“When, hereabouts, a single forest tree or a forest springs up naturally where none of its kin grew before, I do not hesitate to say…that it came from a seed…It remains then only to show how the seed is transported from where it grows to where it is planted. This is done chiefly by the agency of the wind water and animals.” —Henry David Thoreau, An Address on the Succession of Forest Trees (1860)
“Crossing a bare common, in snow puddles, at twilight, under a clouded sky, without having in my thoughts any occurrence of special good fortune, I have enjoyed a perfect exhilaration. I am glad to the brink of fear.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature (1836)
Concord’s Monument Square, in the Concord Monument Square-Lexington Road Historic District, is a good vantage point for touring several sites significant to the life of Henry David Thoreau. Thoreau is often mistakenly portrayed as the “Hermit of Walden.” In reality, he had deep ties to the town and spent a good amount of time interacting with the Concord community. Although he could be frustrated with his fellow townsmen, and was sometimes caustic in his descriptions of them, he nevertheless participated in Concord life in a variety of ways. His experiences in and around Monument Square and the town common show his involvement in town life and interaction with his fellow Concordians.
At times, his family both lived and worked on the common. After graduating from Harvard College in 1837, Thoreau taught children at the schoolhouse on the northwest end of the common. He abandoned his teaching post there because of the school’s policy on corporal punishment. In 1845, he spent a night in the jail on the west side of the common, arrested for non-payment of taxes. A marker notes his arrest and his famous subsequent essay, Civil Disobedience.
Like Emerson, Thoreau first practiced his written essays as speeches before local audiences at the Concord Lyceum in a free lecture series sponsored by the town. Many of these lectures took place in public buildings on the common, including the Masonic Hall and the Town House. Thoreau gave a total of 19 talks at the Concord Lyceum between 1838 to 1860, covering a wide range of topics. Several bore a relationship with his observations of nature in Concord, including Concord River (1845); White Beans and Walden Pond (1849); The Wild, or: Walking (1851); Autumn Tints (1859); and Wild Apples (1860). He presented his speech on forest succession (excerpted above) to the Middlesex Agricultural Society on September 20, 1860, in the Town House.
The Concord Monument Square-Lexington Road Historic District is also rich with colonial history. Established in 1635, it was one of the first English settlements founded away from the coast. The oldest remaining building in town was constructed around that same time and is thought to have belonged to a town founder, Reverend John Jones. During the years leading up to the American Revolution, Concord was a hotspot for colonial unrest. The First Massachusetts Provincial Congress took place in 1774 on a site that the First Parish Church Meeting House occupies today; the John Hancock-led Second Congress was also held there in 1775. Shortly after the Second Congress, the British marched into Concord intent on destroying a gun powder cache, arresting Hancock and Samuel Adams in the process. Soldiers marched through Concord, down what is today Monument Street, occupying the town. The Bullet Hole House on Monument Street north of the square is named for the damage done to it during the first day of Revolutionary conflict at North Bridge on April 19, 1775. According to legend, this is where the famous “shot heard 'round the world” (as described by Emerson in his 1836 poem Concord Hymn) was fired.
The 19th century saw the arrival of many of the historic buildings that define the historic district today. The town sponsored the construction of the Concord Town House for government use in 1851. Bronson Alcott famously voted for Abraham Lincoln at the Town House, though he did not believe in government, and Emerson used a room in the Town House as a study after his own home was damaged in a fire. The homes of the Emersons, Alcotts, and Hawthornes are located nearby. In the early 20th century, the Concord Art Association was formed and moved into the John Ball House. Concord Monument Square was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1977.
Concord’s Monument Square in the Concord Monument Square-Lexington Road Historic District is a town square located in downtown Concord, Massachusetts. Several roads run around it, including Lexington Rd., Bedford St., Massachusetts Route 62, and Lowell Rd. In the square are several religious buildings, inns, and a town hall. Monument Square is a block north of the Concord Visitor Center, which is at 58 Main Street. The center offers public restrooms and guided tours, which are available seasonally. Call ahead for group tours. For more information, visit the Concord Chamber of Conference website.
To discover more Massachusetts history and culture, visit the Massachusetts Conservation Travel Itinerary website.