A Walk in The Past: Remembering… and not Remembering



The arrival of winter these days doesn’t always mean a dump of snow. But the temperatures and the trees and the sunlight for sure let us know we have reached this reflective point in the passage of our seasons. A walk in nature can often be a great tonic for the mind and body and to me, the best ones have a nice helping of history built in.

You can pick up the Reformatory Branch Trail either where Lowell and Keyes Rd intersect or where it crosses Monument St right near Bartlett Hill Rd. ( see map LINK below)
This pleasant walking trail is built along an original railbed of the Middlesex Central Railroad which opened in 1873 running from Lexington to Bedford and Concord.

About ¼ of a mile east of the Monument Street crossing there is a granite monument inscribed “Across these fields passed the Colonial Militia – North Bridge to Merriam’s Corner – April 19, 1775”. This marks the route that the Minutemen took after the battle at the Old North Bridge as they took a shortcut to try to head off the Regulars and surprise them at Meriam’s Corner. This spot is well-marked and easy to see.

Further along, the walk as you pass the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery Knoll I suggest taking a stroll down to it. In the middle of the Knoll, you will find a single granite marker that has a simple yet vague reference to “favorite home to the people who lived by the rivers”. In fact, a series of excavations uncovered a long history of indigenous life in the area including both a fire pit from 7000 years ago to the floor of a dwelling from as late as the 1600s. Many spear points, gouges, and grinding mortars have all been unearthed in this area indicating the field was a widespread workshop area with many stations of tool making. The workstations utilized stones from the seacoast, present-day New Hampshire, and as far as upstate New york state indicating the far-flung trading network of these indigenous peoples.

As you make your way back to the main trail you will pass through an area noted on your map as Peter Spring Farm and continue towards the Waste Water Treatment Plant and the beginning of Great Meadows. In the area, self-emancipated formerly enslaved people and the first generations of free Concord African American townsfolk sought to build their lives on the edge of a community that was less than welcoming. Peter Hutchinson and his large family were the last black residents of this area being bought out in 1868  by the wealthy land speculator John Keyes who was aware of the coming railroad spur and the profit that could come with it.

Feel free to continue on the trail deeper into Great Meadows but as you do perhaps take a moment to reflect on how we are remembering the history of our town. Consider these three areas we have encountered on our walk. First,  Revolutionary Concord is well-noted and carefully marked. Second, Indigenous history was alluded to but in a vague almost mythical way. Finally, the story of our African American townsfolk here was not noted at all.

It’s something we are working on and have to do better at. We are lucky The Robbins House exists but we can’t stop there.  We must work harder to integrate these stories deeply into how we tell our town’s history. We must be sure we are recognizing them, noting them, and publicly memorializing them. It’s on us to do better.“You have to know the past to understand the present.”- Sagan

TRAIL MAP here :
https://concordma.gov/DocumentCenter/View/29011/Reformatory-Branch-Trail-Guide

 

LEARN More about the history of this area:
https://robbinshouse.org/learn/

Joe Palumbo,  born and raised in Concord on a farm along Battle Road works as an interpreter and tour guide here in town. He is focused on sharing both the well know and the lesser-known local narratives as we work to broaden the story of our town.

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