Interviewed December 17, 2003
Concord Oral History Program
Renee Garrelick, Interviewer.
Click here for audio in .mp3 formatFamily life of the Page and Grace Browne, growing up at 177 Barnes Hill Road- the only house on Barnes Hill Road then. Realtor Beth (Mrs. David) Baldwin- informality of real estate business then, other women realtors who worked out of their house.
My parents, Grace and Page Browne, were married in 1929. After an extended wedding trip to Europe, they arrived back in Boston on the steamer and came directly to Concord where my father had rented a house, known as Miss Pride's house, which is still at the top of Ripley Hill Road off Monument Street. This house had been built by Mr. Stedman Buttrick, Sr. for the governess who had brought up his children after his wife died in childbirth. When Miss Pride retired, Mr. Buttrick built this house for her. On the brass knocker I think still to this day you can see the words, "Pride". At any rate, my mother and father lived there for six happy years until I was born, and there was no longer enough room for me and my older brother. So my father bought the brick house that is still standing at 177 Barnes Hill Road, and that is where I grew up.
At that time in 1936, that was the only house on Barnes Hill Road. To be sure it's not the biggest street in the world but it's probably a mile long. Today I counted ten houses on that street. So quite a difference there.
The real estate broker that found Miss Pride's house and also my parents' house on Barnes Hill Road for my dad was Mrs. David Baldwin of Concord. The real estate business in those days was run on a very informal basis compared to today. She operated out of her home as did her successors, Mrs. Horace (Beth) Arnold and then followed by Mrs. Winthrop (Barbara) Lee. They all operated out of their homes too right up into the 1970s. There were some other real estate brokers like Fred T. Boyd who had offices downtown. These were the prominent real estate people in Concord at the time. Beth Baldwin showed my dad the Pride house and then later our house on Barnes Hill Road.
Looking back to the neighborhood and what it was like, my earliest recollections are from the late 1930s and the 1940s. The neighbors that we had obviously were quite a bit further away than neighbors are today. Some of those neighbors were Mr. & Mrs. Raymond Emerson, who lived at end of Estabrook Road on the site where the Rasmussen house is now. Mr. Emerson was a huge landowner in Concord. He may have been Concord's largest landowner at that time. He owned most of the Estabrook Woods, at least the largest part, along with the Buttrick family and the Robb family at that time.
Mr. Emerson, who was Ralph Waldo Emerson's grandson, not only from that perspective but for many other reasons, was a totally fascinating person for a small boy in Concord at that time. He was a man of many parts. He loved horseback riding and kept a stable of three or four horses. He loved pistols, rifles, hunting, firearms, and dynamite. He often removed stumps with sticks of dynamite, and this is why he only had eight fingers on his hand, which was very exciting to me. He also knew how to fly an airplane, and he made his fields available to the Concord Police Dept. for their target practice. I often used to go up there and use either his pistols or my pistols and shoot right along side members of the Concord Police Dept. I often rode horseback before breakfast with Mr. Emerson. This is one of my keenest memories. He was a very aggressive rider. He used to like to tear along at a very brisk pace usually a gallop, and he had a crop or whip that he carried which was a long stick with a "cat-of-nine-tails" at the end of it, which he would use not on the horse but to knock overhanging branches on the trail out of the way. So it was quite a lusty experience to ride horseback through the Estabrook Woods with Mr. Emerson. At the end of those rides, we would come back and tie up our horses and go into his house and his cook would serve us a wonderful big breakfast usually pancakes with syrup and some eggs and bacon on the side. Those were wonderful memories. He also was an avid hunter, and he used to go out West frequently to shoot mountain lion. On one occasion he had killed the mother and he found the cub and brought it back and kept it as a pet until it got too big and then he had to turn it over to Benson's Wild Animal Farm up in Hudson, N.H.
Bert Newbury, who was a very good friend of Mr. Emerson's, referred to him as a good rough and ready surveyor. He surveyed many parts of the neighborhood. I can remember him out on a winter's day with his tripod and his clipboard usually with an assistant.
Other neighbors down the street were Mr. and Mrs. Stedman Buttrick, whose father had built what is now called the Buttrick mansion. His son, who was closer to my age, the third Stedman Buttrick, is living now in Concord and has all his life. The Buttrick farm, as we called it in those days, had one of New England's most outstanding gardens. It truly was a magnificent estate, and they had at all times during the summers two or three full-time gardeners. Mr. Buttrick was the president of the American Iris Society and every June when the irises were at their peak he would pitch a huge tent and there would be a gathering of members from far and wide. It truly was a grand showplace. It was kept right up to the nines at all times.
Another great gardener in Concord was our neighbor, Mrs. Russell Robb on Monument Street. She had another beautiful, large, extensive hillside garden which was maintained by professional gardeners under full-time payroll. She incidentally was the daughter of Edward Sylvester Morse, who was the director of the Peabody Museum in Salem back in the 19th century and later the Boston Museum of Natural History. He's prominently featured in a new book called "The Great Way" which is about the opening of Japan. He led a vanguard of other Bostonians in the late 1870s and 1880s who were interested in Japanese culture which was vastly disappearing, and they picked up many of the remnants of that culture which was being discarded by the new young Turks who had taken over the government of Japan and wanted to drag it into the 20th century. So a very prominent interesting family. I remember Mrs. Robb well. She was a very old lady when I first knew her. She was somewhat remote and stayed close to home. Her husband had died in 1927 and her brother, John Morse, lived on Ripley Hill Road in the first house on the left. I did know him quite well, and his wife, interestingly enough which I just found out, was the daughter of John Phillips Sousa, the famous band leader and composer.
Mrs. Robb was very welcoming to people to see her garden. As you drive up Monument Street at the lower end of her property where the wall starts, you can still see a little opening beautifully crafted in the stonewall and that was where the public could come in. You'd enter at the bottom of the garden at the bottom of the hill. She and her husband had built Concord's first swimming pool on their grounds, which as children we were privileged to have access to. The other swimming pool was over on Sudbury Road which was then ?? Wilson place where we also spent a lot of time. I think those were the only two swimming pools in Concord back in the ‘40s and ‘50s. Using the pools was by invitation. We felt lucky because these people were friends of my parents, and as long as we were on our best behavior we could go without asking permission.
The availability of domestic service in the ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s was widespread. This allowed for those who could afford it, although it was very inexpensive looking back, a much different and, if you will, gracious lifestyle. Growing up, we always had a cook. For many years we had a cook and a butler. When my brother and I were small, there was a baby's nurse who lived in as well and somebody outside a couple of days a week to look after the garden and lawn, etc. This gave the lady of the house a lot of leisure time. I'm always reminded of the fact that Anderson's Market which is in the brick building down in the center of the Milldam, had a fleet of delivery trucks. Either the cook or my mother would call in an order and they had a receptionist there on the phone called Nellie who was a great friend of ours, and she would write up the order and a couple hours later one of the delivery trucks would zoom up and deliver it and put it on the kitchen table. That made it a lot easier than going to the Stop & Shop or wherever.
The Economy grocery store was the other market in Concord center which I think was the predecessor of Stop & Shop. That was run by Frank and the butcher was Mr. ??? I also remember the butcher at Anderson's whose name was Jack, and historically in England butchers always wore straw boaters, and certainly Jack was never without his. He also had those green arm suspenders, I think they were called, to keep the cuffs away from the food. And they wore these big sort of leather armlets or something to protect their upper arms from the choppers, I guess. The Economy was on Walden Street where the lamp shop and the candy store are now. The First National Store was where the book shop is now. The only one who delivered was Anderson's. They were an outlet for S.S. Pierce and carried a line of their products which were premium brand. Everything that Anderson's had was premium. They had very, very fine meats and specialty items. They were much more expensive and of course the delivery feature added to the expense. That wasn't tacked on as an extra; you just got that as a service.
There were interesting characters of course down on Main Street. Right on the corner which is now the Harness Shop was Richardson's Drug Store, which when I was young was owned by Charles Voight. Then going down the street was a fruit store owned by two Greek brothers, and then Pete the barber was next, and then the Mary Curtis Shop which was started by Mary Curtis. It was unusual for a Concord woman to start a shop but she did it. She was unmarried and the daughter of Mrs. Alfred Curtis who lived in grand style on Lowell Road and who happened to be my godmother. Mary, or Mazie as we always called her, was a character and a wonderful person who did later marry but never had any children. Then the Battleground Restaurant and then there was a tavern down at the end where the real estate office is now. All I can remember was the sign that said "Rupert's on tap" and Rupert's was a type of ale. Various town characters in various stages of sobriety or inebriation would be hanging around there at different times.
Across the street Vanderhoof's was there then as it is now. Where Winston's is was where the 5 & 10 was. It was a very large store. At the end of school after the 2nd, 3rd, 4th grade years, my mother as a treat used to give us a $1.00 bill and let us loose at the 5 & 10 and we could come back with a whole bag of different goodies and stuff. One dollar went pretty far. The bank was where it is now although it was called the Concord National Bank.
Later on there were some other ladies who started shops such as Mrs. Polly Kussin. She was helped in that by her husband Bill, who was also an architect. He took that old building and did it over giving it a pleasing architectural face which is what you see now with the bay windows and the little shortened windows up top. Another lady who did that was Mrs. Newell Garfield who had the Tweed Shop on Lexington Road in her house. It's next to the Concord Art Association. It later became the Wool Shop run by a few Concord ladies.
Going back to the neighborhood just for a minute, it seems to me and maybe the passage of time hastens this of course and embellishes it, but my parents' cadre of friends were incredibly fascinating characters. I think in many cases they were. They were people of great talent and individuality. Down at the end of Barnes Hill Road at Lowell Road was the Hildreth House where Mr. & Mrs. Andrew Hepburn lived. He was chief architect of Colonial Williamsburg. When other architects had no business at all going into the ‘30s, he was flat out because that was when Mr. Rockefeller decided to restore the whole small city. He was a man of many parts. To me he was like Thomas Jefferson -- a reincarnation of Thomas Jefferson. He was distinguished, aristocratic looking, beautifully dressed, cultured, courtesy of manners, played the violin, and skied in Switzerland. There wasn't anything he couldn't seem to be able to do. Plus to design these magnificent buildings. One of which he did for his great friend another neighbor, Henry Laughlin who lived at the end of Monument Street and had bought most of Mr. Gardner Lawrence's beautiful farm in 1930s. Mr. Hepburn designed a recreation of a James River Georgian plantation house for Mr. Laughlin which still stands and in my opinion is unquestionably the most magnificent house in Concord. Few people ever see it because it stands at the end of a half-mile long driveway along the banks of the Concord River. It is a beautiful Georgian house with matching flankers on either wing connected with little hyphenated structures. It is a very large house and a magnificent setting. Mr. Laughlin was one of the heirs of the Jones & Laughlin Steel Corporation and came from Pittsburgh. He came to work here for Houghton Mifflin and later became president. His most famous find was Winston Churchill. He published all of Winston Churchill's books after World War II. He was a frequent visitor to No. 10 Downing Street when Mr. Churchill was Prime Minister and also later on at his home in Chartwell in Kent. There were many, many other famous people he knew and some of whom I've met over the years. He also owned a beautiful castle in County Cork in Ireland where we used to visit him. On one of those visits Lord and Lady Morin was staying with him. Lord Morin's real name was Charles Wilson, and he had been Winston's physician during the war. I'll never forget some of the fascinating stories that he told about Mr. Churchill during the war years.
The Robbs were very close neighbors and good friends. I mentioned old Mrs. Robb. Her son Russell Robb, who was the father of my friend and contemporary, Russell Robb III, lived in what was the old farmhouse and has now been fixed up into a private residence where Rusty Robb lives to this day. I think in some of Emerson's journals they talk about their Sunday walks, he and Thoreau, and they sometimes would repair to that farm to the lawn where there was a magnificent oak tree and they used to spread out under that oak tree to rest.
I remember we were playing at the Robbs in December of 1941 shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and Mr. & Mrs. Robb had two Japanese butlers whose names were George and Eddy. We were very fond of them. All of a sudden a couple of cars roared in and these men got out, and they turned out to be FBI agents. They tore up the back stairs into the house into George and Eddy's apartment. I don't know what they were looking for but they had obviously been directed to check out these Japanese nationals. I don't know but I suppose they were taken away. But that was the last we ever saw of George and Eddy to my chagrin because we were very fond of them.
As to the schools I attended, the first school I went to was the Brooks School which is still in operation although certainly in a different location. Gladys Brooks started the school down on lower Monument Street almost on the corner of Lang Street in a private house. Then the school moved to Wood Street. I was at the Monument Street location. From there I went to the Peter Bulkeley School on Stow Street, which is now senior citizen housing. Those were memorable and wonderful years. The school was operated according to a very strict regime. I can remember all of my teachers and their names. They were mostly all single women and who may have realized that if they were married, they would have to leave teaching. I think that was the custom. Miss Fontz, Miss Sheehan, Miss Fallon, and Miss Caine were my teachers for those first four grades. My father did not want to send me to a private school at that time because he felt it was very important for me to know people from all walks of life in Concord. It was enormously helpful to me to know so many people, many of whom are friends to this day. For the fifth grade he moved me to the Fenn School, which was quite a different experience. I think my happiest school years were at the Fenn School, grade 5 through 8 under the aegis and direction of Roger Fenn, who was a very gifted teacher and educator. He was a man who had very strong thoughts about how boys should be taught and guided. If asked who the two most important figures are or were in my upbringing, I would have to say Roger Fenn and my father. He stood for absolutely unyielding integrity but he wasn't a stern figure. He was a figure of fun and had wonderful humor. He was a devotee of science. He loved birds, the outdoors, and nature in all of its forms. He radiated all those things. He knew all the local neighbors and for hockey and skating we skated on neighbors' ponds because there were no rinks. We had our own pond known as Brown's pond, and there was the Ice Pond which is across the street on Lowell Road. There was Buttrick's pond, Punkatasset Pond and Emerson's pond. Because I lived close to four of them, my job in the morning before I went to school was to test the ice on these ponds and then tell Mr. Fenn which ones would be good for skating and that's where the hockey practice would be that afternoon. These were all private ponds and of course nobody cared. They were delighted to have the Fenn School come over and use their ponds.
When skiing season started, we would just tramp over the back side of hill behind Mr. Fenn's house on Carr Road and go up to Punkatasset and we could ski there at Gordon Hutchins' beautiful Punkatasset farm. The less skilled skiers would ski on the lower slopes which is on the right on the south side of Monument Street below what is now John Bemis's house and that was called Little Punk. It was Big Punk and Little Punk. Punkatasset Farm owned by Gordon Hutchins was a magnificent dairy operation. An operating farm to be sure but sort of a gentleman's farm too. He had a farm manager who lived in the small cottage next to it. I used to work there as a matter of fact. He had beautiful apple orchards and in the fall many of the neighbors' children would go to work for Mr. Hutchins for a week or two picking apples. I can remember at the end of picking season going up to the big house and he had a little office off the hall with a big roll top desk, and he would sit there and add up your time and he had cash and would pay you. A very kindly man who I remember with great affection.
We could swim down at his pond at Punkatasset. Usually we could drive down an old dirt road down there. There was a big barn and it was rare anybody would be there. We usually had it all to ourselves.
For recreation in those days, we really made our own. We could play tennis or golf over at Concord Country Club, and we could always get there by riding our bikes. There were no locks on bikes. I don't remember anybody that had a lock. During the war to conserve gasoline, my father bought a motor scooter that got 100 miles to a gallon. He used to commute from Barnes Hill Road to the Concord railroad station. When he got there, he would lean the bike up against the station right by the track, get on the train, and when he came home there would be the bike. It never crossed his mind that anybody would steal it. I remember when my oldest child parked his bike down on the Milldam in the late ‘60s, somebody stole it and I was aghast. I just couldn't believe that somebody would steal somebody's bike. Now you see these huge chains and combination locks that everybody has to tie their bikes up at all times.
My father was in the real estate management business and his company later became the Sheraton Corporation of America when they branched into hotels. One of his partners was Robert L. Moore, who lived on Nashawtuc Hill and whose son is Robin Moore, the writer who wrote The Green Berets and many other books. Robin used to work for the company for my dad. If you talk to Robin I think he would have nothing but kind words to say about his association with my dad. Robin still lives in his father's house along with his brother Johnny and their wives.
There was a lot of hunting in Concord back in those days. The population was much smaller of course and there was a lot more open land. Samuel Hoar, who lived over on Great Meadows Road, had painstakingly accumulated many deeds over time on what is now Great Meadows. He owned that personally, all the Great Meadows, and used it as a private shooting preserve. It seems odd today but that was the way it was. With his friends of whom my father was one he used to have these Saturday morning shoots down there for black ducks, mallards, and any kind of wild fowl of that nature. There weren't many geese in those days. There were lots and lots of muskrat over in the Great Meadows and through dad's friendship with Mr. Hoar we were allowed to go over there in the springtime. We'd paddle down the river from the Lowell Road Bridge which was owned by Henry Keyes where dad kept his canoe. We'd have a 22 rifle and we'd portage the canoe over the banks into the Great Meadows and float around in there looking for muskrats and shoot them. When we would get them, we would skin them and dad would take the pelts into Boston to some taxidermist or something and he would pay us $2.00 a pelt for them. Dad did a lot of fox hunting, but not fox hunting as we know it today on the back of a horse, but going after foxes with shotguns. I have a wonderful picture of my father with Sam Hoar and Henry Greenow who lived in Carlisle and ??? Foss, the four of them shooting fox. They're holding two dead fox by their tails. Also pheasants were plentiful. I'm amazed that all the pheasant have now left Concord because they were everywhere. You'd hear them in the fall. We used to hunt them and woodcock as well. I guess the pheasants have been replaced by the coyotes and wild turkeys. Certainly there were not wild turkeys at that time.
Talking about making our own fun, during the war years the gang of kids in our neighborhood formed our own personal army modeled on the U.S. Army of course and we used to drill up and down Barnes Hill Road. We would drill with broomsticks and homemade weapons that we made. There was hardly any traffic then.
One of the great memories of World War II had to do with German POWs. Fort Devens was the scene of a very large POW camp mostly for German soldiers who had been captured in North Africa. They had served in Rommel's Africa corp and they were crack troops no doubt. There were quite a few Italians too. Mostly it was Africa corp and they used to hire these POWs out to local farms. They came down to the McGrath farm on Barrett's Mill Road which was originally Colonial Barrett's house at the time of the Revolution. We would drive over and park and I remember them vividly and they were harvesting potatoes just past the McGrath farmhouse. Our eyes were as big as saucers because here would be the military police with rifles and carbines at the ready and you knew they were loaded just in case any of these fellows bolted. They were different looking. Most of them were blond and their haircuts were different. We stared at them in total fascination because we had been led to believe that the Germans were monsters and they would gobble you up. They were obviously pretty happy to be where they were and nobody was going to bolt or leave. They were so lucky to be away from the war. They were probably 18, 19, 20 years old.
There was an observation tower erected at the top of Nashawtuc Hill and many volunteers including Roger Fenn would do their stint manning it. I'm not sure if it was manned 24 hours or not but it was manned on a daily basis. It was there until the war was over which was a sort of a chilling reminder that maybe German planes would come here. I'm sure it was a great compliment to the German Air Force because they never got any closer than England I'm sure. The people that were up there had to learn what the silhouettes of all the foreign planes looked like and our planes as well so they could differentiate them.
There was gas rationing during the war. I still have in my father's desk many left over rationing cards. You needed these stamps in order to get things like butter, margarine, sugar and certain meats and of course all important gas. You were given a card that had stickum on the back to put up inside the windshield of your car. There were A cards, B cards, and C cards. I remember my mother had an A card and that gave her four gallons a week. So you stayed pretty close to Concord on four gallons a week because I don't think the gas mileage was very good in those cars in those days. My dad was involved in the war effort as the director of the Boston Blackout Committee. He had to go on boats at night in Boston Harbor and observe how effective the blackout was because people had to put black crepe over their windows to keep sky glow down so submarines couldn't see American shipping etched against any kind of sky glow from cities. He had a C card which gave him something like 10 or 15 gallons a week so he could drive back and forth to these nocturnal meetings in Boston. He'd go out at night in private yachts that had been commandeered by the Navy. Of course the place was crawling with German submarines because there were a lot of sinkings at that time.
I guess it's been said that the New England form of town meeting is the purest form of democracy that has ever been devised. If that's true, it's alive and well here in Concord. I'd like to take that a step further and say that life in Concord in the ‘30s, ‘40s, and ‘50s as I remember it was just that. It seemed like a pure democracy. There was room for people of all walks of life, all the disciplines, all economic strata. Housing was really not the bar to living in Concord that it is today sadly. I didn't ever know any policeman that didn't live in Concord or any fireman. Everybody lived here. There was a wonderful camaraderie and maybe the passage of time is embellishing these thoughts, but it seemed to me that there was a terrific feeling of camaraderie between people at both ends of the economic spectrum. This really was sort of classless feeling of pure democracy.
Henry Keyes lived on Liberty Street and his family farm ran from Liberty Street to Barnes Hill Road almost over to the ice pond. He had a boat house where he kept canoes and allowed my dad to keep his canoe there. The rivers were a source of terrific recreation in those days because you didn't jump into your car and drive to New Hampshire, Maine or Vermont like you do today. So we had a wooden ribbed Old Towne canoe and my first visit to this property where we are sitting right now was when my father and I canoed down here and put in way down near the damn at the end of the pond and walked up here and sat and had a picnic in this field. Anyway I kept coming back over the years and finally in 1970 nothing had happened to it and I talked to the owner, Warren Jennings, and convinced him that it might be in everybody's benefit if he sold the land to me, which he did. That's how we wound up here and we've been here now for 33 years. We moved into our house in 1972 so that been 31 years that we've actually lived on the property. We are adjacent to what used to be the Benson farm. Sammy and Colburn Benson owned it and before that their father, Christian Benson. It had been about 30 acres that had been carved out of the Brewster woods. William Brewster, who was an early naturalist and a founder of the Massachusetts Audubon Society, had come out here and bought October Farm on Monument Street and patiently over 20 years had assembled about 300 acres. I also understand he owned land on the other side of the Concord River as well. He used it for walks. He was an ornithologist and a naturalist. He lived in Cambridge but he would come out to Concord frequently and he would stay at October Farm. He also built a series of camps down along the Concord River on the river trail opposite the Great Meadows. The only things you can see that are left down there now are the foundations. They are very prominent including a canoe shed. You'll see his initials scraped into the cement, WB 1912 or 13 something like that.
After many years, Colburn Benson decided to sell his family's farm. We were of course very nervous because the price of the land had skyrocketed and it didn't make it easy for anyone to acquire it for conservation purposes. A developer was looking at it very seriously and we had seen the developer's plans. It was going to be used to construct several enormous houses, cheek by jowl. At any rate, the town of Concord decided that this was priceless land for a municipal well. After a special town meeting in 2001 which approved it, the town purchased approximately half of the Benson property and my neighbor Charlene Engelhart who now owns the bulk of the Brewster Woods purchased the other half and basically has conserved it for posterity. The only improvements we're going to see over there at least for now is a municipal well and a pumping station. The part the town owns will be available for access to the public for walks and birding and things of that nature. The town meeting was very well attended and the presentations were long and lengthy as I remember it. When it came to a vote, it was simply overwhelming in favor. I think there were two or three nays in all. I think it was an interesting barometer of the town's sentiment towards conservations and protection of the Brewster Woods. Charlene has two houses over there, one for a friend and her own house which fits in very naturally. But the great bulk of all that land is still open. We have been very fortunate and lucky at this end of town along Monument Street with the conservation efforts that have been pursued over the years and keeps the agricultural flavor of what it looks like. It's really to me so unchanged from what I remember as a child. I got to know this part of town well because the Concord school bus would pick us up on Barnes Hill Road and then we would have to go all the way to the Carlisle line to pick up the Windhols. I can also remember stopping at Balls Hill Road where we are now to pick up Colburn Benson. Colburn was actually a classmate of mine. He sat at the desk immediately behind mine in first grade.