Concord was a small town during the time of the Transcendentalists, and it’s still a small town today. A whiff of Old Money lingers in its air, and though there are certainly tourists in Concord, the town seems to have a somewhat ambivalent relationship to them, encouraging them to visit but not totally rolling out the welcome mat.
While its downtown can be crowded with visitors, its residential streets give the best sense of the true Concord—genteel, discreet, and dignified. Picket fences guard stately homes that bear plaques proclaiming the dates they were built and the names of their distinguished former residents.
Many visitors come to Concord to visit the Minute Man National Historic Park, which preserves the site of the first battle of the American Revolution on April 19, 1775. But I would guess even more come to town because of Concord’s connection to some of the best-known writers in American history: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Louisa May Alcott, and Nathaniel Hawthorne.
Concord, in short, is a place that reduces English majors to quivering, hyperventilating groupies.
The Transcendentalist Trail in Concord can be easily walked in a couple of hours, though you’ll want to allow much more time than that to visit the various sites. The Concord Museum is the best place to begin your tour. It provides an overview of the town’s Revolutionary War history as well as its literary flowering in the mid-nineteenth century. Its most prized holdings include the lantern immortalized by Longfellow’s poem Paul Revere’s Ride (“one, if my land, and two, if by sea”); the study of Ralph Waldo Emerson; and the world’s largest collection of artifacts associated with Henry David Thoreau, including the small desk on which he wrote Walden and Civil Disobedience.
Other major sites in Concord include Emerson House (home to Ralph Waldo); The Old Manse (famous because of its connection to Nathaniel Hawthorne); Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House (where she wrote Little Women); The Wayside (the home once occupied by the Alcott family, and later by Nathaniel Hawthorne); and Walden Pond (where Thoreau spent the two years that inspired his greatest masterpiece).
Concord also has a charming downtown that’s perfect for strolling. Bring your copy of Walden, buy yourself a copy of coffee, and soak up the atmosphere.