Colonial Inn, Concord, Mass

The Colonial Inn at Monument Square in Concord, around 1908. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

The Colonial Inn has long been a fixture here at the northern end of Monument Square in downtown Concord. It is actually comprised of three different buildings, constructed over the course of more than a century, that have been united into a single structure.  The property became the Colonial Inn in 1897, shortly before the first photo was taken, and it has remained in operation for nearly 125 years, with few significant changes to the exterior of the building from this view.

The oldest portion of the building is the right side, shown here in the foreground of these two photos. It dates back to around 1716, although it has since been heavily altered, including the addition of a mansard roof in the 1860s. It was originally owned by James Minot Jr., a prominent Concord resident who served in the colonial legislature and on the Governor’s Council. He was also an officer in the colonial militia, eventually rising to the rank of colonel during the French and Indian War. He died in 1759, and his teenage son Ephraim subsequently inherited the house. He owned it for about five years before selling it to his cousin, Dr. Timothy Minot.

During Dr. Minot’s ownership, he constructed what is now the central portion of the Colonial Inn, located just to the left of the original house. At the time, it was only one story in height, and the second story would not be added until 1800. Soon after its completion, this wing of the house was one of the places where the colonists stored munitions in advance of the Battle of Concord on April 19, 1775. The British evidently did not uncover this cache, and after the battle the house became a temporary hospital, with Dr. Minot caring for the wounded soldiers.

In 1780, Dr. Minot began renting the wing to John White, a Revolutionary War veteran who opened a general store here. In 1789, he sold this section of the property to White, and in that same year he sold the house on the right side to his son-in-law, Ammi White, a cabinetmaker who does not appear to have been directly related to John White. Ammi was also involved in the Revolutionary War, although he had a more controversial role. During the Battle of Concord he used a hatchet to kill a wounded British soldier, an act that has been various interpreted as either a barbaric scalping or a mercy killing.

Ammi White owned the house on the right for about a decade, before selling it to John Thoreau, the grandfather of famed Transcendentalist author Henry David Thoreau. John died just two years later, but the house remained in the Thoreau family for many years. His daughters ran a boarding house here, and for a time John Thoreau Jr.—Henry’s father—worked in the White store next door. The future author also lived here for a few years as a teenager, from 1835 to 1837.

In the meantime, John White expanded his property sometime between 1812 and 1820, with the construction of a house on the left side of his store. This became his residence, but in 1821 he sold both buildings to Daniel Shattuck, who continued to run the store here. However, Shattuck was also involved a number of other business ventures, including establishing the Middlesex Mutual Fire Insurance Company, the Concord Bank, and the Middlesex Institution for Savings. In addition, he served in both houses of the state legislature, and he was a colonel in the state militia.

Shattuck eventually acquired the house on the right side from the Thoreau family in 1839, marking the first time that all three buildings were simultaneously under the same ownership. By mid-century, Shattuck had retired from the dry goods business, and the former store in the central section was converted to residential use. He continued to live in the house on the left side until his death in 1867, but a few years earlier he gave the entire property to his daughter, Frances Surette. Her husband, Louis Surette, was a dry goods merchant, and they also operated a boarding house here, which they named the Thoreau House in an apparent attempt to capitalize on the name recognition of the former owners. During this time, their son Thomas Whitney Surette grew up here, and he later went on to become a noted musician and music teacher.

In 1889, the central and right-hand buildings were sold to John Maynard Keyes, who opened a hotel here. Then, in 1897 he acquired the house on the left and combined all three into a single building, which he named the Colonial Inn. The first photo, taken about a decade later, shows the eclectic mix of architectural styles that comprise the inn, with the original 1716 house on the right, the 1775 store to the left of it, and the early 19th century house on the far left, at the corner of Lowell Road.

The Colonial Inn has been here ever since, and over the years it has had a number of notable guests, including J.P. Morgan, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Sandra Day O’Connor, John Wayne, and Bruce Springsteen. Throughout this time, the inn has undergone further changes, including the addition of a large, modern wing on the rear of the building in 1960. From this view, though, the building has remained essentially unchanged since the first photo was taken, aside from the small addition on the right, and it stands as an important landmark in downtown Concord.

First Parish Church, Concord, Mass

The First Parish Church on Lexington Road in Concord, around 1895-1900. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library.

The scene in 2018:

Concord’s First Parish Church was established in 1636, just a year after the town itself was incorporated, and over the years it has occupied several different meetinghouses here in the center of town. The first two were built in the 17th century, and the third in 1712. This one would subsequently undergo several major reconstructions, but it was otherwise still standing when the first photo was taken sometime in the late 1890s.

When it was built in 1712, this church had neither a tower nor portico, and it was set on a different foundation. Despite its modest appearance, though, it served as Concord’s church for many years. Perhaps most significantly, it was temporarily used as the de facto colonial capitol building in October 1774. At the time, the British government had just disbanded the colonial legislature through one of the so-called Intolerable Acts. However, the elected representatives of the various towns ignored this decree and met here at the church in Concord, where John Hancock presided over the assembly, which was known as the Massachusetts Provincial Congress. The pastor of the church at the time was William Emerson, who served as the chaplain of the congress. He subsequently died during the American Revolution in 1776, but he is perhaps best known today as the grandfather of Ralph Waldo Emerson.

The original appearance of this church was fairly typical for New England meetinghouses of the period, with their plain, unadorned style reflecting Puritan beliefs about worship. However, by the late 18th century these ideas about church architecture had begun to change, giving rise to the iconic white-steepled churches that have long been a defining characteristic of small-town New England. However, traditional Yankee frugality still played a role in decision-making, and many of the old churches were simply remodeled instead of being demolished and rebuilt.

Such was the case here in Concord, where the old 1712 building was expanded by 12 feet and a 90-foot tower was added to it in 1792. An even more dramatic change came in 1841, though, when the church hired noted Boston architect Richard Bond to redesign the church in contemporary Greek Revival style. The result was the exterior that appears in the first photo, with its tower and front portico with four large Doric columns. This project also involved rotating the church so that it faced Lexington Road, and constructing a new, six-foot-high granite foundation. All of this work was done at a total cost of $8,300, equivalent to a little over $200,000 today.

The renovated church continued to be a prominent landmark in downtown Concord throughout the 19th century. During this time, Concord was at the height of its importance as a literary center, and its membership included Ralph Waldo Emerson, along with the family of Henry David Thoreau. However, Thoreau himself was not a member, and he made a point of refusing to pay the municipal tax that, at the time, helped to support the church. Despite this, Thoreau’s funeral was held here in the church in 1862, followed by Emerson’s 20 years later.

In 1900, the interior of the church underwent another remodeling, this time to prepare it for the celebration of the 125th anniversary of the Battle of Concord. This included repainting the interior, adding decorative woodwork, and installing electric lights. The whole project took several months, but it was essentially completed by the night of April 11, at a cost of $2,500. However, the building caught fire in the early morning hours of April 12, probably from the spontaneous combustion of rags that the painters had left behind. None of the other surrounding buildings were damaged by the fire, but the church was a total loss, leaving only a few salvageable items by the time the fire was extinguished.

In the aftermath of the fire, the church soon began efforts to replace it with a near-identical replica. Using the original 1841 plans, the architectural firm of Cabot, Everett and Mead designed a new church on the same site. There are a few minor differences between the two designs, including the slope of the roof and the details of the tower, and the new one has a vestibule behind the front portico. Overall, though, it was a a very faithful reproduction of the old church, and at first glace the two buildings are nearly identical. This 1901 church building is still standing today, and it continues to serve as an active Unitarian congregation nearly four centuries after the church was established.

Main Street, Concord, Mass

The view looking west on Main Street, from the corner of Lexington Road in Concord, around 1910-1920. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

These two photos were taken more than a century apart, from the small rotary at the intersection of Monument Road, Lexington Road, and Main Street in downtown Concord. The view is facing west down Main Street, showing a variety of low-rise commercial buildings, most of which date back to the 19th century. Aside from some obvious modern changes, such as an increase in automobiles on the road and a lack of trolleys in the present-day photo, remarkably little has changed in this scene, and most of the historic buildings here on Main Street remain well-preserved.

This block of Main Street was originally known as the Milldam. Starting in the 17th century, the site of the street was a dam across the Mill Brook, and over the years it steadily grew to include a variety of offices and stores on top of the dam itself. Then, in 1828 the Milldam Company was formed, and it purchased the land on either side of the dam. The pond was subsequently drained, the old buildings on the dam were demolished, and new lots were laid out. The result was new commercial buildings on either side of Main Street, and many of these are still standing today.

Starting on the far left side, the closest building to the foreground of the two photos is Garty’s Block, which came several decades after the milldam was reconstructed. It dates back to around 1870, and it originally had a Second Empire-style mansard roof, as shown in the first photo. This has since been removed, and the ground floor storefront has also been altered at some point in the 20th century, leaving only the second floor relatively unaltered from the exterior. Just to the right of it, at 15-17 Main Street, is a two-story building that once housed Alexander Urquhart’s bakery. It was constructed in 1898, replacing an earlier wooden structure on the same site, and it still stands today, with fewer dramatic changes than its neighbor to the left.

Further in the distance is a pair of two-story buildings with gabled roofs and high chimneys on their end walls. These features distinguish them from later 19th century commercial blocks, which tended to have flat roofs and less prominent chimneys. Both buildings were part of the Milldam Company’s redevelopment of the area, and they were constructed sometime around 1835. Like most of the other buildings here, the ground floors have been altered, but otherwise they have retained much of their original appearance.

Just beyond these two buildings, in the first photo, is a small two-story Italianate-style building that probably dated back to around the 1850s or 1860s. This is one of the few buildings from the first photo that is no longer standing; it was demolished by the early 1930s, when the present-day building—originally a First National Store—was constructed on the site. On the other side of it is the Davis-Richardson Block at 37 Main Street, which features a design similar to the nearby 1835 buildings. This block is slightly newer, though, having been built around 1845.

Some of the other 19th century buildings in this scene include the Friend’s Block, the two-story brick building that stands in the distance in the right-center of the photos, at the corner of Main and Walden Streets. It was built in 1892, making it one of the newer structures here on this section of Main Street. On the other side of the street, on the far right of both photos, is the Union Block at 18-26 Main Street. Like Garty’s Block across the street, it was built with a mansard roof, but in this case the roof has been retained, and the exterior of the building has not changed significantly over the years.

Although very little has changed here since the first photo was taken, this block of Main Street faced the possibility of demolition during the early 20th century. In the late 1920s, cement manufacturer Albert Y. Gowen purchased many of these properties, with the intention of demolishing all of them and replacing them with new colonial-style buildings. Gowen had been inspired by the newly-reconstructed Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia, and he hoped to create something similar here, with a Main Street lined with faux-colonial shops. However, this plan faced significant opposition, including from some of the property owners who refused to sell, and Gowen ultimately abandoned his plans. As a result, Concord continues to have a town center filled with authentic 19th century buildings, as opposed to entirely fabricated 18th century ones.

Wright’s Tavern, Concord, Mass (2)

Wright’s Tavern on Lexington Road in Concord, around 1900-1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

As discussed in more detail in the previous post, this building was constructed in 1747 as a tavern. It was originally owned by Ephraim Jones, but it changed hands several times during the mid-18th century. By the 1770s, it was owned by Daniel Taylor but operated by Amos Wright, whose name has come to be associated with the tavern because of several important events that occurred here at the start of the American Revolution.

In October 1774, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress met in Concord in defiance of the Intolerable Acts, which had dissolved the colonial legislature. The delegates met nearby in the First Parish Church, but they held committee meetings here at the tavern, in addition to visiting here for food and drink. About six months later, on April 19, 1775, the tavern became a gathering place for minutemen prior to the Battle of Concord, and later in the day it was briefly used as the headquarters of Major John Pitcairn, while he searched the town for munitions.

After the war, the tavern became a bakery, which remained in operation until 1831. From there, it went through a series of commercial tenants over the years before eventually being acquired and restored by the neighboring First Parish Church. The first photo was taken only a couple decades later, showing the tavern as it appeared at the turn of the 20th century. Since then, the tavern has remained largely the same, and it stands as one of the most historic buildings in Concord, having been designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1961.

Wright’s Tavern, Concord, Mass (1)

Wright’s Tavern, seen from Lexington Road in Concord, around 1910-1920. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

This tavern has stood at the center of Concord for nearly 275 years, since its construction in 1747. It was built by Ephraim Jones, who ran the tavern here for several years before selling the property to Thomas Munroe in 1751. After Munroe’s death in 1766, it was purchased by Daniel Taylor, and he went on to own it for the next nine years. During this time, in the years leading up to the American Revolution, the tavern served as a popular gathering place for locals. These included the militiamen who met regularly on the nearby training field for drills, as well as congregants from the neighboring First Parish Church.

The tavern came to be known as Wright’s Tavern because of Amos Wright, who was the proprietor during the mid-1770s. Although he did not own the property, he ran the tavern, and it was during his tenure here that several historic events occurred. The first of these came in October 1774, when the Massachusetts Provincial Congress met in Concord. Earlier in the month, the colonial legislature had been dissolved as part of the so-called Intolerable Acts, but its members ignored this directive and met anyway, convening in Concord on October 7. The Congress itself met in the First Parish Church, with John Hancock presiding, but the tavern was used for committee meetings, in addition to providing food and drink for the 300 delegates in attendance.

Just six months later, Wright’s Tavern again found itself at the center of revolutionary activities in Massachusetts. In the early morning hours of April 19, 1775, Concord minutemen gathered here in advance of the approaching British forces, which were attempting to seize colonial military supplies that were stored here in town. Later in the day, these minutemen retreated to the north of town, on the other side of Old North Bridge, where they fired the famous “Shot heard round the world.”

In the meantime, though, the British temporarily occupied the center of Concord, and Major John Pitcairn made the tavern his headquarters. From here, he dispatched search parties in a largely unsuccessful attempt to find the military supplies. He also reportedly ordered a drink here at the tavern, which he is said to have stirred with his finger while declaring that he would “stir the damned Yankee blood” in the same manner by nightfall. However, as it turned out, the colonial minutemen defeated the British at Old North Bridge, and Pitcairn and his men were forced to retreat to Boston. Pitcairn returned safely, but he was ultimately killed two months later at the Battle of Bunker Hill.

After the war, the old tavern became a bakery, with residential space for the baker on the upper floor. Starting in 1790, the bakery was run by Francis Jarvis, and it became a fixture here in the center of Concord for many years. Jarvis sold baked goods out of the building here, but part of his business also involved a wagon route that sold bread, pies, and other goods throughout the surrounding towns. His son, Francis Jr., was born here in 1794, and he would later become a partner in the bakery before taking it over from his father in 1824. The younger Francis operated the bakery for another seven years, before selling the property in 1831.

Over the next few decades, the building housed a variety of commercial tenants, ranging from the print shop to the manufacturer of Potter’s Hair Balm. By the late 19th century, the building was in poor condition, but in the 1880s it was purchased by Reuben Rice and former U.S. Attorney General Ebenezer Hoar, with the goal of preserving the historic structure. They then donated it to the First Parish Church, and it was subsequently converted back to its original use as an inn.

The first photo was taken around 30 years later, showing the old colonial-era tavern at the dawn of the automobile age. One such car is visible on the right side of the photo, with a group of occupants climbing into it, presumably after staying at the hotel or eating in its dining room. The exterior of the building is covered with a variety of signs, attesting to its historical significance as well as the amenities offered here. Another sign, located at the corner on the left side, indicates that it is an “Automobile Red Book Station.”

Today, around a century after the first photo was taken, the exterior of the tavern remains essentially the same as it did back then. It is still owned by the church, although it is no longer used as a hotel. Instead, part of the building is used by the Concord Museum for educational space, and another part of the building is occupied by two architectural firms. Because of its historical significance, the tavern was named as a National Historic Landmark in 1961, making it one of six sites in Concord to receive this level of recognition.

Martin Van Buren House, Kinderhook, New York

The Martin Van Buren house in Kinderhook, New York, around 1910. Image from The Village Beautiful, Kinderhook, N. Y. (1910).

The house in 2018:

Martin Van Buren was born in 1782 in Kinderhook, a small village in upstate New York about 20 miles south of Albany. He was the first American president to be born as a U. S. citizen, as all previous presidents had been born as British subjects prior to the Declaration of Independence. He came from an old Dutch family that traced its roots back to the former colony of New Amsterdam, and he grew up speaking Dutch as a child, making him the only president to learn English as a second language. Van Buren was born in his father’s tavern on Hudson Street, which is no longer standing, but he spent his later life in this house on the Old Post Road, residing here from 1841 until his death in 1862.

Although Van Buren is generally considered to be one of the more obscure American presidents, he was a shrewd politician who helped to form the basis for the modern Democratic Party. He held a number of political offices during his career, beginning in 1806 when he was elected as the fence viewer for Kinderhook. Despite its decidedly modest-sounding name, fence viewers played an important role in settling disputes between landowners, and Van Buren was subsequently appointed as a surrogate of Columbia County, which involved dealing with wills and estates.

In 1812, Van Buren was elected to the state senate, and he went on to serve as a senator until 1820. For part of this time he was also the attorney general of New York, serving in that capacity from 1816 to 1819. During his time in state politics, Van Buren became a powerful figure, and he was instrumental in setting up a New York political machine that came to be known as the Albany Regency. As a result of his influence, in 1821 the state legislature elected Van Buren to the United States Senate, choosing him over the incumbent Nathan Sanford.

Van Buren remained in the Senate until 1828, when he was elected governor of New York. He took office in Albany on January 1, 1839, but his term was very brief. During the fall elections, Van Buren had allied himself with Andrew Jackson, and in the process he had united former Democratic-Republicans in support of a single candidate, thus avoiding a repeat of the four-way debacle that had occurred in 1824. This move formed the modern Democratic Party, and Van Buren was rewarded in March 1829, when Jackson appointed him as his secretary of state. As a result, he resigned as governor on March 12, and he joined the Jackson’s cabinet later in the month.

After two years as secretary of state, Van Buren was appointed as minister to the United Kingdom in 1831. It was a recess appointment, and he traveled to London while Congress was still out of session. However, upon reconvening in early 1832, the Senate ultimately rejected his nomination, forcing Van Buren to return. Vice President John C. Calhoun had cast the tiebreaking vote against Van Buren in hopes of ruining his career, but it ended up having the opposite effect. Van Buren’s return to America put him in contention for the vice presidential nomination in the 1832 election, and in May the Democratic National Convention chose him to replace Calhoun on the ticket.

Andrew Jackson easily defeated Henry Clay in the general election, and Van Buren was inaugurated as vice president on March 4, 1833. Over the next four years, he remained one of Jackson’s most important advisors, and after Jackson declined to run for a third term, Van Buren became his logical successor for the 1836 election. He ran essentially unopposed for the Democratic nomination, and was the party’s unanimous choice at the convention. He went on to win the fall election, with the nascent Whig Party splitting their voters among four different candidates.

Despite his successful political career prior to the presidency, Van Buren’s single term as president was mediocre at best. It was largely defined by the Panic of 1837, an economic recession that began only months after he was inaugurated. His response to the crisis was largely ineffective, leading his Whig opponents to ridicule him as “Martin Van Ruin” during his 1840 re-election bid. This recession, combined with the growing strength of the Whig Party, doomed him in the general election, and he lost in a landslide to William Henry Harrison.

After leaving the White House in 1841, Van Buren returned home to Kinderhook, where he had purchased this house two years earlier. The home, originally known as Kleinrood, had been built around 1797 by Peter Van Ness, a judge on the Court of Common Pleas. Van Ness was in his early 60s at the time, and he was a veteran of the American Revolution, having served as a colonel in the state militia. He died here in 1804, and his son William Peter Van Ness subsequently inherited Kleinrood. William was also a judge, serving at the federal level as a United States District Court judge from 1812 until his death in 1826, at the age of 48. He owned this house for most of his time on the bench, but he ultimately lost it at auction in 1824, when it was sold to pay for a lawsuit judgment against him.

Kleinrood was purchased by William Paulding Jr., a former congressman who went on to serve as mayor of New York City from 1825 to 1826, and 1827 to 1829. Paulding lived in New York City, and he already had a summer residence in Tarrytown, so he never actually lived here. However, he owned Kleinrood for the next 15 years, including the house and the surrounding 137 acres. He evidently made few improvements to the property during this time, and it was in poor condition by the time he sold it to Martin Van Buren in 1839 for $14,000.

Prior to purchasing this property, Van Buren had never owned a house of his own. Nevertheless, he gladly took on the challenge of managing and improving a large farm, perhaps hoping to emulate earlier presidents such as Washington, Jefferson, and Jackson, all of whom were famous for their grand estates. Van Buren soon set about making changes and improvements, including changing the name from Kleinrood to Lindenwald. He also built stables and other outbuildings, and he made some alterations to the interior of the house. The most dramatic change inside the house was the removal of the original staircase, creating a central hall on the first floor that could be used for banquets and other large events.

When he moved into the house in 1841, Van Buren did not envision it as his retirement home. He was 58 years old at the time, and he hoped that he would be able to recapture the White House in 1844. However, he failed to receive enough votes at the Democratic National Convention, in part because of his opposition to the annexation of Texas, and the party’s nomination ultimately went to James K. Polk. By the next presidential election, Van Buren had drifted even further from the party that he had founded, becoming a strong opponent of slavery. In 1848, he received the nomination of the Free Soil Party, and in the general election he received more than 10% of the popular vote, although he did not win any electoral votes. However, his candidacy likely cost Democrat nominee Lewis Cass the election by splitting the vote and allowing Zachary Taylor to win.

In the meantime, Van Buren continued to improve Lindenwald, he and steadily grew the property through additional land acquisitions. The house itself also underwent an expansion, which occurred in 1849 after his youngest son, Smith Thompson Van Buren, moved into the house with his family. For this work, Smith hired noted architect Richard Upjohn, who designed an addition on the rear of the house. The most notable feature of this addition was a five-story Italianate-style tower, which stands on the left side. Overall, though, Upjohn’s alterations were probably not among his best works. The result of his work was a rather muddled blend of architectural styles, with the house featuring elements of Federal, Gothic, and Italianate architecture.

Martin Van Buren had been a widower since the death of his wife Hannah in 1819, at the age of 35. Smith’s wife Ellen similarly died young in 1849, shortly after they moved to Lindenwald and before the addition was completed. However, while the former president never remarried, his son Smith married for a second time in 1855, to Henrietta Eckford Irving. Smith and Henrietta continued to live here at Lindenwald until 1862, when Martin Van Buren died here in his bedroom on the second floor. Smith and his family subsequently moved to Beacon, New York, and the house was sold out of the family in 1864.

Over the next decade, Lindenwald continued to be operated as a working farm, although it changed hands three more times by 1874, and none of these owners personally lived here. Then, in 1874 it was purchased by brothers Adam and Freeman Wagoner, who lived in the house and ran the farm. Adam ultimately gained sole possession of the property, and he owned it until 1917. The first photo was taken during his ownership, showing the exterior of the house as it appeared in the early 20th century. Both the house and the surrounding grounds were well-maintained, and the house was flanked by tall white pines on either side of the photo.

After Wagoner sold Lindenwald in 1917, it went through several more ownership changes over the next 40 years. During this time, most of the land was sold off, leaving only 13 acres by 1945. The condition of the house itself also declined, and it was altered in the late 1950s by the addition of a two-story columned porch on the front. This porch was vaguely reminiscent of the one at Mount Vernon, but it hardly matched with the rest of the house, and instead only added to the architectural confusion of its design. The owner who added the porch was an antique dealer, and around the same time he also opened a shop here on the property.

The house steadily deteriorated until 1973, when it and the surrounding 13 acres were purchased by the National Park Service. A year later, the Martin Van Buren National Historic Site was established here, and the house was subsequently restored to its appearance when Van Buren lived here. It opened to the public in 1988, and more than 30 years later it continues to be run by the National Park Service, with few significant differences in its appearance since the first photo was taken over a century ago.