Interviewer: Michael Nobel Kline
Place of Interview: Concord Free Public Library
Transcriptionist: Carrie N. Kline
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Carol Dwyer: You know--.
Michael Kline: And we start out by saying--. Today is September 23rd. It's a very clear, pristine Tuesday with some dark red branches hanging out over the country roads of Concord and a breathtaking day. And we are here with Carol Dwyer. Would you please say, "My name is," and tell me your name?
CD: Yeah. My name is Carol Dwyer. And I'm--.
MK: And we never ask people their age--.
CD: I don't--.
MK: But maybe you'd tell us your date of birth to keep this in perspective.
CD: [Laughs] Yeah. I'm 71. I was born February 8, '37.
MK: Okay. And you want to just start out maybe, tell me about your people and where you were raised.
CD: Yeah. I was born and raised in Framingham, which is quite close to Concord, about half an hour away. And when I was married in '61 I lived in Lincoln, which is next door to Concord, and then moved to Concord in 1970. And my--. We--. My husband and I, we have four children. And I've never really traveled--. I've traveled far away, but I've stayed--. In terms of living I've certainly stayed kind of in this area, living in this area.
MK: Umm hmm. Oh, we can't have your feet hitting the microphone.
CD: Oh, sorry.
MK: Just swing around so you're under the table. That's good. Okay. So tell me a little bit about the family you grew up with in Framingham.
CD: I was an only child, and but my five cousins lived just down the street from me on Pleasant Street in Framingham. And that was five girls. And I was the exact same age as the middle of the five girls. So I always felt that I had a family, bigger family than I did. In fact one time when I was a child I told my parents how sorry I felt for this other child, because she was an only child, not even recognizing that I was an only child too! But I was very close to my cousins, and so in some ways I kind of had the advantages of a big family and the advantages of being an only child too! So I always felt that it was a very, I had a wonderful upbringing and wonderful--. I just had a wonderful life as a child.
MK: What was important to those two families?
CD: Well one of the experiences that was important to the girls was going to a camp that we went to, which was in Holliston. And we all went to that camp from the time we were very young, for two months in the summer. The director of that camp was a friend of my grandmother's, and I think she almost started the girls' camp to provide for all these grandchildren of my grandmother! But that was a very important experience for the children that we all shared. But my father was in business with my uncle. And he was the brother of my aunt. So the families were close in that way, in terms of business too, business; they worked in the same business.
MK: Which was?
CD: Which was a foundry business. It started off as a cast away company. And it was a foundry that started--. It was in Cambridge during the War, and they were making parts for airplanes, aluminum magnesium castings. And then after the War they did work in other things, but really the business decreased and eventually died. But they were doing--. They had the business also in Nadick when, while I was growing up. So that's what--. What was interest--. I--. Ask me again about what--. I want to know a little bit more about what you want to know about these families.
MK: I want you to paint a picture of who they were and how they--.
MK: --and how they related to one another, and a sense of the community, or the neighborhood, or the--. These two families sound like they were the community of the neighborhood.
CD: No, no, no. They were--. It was the--. We both--. Both families lived in, on Pleasant Street in old houses, you know, early 19th Century houses. And we had a garden over on a side street on land that the family owned on Maynard Road, and like during the War we had a big Victory Garden there, my father and mother. And I can--. You know I remember that very well.
MK: Victory Garden?
CD: A Victory Garden, which is what they called the gardens during the War, because you were producing food for yourselves. You know. We're going to come back to that, I think, I hope. People raising their own food. But that was a big influence on me. The other thing we all did together is we were all members of the Boston Skating Club. So skating played a big role in, especially for me, because I was a competitive skater when I was young. But I loved--. So we spent a lot of our social, free time going to the Boston Skating Club and skating.
MK: Ice or roller? Ro--?
CD: Ice skating. Ice skating, and it was a--. And in those days the whole family skated together, because for instance Friday nights at the Boston Skating Club they'd always have supper. But everybody--. I would go after school and go in. My mother would take me into Boston, and we'd go--. We'd skate in the afternoon, have supper, skate in the evening. So it was one of the blessings of my life that I had that chance to do that. And it was a great, wonderful people, so socially we--. And my parents skated as well.
MK: They grew up skating?
CD: No. But they started skating. And they started doing dancing. And they'd do that on Wednesday nights and, at the Skating Club. And they would--. I would go to a babysitter's house, and they would, while, when I came home from school. And the babysitter would go home with me, have me, have supper with her and her husband. And then I'd go, she'd take me home and stay with me while I, until my parents came home. But they would go into Cambridge, and they would have supper. They would pull up right in front of this restaurant—This is the middle of Harvard Square—and go to this inexpensive Italian restaurant for supper, because my father was working in Cambridge at that time. So they'd meet there and have supper there. And then they'd go over to the Boston Skating Club, which is on Soldier's Field Road in Boston, near, just on the Cambridge side, the other side of the river from Cambridge. And then they would skate and have dance lessons, lessons in ice dancing. And there was a wonderful group of--. There was a wonderful teachers and instructors, Willy Frick and Shirley Bowman, people like that. And then there was also a--. They just enjoyed the other people that they met there learning how to dance. So it was more of a, a little bit more of a family thing than it is now. Now it has changed quite a bit. Ice skating and competition. But those--. I really feel like I had the best of it in life.
MK: [whispers] Wow. You look like you did too.
CD: Well I really feel privileged, in all ways. [Spoken tearfully]
MK: You look like a very fulfilled person. It's great. You don't meet very many people like that.
CD; Well, I have been blessed. I've been, and blessed so many ways, so. It's not-. You know. It was circumstances.
MK: So from Framingham to Lincoln to, what was your path to Concord?
CD: Let's see. I was working in Boston after college. I went to college at Smith College in Northampton. So again I didn't leave. I did take my junior year in Geneva, Switzerland. But other--. I didn't go that far away from home to college. And then I was working in jobs as like--. I'd gone to secretarial school after Smith. And I got a job with an architectural firm, because that's what I thought, at the time, that I wanted to be an architect. And anyway I was working in town, and I started, when I was working for Arthur D. Little, I met some people who went skiing up in New Hampshire. And--. This is a long-winded way of telling you this story, but I started going to Franconia and skiing up there. And that way I met a whole lot of people. There were loads of people at that time that joined clubs. And they would rent a small building for the winter and go up and ski every weekend. And so that's what I became part of, that big group of people. And I eventually met my husband, who was, it turned out, working across the street from me in Cambridge at Dewey and Almy. But I met him in Franconia! And he was working locally. And then he got a job with Millipore Corporation. So, which was in Bedford, Massachusetts. And he worked there for many years. And that's why we lived in this area, we wanted to live in this area, because it's close to Bedford. And when we were first married we lived in Lincoln for ten years, about ten years, and then moved to Concord when we needed a bigger house. I thought it would be good, fine to put an addition on my house. I was very happy where we lived and to—because we have four children, and that we needed a little more space. And so--. But he didn't want to do that. And I loved old houses, having been raised in one, and I just like old houses. And so we looked for old houses in Lincoln, and then we looked for and could find less expensive one in Concord. At that time it was a little bit less expensive, so we bought in Concord. And I've been here ever since, in the same house.
MK: That was in what year?
CD: That was in 1970 that we moved here. So we were there in Lincoln from '61 to 1970. And then from '70 to now we're, we've lived in the same house in Concord. The interesting thing about the house that we live in is that I believe we're only the third family to live in it, and it was built in the 1840s. So both of the previous families lived there for two generations, lived in the house for two generations.
MK: Who were they, and what have you learned about them?
CD: Well I did go to the Registry of Deeds in Boston and looked into it, but I really--. I'd love to do more investigation. But I do know--. Well, what I know is that there was a Sarah Richardson who was the first owner, which seems very strange that a woman would be the first owner of the house. So I--. There must be a story there, but I don't know what it is. And I haven't been able to find out anything about her. But I haven't looked that hard either. But she was living in the house, and then I believe it passed to her daughter. And then it went to a Dr. Brayley. And Eric Smith, who just passed away at 90 or something, or over, he remembers going to Dr. Brayley's office, which was in the house. And then it went from Dr. Brayley to his daughter, who married Sandy Cameron. And they lived in the house when we bought it from them. And he came and--. Sandy Cameron came and visited me when he was 90. He'd moved to Florida with his wife, but he was still alive and came to visit me when he was 90 years old. And he told me wonderful stories about the house, so. Like how they had parties and played golf in the house. I don't know. And chasing the ball all over the house. I never thought I had a clean enough house to have a game of golf in my house! But anyway it was--. He was a terrific person, terrific person, so. Yeah. All the circles that go around--. I found out that a classmate of mine at Smith used to visit. She was related. She had been named Joanna after Mrs. Cameron, who was Joanna Brayley Cameron. So. So it was strange. The older you get the more circular things get. Yeah.
MK: So I'm not sure you mentioned exactly the location of the house.
CD: Yeah. We live at 245 Main Street, which is just a block away from here, from the library. And one thing I wanted to mention is that a lot of the houses are historic in the area where we live on Main Street, because very famous people lived in them. Channing lived in, Ellery Channing lived in the house next door to us. Thoreau, Henry David Thoreau died in the house on the other side of us. And the Alcotts lived in that house. And he had, pencil factory was in that house. And but the thing that--. I always laugh and say the only thing that's unique about our house is the fact that there's been so few families that lived in it. Nobody famous has ever lived there, including now! And but it's interesting because the people, there were so few people. And I think that the house next store to us, the Thoreau House, I think has changed hands five times while we've lived there. So there has been tremendous turnover in most houses. So that's what makes this unusual. I don't think you'd find that in many if any other houses in Concord. I would--. It would be interesting to know how many other houses there were that have stayed in the same families, or, for a long period of time.
MK: Other than loving old houses, what was it about this particular place that attracted you and your husband?
CD: I wanted to live in a center. So when we were looking at houses I preferred to live in the center of Lincoln, which is just a village, or in the center of Concord, which is a bigger town. But I absolutely adore living downtown. I love it, because I can walk to everything. And I have friends, like Carolyn Davies, who has macular degeneration now. She lives in the converted apartments, the apartments that were converted from the old Rose Hawthorne School. And she can also, she can go to a Concord Academy event. She can go everyplace. And she can walk to the train to go into Boston. And I mean it's just an idyllic location, from my point of view.
MK: And the house itself, architecturally speaking?
CD: The architecture--. It's a federal-style house. It needed a lot of work when we bought it, really quite a, fair amount of work, not structural, but updating. I have to say that it still needs work. A realtor who visited the house some years ago, probably fifteen years ago, told me that if anybody bought the house they'd gut it, which inspired me to hold onto the house for as long as we possibly could! You know, because my husband and I have put a lot into the house ourselves, personally. And I don't mean just by choosing colors and wallpapers and things like that, but we've worked on the house. My husband makes furniture as a hobby. And he has made a lot of the pieces that we have in the house. He's now converting a space into a pantry, and he's building all the cabinets in the pantry and doing all the work in the pantry himself. So it takes a long time when you do it that way, but we enjoy doing it. And I guess that's kind of unusual too. I work with a friend of mine who I pay to come and work with me every Wednesday afternoon. And we do work on the house, mostly work on the house, in terms of, we just finished a floor in Jim's office that came out beautifully. We've built closets. We've built things down in the basement. We've done painting. We've painted walls with, wall painting where it was decorative painting kind of thing. And we've just done a lot of work on the house, painting and papering and all kinds of things. Did the back porch last week. You know . . . ! [21:37]
So that again I guess is a little bit--. I don't think most people in Concord are doing that kind of thing now. So in a way I'm sort of off the beaten track in terms of being interviewed, because it's not--. I don't think I represent the way most people are living here now, or their interests maybe, their interests or desire to do it themselves. What makes us want to do it ourselves? I don't know. My husband's an engineer. He knows how to do electrical wiring, plumbing. He knows how to do all these things. And he likes to do it himself rather than pay somebody else to do it! Maybe it's that old Yankee ethic, that you just enjoy doing the things you can do yourself. Yeah. I think maybe that's it.
About the landscape of our house, we live on maybe I think it's less than an eighth of an acre. So it's a very small lot. And but I took courses--. At the time that we moved into the house, I was taking courses in landscape design at Radcliff Institute, which now, was at that time part of Radcliff College, which was an independent school at that time, part of Harvard but its own school, or own college. And I loved those courses, absolutely loved it. And I think that's what led me into a big interest in land use and studying land use, because my final--. You had to do an independent project at the end of these courses to get the certificate in landscape design. And I did my special project on the history of land use in Concord. And that was--. But I was doing it from the glacial period to 1840, or something like that, to the coming of the railroads! So it was--. I found it very--. It got me into all other kinds of things that interested me, things like the Native Americans and the Native American use of the land and so forth. So--.
MK: Want to talk about that a little bit?
CD: Well, yes. I'm happy to talk about that. The interest in the Native Americans was because they had such completely different attitudes towards land use than the foreign to, people operating at a private property basis. Our whole structure is based on private property, individual ownership of property. And when you study about the Indians and the way they lived--. Of course they were living, at the time that Concord was settled, in Clans or tribes, or groups anyway. But they had come from a culture which was nomadic, in the sense that they traveled by the seasons. And the people who lived in Concord were going to the Coast in the spring, up the river, up the Concord River and the Merrimack Rivers to the Coast, and living there during the summer, and then moving back inland in the winter to hunt and get berries and acorns and so forth, and fishing at the falls on the rivers, and fishing in Concord on a little, on, in the Millbrook, on a weir that they had constructed in the mill brook, which is where the mill dam is now, the center of the town.
MK: A weir, did you say?
CD: Well they set up--. I believe they set up a weir for catching fish. A lot of--. You know they would catch fish at the falls in particular, like in Lowell, especially. They would go to the falls in Lowell and catch many, catch lots and lots of fish when the fish were migrating upstream in the spring, the alewife, and fish like that that were, what is it called? Androma—. I've forgotten the name of the word, the fish who migrate in the spring and fall. But the--. But anyway there was-. I believe there was a weir here which would slow down the fish, or that they'd have to move over and, to be caught. So it helped the--. They were using the mill brook also for catching fish, moving up the mill brook. So that was the--. That was here when the first English people settled in the town, and they built a dam on the location and eventually made a mill pond and had a corn mill or mill for grinding grain in that location. So but I got--. I'm getting off.
But the attitude towards the land was much more congregational, I guess. I don't know if that--. That's not the proper word, but. They were--. They worked in groups. They needed to, to support each other, and to live, to be able to exist. And so it was just a very different way. But through studying about the Native Americans--. And there's a fabulous book of quotations about, from Native people that is just one of my favorite books. It's called Touch the Earth. I don't think it's in publication now, but it's a wonderful, wonderful book. And it's written by a woman whose name I've forgotten now. But it's quotations from various Native American peoples about their attitudes about the earth. And it's something that we've lost touch with, that whole--. So I think that does influence my feelings about landscape and land use and so forth probably more than I even really realize it may influence me, because I'm thinking now about--. I was thinking the other day how I took a trip with some friends. We got talking about the new houses being built and how they're being torn down now. And I was interested in what one of the other women was saying, and I said, "Well just drive us around town. And I'd just like to see some of these places you're talking about." So she did drive me around. This was Kitsy Rothermell. And Meryl Everett was with me. And we drove all around and I was seeing areas that I just hadn't traveled into. I think I stay on the main streets and I don't have to go many places, so I don't. And I was absolutely bowled over by the changes that are taking place that I was unaware of.
CD: Huge changes in development in this town. Huge changes. But I'm just going to stick with this point right now, because--. But I want to talk about that. The--. One of the places we saw was where there was one of these tear-downs, because over 80 percent--. Or--. I spoke to the woman at the Building Department, Building Inspector's Department this morning, because I wanted some figures in my head to know when I was going to speak to you, about whether this was just all an apparition for me, or whether there was some reality to it. She said most of the houses that are being built in Concord today are on houses, on lots where they tear down a house. And like over 80 percent. So that most of the, most housing that's being built, they're tearing down the house first and building on the lot.
MK: 80 percent.
CD: I think it's 80 percent, or more, she said. So--. And actually she gave me some figures, but. The--. Coming back to the Native Americans and how that interested me, how that, I think has influenced me, one of the things that really bothers me, and I was wondering why it bothers me so much, is not only do they tear the house down, when they tear these lots down, but in two cases that I know of, they're on lots where people had had extensive wildflower gardens. And they have not only torn down the house, but they've stripped the land completely, completely. On Mary Fenn's —At Mary Fenn's house, the new builder, when they were tearing down everything, they went to Bonnie Kennedy next door, who lives in a beautiful house. It's a Cape Cod-style house with extensions and has wonderful gardens around it. And they asked her if she wanted any of her trees cut down while they were at it. And she said, "Over my dead body," because--. But they have stripped everything on that lot. So what I'm--. Because what people want today, seemingly, is they want everything new. And when they build, build their, when they design their houses, when--. They build much bigger houses, always, than whatever was on the lot. But also they have--. Everything that they put in is brand new. But--.
MK: So everything is cleaned off.
CD: Everything is cleaned off. There's just bare earth on the entire lot. And then people--. It seems to me that the way people build now, is they build their house, and then they have it landscaped. And that means that it's formal landscaping with lawns and flower beds and so forth. But they don't need any, leave any of the trees that were there previously. I mean sometimes probably they do if it's a big, two-acre lot. They may leave some trees. But most of it is designed and formalized and with new trees. And people will buy these enormous trees, which cost thousands and thousands of dollars. So money is no object with a lot of these houses. It's just, it's as if it didn't matter at all. So it's just, and so why I say that's related to my attitudes, because I was thinking, we have this tiny lot, and when we moved in, there was this remarkable tree that I couldn't identify. I didn't know what it was until I learned it was a honeysuckle. Now honeysuckle are usually bushes, I thought. But this is a big, big branching tree. It's maybe thirty feet high. Now I've kept that, and I treasure that honeysuckle, because it was just--. It's not that it was such an exotic plant, because it's just really a weed tree. But the fact that it had been there so long, and--. I don't know. I just, it just means something to me. It's weird. I mean that's a little odd I think, but. But anyway, I did do a landscape design for the front of the house and for part of the back of the house, and I did have a gardens now and changed the landscaping a little bit from the way it was. And that was back years ago. But anyway, I like to keep the trees if you can keep the trees and work around the existing landscape and keep what's wonderful about it, the existing landscape. But I suppose when you're building a house that covers most of the lot, you have to—. You can't--. You have to clear the airways and clear the area so that you can build your house and have it the way you want it.
MK: So for you this is a sort of a--. It sounds like this is kind of like an assault on continuity, or--? Because when you think of Concord you think of old established farms and especially gardens, rocky gardens, and there are all these things that are kind of associated with Concord?
CD: Umm hmm. It's more--. I think it's the natural landscape and having--. Well, I think it's related to my feelings about, in sympathy with a book which has been written a couple of years ago by Richard Louv, L-O-U-V, called--. The book is called Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder. And this is--. It's absolutely--. He was a wonderful speaker. I heard him last year speak. Fabulous speaker. And I mean he captures what has happened since my childhood until now so beautifully with so many examples. It's a wonderful book. But he describes how the landscape has changed so much, and how our culture has changed so much. There are no free spaces now for children to play, or very, very few. There are very few in Concord. We have wonderful open space in Concord. Fabulous open space. But in terms of neighborhood, there aren't any of the waste, what I call waste spaces.
For instance, when we lived in Lincoln, we lived on a one-acre lot. It was very narrow and long. And at the back of that lot was a big gulley. And I honestly don't even know who owned that gulley. But our kids used to go play there. They'd make forts there. They'd dig big, fat holes there. They would play with the neighborhood kids. They'd be all over the neighborhood playing in other people's backyards. It was just so different than now, where the children are all playing organized sports on artificial fields. And they don't get outside. They don't play in their own yards at all, I don't think, because they're all formally organized for beauty and views, or something. But--. Or if they do have play equipment, it's very elaborate, structured play equipment that's built, manufactured. And, or they go to the--. They can go to the playground. We have a wonderful playground at Emerson Field. Terrific playground. So there's--. All the equipment there is terrific. But there just isn't the imaginative and being out in a natural environment. And I think that changes people. And it changes the values of the children that are growing up this way.
And there's been a huge change in Concord in terms of even attitudes towards open space. Now the big thing at the last Town Meeting was the, building a bike trail, which is going to be a paved bike trail. And there was elements of people, including me, who didn't want to see this paved. They want a bike trail, but they don't want it to be paved, because it operates differently when it's paved. It looks differently, it feels differently, it has different effects on wildlife, and so forth. And so it's a very--. It has to have a big, wide border. And it has to--. It has to be more like a road, or it's going to be more like a road, in affect, not with the traffic of course, but with the--. So, but that's what--. Most people definitely want that. There was another big battle about saving some woods, at a recent Town Meeting, that were adjacent to the high school. But it has been converted to playing fields. That was the vote, and there was a huge support among the people in Concord for these playing fields, for new playing fields, with the understanding that the high school will some time be rebuilt, and--. I don't know. It didn't seem like good planning to me, because they haven't decided where they're going to put the high school, the new high school. And it seems to me that should precede building playing fields and putting, going to the expense of putting all these, doing all these playing fields. But in any case, it's just--. There's a different ethic. It's just, people feel differently, very differently in the town now than, most of the people, than was, they felt, like the old fogies like me feel. So, and I think there's something missing for kids now, who don't have that chance to just be out in the woods and be free to do, make up their own. Everything is so provided and structured for them. There's no imagination left. I mean I think the idea even of doing, building a fort, or building a tree house yourself would be just off the charts for most people, because they think, "Oh, they might get hurt. They might get, you know, get into trouble climbing a tree, get into a bee's nest or something." I mean I can think of hundreds of things why people would just be appalled at the idea. So it's just very different, very different today. And that affects a lot of things in the town.
So, to get back to landscape maybe, and to land use, or land--.
MK: Well you've just been talking about it.
MK: You've just been talking about a shift in ideas about what's important for land, so you don't have to get back to it, because you're already in it.
CD: No, I am in it. But formally what has been the effect on Concord, I think--. Well the effect of not just these cultural changes, but the effect of the fact that Concord is a very highly valued town for many reasons. I think those include the fact that we have protected a lot of open space, so there is farm land that still, and there's woods and there's trails, and there's incredible networks of open space areas in the Town of Concord. A friend of mine, a close friend of mine, Jean Rosner, when her brother was here a few years ago, and because his wife was in a hospital here, they went out every morning and took a walk, every morning that he was here for three months I think. And every day they went to a new place in Concord, walked on a different area of Concord on these trails. So it shows you how extensive the trail networks in Concord are. It's just incredible. So this is one of the treasures of the town. Other treasures are the fact that we have excellent schools, both public and private schools in the Concord area. And I understand, reading over some notes from the 1980s, the fact that many people were com--. I was--. We were talking to a realtor, and he said that many people are attracted to the town because of the schools, and he mentioned both private and public schools, because there are a number of private schools. And another thing that attracts people is the history, the history and the literary history, which goes up until today, because they have this incredible authors program every year where authors, Concord authors speak about their work, and, you know, we have Doris Kearns Goodwin. We have tons of wonderful authors.
MK: Is that a library program here?
CD: No, it's the whole town wide. I think it's based--. I'm not sure if the foundation of it is the library, or whether it's--. But I know that they talk in different venues and that the bookstore, the Concord bookstore has--. There are chances to speak with the authors and to sign, get their signatures on books, and it's just a wonderful, it's another wonderful, rich opportunity that this town provides. It's just--. There are so many, when I think if it. There are so many provided by the library and by other institutions in the town. So there has been all that history that I think draws people. And so it has become a big, you know, a very high status place to live, I think, Concord. And in result the housing prices are, in many ways of thinking, completely off the charts, just unbelievable.
I heard, and I'm not sure this is true, because I'm told--. I can look it up on the Internet, when I didn't have a chance to do it, but I heard that someone bought a house, or a house on Attawan Road and that they bought it for over two million dollars. And it was I think a two acre, possibly a three acre, but it's not sub-dividable land. And they bought it for over two million dollars and took the house down, and they're going to build another house on it. I mean it's the kind of money that you just can't imagine. It's way beyond, I don't know, what percentage of the . . . that is! But to me it's just unbelievable, the kind of money that is being spent. And the houses that are being built are huge, huge. There's one on the top of Nashawtuc Hill. It looks like a hotel. It's so big.
MK: One family residence.
CD: One family residence. And I think these houses--. I went in to see this house. It was on a tour. And I think that--. It seems as if the people live in a few rooms of the house, really. But they have enormous rooms for like theatres, like video, you know, entertainment halls really. And it's just--. I guess it's part of a changing orientation of houses even, of what they're, the functions of houses. So that--. I really can't speak to that, because I don't know enough about it. But it has changed a great deal. And so that what's being lost is a lot of the diversity in the town. And people can sell their houses for a lot of money, because anything that's a lot, you can build on. And you can build, you know, I don't know, fifty feet of the lot line probably in some districts. But so you can put a big house on a smaller lot, but still it's just--. It's changing the aspect of the town. And there are a lot of people that regret that, regret that.
So, but in terms of development, I know that there's an effort, particularly in West Concord, that has been articulated, that people want to keep the owner-owned shops retailing. In fact there is a group that has formed just this year, this past year, of independent retailers, who are forming a group to promote people buying from independent stores. And there was a big--. This followed a big battle where City Bank wanted to take over a building, wanted to purchase, was going to purchase a big building, or good size building in downtown Concord on Walden Street. They were going to put in a City Bank in that area. And most people in town felt that we had enough banks and enough real estate offices to serve our purposes, and what we needed wasn't more banks and more retail, more real estate people. But and because of the process of the Board of Appeals, they had to go get variances and things from the Board of Appeals, or go through a process, and finally there was so much opposition, they dropped it. They dropped it. And it's--. Now it's being rented out, the building, because it was a single owner for several shops in this building. And it now is going into shops.
There's a retail shop that's already going into one of these places. So, but it shows the feelings that people have, that they want to keep the small shops. And we still have a few shops. Like my favorite is Vanderhoof's, which is a hardware store in downtown Concord, Concord Center, a fabulous store, because not only will the Vanderhoofs--. Not only do they have everything you want there, but they will help you do chores, things that you want to do. And when I said that I'm always doing things with the house, they will advise you on what to use or what to help. They have the experience. They know all about how you do things. They'll put in a new--. They'll replace your screen. If you, somebody punches a hole in a screen, they'll fix the screen for you, things like that that I just value. I value their advice. I value the fact that they've been there for, well, I think maybe three generations. And it's just a wonderful store. So I patronize them, rather than the new hardware store, which is a chain store. So, but both of the drug stores that we had in Concord when I was first here, Snow's and Richardson's, which were on opposite corners on Thoreau Street and Main Street, I mean Walden street and Main Street, on the corners, they're both gone now, and we have Rite Aid or, CVS, big chain stores.
So but in the downtown, there's been some success in keeping it small scale, in the downtown. And hopefully it will remain in West Concord as well. Because West Concord Center now, there is a lot of land that has been purchased by developers that is--. I think that they put together lots, and there's an area in back of the stores on Commonwealth Avenue in West Concord where there are many like small shops in old kind of, almost warehousey buildings, looking buildings, old, not modern buildings. And but there are a lot of startup companies there and companies--. I would think it was lower rent than some of the other places. But that's now all being bought. That area and another area on the other side of Commonwealth Avenue is all being bought by developers, so there are going to be big changes in these areas. And what has been articulated is people's desire that it stay the same scale and hopefully having some of the same kinds of activities. But with the increased prices that will be with redevelopment, I don't know if those people will be able to find a place in Concord anymore, because the rents are going up.
I have a close friend, Pong, who is a Korean woman who has a photo store in Concord Center. And now with photos being all digital and everything, she's saddled with all this equipment, and she doesn't have--. She's not making enough money really to pay the rent. And the rent keeps going up. The people have been very generous to her, I think, in terms of the rent, in trying to keep her rent down, but, the owners of the building. But it's--. I'm just--. That's how I know that it's hard for people. When the rents go up they can't stay in the business, in businesses that have, that don't have big incomes.
MK: What about historic preservation efforts around Concord? Are there any laws or regulations on the books to protect the older buildings that you're talking about that seem to be, end up being "scrapers?" I mean what--?
CD: Umm hmm.
MK: How does this play out, the--? Is there any sort of balance in the town government's effort?
CD: There is. There are historic districts. We have a Historic Districts Commission. And we have an Historical Commission. And both of them have done and do do very good work. And but I think most of, some of the important efforts in historic preservation have taken place by individuals or associations of people. And I'm thinking of Anna Winters Rasmussen, who bought--. I think she and her husband bought a house on Barrett's Mill Road, which was in very bad disrepair. It had been a farm in one family for many, many years. And they bought that house and are trying to restore it with the hope that it will eventually become part of the Minuteman National Park. But it was really on their initiative, I would say, primarily, that that house is being protected and stabilized, so that it can become eventually part of the farm. Their house is on, the land, the Barrett House is the land on which the Concordians hid the arms that the British were looking for when they came to Concord at the start of the Revolution,, what started the Revolutionary War. They were looking for arms that were hidden on this property, which had been apparently dug into the spring furrows in April. They put the armaments into the furrows, because they knew that the British were coming to look for them. So it's just--.
That's happened. And another instance that I know of, that shows how important initiative by individuals has been to Concord in the safeguarding of this, was there was a house on Walden Street which was at the--. It was sort of the first house at the end of the commercial development of the Center. And it was owned by the bank, which was next store to it. It was purchased by the bank. And it had been kind of allowed to disintegrate. And I think that the bank wanted to have it torn down and have a parking lot there, because they needed more parking space. And I was told by the Town Planner that it was, couldn't be, couldn't be refurbished. It couldn't be--. It wasn't possible really to refurbish it, to keep it. And but a woman--.
MK: And her name was?
CD: And her name was Martha Hamilton. Her name is Martha Hamilton. Martha Hamilton, she'd bought this house. And she did a beautiful job of restoration of the house, a magnificent job.
CD: The location is on Walden Street, and it's the first house after the bank, the bank on the--. I can't remember what number it is. But it's the first house at the edge of the commercial district. And now it is used as a bed and breakfast. And it's used--. And it's beautifully--. I just went in it this spring with some people who were staying there. And it's absolutely beautifully restored, by Martha Hamilton, and now by--. Now there's another owner, but it's really a beautiful place with all these gardens around it. And it's just elegant and lovely. And it is--. I believe it's an 18th Century house. So it's a very old house. And the thing that--. Why that was so important, that particular house is so important, to restore, was because the thing that I believe that makes Concord Center so unique, and so, why people love Concord so much, is that there's a very clear, distinctive edge to the village, to the commercial village, where the commercial area ends, where the residential begins.
And instead of just dribbling off in parking lots and other uses like that, garages, whatever, it's very distinct, where that edge is. And I think that's what gives the downtown its character. And so it was very important that that not be a parking lot, you see. And plus it's just a beautiful house. It's very close to the street, and then with all these beautiful gardens around it. So it's really exquisite.
Another example of initiative on, is that on restoring old houses in the town, is the restoration of the Thoreau Birthplace. And that has been initiated by Mr. Wheeler. And he has worked very hard and raised, they've raised money; they have an association, a board, an independent organization that's restoring this house. And it is the--. It's a house on farmland on Old Bedford Road. So it's out in the, more on, in the farmland area of Concord. But that has been a huge project and a very difficult, because there was lots of restoration that was needed. And so it's--. That's been a very important project too. But these are being done by individuals really and, individuals who start organizations, or have the impetus and put a great deal of time and effort into making that, making that go, making that take, having that take place. So, those are three of the examples of places that would, would have been very different if people hadn't taken initiatives to restore them.
MK: So looking on down the road, do you feel--? Are you conversant with the zoning laws of the town, or do you think they're adequate to protect this essential character that you're talking about? Or what do you think will protect it, or do you think it'll be protected?
CD: I think that efforts are being made. I served on the Long Range Plans Committee in 1987, years ago. And I was very involved for two decades on many committees in the town. And I think that's why I have the interest and concern maybe that I have in the whole town. But some things that I think are important are being--. I mean I think there are people that are working on these things. When I said that it's individuals or the impetus of individuals then gathering support from other people who have really made the difference in some of these restorations of these houses. But also in land acquisition for protection there's some similar things going on. The--. In earlier days land would be proposed for acquisition at Town Meeting. We have an open Town Meeting form of government here. And we would vote. Most--. Because most people in the town, it was very, very important to them. The protection of open space was like top thing in their minds that, of needs. And so land was protected in that way by acquisition by the town.
Now the land is so expensive, and but I'm amazed by some of the private, things that are done primarily privately, or through the Concord Land Trust, which is a private--. It's an organization of people who want to protect land. And Marian Thornton is the person who has been a leader of that group, and well there are a number of people. But Marian has certainly taken a lead in that group. And what I was amazed by was there was land that came on the market, a big parcel of land on, it was at the end of Simon Willard Road, a very large piece of land, which everybody wanted to have protected, because it was connected by trails all the way. There's an old railroad that goes around the foot of Nashawtuc Hill, which is very close to the center of town here. And that trail went past this land, which everybody had always considered to be woods and that it was going to stay that way. But it was on the market, and it was very expensive land. But the neighbors--. People in the neighborhoods I think were the primary people who donated money to purchase that land and protect it. So it was phenomenal. But the Land Trust I think bought the land and protected it. But it was through the auspices of many of the people in that neighborhood who offered a great deal of money to help protect it. So more of it is being done by private, or private groups, not private groups, because as a group the Land Trust is open to everybody, but it's the, it's under the impetus certainly of people who have a great deal of money and who are willing to spend it on open space protection.
Another group that has formed recently, or that is doing a lot of land protection in Concord is the Walden Woods Project. And they bought a big piece of land on Route 2 and have made this wonderful, wonderful park, Thoreau Walk, that you can take. It's between Route 2 and the area we call Fairyland, which is another protected area. And they are now protecting farmland on the other side of the road. They have done wonderful things in terms of protecting land. Wonderful. And that is Don Henley's group who--. He was the founder of that group. And he has raised lots of money from people. But they have done remarkable things. So there have been organizations like Walden Woods, Concord Land Trust, groups that, and the Thoreau Birthplace people—
MK: And the town government.
CD: --who protect the land. Pardon?
MK: And the town government.
CD: And the town government has supported that, but. Yeah, but it hasn't come through, so much through tax payer dollars now, because I think the money is so much. I shouldn't say that. That's not true, because now we have this community preservation fund, and so money has gone from the community preservation fund toward some of these projects, I think.
MK: That's a function of the town?
CD: That is a function of the town. It combines money that is a percentage of money that's added to your taxes, to your tax bill. I think it's one point something percent added onto your taxes. And it's combined with money from the state that's in a certain fund that's distributed to the towns and to be used for preservation, and that can be preservation of land or houses. I think recreation and I believe low cost housing too. Low cost housing. [whispering, possibly saying: Need somebody else.]
I don't know why I'm just going--. I think I'm going bonkers here that I can't remember anybody's name. I'm very involved with that.
[Recorder is turned off and back on]
MK: Mention his name again, please.
CD: Charlie Phillips is somebody that I was talking to the other day who is very involved with the low cost housing effort, effort to produce lower cost housing to provide for more diversity in the town, more, so that people can live here who aren't gazillionaires. And he is somebody--. And Terry Rothermel has always been a very strong advocate also for those efforts, which many people contribute to, including myself. But it really takes people who, again, are really going to have the drive to press for, because all these things take tremendous effort. All these--. And this is the thing about Concord that I think is, has made it unique, really, is the fact that so many people over, historically and now, take tremendous effort and will put in a lot of personal time and effort and concern into the things they do for the town. I think of Jim Catterton, who is another person, who has been working on the community gardens. He has helped create, and he runs one, and he's trying to now, I think, build, have another, third. I think it would be the third community garden developed, where people can subdivide it. But they provide water, and they provide plowing. And then it's divided up into lots, and so people can have their own vegetable gardens there. And it's--. Now again, with the need for more locally produced food it's, that's going to be a boon. And he has taken a lot of effort and time to work on that and to volunteer, as a volunteer. These things are all--. That's another thing where there's been quite a shift in the town, because there was so much done in the past by volunteers. And now they say, and I guess it must be true, that volunteers cannot be found to do all the work. So they hire staff; the town hires staff to do a lot of these things.
For instance, the organization called Re-Use It, which Marian may have spoken of, but it was an organization that was formed to develop recycling. And it was all run by volunteers; the whole thing was run by volunteers, which involved an awful lot of work. And Vivian Wallworth was one of the people who was very involved in that. She's still here. But now it's done--. The main drop off, swap off days, which are twice a year, which are huge, involve maybe 200 volunteers, come and help. But the organization of it is done by paid staff now. So there has been quite a shift to taking on paid staff, replacing what volunteers used to do when I was first here. So the staff of the town has grown enormously. I mean we didn't even have a Town Planner when I first came to town. And now we have planners and sub-planners, subs to that! We have a whole kit and caboodle of people that work in those offices. So it has become more professionalized. But there's something--. You still need the volunteers, because the professionals, often they don't live in town. They don't have the, I guess the energy and the concern—
MK: Passion, you might say.
CD: The passion is correct. They don't have the passion that it takes to devote the kind of time that's needed to make any of these projects go.
MK: We're talking ultimately about community protection.
CD: That's right. A lot of the efforts are done by--. So I suppose you could extrapolate from that and say that if there aren't the volunteers in the future that exist now, those things won't happen.
MK: At least not in the same way.
CD: Not in the same way. Not in the same way. And I think the values have changed. Now you can say, "Well we've protected all we can protect, but I guess some of the values still stay, or those people wouldn't have put in that money to save that land. I don't think it was just to protect their own properties.
MK: Well Concord is a model for, on so many levels, for other towns. You'll never be able to duplicate its history, but the efforts to preserve and diversify it are stunning. And there's concern in lots of places you wouldn't expect to find it. I interviewed the Fire Chief yesterday and the head of the Electric Plant.
MK: These guys have Concord in their hearts. And--.
MK: And they're looking out for it in every way they can, trying to build strong infrastructures and provide good protection services and deal with shrinking budgets and--.
MK: The vision here and the local involvement is a real model. So I think this is a significant project, not just for Concord. Thank you so much for this morning. It has just been great.
CD: You're very welcome. It has been very interesting to me. I just think of what, if there's anything really important to add in terms of where it's going. I guess not, because it really—
MK: I think you . . .
CD: --talked about all the--. [CD ends; original Digital Audio Tape goes on as follows.] important, well all the things that I care about.
MK: Thank you again.