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In Concord with Emerson and Thoreau as guides

By Maria LenhartStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / April 1, 1980



Concord, Mass.

When entering this peaceful village with its graceful Colonial homes and churches, meadows gently rolling out to the even more gentle river, and its overriding sense of 345 years of history comfortably blended in with the present , travelers often feel that they have been to Concord before.

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This is particularly true if they have read some of the most vivid and alluring recollections ever written about a town -- the writings of Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, and the Alcotts. True, the town has grown a bit from the 2, 000 noted in Thoreau's journal, and the main street, still known as the Mill-dam , is paved and crowded with cars. But the essence described -- and to a large part created -- by its 19th-century writers-in-residence can still be found.

It is sought yearly by thousands of pilgrims who tramp through the Old Manse, where Nathaniel Hawthorne spent three euphoric years; Emerson's stately, white-clapboard house; the period rooms of the Museum of the Concord Antiquarian Society, which include the furnishings of Henry David Thoreau's Walden House; the rambling Wayside, which has fostered at least three literary successes; and, of course, the Alcotts' Orchard House, where "Little Women" was both created and set.

It is also sought by walking along Walden Pond -- it helps to hurry past the parking lot and picnic grounds to the site of Thoreau's "tight shingled and plastered house," where "every morning was a cheerful invitation to make my life of equal simplicity." Or by canoeing down the Concord River, where Hawthorne, aside from calling it "the most unexcitable and sluggish stream that ever loitered imperceptively toward its eternity," enjoyed observing the white lilies floating on its surface and the eels, speckled frogs, and mud turtles lurking beneath.

Hawthorne had ample opportunity to observe the river, because the Old Manse, to where he took his bride, Sophia, in 1842, is next to it. The homestead, built in 1765 for Emerson's grandfather, welcomes visitors during spring and summer, who can still see the phrases etched by Sophia in the dining room windows with her diamond ring. Originally painted white, by Hawthorne's day it had weathered to its present somber gray that the occupant admired. "To repaint its revered face would be a real sacrilege," he wrote in his journal. "It would look like old Dr. Ripley in a brown wig."

According to his journal, Hawthorne spent his three years in the Old Manse reveling in the pastoral setting and enjoying such household charms as the ghost that made rustling noises in a corner of the parlor each evening. Hawthorne explored Walden Pond and the river with his good friends Emerson and Thoreau, but, for the most part, shunned the frequent visitors to Emerson's house, calling them "queer, strangely-dressed, oddly behaved mortals, most of whom took upon themselves to be important agents of the world's destiny, yet were simply bores of a very intense variety."

He also had little interest in the historic Revolutionary battleground just to the left of the Old Manse, a prime tourist attraction then and now. Even here, at the site of Concord's important role in the Revolution, the town's literary influence is felt. North Bridge, leading over to Daniel Chester French's Minute Man statue, has been known as "the rude bridge that arched the flood" ever since Emerson wrote the "Concord Hymn" in honor of the monument's dedication in 1837.

Emerson's importance to Concord is evident throughout the town. Not only was he on hand to immortalize the monument, but he wrote and presented the dedication speech for the public library in 1873 and the consecration speech for Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in 1855.

Today French's imposing statue of Emerson dominates the library's first floor , and original manuscripts and early editions of his and of other Concord authors are housed in glass cabinets all around the room. On Authors' Ridge in Sleepy Hollow, tourists visit the graves of emerson, Hawthorne, Thoreau, and the Alcotts.