Walking Tour 3 - Concord Cemeteries

1.5 mi (2.4 km), 30 minutes’ walking, round trip, + sightseeing time.

Concord was founded in 1635, the first inland town in the colony of Massachusetts Bay. Its cemeteries, with their antique tombstones, are repositories of its long history, bearing the names of early settlers, some with family names still prominent in Concord; of veterans of the Revolutionary War and of every war since; of 19th-century literary greats such as Emerson, Alcott and Thoreau; and of normal Concordians.

Sleepy Hollow Cemetery is most prominent and beautiful, with its Authors Ridge holding the tombs of Emerson, Alcott, Thoreau and others, but the smaller, simpler cemeteries in the town center, the Old Hill Burying Ground and the South Burying Place, testify to Concord’s early years.

Old Hill Burying Ground

Oldest of Concord cemeteries, the Old Hill, or North, Burying Ground is on the north side of Monument Square just to the right of Holy Family Catholic Church. This hill was the site of Concord’s first small meetinghouse (1636), the home of the Church of Christ in Concord (now First Parish in Concord), with the graveyard next to the meetinghouse. Later a larger meetinghouse was built at the bottom of the hill where the current First Parish meetinghouse now stands, leaving the entire hill for graves.

The burying ground has about five hundred graves. According to the Cemetery Supervisor, the colonists may not have marked graves during the first four years of the settlement, or else they used wooden markers which have long since disappeared. After that, they may not have marked burials, not wishing for the nearby Indians to know how many Concordians had died.

The earliest identifiable grave is that of locksmith Joseph Merriam, buried here in 1677, at a time when the colonists decided there was no longer any danger from the Indians, who were friendly.

Old Hill Burying Ground, Concord MA

This south-facing hillside may have been selected as a burying ground because the land was not good for cultivation, and its southern exposure to the sun meant that it was among the first places in the village to thaw in the spring. This allowed the earliest possible burial for those who had died during the winter when digging graves was not possible.

John Jack's Grave

John Jack's Tombstone

On the far (north) slope of the hill, half-way down and a little to the left, stands the gravestone of John Jack, a man born free in Africa but enslaved and brought to colonial America. He worked at his trade of a shoemaker in Concord, part of his life at the Benjamin Barron house (249 Lexington Road—see Walking Tour 2). Eventually saving enough money from secret work, he bought his freedom. His epitaph was written by Reverend Daniel Bliss (1714-1764), who us buried in the lower of the two table-like rectangular tombs at the top of the hill.

God wills us free, man wills us slaves.  I will as God wills Gods will be done. 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. Which gave him his freedom.  Tho’ not long before, Death the grand tyrant Gave him his final emancipation, And set him on a footing with kings, Tho’ a slave to vice, He practiced those virtues Without which kings are but slaves.

South Burying Place

South Burying Place, Concord MA

Town lore holds that the South Burying Place was established after the Old Hill Burying Ground because it was thought of ill omen to transport a corpse over running water. (The Mill Brook runs beneath Main Street just southwest of Monument Square. In colonial times, this block of Main Street was a narrow road at the edge of the Mill Pond.)

This is a smaller cemetery than either of Concord’s other two, on the southwest side of the Mill Brook at the corner of Main Street and Keyes Road, on long block southwest of Monument Square.

The dark slate slab at the entrance, a modern addition, lists the names of prominent Concord families whose members are interred here: Barrett, Billing, Buss, Conant, Davis, Hartshorne, Hayward, Holden, Hosmer, Hubbard, Jones, Lee, Miles, Prescott, Potter, Whiting, Wheeler, Wood, and Wright.

Sleepy Hollow Cemetery

Concord’s largest, most famous and beautiful cemetery is one long block (5-minute walk) northeast of Monument Square along Bedford Road. Enter the gates at the corner of Bedford Road and Court Lane. (The sign directing visitors to the Prichard Gate farther to the right is for autos, not pedestrians). Inside the gate, turn right, and walk northeast in the same direction for five minutes to the Melvin Memorial. The grave of Daniel Chester French is on the ridge behind the Memorial, and Authors Ridge is just beyond.

If you’re driving, from Monument Square, follow Bedford Road (MA Route 62) and proceed 1/4 mile (400 meters) to the cemetery’s auto entrance (Prichard Gate), on the left. Enter the cemetery and go straight to a T-intersection at which you must turn left onto the narrow one-way, one-lane road to Authors Ridge.

Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Authors Ridge Map
Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Authors Ridge Map

Designed as an early American example of the garden cemetery, Concord’s Sleepy Hollow Cemetery was inspired by Ralph Waldo Emerson’s philosophies as well as Sir Christopher Wren’s earlier idea of designing landscaped burial grounds located outside of churchyards and city centers.

Paris’s Père Lachaise Cemetery, opened in 1804, was the first full example of Wren’s ideas, and is still a model for the best.

The first garden cemetery in the USA, and one of the finest, was Mount Auburn Cemetery (1831) in Cambridge MA.

Emerson gave the formal address at Sleepy Hollow’s dedication in 1855.

Authors Ridge holds the graves of Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Daniel Chester French, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry David Thoreau, and their families.

Returning along Monument Street from the Old North Bridge, if you’re on foot and you don’t take the Reformatory Branch shortcut, turn left (east) on Court Lane just before Monument Square. One block along, at the intersection of Court Lane and Bedford Street, turn left into the cemetery gate. (This gate is for pedestrians. The preferred auto gate is the next one farther east along Bedford Street.) Walk east through the cemetery to the Melvin Memorial, then around the ridge to Authors Ridge.

Melvin Memorial

Melvin Memorial, Sleepy Hollow Cemetery

Also worth seeing are the grave of Daniel Chester French and, nearby, his Melvin Memorial, a large, fine funerary monument featuring his Mourning Victory, executed by French in honor of three brothers of the Melvin family who died in the Civil War. The memorial was commissioned by the fourth brother, who survived the war to return to Concord.

"Mourning Victory," Melvin Memorial, Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Concord MA
Mourning Victory detail, Melvin Memorial

Authors Ridge

Authors Ridge, Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Concord MA

Look for this uphill path and the stone marker right by a small parking area.

Up the hill and to the right are the graves of the Thoreau family, including Henry David Thoreau; to the left are the graves of the Hawthornes.

Stone Marker for Authors Ridge

Henry David Thoreau

Henry David Thoreau Grave, Authors Ridge

Henry’s modest tombstone is always decorated with votive offerings: pens and pencils, notes, pebbles, flowers, pine cones. The gifts left by ardent admirers are periodically cleared away.

The Hawthornes

Hawthorne Family Graves, Authors Ridge

Nathaniel Hawthorne was buried here alone in 1864. Sophia Hawthorne died in London in 1871, followed by their daughter Una in 1877. Both were buried in Kensal Green. Their graves were neglected until July 26, 2006, when their remains were reinterred here next to Nathaniel.

The Alcotts

Louisa May Alcott Grave, Authors Ridge

Like Henry David Thoreau’s, Louisa May Alcott’s grave receives many votive offerings. Her mother Abba, father Amos Bronson, and her sisters are buried in the family plot also.

The Emersons

Ralph Waldo Emerson's grave, Authors Ridge, Sleepy Hollow Cemetery

The stone on Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) grave is a huge quartzite boulder. That of Lidian Jackson Emerson (1802-1892) is a more modest stone decorated with tulips. Other family members are nearby, some with histories carved in the back of their tombstones.

Ephraim Wales Bull

Ephraim Wales Bull Grave

Bull (1806-1895), the “originator” of the Concord Grape, is buried just down the hill from the Emersons, along with his son, Ephraim. Note the misspelling as “Ephriam” on his plaque.

Ephraim Wales Bull Tomb Plaque

Daniel Chester French

Grave of Daniel Chester French

Daniel Chester French (1850-1931) and Mary French (1859-1939) are buried on the ridge between Authors Ridge and the Melvin Memorial. Visitors put pennies in the wreath with the image of the Lincoln Memorial showing, in commemoration of French’s seated Abraham Lincoln statue (1920).