk east along Lexington Road past The Wayside brings you to Grapevine Cottage, 491 Lexington Road, the former home of Ephraim Wales Bull (1806-1895), inventor of the Concord grape. Now a private home not open to the public, the historic cottage, restored in 2016-2017, is among the oldest extant houses in town, having been built around 1700.
Bull developed the cultivar for the Concord grape from wild Vitis labrusca vines growing in New England. The grapevine on the east side of the front yard is a direct descendant of Bull’s original vine. A stone monument by the sidewalk commemorates Bull’s achievement.
Another Concord grapevine grows in honor of Bull at the front of 100 Main Street near the South Burying Ground and Keyes Road.
From Grapevine Cottage, it’s a 1-mile (1.6-km), 20-minute walk back to Monument Square in the center of Concord.
Want to walk a bit more? Continue east for 10 minutes (1/2 mile, 800 meters) to Meriam’s Corner, site of a battle between colonial Minutemen and retreating Redcoats on April 19, 1775. Meriam’s Corner is the eastern end of the Battle Road walking/biking trail of Minute Man National Historical Park.