George Kidder
Spencer Brook Rd.

Age: 66

Interviewed October 5, 1991

Concord Oral History Program
Interviewed by Renee Garrelick

George Kidder Youth in Concord
Hosmer Rd. -- Nashoba Park
Abundance of open farm land
Work at Gordon Hutchins farm -- Punkatasset
Reformatory farm
School days

Formation of Concord Bookshop

President Boston Symphony, Chairman Children's Hospital

My family was living here when I was born in 1925. They rented a couple of houses. They had the Mary Abbott house, as it was always called, on Sudbury Road and then after that the Colonel Goodwin house, as it was known, on River Street right at the corner of Nashoba. Then they bought about 1927 up on Hosmer Road. We lived at 8 Hosmer Road all through my growing up days. That was what they called the Nashoba Park then. The Wilson Lumber company owned a lot of woods behind us, and the woods ran all the way out to Baker Avenue. It was really somebody else's turf but you wandered through as kids growing up because there was nobody behind you.

I went to the Brooks School. Somebody said I'm the oldest living graduate of what was Mrs. Brooks School because it was then in a little bungalow up on Monument Street just before the old railroad track crossing on the left hand side. It's curious because every once in a while, you have flashback memories of things, but I can remember some sort of treehouse in the backyard and playing there in a small room where we also sat on the floor crosslegged.

From there I did go to Fenn for three years, because I was young for my age. Then in third grade I went to Peter Bulkeley School and stayed there through the sixth grade. After that I went back to Fenn and then I went off to boarding school in ninth grade, in Southborough.

My family stayed at Hosmer Road after I went to the navy and sea duty near the end of the war, but when I came back they had moved up to the corner of Barrett's Mill and Lowell Road, across from the Brooks. Andrew Hepburn was in the Brooks house, and I always remember the 1938 hurricane and the gigantic elm in the front yard, maybe it was legend but it said it moved the house on its foundation when it fell against it. It was a giant tree.

They were there from roughly 1945 until 1952 when they built a house next to the farmhouse. They sold that farmhouse and the barn and about 4 acres of land to Bruce and Bonnie Old in the early 1970s. The house they built still had about 15 acres and had a wonderful spot to put a canoe into the river. They built their own house which they loved, but when my father got a little older and he wasn't able to keep up the vegetable garden and it was more house then they wanted, they moved to where Alice and Pat [Moulton] are now and that was the last house they had as a retirement home. He didn't live there very long because he died in that house. But the curious coincidence was that the house on Hosmer Road they sold to Bonnie and Bruce Old and they sold a house on Lowell Road to Bonnie and Bruce Old.

I had sort of moved away from there because by the time I came back from the navy, I was married and I went to law school in Cambridge at Harvard and then lived very briefly in Needham. I got called back into the navy and then did some time in Washington for the general counsel of the Central Intelligence Agency during the Korean War, and then returned to the law firm that I have been with now for a total span of about 41 years, Hemenway and Barnes. It is one of the older firms and one that has deliberately stayed smaller because it didn't want large growth. It has managed to avoid some of the problems of some of the large ones are having at the moment.

My father was Henry Perkit Kidder and my mother Julia Howe Kidder. Her sister was Fidie Warren who formed the Concord Book Shop with Joan Baldwin years ago. Actually all three sisters of that family lived in Concord at a time, the oldest of the three was Sylvia Cheney in what people today would think of as Carl DeSuze's house, but that was back in the days again when all the woods behind them clear to the Assabet River were undeveloped. I can remember going there with our cub scout troop and our den master or whatever he was called, and his exasperation in the middle of the night that we were making so much noise that he finally packed up and left us out there to fend for ourselves.

I grew up at a time when there was an abundance of open land. It seems to me that when growing up, the population of the town was somewhere in the 5,000 or 6,000 range. We had neighborhood baseball teams that used to play behind where the Springs live now which was the Newell Garfield house back in those days before Mrs. Garfield started The Tweed Shop. We played another team from down on Sudbury Road, and we would get together and have those kind of informal things all the time. There was a wonderful brook that I remember there that we occasionally built a dam just to see how long it took a fellow over back on Musketaquid Road to discover that it was filling up his cellar and he'd come out and demolish it. It was very much an open town.

The circus trains used to come through on the old tracks and we would go down and watch that. You could go everywhere on a bicycle. Travel for those who commuted into town was more on the train by far then than the amount of commuting done by car today. Father always rode the train to work. I can remember at the beginning he worked five and a half days because he went in on Saturday morning-for a brief time.

I did for a long while, until my commuting hours were affected by early morning meetings at either the hospital or Symphony Hall. Then I generally don't leave town until close to 7:00 in the evening so there are not trains at that time close together that gives you any choice. You have to discipline yourself to leave at a very definite hour when there are still sometimes things that need to be taken care of.

When you went up Nashoba Road, it almost deadended there at Hosmer and the fire chief, Mr. Tuttle lived on the left hand side there with his land backing up to the Boston and Maine tracks. Then Hosmer went through to Crescent Road, and Crescent was always there shaped from one end of Elm Street to another point on Elm Street. I remember Route 2 being built in 1934 because we used to bicycle long stretches of it when you could do that to watch the construction.

The first job I ever had was working on Gordon Hutchins's farm, Punkatasset, learning how to run a hayrig, haul hay into the barn, load a hay wagon. We did a lot of potatoes and strawberries. He had a farmer and he always had a couple of kids that were sort of reform school fellows that came down from Shirley. They arranged some sort of work release for them so there were a number of them and I used to bicycle up there from Hosmer Road every day and worked with them on the farm.

All that area across the street, which I guess the Bemises now have, was hay. None of the vegetable gardens that are there now down by the river were there then. Mr. Hutchins's potato field was over behind Punkatasset by the pond. The strawberry bed was up above his house and I want to say where the McMillans live now. Where the Crosses live now was the farmer's house. The barn we used to fill with hay during that time was behind their house. They also had a lot of cows. He had a pretty good sized operation. The second time when I went back to Fenn in the seventh and eighth grades, he would let us use all that area. We had wonderful games sometimes in the afternoons sort of between seasons where you would go up there and play scout, where you try to see who could-capture somebody else's home base without being seen crawling through the woods. It was great fun. We would ski coming up behind Roger Fenn's house and across that big field and up to what we called "little Punk," which was a hill just in there a little ways. Our skating hockey team was played on Punk when we put boards out on the ice and cleared that when the ice was there. He was still taking a lot of ice in because he had his own ice house down there. People would come out with the long saws and cut the stuff. It was a nice part of Concord.

There were a lot of farms. That's a part of Concord that I suspect will be hard to hold onto, as it is in Vermont and everywhere else because it is a marginal life that they manage to make off the land.

Route 2 did strange things because I think there was much more of a division between West Concord and the rest of Concord, and I'm sure Route 2 reinforced that once it was built in the mid30s. I think to the better that the town is more one now in that sense in that those who live on that western side of Route 2 do not feel as much as they were a different town as people did back in those times.

The gangs we sort of grew up with and played with as kids were some from around Hosmer Road and that area but then stretching down towards Elm Street and above Simon Willard and River Street - along that stretch the Codys, the Hawkins, the Garfields were all part of the group we grew up with. Baker farm was behind us off Baker Avenue and that was still some kind of operation.

The reformatory was there. I can remember hearing bands playing on Saturday mornings and things like that. I'm not sure what was going on behind the wall of the reformatory, but they must have had their own band there. I have a very clear memory of some of those early morning sounds on the weekend. It was not a forbidding or threatening place, and I think that was to Concord's credit that when New Braintree and other places say they will lie down in front of the bulldozer, that some towns have had to live with this kind of situation for years. It has just always been a part of the scenery in Concord. It was a very different looking situation that I remember than it is today. The farm was an active farm for those who were of better behavior, and you had a sense of more of a going operation there then. Now it looks more silent and behind doors today when you drive by there. I think we regarded it more as a reformatory. I think Charlestown was more of the prison. That was well before the days of Walpole and Cedar Junction. There were houses there where people who worked there, guards and others, lived in - those two and three family houses along Commonwealth Avenue. Those date back to that time.

In West Concord, there were a few industries, as such, like the Dover Ski Binding place, and I remember the apple storage place on the road to Maynard and then the powder mill was out a little farther toward the Maynard line. Thoreau Hills, that's all recent, and I think that has helped give a more cohesive sense to the town, because those people are part of the government machinery and all the rest.

When I came back from Washington, I found an old house in Lincoln which was right near the center, and I got deeply involved in Lincoln town government. I chaired a school building committee, and I was on the planning board and on the finance, and as an associate on the board of appeals and actually was treasurer of the First Parish Church, the white church in the center of town. Then our kids started coming over in this direction to school and we just sort of grew out the house. My first wife died and Priscilla and I were married in 1958, and then we had children of our own, a daughter and then twins. We just burst out of the house where we were on Winter Street. This place had been on the market for about 8 months, and we've been here now for more than 28 years.

This just worked, but by then I had sort of gotten involved in a lot of things around where I worked, and some things that were law related. I did a time with the Massachusetts Association for the Blind as president. Then I got involved with the schools, Fenn and Concord Academy, and with St. Marks which was the school my great-grandfather had started, and I did time as heads of the boards of all those places. Then I got involved with the Episcopal Seminary in Cambridge, The Episcopal Theological School and with Wellesley College. I spent 18 years on the Wellesley board and about 19 on the board at Episcopal Theological School, which became the Episcopal Divinity School after it merged with a seminary in Philadelphia. I spent a lot of time there and I still do some things for them in a variety of ways.

The symphony thing began years ago. I'm in my fifteenth year as a trustee there. But that and the Children's Hospital sort of monopolize time. The symphony job, as president, puts me on the Channel 2 board, and I serve as the Episcopal bishop for this dioceses.

I am president of the symphony, and it's a funny thing because in the world of symphony orchestras, that makes you the chief executive officer because the music director doesn't wish to account to somebody who's a professional above him. He's comfortable with the notion of a volunteer president, and he and I and the managing director work very closely together, handling major problems, personnel, and we have a lot of properties here in Boston as well as out in Tanglewood, we have a lot of land there. It's a very complicated organization. It has as many as 800 volunteers who are involved in a variety of projects. The actual staff itself is about 120 who are not musicians, and about 200 musicians. The board is a reasonable size board of about 27 trustees and we have 92 overseers. It is the most complicated of any symphony orchestra in this country, and perhaps its budget is as large as any in the world. The budget is getting up toward 38 million now.

I've been chairman elect and becoming chairman of Children's Hospital the first of the year on top of this job. In a way that's sort of troublesome because it means you have less time here, and weekends in the summer, we're at Tanglewood because the orchestra is up there.

I think Children's serves a local role, an eastern Massachusetts role, a state and a national role and then, of course, an international role. Patients come with very severe illnesses that need to be treated by people who are on the cutting edge of their medical profession. It has the Harvard affiliation with the teaching that goes on for residents and interns, and an enormous research component because a lot of extraordinary research is going on there.

I have sort of a related thing there in that I chair the Captive Insurance Company that Harvard created some years ago for the doctors for malpractice coverage and liability coverage for the hospitals like MGH and the whole complex of Harvard teaching hospitals. I'm lucky to have the variety of things I do but not enough time at home. I miss that. When the kids were all here, all six of them, this is a wonderful house for that because they could all have their own corner.

I experienced the Peter Bulkeley School for four years where the Concord elementary operation was housed. Harvey Wheeler was the West Concord kind of the division of the town such as it was at that point, I don't know that there was much connection between the two. You never met people in your own age level who went to Harvey Wheeler because they always went there and they lived near there. Fenn, of course, and the Academy have all changed. I was president of the board at the time when it went coed from a girls school into admitting boys. We did so because the quality of applicants they had before was superb, but at the moment Andover, Exeter, St. Pauls and some other places started admitting girls, there was a need to deal with that kind of quality. Becoming coed the other way for a school like that was difficult. We did at St. Marks by merging two schools. Nashoba, for their own reasons, have various collaborative sorts of things, but I think they have felt very comfortable being separate. Fenn taking care of boys from 4 to 9 and Nashoba for girls of that age although Nashoba feeds in from Brooks, which is a coed beginning. I spent about 21 years on the Fenn board and 13 as president of that board.

Fenn had grown substantially more diverse since Roger Fenn's time when he visioned Fenn students feeding into Middlesex and thus into Harvard. One of the things that I think has still characterized Fenn is some boys will get a kind of grounding in small class situations. But I think Fenn was feeding a far more diverse variety of schools then just Middlesex. Middlesex, of course, at the time when Roger was speaking was, at one point, mostly boarding and had a very small day component. I think they are up to 40 to 50 day students now and the total is probably a little more than 300.

Fenn has fed boys into Concord Academy, as well as Middlesex, not in significant numbers, and a good many into the Concord- Carlisle system and I think that is a healthy system. If it really developed into an us and them division, I would find it very unhappy. But I've always felt with the independent education, that in one sense they had freedom to experiment and try things and if they could really set some standards of rigorous learning and teaching, that in itself was a healthy kind of example. I don't think that an educational system in the country has hurt for the fact that there are still independent schools, although the cost now is ridiculous, and we do have to offer a great deal more financial aid to students.

I was on the Concord Finance Committee during the time Bert Newbury was the Town Moderator. We came back here in 1963, and I'm going to say that it would have been sometime in the early '70s. The regional high school was there. I think there may have been some problems with the roof. There were problems with Route 2 zoning. I did have as a client the Middlesex Insurance people in the rezoning of Sentry from its days as Xavier High School and working out the terms of the zoning bylaw that would govern its use as a office headquarters.

I had a lot of other close connections in the town. Members of the Macone family were people I worked with in a professional way over the years including the original garage that the older brothers ran, and the gas station and Macone Sporting Goods that Joe and Peanut operated for a long time. Tom's World, I guess, was the name at one time of what is Crosby's Star Market today, but Joe Macone was sort of the landlord of all of that. We did that sale some years ago to the Concord Cooperative Bank. They took over the development of the balance of the center. Joe retired and went to live in Maine which he loved. I kept that connection with him up to the time he died, and we still have it with his wife.

My law practice now is largely in the estate and trust area because we manage a fairly substantial trust operation in our office. That's a kind of anomaly of Boston law firms that you don't find in many other parts of the country although there are a few that are beginning to get into it more heavily. Those provide very lasting relationships that go on for years as opposed to the sort of transactional things that a lot of lawyers find their practices are characterized by. I like that, the notion of the longevity of many of those arrangements.

The Concord Book Shop was formed in 1940 by my aunt, Mrs. Frances Warren whose husband's name was Edward Warren. They lived on Estabrook Road. She was known as Fidie and with her partner, Joan Baldwin, the wife of Raymond Baldwin and the mother of Stef Baldwin, they organized this first as a lending library operation located in what I believe was Mr. Henry Thorpe's shoe store, which is right next to Independence Court on the right side of the Mill Dam as you head towards the flag pole circle. They were there for a time and moved to Walden Street for a number of years. While Mrs. Baldwin was still actively involved in it, they entered into a joint leasing of what is now the Mary Curtis Shop and they shared half and half that space. Mrs. Homeyer was running Mary Curtis Shop and Mrs. Warren and Mrs. Baldwin the book shop.

I can remember one of those fall hurricanes when the Mill Brook was coming out of its banks and moving into the basement, and trying to get the Christmas stock to be up on high platforms so that it wouldn't all be submerged. That went on for a while until both operations really were large enough that sharing space didn't make sense.

The book shop moved then down to 3 Main Street towards the Wright Tavern end of the Mill Dam and remained there until the First National Store property in their current location at 65 Main Street became available when that market shut down. The book shop took over all that space and did a substantial bit of renovating. They've been in that location ever since. That was probably about 1970 or slightly after that. They've been there now for about 18 years and hope to stay there indefinitely.

After my aunt became less able to run this by herself, as she got older and Mrs. Baldwin had retired, I organized the book shop as a corporation for them, and sold the ownership of it to Mr. & Mrs. Henry Laughlin, the Morgan Smith Srs., and a couple from Cambridge, John and Judy King. Then I was asked if I would rejoin them after they had completed the purchase from my aunt. I became the clerk and a director, and subsequently my wife and I have become modest stockholders in the thing. The current ownership includes the Morgan Smith Srs., the Kings are no longer involved, but the Laughlin's granddaughter and her husband, and the Morgan Smith Jrs., Binny Smith being the manager of the operation, and ourselves.

When they shared space with the Mary Curtis Shop and around Christmas time, it was a total zoo in there. For years with Christmas buying, my aunt would offer jobs to anybody who wanted to make a little extra money around Christmas time. But by the time all the shop personnel as well as customers crowded in there, Mrs. Homeyer worried about the delicate glass on her side of the premises, it was time for the book shop to find its own quarters and that's when they moved down to 3 Main Street.

Text and images mounted 12th December 2012. RCWH.