Concord, Massachusetts was a incubator for enlightenment and philosophy during the early to mid-nineteenth century. Key members of America’s transcendentalist movement and other writers called Concord home, including Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Louisa May Alcott and her father, Amos Bronson Alcott, and Nathaniel Hawthorne. The town is steeped in literary history, reminiscent of idealistic thinkers and writers.
On my recent trip to Boston for my birthday, I spent a day in Concord. I had been wanting to visit this place- this place where some of my favorite and most influential writers have lived- for some time. I share a birthday with Henry David Thoreau, so it seemed appropriate to visit, where he lived and wrote, just a few days after our birthday.
My boyfriend and I were dropped off at Walden Pond, where Thoreau built his cabin in the woods and lived for two years, detailed in his book Walden. Getting out of the car, I found myself looking at a replica of Thoreau’s cabin at the edge of the parking lot. I was immediately submerged in a place I had imagined and read about. Reality never quite aligns with fantasy, but it does allow for tangible experience. In Walden, Thoreau described the small room where he lived with a bed and desk and a few chairs. The replica was set up much the same and I found it even smaller quarters than I imagined.
We followed a path down to the pond, where countless sunbathers laid on the beach and children swam in the water. Much of the perimeter of the pond was littered with people, certainly not the tranquil atmosphere I expected, but it was a Sunday in the middle of the summer. A lifeguard directed us to a path that led to the site of Thoreau’s cabin. We followed it through the woods at the edge of the pond, finding the site marked with stones in the shape of a square just up a hill near the water.
You look at the spot where Thoreau lived, on land owned by Emerson, and imagine the replica cabin sitting there and Thoreau waking up each morning, rambling down to take in the splendor of the pond- probably unspoiled by sunbathers listening to loud music- and you think, that guy was onto something. He kind of had it figured out.
From Walden Pond, things got a little tricky. We didn’t have a car and the only way to see Orchard House, about two miles from the pond, was by Lyft or on foot. Turns out, Lyft’s are a little more difficult to come by in the small town of Concord than Boston or Atlanta. I found two older gentleman in the Thoreau Society Gift Shop nearby, who reminded me of Statler and Waldorf from the Muppets.
“It’s too far to walk,” one of them said. “There’s no sidewalk.”
“There is a trail,” the other said, apparently more confident in our bipedal abilities. “Thoreau’s Path at Brister’s Hill.”
That sounded promising and on-theme. “Great, how do I get there?” I asked.
Thus, we relied on Apple Maps, which took us straight to Brister’s Hill, near the Emerson-Thoreau Amble, which leads to Emerson’s house. I have to say, I felt pretty good about finding a route (somewhat) blindly to get around this town I had never been to. Also, seeing it on-foot and following a path that Thoreau and Emerson could have taken to visit each other (at the very least, covering the same area of the woods), added to the experience of visiting Concord.
While the Concord in my mind is a historic place with dirt roads, horses and old New England houses, today Concord is a suburb just thirty minutes outside of Boston. The history is palpable- old homes, churches and cemeteries with the occasional Starbucks and McDonald’s sprinkled in. Modern citizens of the town rub elbows with the history as they go about their lives. To be honest, Concord isn’t the best place for walking- at least from Walden Pond- however, I saw a lot of locals biking. Apparently road biking is a popular hobby in Concord.
By the time we reached Orchard House, we were both pretty sweaty and hot from the walk, but I was happy to finally see the home where Louisa May Alcott lived and wrote Little Women. The same house that’s in multiple film adaptations of the book, sits on a road with a parking lot and signs out front, a juxtaposed piece of the towns heritage that remains intact.
The tour of Orchard House was a highlight of the trip and something I would recommend to any fan of Alcott, Transcendentalism or history. Most of the furniture and items inside the house actually belonged to the Alcott family- Louisa May, her mother, father and three sisters. It almost felt like we were trespassing, the house was so intact. It became clear pretty fast that her family significantly inspired the characters and situations in Little Women. Her parents were forward-thinking people, who encouraged the girls to follow their passions, something uncommon for women of the era. Louisa May’s father built her a writing desk, which is still in her old room. Serendipitously, our guide informed us that day we visited Orchard House was the same day Alcott completed Little Women, 150 years prior.
The rest of our day in Concord was spent eating lunch and meandering around the historic downtown area. We caught a 4:30 p.m. commuter train back to Boston, which we found out through local shop owners, has no ticketing area. We just hopped on when it stopped at the station and paid when an attendant came around.
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