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The thinking pilot's getawayThe thinking pilot's getaway

Concord, MassachusettsConcord, Massachusetts

Editor's note: Stop by Concord for some exploring on your way to or from AOPA's Groton, Connecticut, Fly-In Oct. 6 and 7.

You’d expect a town near Boston to be of critical importance to early American history. Concord is that and much more. It’s the site of the first battle of the American Revolution, which took place on April 19, 1775. The historic sites, structures, landscapes, and ideas embodied in the start of the revolution are preserved for us all in Minute Man National Historical Park.

  • At Minute Man National Historical Park, the opening battle of the Revolution is brought to life as visitors explore the battlefields and structures associated with April 19, 1775, and witness the American revolutionary spirit through the writings of the Concord authors. Here, "Minute Men" march in a reenactment of the Revolutionary War's first battle, performed each April. Photo courtesy NPS.
  • Each April, the first battle of the Revolutionary War is reenacted in Minute Man National Park. Here, British soldiers march toward battle. Photo courtesy NPS.
  • The battle is on! Colonial militiamen pursue the British column. Photo courtesy NPS.
  • During the annual Dawn Salute Ceremony each April 19, the Concord Minute Men and Concord Independent Battery observe the opening battle of the American Revolution with a 21-gun salute, using authentic muskets and cannons from the 1840s. Photo courtesy NPS.
  • Minute Man Airfield is home to Aptis Aviation flight school. Their Cessna 172RG is pictured here. Photo courtesy Aptis Aviation.
  • Among the historic houses inside Minute Man National Historic Park is the Wayside House, which dates back to at least 1717. It was home to Minuteman Samuel Whitney during the battles of Lexington and Concord, to scientist and Harvard professor John Winthrop (who influenced Benjamin Franklin), and to Louisa May Alcott and her sisters until the Alcott family sold it to Nathaniel Hawthorne, author of “The Scarlet Letter.” Photo courtesy NPS.
  • Stop by the Orchard House, where Louisa May Alcott wrote the classic book “Little Women,” for a guided tour. Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
  • Walden Pond State Reservation protects the pond made famous by Henry David Thoreau. An accomplished naturalist, Thoreau devoted himself to understanding the flora, fauna, and waters in his neighborhood, down to the tiniest detail. In his journals over 24 years he meticulously recorded the exact dates when the ponds froze and unfroze, certain birds arrived and left on yearly migrations, flowers bloomed, and more, creating a time capsule that scientists are using to study today’s changing climate. Photo by Eric T via Flickr.
  • Harvard-educated and extremely well-read, Henry David Thoreau nevertheless shunned the pursuit of wealth. He valued personal freedom above possessions and pitied those who worked long hours to pay for their mortgages, furniture, and fancy clothes. Thoreau’s intention, when he moved to Walden Pond, was to live as simply as possible. His needs reduced to an absolute minimum, he was free to read and write, but mostly absorb the beauty of his surroundings. Photo by Amy Meredith.
  • Thoreau squatted at Walden for two years in a small cabin he built of reclaimed wood (Emerson, his mentor, owned the land). He tilled a field of beans for food and income, keeping track of his expenses to the tenth of a penny. Photo by Angela N via Flickr.
  • Many famous writers, including Thoreau, are buried at the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery on a hill called “Author’s Ridge.” (This is not Washington Irving’s famous Sleepy Hollow; that’s in New York.) Daniel Chester French, who sculpted the Lincoln Memorial, Minute Man Statue, and the cemetery’s beautiful Melvin Memorial, is also buried here. Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson’s grave in Sleepy Hollow. Ephraim Wales Bull, who lived on a farm next door to the Alcotts, is also buried here. In 1884 Bull set out to create a grape that could withstand extreme New England winters. Some five years and 22,000 seedlings later he had produced the Concord grape, a large sweet variety. Alas, competing growers purchased vines from Bull at $5 each and so flooded the market that Bull saw little reward for his labors. His epitaph reads “He Sowed, Others Reaped.” Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
  • Birders will enjoy the Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, a wetlands conservation area in two units and home to numerous waterfowl and other birds. Access the Concord Unit via Route 62 east from Concord center to 183 Monsen Road. Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
  • Concord’s Colonial Inn offers 56 unique guest rooms in four areas. Choose from the historic main inn, which dates back to 1716, the more modern-style Prescott wing, Rebecca’s guest house across the street, or a two-bedroom cottage behind the main inn. Enjoy afternoon tea in the Thoreau Room. Photo courtesy Concord’s Colonial Inn.
  • Woods Hill Table sources most of its ingredients from the local area, including this grilled chicken with cippolini onions, kale, crispy potatoes, and buttermilk. Photo by White Loft Studio.

Through the centuries, Concord has been inhabited by many deep thinkers. Some of them became our most important and beloved writers, including Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Louisa May Alcott, and Nathaniel Hawthorne, among others. Centuries have passed, but the ideas spawned here continue to inspire people worldwide. And through the foresight of Concord’s residents, the birthplaces of these ideas have been thoughtfully preserved for succeeding generations. Today, you can still see Walden Pond as Thoreau saw it in 1845. Walk the same shoreline and see the autumn leaves reflected in the quiet water. The surrounding forest is alive with birdsong; the “wildness” he wrote of remains intact. Visit the home where Alcott wrote Little Women, and explore anew the writings of Emerson and his philosophy of Transcendentalism as elucidated in his seminal 1836 work, Nature.

Prices are high at Laurence G. Hanscom Field, making Minute Man Air Field an attractive alternative. Besides, Minute Man is home to Nancy’s Airfield Café, one of the area’s most popular dining spots, serving classic American cuisine with a great view of the runway. From the airport it’s just a 17-minute drive east to Concord. Minute Man National Historical Park stretches along North Great Road, and you can walk the paved path to numerous historic houses as well as the site where Paul Revere was captured. A visitor’s center is near the east end of the park. The aforementioned homes and two park visitor’s centers are open April through November only; the grounds are always open sunrise to sunset.

Beneath the Minute Man statue by Daniel Chester French is engraved the first stanza from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Concord Hymn: “By the rude bridge that arched the flood; Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled; Here once the embattled farmers stood; And fired the shot heard round the world.” Photo by Dave Pape.

Next, you can tour the Orchard House, where Alcott wrote Little Women, and then continue west to the Concord Museum, which displays significant local artifacts like the famous Revere lantern, militia weaponry, a re-creation of Emerson’s study, and most of Thoreau’s possessions. Next you’ll come to the Emerson House, where the writer lived from 1835 until his death in 1882. Turn north on Monument Street toward the North Bridge section of Minute Man National Historical Park. There you’ll find the Old Manse, home to Emerson and Hawthorne, as well as the Minute Man statue, the monument beside the bridge with Emerson’s “shot heard ‘round the world” stanza from the Concord Hymn, and the North Bridge visitor’s center.

Thoreau’s classic book, Walden, continues to inspire readers worldwide to appreciate nature while also serving as an antidote to consumerism. The pond and shoreline are protected as Walden Pond State Reservation, and the site of Thoreau’s cabin is marked by four granite columns. A replica of the cabin is near the parking lot, and there are hiking trails around the pond. Another excellent site for quiet contemplation is the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, the final resting place of many famous Concordians. Birders will enjoy the Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, home to numerous waterfowl and other birds.

Fall is the perfect time to visit Walden Pond. The crowds have left and the leaves are turning. Photo by Angela N via Flickr.

The North Bridge Inn is just off Monument Square in downtown Concord. The B&B has six spacious suites, each with a kitchen, queen bed, and airy floral motifs. Concord’s Colonial Inn dates back to 1716. Thoreau stayed in one of the suites, though the Jacuzzi probably wasn't available then!

Woods Hill Table bills itself as organic, sustainable, and thoughtful, and that it is, with most of the food procured at local family farms. Halibut ceviche, raw cheeses with local jam, or a splendid charcuterie selection will get you started, and you can follow with pasture-raised chicken, beef, or pork, or line-caught hake, among other selections. The restaurant 80 Thoreau presents the finest of New England ingredients and traditions, embellished with French techniques.

As the quiet season approaches, why not take a thought-provoking New England trip? See the places where America started, and where some of our most celebrated authors lived and worked, as you mull over again the ideas they introduced you to, years ago.

The North Bridge Inn is just off Monument Square in downtown Concord. A full hot breakfast is included. Photo courtesy North Bridge Inn.

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Crista Worthy

Crista V. Worthy

Crista V. Worthy has been flying around the United States with her pilot-husband Fred and their children since 1995, and writing about fun places to fly since 2006. She has single-engine land and sea ratings. Her favorite places to explore are the backcountry strips of Idaho and Utah's red rock country. She currently lives in Idaho and serves as editor of The Flyline, the monthly publication of the Idaho Aviation Association.
Topics: US Travel

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