Notwithstanding that winter approaches, notwithstanding that the days end sooner, clear and sunny fall days are part of what make New England great. One is neither oppressed by humidity of summer nor taunted and frozen under a blue sky in winter. Rather, there is a cornucopia of color that one can simply enjoy. Fall vacations should be more frequent.
Last Sunday, October 20, I awoke in Marlborough, Massachusetts to one of those gorgeous days. In the month leading to that Sunday, I had been reading about Concord, Massachusetts, inspired by one of my heroines, Justice Martha Sosman of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. (Further discussion of Justice Sosman qua jurist can be found in last year’s Blgotoberfest Post.) Justice Sosman had lived in Concord all her life-indeed, when her mother died, she moved back in her aging father at their family home-and lived with him into his own advanced age until her own untimely death. Justice Sosman had also participated in a Concord Oral History Project (as had retired Chief Justice Herbert P. Wilkins) and painted a fascinating picture of the place. And, befittingly enough, October 20 was Justice Sosman’s birthday, although I was not consciously cognizant of this fact last year.
I originally set out from Marlborough uncertain of where I would head. But, somehow, it dawned me that Concord couldn’t be too much further. And, beyond Justice Sosman, I knew Concord’s unique place in our history. The sun was high and the sky was a full shade of blue after dreary clouds and rain through. The setting was perfect. So, fuck it. Concord was calling me. I would go for it.
I followed Boston Post Road/U.S. 20 east through Marlborough’s downtown, which eventually released me to Sudbury. I had no idea that Sudbury and Marlborough were ancient-that is, both communities were incorporated in the 17th Century-and there was the Wayside Inn to prove it. From the once urban edge of Marlborough, I was in the country again in Sudbury. Although not a formal state highway, a sign beckoned to the left-Sudbury Ctr., Concord. I turned and listened. Soon, I found myself in Sudbury Ctr., junctioning Route 27 at the Town Common, one direction would take me to Natick, another to Acton. History was well-preserved there-an ancient stone guidepost also pointed to those communities and others in Middlesex County, and, of course to Boston. (Those guideposts are part of what make driving through the wiles of Massachusetts fun-you will have an idea of where you are going even if you aren’t an official state highway, and are conspicuously absent in Connecticut.) But, there was the green sign with its’ side right arrow pointing to Concord. That’s where I would go. (And, I cannot remember it at the time, but, I was on, appropriately enough, Concord Road.)
Sudbury Center soon gave way to a shroud of woods, and the full fall palette. Endless open fields soon broke the shroud, some guarded by stone walls, houses occasionally appearing along the roadside. The sun was bright and the temperature was pleasant-I had my window down and I was smiling, savoring everything about it. The open road in New England of a Fall Day is a modern and more seasonable tribute to Robert Frost. Concord Road remained and became further rural, colonial farmhouses, farm land and open fields became my companion heading north. The bright sun and the hues of orange, yellow, and red contrasted against the fields and grass. Is this suburbia? Am I really so close to Boston? Have I actually stepped into a transporter and driven into Western Massachusetts? Am I going to encounter Andy Dufrense’s stone wall and Red’s money buried underneath?
Well, maybe that last thought didn’t really occur to me. But, eventually, I arrived in Concord. And, much to my surprise, the next sign read-to Route 2. So, I headed for Route 2, a bit of a Janus among Massachusetts highways. Scenic for much of its length, it also fluctuates a superhighway, depending on where you are. The fields turned into forests as Route 2 approached-a divided highway traversing and missing Concord Center.
Or was I on Route 126 this whole time coming into Concord from Sudbury and Lincoln? I cannot remember. I remember passing over railroad tracks, and I know that I was on Walden Street because I passed the Concord District Court and the Concord Firehouse, both of which are located on Walden Street…
Regardless, I found my way into Concord Center. Beautiful homes and historic buildings (blocks, really) lined the streets, suburban jerkassdom had spared this downtown. People were out on the street, also savoring this weather and day, much as I was. Soon, I was at the green, and, much to my surprise, Route 62 appeared. One of the longest roads in the Commonwealth, Route 62 parallels(ish) Route 2, running from Barre out to somewhere in Essex County (the coast, viz-Beverly.)
And I had found it again. But, that was not my interest. And I thank you for indulging my roadgeekery. Lowell Road and signs for the Historic Park beckoned. Soon, I was on Liberty Street, and, finally, I was in Minute Man Historical Park, approaching North Bridge. The weather was warm, no doubt inspired by the sun. I popped into the Visitor’s Center, enjoyed the exhibits and the Ranger on duty, and, soon, I found out that there was Drilling as Minutemen at 1:30 at Hartwell’s Tavern. Having dumped tea in Boston Harbor, I knew where I would head later that day. My more compelling interest was to visit North Bridge.
From the Visitor’s Center/Headquarters, it’s a scenic downhill across open fields to North Bridge. The view is incredible, I could picture a Red Fox jaunty and happy coming up from the river bank. Soon, I was crossing the bridge. An old wooden structure, the Concord River flows northward below as a sizable obelisk sits sentinel at the other bank of the bridge, guarded by a tall and prominent Minuteman-at the site of the shot heard round the world.
Here is where our country was born-when the people of Lexington, Concord, Lincoln, Bedford, and Acton defended their homes against the British. What happened to that spirit of community? What happened to that spirit of vigilance? What happened to that spirit of altruism? Are we simply doomed to repeat our mistakes and to beat on like boats against the current?
On the other hand, what does it matter now? The spirit of the people of Concord and the Minutemen live on, not as ominous spectres. They are a raison d’être for those of us who refuse to accept and want to improve our world. That should be legacy enough.
But enough of philosophy. What a gorgeous place to be on such a fall day. And there was so much more to behold. Not everyone preferred the history, some were walking dogs, some were even taking advantage of the Concord River.
Sitting on that river’s east bank was the Old Manse with a redcoat explaining its full history to those of us lucky visitors. A 1770 Colonial, the Old Manse (Scottish for Mansion) was the inspirational location of two Emersons (Reverend William and Ralph Waldo), and later, Nathaniel and Sophia Hawthorne. Had I more time, I would have likely gone inside. And, in a testament to civility and that the spectre of war would not consume us with bitterness or blitheness, sitting behind North Bridge was a monument to the Queen’s Redcoats who fought and gave their lives.
But neither Emerson nor Hawthorne was the only one inspired in Concord. So too was Thoreau-which I did not know. Indeed, Concord was a center for abolitionist-and feminist-sentiment. Louisa May Alcott lived on the road to Bedford and protested for the vote. And, of course, Martha B. Sosman founded her all-women partners firm with furniture from the Sosman barn in Concord-and tirelessly strived to make the law of the Commonwealth sound. What finer place could there be for a Renaissance lawyer-historian-writer?
Time to head for Hartwell’s Tavern.
The downtown of Concord Center soon gave way to ruralness as I followed Cambridge Turnpike southeast and Concord soon became Lincoln. (This I did not know-that Concord and Lincoln were neighbors.) Unfortunately, construction and poor signage led me astray down Route 2, rather than Route 2A, which paralleled the Battle Road and the Tavern. But, I soon found my way again-urban bloodhound kicking in to smell my way along. I parked and I was able to tour the Tavern. However, there were not many tall folks when Hartwell built his tavern. So, I had to watch my head-much like Paul Revere and William Dawes (who were captured not far from the Tavern, but were able to warn Dr. Prescott of Concord who took refuge there.)
Being tall soon proved a liability again-and I was the oldest and largest Minuteman recruit-and why none of the fathers and mothers joined the children (aged 5 to 12, or so) in the drill is beyond me. But, I wanted to serve as a Minuteman-and so I would. We were issued muskets, given strict drilling and formation orders, including to stand at attention, how and what direction to pivot. (I stood out and erred at least once. But, thankfully, I was not made to do pushups.) Our Commanding Officer did, however, impress upon us that we were the line of defense for the people of Concord-if we were able-bodied, we were to serve-and to be ready. So we marched, took up our firing positions, and BANG! And, our Commanding Officer was graceful and certified us as Minutemen-even me.
I wandered west along the Battle Road from Hartwell’s Tavern. Stoneposts, much smaller versions of the obelisk at North Bridge, sat along the gravely trail. 14 Miles to Boston Harbor? 14 Miles to Boston Harbor? Yes, Joe. You’re that close to Boston.
At Merriam’s Corner, naturalists could divert to a trail to the vernal pool to see amphibian life. Not far beyond was the Bloody Angle. Harkening back to the Bloody Lane at Antietam (so I’ve been told by Ken Burns, I haven’t yet been to Antietam), a great skirmish was fought at this point on the border beyond Lincoln and Concord. Open fields and farmland, not dissimilar to what I had passed, allowed the militia to ambush the British on their retreat to Boston on April 19, including the Woburn Militia…Yet, behind the Bloody Angle, modernity crept in. There was a trail…leading to a parking lot. What was there, I did not know. But, I felt strangely out of place as I explored along that trial. How had this happened? I returned to the Battle Road and the Stoneposts that would lead me to Boston.
Our Commanding Officer was now drilling and demonstrating a musket. One musket could not do very much-it was inefficient, difficult to load and aim (hence why and how had poor a Minuteman earned his name). That being said, a line of muskets and militia could be-the musket balls would form an effective wall of ammunition.
Guided by his colleague, our Commanding Officer marched, presented arms, made ready, and…
The sound was like standing next to a small explosion. Not deafening, but it certainly got your attention. A healthy puff of smoke followed. And, impressed at the spectacle, we applauded. I greeted the Commanding Officer, Ed, and thanked him.
I headed back to Concord Center from Hartwell’s Tavern. I remember the signs for Walden Pond (which I still haven’t visited yet, D’oh!). There was still daylight and daytime, and Sunday was lively, so, I went for a walkabout in Concord Center, window-shopping mainly. (Although, I want to say I bought something of some sort, but, I can’t remember.)
Concord Center was imminently walkable and savvy, there was an antiques store, kitchen store (my Mom would enjoy that), a cheese shop, the Main Street Market, the Concord Bookstore, even a Concord Toy Store. The Police Officer directing traffic was even genial. As the sun remained bright, I was glad to shed my jacket for my red oxford alone (a red oxford, I might add, I’ve had since age 15.) And not a single chain store offended the eye or the sense of justice. These are real people with real livelihoods doing things their own way. (If you can believe it, there’s even a lingerie store right on Main Street off the Town Common-which has been named Monument Square, right next to the site of the Milldam.) Concord Center reminded me of the one thing I pine for from my years in New York-not being per se reliant on a car and being able to walk places. Concord Center has that positive quality with treelined sidewalks (which exist in New York) and people there. (As I recall, I gave Justice Sosman a tout every time I spoke to anyone at length on the street or anywhere else.)
My walkabout inspired a catch-up phone call to my friend, Bob. Not having spoken in some time, we covered all the bases, including about that thing called relationships. The alley behind Main Street Market led to Keyes Road and, a quick turn sought cleverly (or maybe not…) put me on Main Street westbound. Businesses gave way to houses and Concord Academy. Eventually, a curious purple sign greeted me.
Not surprisingly, I followed the sign. Houses soon gave way to businesses again, and the Concord Depot, befittingly, located on Thoreau Street. With a beautiful mural on the trainbound side, the Depot was still in use as a coffee shop and other businesses, and still other businesses, including New London style Pizza and a French Restaurant lined the other side of Thoreau Street. A Starbucks appeared at Sudbury Road opposite the Mobil Station. But those chains did not seem woefully out of place or casting pallor.
The sun gradually lowered in the sky, a chill entered the air-signals that I would eventually have to head for Hartford again. So, I walked back up Sudbury Road to downtown-a healthy mix of Victorians and Colonials (assuming I remember my architecture correctly)-aspirationals and inspirationals for ideal homes and spaces. Main Street soon appeared, and the Concord Free Public Library sat on the southwest corner. If it were open, I would have stopped in-the space looked magnificent from the outside. Books are friends and we deserve the right space to enjoy them-and the Concord Library looked like precisely that-with room to spare for history and culture.
Having fetched my jacket, I started looking for dinner. I wound up not searching very far, I was at Concord’s Colonial Inn in the Tap Room. Not having eaten of note (at least, I don’t remember having eaten) since breakfast, I was ready to eat. And I was a little chilled. I started with some soup and eventually opted for a burger-with NH Bacon. NH Bacon? New Hampshire Bacon? Yes, New Hampshire Bacon. There was some entertainment forthcoming, and, I inquired after but ultimately did not sing. The crowd was outgoing, and not surprisingly, I was able to hold court with them. (Which, I might add, is not a term from my lawyerly side. It is a term the Firemen used.) Coffee and dessert followed, and eventually, the clocked tolled 7:30, and it was time to head home.
The streets were empty but not deserted as I walked back to my car from Monument Square. To the contrary, traffic continued along Main Street/Route 62, and I was grateful for my jacket. The streets were also lit and there were businesses open, not many, but a few. The quiet wasn’t eerie-something I disdain in small towns and miss about New York. Concord therefore remained bright and felt special as I entered my Theresa (my car) and turned westbound for home.
Our story continues….
Route 62 remains a scenic tree-lined avenue all the way out of the Center, and will take you to West Concord, Maynard, and other points west. But, it was not my points west. I needed Route 2 again. So, I merged onto Elm Street, which did indeed bring me to Route 2 West-in the upper part of West Concord, on the other side of the Assabet River (the other river besides the Sudbury that flows into the Concord River in Concord.)
And we arrive finally at the abominable rotary. Concord has always been home to, well, well, well…It was first known as the Concord Reformatory, with its own railroad branch line (and now a rails to trails). Now it’s known as Massachusetts Correctional Institution (MCI)-Concord. And, sitting caddy corner to it is a State Police Barracks and the minimum security Northeastern Correctional Center, resembling a farm. And, lanes appear and disappear, Route 2 converges with Route 111 and Route 119, Barretts Mill Road diverges to one side, so does Commonwealth Avenue….It’s not fun to drive, especially for the first time at night. Hence the name “abominable rotary.” Concord gives way to Acton; Route 111 diverges to Boxborough. Ten minutes later, at Littleton, Route 2 connects to I-495, and is the beginning of the end, the way home, offering three wide lanes and the scenic views of the Wachusett range, a most pleasant ride to contemplate the day in Concord.
Joe Schneiderman is an attorney and a writer based in Connecticut.