158 Simon Willard Road
Interviewed October 15, 1997.
Concord Oral History Program
Renee Garrelick, Interviewer.
Click here for audio in .mp3 format
Barbara - My maiden name was Walker and I grew up in Concord on Monument Street. We came from Newton in the ‘30s which was quite a change for us because Concord was such a country town compared to the suburban life of Newton. I think my sister and I were unnerved by this in the beginning, but we soon felt the magic of the open fields and land to explore. We became very fond of Concord, and especially as we went to school and met other girls who became our good friends and went with us on our jaunts through Emerson Woods and the Hutchins Woods, all around, with the freedom we had in Concord. I think the main thing I remember is the focus of our lives and it was the school, Concord Academy. It was very different from the school we left, it was a kind of old-fashioned school I would say. They had boarders and a lot of day students in those days. We felt lucky to be day students because the boarding students were so confined with very little freedom. We were definitely behind the walls, you might say, during the day, but it was a very good education. I stayed there and graduated in 1937, and during those years saw a lot of changes in education and in what the students were able to gradually add to the school. It used to be students had no word, but by the time we graduated, we had made great progress in the relationship between the students and the headmistress, Miss Hobson and the teachers. It was a wonderful experience. The music was just outstanding. The classical education of math and history and English and languages were limited but very intensively taught, and it stood us in good stead, I think. Then after school, of course, we went away to college.
I was just telling Lanny this morning that the population in Concord when we came was around 7900 people, so there were many fewer houses and no traffic and everything was focused in the village Â¾ Anderson's Market, Richardson's Drug Store, the fish store, the shoe store, it was all the things we needed right there. Then there was the depot down by the tracks, and there wasn't much down there as far as stores except for the lumber store. You would go downtown and that's where you shopped and that's where everything took place. Gradually, of course, we had a change in emphasis from a central village situation to a more, I don't know I call it a boutique approach, and the things you need are now on the perimeter.
You knew everybody so you had the freedom to walk wherever you wanted. We had good friends up and down Monument Street and we rode our bicycles everywhere. There were still working farms, the Hutchins Farm and the Garfield farm where the cows were that gave us our milk, so you'd go out there and ride the horses and watch the farm people do what farmers really did. I guess it is still going on to some degree but not what it once was. I think that was fun for a child to be part of that. We'd always go to the farms for our vegetables and fruits and chickens and eggs. It was fun to be so close to the source of what you were needing and using.
Some of the families I remember that were friends with my family aside from the people on Monument Street were the Walter Shaws, the Charles Edgartons, the Jim Tysons, the Walter Edmunds, the Page Brownes. They had a wonderful group, a very large group. They had spectacular dinner parties which we watched through the banisters. They were very lively and interesting. Then, of course, the Fenns across the way became good friends. My brothers went to the Fenn School and mom and dad were very fond of Roger and Eleanor Fenn.
Nashoba Brooks wasn't there then. There was the public school and then Concord Academy started in the fourth grade and went up through twelve, and gradually they dropped the lower grades and Nashoba Brooks took over. I started Concord Academy in the fourth grade. One of the teachers there, Miss Wagner became a friend for the rest of her life. There were small classes, and it was a very cozy feeling.
We had a sense of closeness to the community because you knew everyone. I was looking through the town records of 1930 this morning, and all the people on the boards and the moderator were people who were friends with my family. When dad got into the Concord Players, that was another group that was fun to be a part of, there were all those names. It must have been after World War II that the time came when you would go downtown and you wouldn't know most of the people. That time when you were nodding acquaintances or good friends with just about everybody had passed, and naturally it would because the town was growing very fast.
I think the major thing my father, George Walker, was involved with was putting together a committee to organize a town manager form of government which didn't exist at that time, it was run by the selectmen. Then as the town grew it got to be too much for these wonderful, dedicated people who were essentially still amateurs in a way, and dad and his committee felt it was time for more professional handling of the details of the town and give the selectmen time to spend just on policy and not so much on the details. It took three town meetings to get it through.
My mother was very involved in volunteer work. She and Mrs. George Wallace formed the hospital auxiliary and I guess the gift shop started then. It sort of grew out of their work in the Red Cross and that became allied to what the Emerson Hospital auxiliary became, and that of course grew as the hospital grew and the need for volunteers grew. But right from the beginning we all, even while we were still at school, would go and volunteer at the hospital. Volunteering was very important then. We rolled strips of bandages and folded laundry, surgical coats, baby shirts and all those things. We also did a lot of sewing. The community was dependent on the volunteering. It was a very small scale thing. Of course, there were no throw-away things then so everything had to be maintained. They had old-fashioned rubber gloves which we had to sterilize and then try to turn them right side out, which you did by blowing into them, and that didn't seem very sanitary. I'm sure there was something else that happened to them before they went into the surgery.
Town celebrations were big things then. The biggest for us kids was the 19th of April which started at dawn with the guns going off, and we would go down to the pancake breakfast and then the parade, it was a whole day affair. It was the thing we looked forward to most.
For 14 years I worked with Marie Arnold and Barbara Lee in real estate. I certainly learned my way around town, and it was helpful because I had a sense of the different neighborhoods and where people who came to Concord might feel most comfortable. You got to know the town pretty well and you got to know the people who came in and they became friends. I loved those years and I thought it was a useful thing to be doing. There was more of an informality to real estate in those days, but we were always very careful to have lawyers check all the documents. We didn't have all those forms and inspections as they do now. A lot was done on trust. You didn't have to sign something every two minutes. There was a lot of just good faith. And the big change in prices over the years has been incredible. I remember just after I retired, Barbara Lee called me one day and said "They've done it. They've finally put a house on over a million dollars." In those days it was mostly smallish houses, people weren't building great big enormous houses like they are now. Land has always been valuable. I think people realized it is a limited asset and they've always valued land. And we were always pushing to get as much land in conservation as we could. I served on the Conservation Commission.
I was also involved with the library. I was president of the Friends of the Library for several years. Our major effort was the book fair in the spring. We made quite considerable sums for the library to use. We understood right from the start what an extraordinary library it was, and what a valuable thing for the town to have such a library with such records, such historic resources. I worked with the archives putting things from little scraps of paper from the 1700s and early 1800s on cards which were then translated into computers. It was a wonderful experience to see how dedicated the volunteers were right from the start. I learned a lot about Concord from the archives.
Lanny - There is a connection in town history and town records with a group I belong to which is the Social Circle. We had our first meeting of this year last night. We've gotten some vigorous new members in. I think we had at least 20 of us there out of the 25 members, some of course don't always come because of other commitments. This was the usual Circle starting off with cocktails, hors d'oeuvres, and Gibs [Roddy] got us through that quickly and started serving the soup much more early than usual which was good because he had a long agenda ahead. Then we had a fine dinner, coffee and his theme was to go around the room and ask us about the three dedications that we've had in our lives, family, work and community, a three-legged stool. Depending on the age of the people who were answering, it was a very interesting discussion. The older men like Arthur Stevenson and myself were talking about giving away or throwing away possessions and simplifying our lives, getting down to a more satisfactory status of not doing too much but doing enough. The younger men were running from baseball games to events at school to jobs, flying all around the place, trying to take care of their grounds, and also many of them doing service to the town.
I joined the Circle in 1965 and I think I'd never heard of it when somebody called me up and said, "We've just elected you to join the Social Circle." I had to say fine but I didn't know what it was. So I was introduced to it. I was quite young at the time and I was awe struck by the older men like Berkeley Wheeler and Stedman Buttrick and Bert Newbury who seemed so sophisticated and knowledgeable. One of my favorites was Tom Flint who I had written a biography on for the Circle. I've just finished one now for David Little who died a little while ago [February 1995] and was a long time member of the Circle.
We all love it. For instance David Arnold who was a member for quite a while moved out of town and he is a honorary member now and he comes back whenever he can. He has us all in to his house in Boston, an apartment on top of a building and he gets a minivan to take us in and out. The Circle is an ongoing thing, but I would say it is more liberal than it used to be. It is more interested in world affairs than it used to be, but it always had a focus on the community. I think every moderator that I've known of has been a member.
The Social Circle started in 1782. It has had its traditions. At our annual meeting which is the first meeting of the new year, we have to read the minutes of the meeting a hundred years ago and then we read the whole business about how we got started and the amendments, and how we gave up all liquor for a while and then turned to having "flip & toddy." There have been interesting changes along the way. The biographies of each member have become a part of town history. They're fascinating. In doing David's biography I had to go back and read about his ancestors and his father for instance, who was a famous architect. His father-in-law was a Barrett who was local here going back to one of the first settlers named Barrett.
Architecture has been my life-long profession. Before Barby and I moved out here to Concord, a project came into Carl Koch's office that turned into the neighborhood of Conantum. The project was brought in by Professor Rupert Maclaurin from MIT with great enthusiasm. He had lined up a contractor named Joseph Kelly who had been building veterans' housing all over the place and had worked with Alfred Levitt who had done the same thing with Levittown. It looked like a powerful team and so I went out and looked at the land. It was just beautiful. It's right along the Sudbury River and it had tremendous frontage there and then rolling countryside in back. As I was walking down a bridal path, a little family of foxes came trotting down the same path.
So we got going on the project, and we sold the lots and the houses very quickly, and I think too quickly. We didn't have big enough prices on them. Of course, we were relying on Mr. Kelly to price them, and he wasn't very good about it. That's one of the reasons that we sold things so quickly I think. It was a young group of people mostly from Harvard and MIT who wanted to come out and live in the woods. So the project went ahead. There were a few hurdles that we had to go through. We had to have our own water supply which we hadn't expected to do. We had to put up a concrete tank up on the hill and wells down near the river and lots of pipe. We ran into a lot more ledge and swamp than we thought in building the roads. The houses went up. They were mainly one-story with a peak attic with a 12 x 12 pitch in the roof which allowed you to expand upstairs and then possibly a basement which you could go down into so there was a lot of room in a small envelope. Some of the houses had a roof of maybe 4 x 12 pitch and you couldn't expand but most people wanted the attics.
As we got nearly through the project, Rupert said we should have a party to celebrate what we had done and go on and do another one. Well, Kelly's brother-in-law was running the project really out in the field, and I was there and was so-called treasurer but I was so wet behind the ears that I sort of relied on him. He came to the party and said to me, "We're not going to be able to finish this," and then he said the same thing to Carl. But the project went on and got finished about 90% before the bankruptcy. Rupert stepped in at the bankruptcy and he bought the remaining 10% of the assets and he finished it. He has to be commended for that. He was a silent partner in the whole thing, he was not part of the realty trust but he stepped in because he had to. Carl and I got sued for only one project, the bulldozer operator sued us because Carl had been doing the bulldozing himself. It was a very minor suit and we lost it. We didn't get sued by anybody else and I'm really amazed. At the time I was a nervous wreck. It was an awful thing to happen to somebody just moving into a new town particularly an architect. Actually Carl Koch & Associates didn't get much work for a long time after that out here.
But this really was a project where we had open land for recreation, we saved the trees wherever we could, we had river front with the canoe landing and we had tennis courts. Some people I know are still living there and loving it. Of course, the buildings were built with rather inferior materials. The MIT people came out with a moisture reader to check the first pile of lumber and it didn't really check well so they went over and checked a tree and the tree was drier than the lumber. But somehow or other they all shook hands and said, well, it will dry out. It has won a few prizes since then for the plan and the layout and the happy people that are there.
When I started my own firm, by then I had sort of built up a slight reputation of my own and Gardner Ertman, my partner, and I left Carl Koch with his blessings and he was very supportive about us leaving. We started the firm in 1973 out here, and I was at the Concord dump where you used to see your friends and I ran into Bud Cross who worked for Acorn Structures. I told him Gardner and I just started on our own. He said, "Well, we're looking for an architect, why don't you come out and see us?" So we went out and saw John Bemis, and John had worked with Carl earlier on the original Acorn house and he was a little bit worried about working with us, so he cleared it with Carl, and we got hired and that was one of our first jobs. We did consulting for them and we designed their office building and modified some of their things. Meanwhile work came in very fast with two Sentry Insurance jobs in town. Then we did Millbrook Tarry on Lowell Road which is a combination of shopping, a bank, offices upstairs, and then the Star Market which we designed the front of.
I was very happy to be working for the town. I worked with Steve Sheiffer who I admired very much and was the town manager at the time. We were hired first of all to remodel the town house or town hall. We tore out the inside of that building and saved the outside pretty much. We took out a big vault upstairs and put another one downstairs, a new elevator, new handicapped toilets, handicapped ramp, all the things you had to do. From that we went on to the Harvey Wheeler remodeling. The school was converted into sort of a combination of a meeting place for the elderly and also a nursery school. We found out the roof of the old school was a bathtub. The tiles that went up to the front and back stopped and then was dropped down in the middle. Roddy Loynd was on the committee. He's a local builder, a fine fellow, and he said, "Oh, yes, we used to go up there and smoke because nobody could see us." So we had to cover that all up and then remodel the rest of it. Then the third job was the biggest of the three which was adding to and remodeling the police and fire station. After that we were considered for the Hunt Gymnasium and the selectmen said no we've used Day & Ertman too much, we'd better get someone else. So that was the end of our work for the town pretty much. Meanwhile we were doing houses out here and additions to houses. There was a lot of work out of Concord all over the place. We had a branch office in Tucson, Arizona for a couple of years. So it was a happy time.
One of the first things we did was to build our own house, Barby and I. We decided not to go into Conantum, not to be part of the "development," so we bought land from Walter K. Shaw who was a great friend of Barby's mother and father. Actually we had rented a house of his in Marblehead earlier for extraordinary low rent on the condition that I would design a heating system for the house. I knew nothing about it but I went ahead and worked with a heating contractor. We felt we overdid it but we certainly gave them enough heat. The house was not insulated so I gave them a lot of heat.
We bought the lot in Concord in 1949 for $3,000, two+ acres, can you believe it? I designed the house to our budget which was very small. It was a small contemporary house and had a very good contractor, Hans Tobiason, who's son Karl Tobiason and Larry worked on the addition to the Antiquarian Museum, so we had good quality. When it was finished the neighbors came over for a look and they said this isn't as bad as we thought it was going to be. I still remember the first night. The moon was full and we had no curtains in the living room and we sat on the floor and just bathed in moonlight, chuckling to ourselves. Since then we've added on to the house and the addition cost about four times as much as the original house.
Barbara - It stood out in 1949-50 because everything was colonial architecture. Here we were on Simon Willard's field. People were horrified at first but they gradually came to accept it.
Lanny - The Antiquarian Museum project was the Daniel Chester French gallery which came from Mary Abbot's horse barn. They were going to tear the barn down, and it seemed as though it would be possible to save some of the big timbers and use them in this new building. Larry Tobiason and I looked over the old barn and marked a whole lot of timbers we thought we could use that weren't too rotten. You know a horse barn gets rotten after a while, particularly the lower parts of the timbers. We found enough and then we had to put it together and make it authentic. There is a steel beam inside those cross beams. You don't know it because they took two wooden beams and fitted them around the steel beam because the wooden beams would not have gone the whole distance so they had to do that. So if you look carefully you might see a little crack down the bottom and the middle of those beams that go across at the ceiling.
We did a branch of the Middlesex Bank in West Concord first and that started out to be fairly contemporary on the inside which I don't really know if they liked, but we think it's good. Then we added that big balcony inside the main branch of the bank. That we kept in the colonial style of the original building. We did quite a few banks outside of Concord, all remodeling, none of them new.
I served on the Planning Board in 1964. John Finigan called me up about being on the board, he was selectman at the time. He wanted my views on all kinds of things such as sizes of lots. Soon after that an article came up to increase the number of two-acre lots in town by a big number. I think I was wrong, but at that time they thought it was a good idea, it would give us more open land. Arthur Stevenson was on the board at that time too and he didn't think so. He said, "We're going to get in trouble with not enough affordable housing in Concord." I spoke in favor of it at town meeting and he spoke against it, and the favored part won. I'm not sure we should have won, but anyway we did. I respect Arthur a lot and I see him a lot and he's a member of the Circle, and I think he was right.
My son Stephen became quite an advocate of affordable housing. He was a social worker to start with and then he moved to Concord and was on the Concord Housing Authority. Stephen was very energetic and persuasive and he got more done I think for low cost housing while he was on the board than had been done for a long time. Ann Anderson was the Assistant Director of the Housing Authority at that time and then she became Director. She was doing a good job everybody thought, but she was harassed by Anna Thompson, who came in almost every day and wanted to look through the files. She thought some people were not being treated fairly on the rents and some people were not being allowed in because of some reason. She was just an awful pain in the neck. Anna was on the Housing Authority so she felt she had the right to do this. The Board said she had to stop doing it. She wouldn't stop so they tried to get her off the Board, and they voted to remove her. She sued everybody involved including son Steve and Ann Anderson. They had a trial at the town house in the courtroom upstairs which Barby and I went to every single night, and it went on and on and on. Arthur Stevenson was the moderator and Anna did not prevail. She was the only town official to be appointed to a committee and to be recalled. I think rightly so. She was obstructing work.
One thing led to another and pretty soon Steve and Ann got married. It's a very happy marriage, and they started a business consulting on housing and facilities for mental health patients, and they have worked all over the country now consulting in almost every state, and they are just doing very well.
One of the things I was happy about when we moved here, we joined Trinity Church and after about ten years or so I was asked to be on the vestry. Then there was talk about building a new church and they asked me to be on the building committee and be the chairman of it. I was able to persuade Pietro Belluschi to come out and be interviewed. He was the Dean of Architecture at MIT and the most well known contemporary architect of churches. He built very good churches. He was hired. He designed an octagonal church which was not liked by some of the people in the parish so that ended up in stopping everything and letting him go and sending out a questionnaire to all the parishioners and asking what they wanted. When that came back, we started in again interviewing and hiring architects. Again I persuaded Pietro to come out and be interviewed, and by golly, he was hired again. He did a beautiful job for us and the most beautiful thing of all is that stained glass window inside which again the conservatives said, "I don't know about that," but David Little, bless his heart, came in and handled the committee and said, "You've got to have it, it's the most important thing." And it was.
The only other things I would like to mention is that I was on the board of Belknap House for several years recently. I got off two years ago. I was helping them with the little improvements here and there and studying adding on to the building and whether it would be worthwhile to do or not. Belknap House was a private house on Main Street right across from Concord Academy, and it was converted into a house for elderly people. There are nine apartments in it. It's very small but the apartments are nice. It's like a boarding house. Everybody eats together in the dining room. Some people like it and some people don't. It's just borderline financial. That's why we were thinking of adding on to it because they could probably service about three or four more apartments with the same staff. But they decided not to go ahead with that. It was fun being on that board for a while.
I'm still on the advisory board of the Concord Art Association. I've been on that for about eight years now. I'm doing more painting, watercolors, and having a good time doing that. I sold seven at one of the shows there that was called "Art and Architecture." It is a fascinating building. Of course, being an architect, my job, as always on these things, is to repair the buildings and keep them from falling down. If you look at that building, it has a big, massive, central chimney, and you know it stops above the attic and cut off below there to make a gallery on the second floor. It's on very heavy beams holding it up. One of my projects right now is to get the chimney torn down and put up again so it doesn't leak. The Art Association is a very wonderful association and we have a very good board there now.