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Carrie Kline: 0:00:03.4 Okay, this is the afternoon of the 7th of May—a beautiful day, sunny and dry—a late spring. I'm Carrie Kline here with my husband Michael Kline, and would you introduce yourself? I'll hold the mic.
Lucille Stott: I'm Lucille Stott.
CK: Okay, and your date of birth, to put it on some perspective?
LS: Yes, I was born on March 17th, 1947.
CK: Okay, and would you tell us some about your people and where you were raised?
LS: I was raised in Connecticut in New Haven, Connecticut, actually. My father was a hairdresser, he was self-employed. My mother was a housewife. We come from a very large Italian family on both sides, so I'm one-hundred percent Italian.
CK: Just one moment, I'll check the levels here. A hundred percent Italian on both sides?
LS: Mm-hmm, that's right. (laughter)
CK: How far back?
LS: Oh gosh, well my parents are second generation, so their parents immigrated—so I'm third generation, yeah. So, my background, and then I came to Concord to teach at Concord Academy. My first husband and I had moved to Massachusetts—I always—we were in Buffalo, New York when we were first married, and I—I married in 1969, and moved to Buffalo and I always wanted to come back to New England in Boston—the Boston area was always very special to me since I first visited it as a kid. I don't know, I felt a real connection—deep connection to Boston, so this is where I wanted to be. So my husband was the first one to get a job and we moved for his job, and then I got a job at Concord Academy shortly after that.
CK: When was that?
LS: I started in January 1978, which was very interesting because I was supposed to be a sabbatical replacement for one semester that was 1978, (laughter) and I'm still—I'm teaching there now, so it was one of those things that gets you to question assumptions.
It was fun, but the other interesting thing was we had weathered the blizzard of 1977 in Buffalo, which remains a legendary blizzard—only to come to Boston in 1978 just in time for the blizzard of 1978, which arrived three weeks after I'd started—or a few weeks after I'd started teaching at Concord Academy. (laughter)
CK: So you were living in Boston?
LS: We were living in Shrewsbury, actually. My husband was working in Worcester and we were living in Shrewsbury, and so I was commuting from Shrewsbury for the first semester that I was here, then we moved onto campus the following fall. So I actually moved to Concord in the fall of 1978.
LS: Post blizzard—the blizzard was in the winter and we moved in the fall.
CK: What were you teaching?
LS: I was teaching French at the time—full time French.
CK: Great, well I see that you have sort of a list for yourself and I don't want to dominate the interview, so if there are directions you want to go in, I know there are a lot of different projects that you've worked on in Town.
LS: Mm-hmm, I think for the first part of my career at Concord Academy, which lasted from 1978 to 1990, Concord was really Concord Academy for me. I didn't really know very much about the Town, but then I—in 1990, I left Concord Academy for a decade to do other things, and one of those things was to work for community newspapers, and so I eventually became Editor of The Concord Journal. So I was the Editor of The Concord Journal from 1995 to at some point in 1997, which was a two-and-a-half-year stint in the mid-90s, and that's where I really got to know all the layers of Concord, and that's where I became involved in all of the other projects I've been involved in since. It was a job that I loved—in 1997 I—
Michael Kline: What was the name of it, I'm sorry.
LS: It was The Concord Journal. It's the local newspaper here.
MK: That's what I thought you said.
LS: Yep. When I stopped being the Editor of The Journal in '97, I became Managing Editor, so I was still involved with Concord's newspaper, but I was also managing all of the other newspapers in our community group, but I still stay closely connected to everything that I had been involved in in Concord.
So it was about a four or five year stint at the newspaper that got me closely involved in a number of things, and it really amazed me to see how many people from around the world were interested in this little Town. So I would get calls at my newspaper desk from Japan, or from Europe, from states—other states in the United States, interested both in the issues that were arising in Concord, but also just in learning about where to go when they got to Concord, and for a lot of people this was a mecca. Not just because of Thoreau, but just because of their favorite authors—Louisa May Alcott, or everyone who called had a particular reason for loving Concord, and one of the other things that surprised me as Editor was we would often get requests to put obituaries in our newspaper for people who had simply spent a vacation here, but wanted their obituary to be featured in The Concord Journal because Concord had become very special to them. So it was unusual, it felt very unusual to me. (laughter)
LS: (laughter) And the other thing I became very closely involved with the Library because the Library really was the center—I felt was the heart of the Town. A part of it was because of our current—the director at the time, Barbara Powell who really opened this building and this—all the treasures to people with a warm heart, and I think people felt very at home here. But also because I did research here for anything—the archivists were always willing to help, and again, people from around the world were coming to work in the archives room, so that was always very special to me.
CK: What kind of research?
LS: Well about Thoreau, people who were writing about any of the authors here would come to find all of the various treasures in the archives—the Thoreauvian scholars, the Emerson scholars, Alcott, but also people who were just interested in the environmental movement, or people who wanted to know the history of Walden Pond—that kind of thing, writing about the nature of Concord, the rivers, and of course, the Revolutionary scholars would come as well. So, there's so many—there were so many books to conquer.
CK: What about for you?
LS: For me?
CK: What were you looking at?
LS: I was often writing in my newspaper articles—it—things were very different in the 90s. It doesn't seem like very far away, but things were quite different. We were still actually, we were non-digital, so our newspaper pages would come out on these very large—in these very large sheets that would be put on a drafting table, and we would actually take a—something that looked like a surgery knife. What do you call the—you know, a—
CK: Like an X-acto knife?
LS: Like an X-acto, it was an X-acto knife, and we would actually cut—. If we had made a mistake, we would actually cut out the word or the letter—physically cut it out and physically glue in another letter, and those things would be copied by an old-fashioned printer and you'll go through the printing process, and we would actually as editors proof each other. We would walk around the tables and we shake our heads now actually as we're thinking about this, but it was wonderful. It was very visceral and physical, so when you put out a newspaper, you felt as though you were really putting out a product you could feel. So, I was actually right in the center of—I was right at the pivot of the old and the new.
During my time as Editor we moved from the handmade paper to the digital paper, which we never saw the pages, we just saw them on screen. So, it was a huge difference, and for me it was—you know, it was like losing something very special. I was very attached to the old ways, although, of course this is probably much better. It's much faster, much more efficient and probably cheaper and probably saves some hours of time, which meant that it was cheaper for the company. But there was something very special and very community—we were all in it together and it felt very special to put out that paper.
CK: 0:08:55.5 You think the quality changed in that transition?
LS: I don't think the quality changed because of the technology. I think the quality has changed, unfortunately, because of the corporate culture. The paper—the small papers—as technology became prevalent, the small newspapers went out of fashion, so a lot of people are getting their news in other ways, so it became much more important to sell advertising dollars. So the papers became much less local.
So when I was Editor I wrote a local editorial every week. I would write it, and it would be about Concord, and then underneath that editorial, I would publish a column, which was called "Concord Currents." It had a picture of the rivers on it, and it was just about little things that would happen in Town that I would see in my walkings around, or that people would call and tell me—somebody doing something interesting, winning a prize, someone who might need a little bit of help, so it was all very local.
Also during my time there things changed in that we were suddenly getting canned editorials from the central office about national or international issues, not about Concord issues—so we were discouraged from writing local editorials. In part because there wasn't enough—. Editors were being asked to do much more—I had a two-person—. I had two reporters who worked for me, and that was luxurious.
The Concord Journal made money for the organization—Concord and Lexington were the two money makers, and we had two reporters. We would actually go out—the three of us would go out and walk the streets and talk to people, but then as people left, they didn't replace them, and so suddenly everyone was doing a lot more work, and they decided to centralize some of the tasks, and the editorials unfortunately were put under those tasks.
So the newspapers have become much less local, and I think that's—that's pretty sad, because at the time, people would call the newspaper editor to talk about things that bothered them, or things that they wanted looked into.
So, at one point we got a call saying that Route 2—the lights on Route 2, or the walk signs on Route 2 weren't working and they felt it was very dangerous to cross Route Two and even to drive down Route 2, so my reporters and I walked the length of Concord's Route 2 trying every light and realizing that most of them were not working, things were wrong—and so we contacted the police, and then the police contacted the state, and I wrote an editorial and we—and they got fixed. It was those kinds of things that was the newspaper working with the community to say, "Okay, we had this complaint, we checked it out ourselves, we're trying to get some help here." We felt very much a part of the life of the place.
One of our reporters—you probably don't—well, you wouldn't know, but the Concord Prison is here, you know that, and so we have a prison in Town, and they owned a number of houses that were in the ‘50s owned by families—by the families of the guards, so they would give them housing on their prison campus, but when those families moved out and things changed, they no longer offered their guards housing, they let the houses go.
A couple of them had some offices in them, but the rest of the houses were actually left to become decrepit, so you drive down Route 2 toward Concord, and you see these houses falling down—really eyesores, and my reporter came in one day and said, "what can we do about that? This is just something—maybe we should call someone's attention to that." And so we decided to make it a goal of our newspaper, we contacted people, we actually found a family who had lived in one of the houses and my reporter took her over to the house, noticed that it was open, you could walk in the door. And here was this woman who had grown up as a girl in one of these houses—her dad was a guard—crying at what had happened to her house, and so we published her story, we published pictures of these buildings, published pictures of what they used to look like when people actually lived in them, and now they're—they decided—the State paid attention, sort of looked at it, and they decided what they were going to do with the houses. They knocked down most of them, left one opened, rehabbed it for offices, and the rest they made into green space, which is now across from the prison—so—. But those were the kinds of things that made us feel that we wanted to go in in the morning and we wanted to do our work and be part of the community, and I think that's a little bit less of that now just because there's less time for people to—for editors and reporters to actually move into the community and get involved in those kinds of issues.
CK: 0:13:45.0 And The Journal came out how often?
LS: Once a week.
CK: So once a week.
LS: Once a week, mm-hmm, and that was before we had a web press, and so it was really just the once a week.
CK: Wow, and do you remember that transition to digital—when that happened?
LS: I really don't remember. I left in '99, I would say that it already had happened when I was Editor, so probably I was maybe there for only about a year and a half, so probably '97, '98 we began to get a little more digital, but even when I left in '99 it wasn't totally—it wasn't completely digital, so it was about a four to five year period when everything changed.
CK: Did you say you were there for a year and a half?
LS: No, no before it started to change, before it started to change, yeah.
CK: Yeah. Sounds like you ran it by consensus to a degree, that's really interesting management style.
LS: Well, I had an Editor-in-Chief, and so we had to run some of these things by him, but he was also very encouraging and encouraged all his editors I think to be part of the community. Concord's just a very special community, and people are very active here, and I think they took their newspaper seriously, they really wanted to be part of it, so, so—
CK: What was your title, then? Editor—
LS: I was Editor, just Editor of The Concord Journal, yeah.
LS: So one of the things I've become involved in that I've been involved in since 1998 when I was still there started with the Journal. I was sitting at my editor's desk one morning and got a call from a woman who lives on Virginia Road—Doris Smith—telling me that the house next door to her was the house where Henry David Thoreau was born in 1817 and that it was now privately owned—it had been for a while by a farmer. It was always a farming house, and the patriarch of that family had died, and his wife needed funds, and was going to sell the property, and it was sitting on approximately 25 acres of land and definitely falling down—the house.
A developer was interested and was going to knock the house down and build cluster homes on the property and it had already gone into the design phase, so there was already a design for that. And she was worried when it was brought—she had a meeting at her house—this was before she called me, and I believe the developer came, but in any case the developer found out about it, and he was told that this was the house that Henry David Thoreau was born in, and would he knock that house down? And he said "Well, I won't knock it down if someone buys it and just takes it off the property, but if it stays on my property, it has to go down." So, she called me and said maybe—you're kind of my last resort, is there anything you can do?
CK: She called you because?
LS: That it was the newspaper, it was her newspaper, and so I did some research about it, went out to see the house, called all the people I knew from Town—a Thoreau scholar—independent Thoreau scholar named Tom Blanding who had helped save the land around Walden Woods--
LS: Blanding, mm-hmm, he now lives in Acton, but he lived in Concord at the time. And he of course knew that Henry David Thoreau was born in this house and was very interested in helping out. So he wrote a piece for me, an op-ed piece for me about the house, and I began to talk to selectmen, and we got the Town involved, found out there was a citizen's group, you talk about volunteerism, a citizens group already forming to save the house. So suddenly there was the newspaper, the citizen's group, the Town manager and the selectmen were getting involved, and then the scholar was getting involved, the neighbors were getting involved, and we had this sort of—we were circling wagons around Henry's house, and the developer eventually moved—left because he said, "I'm not going to fight what's clearly going to be a very long battle over this, I'm really not interested"
But of course, we were also concerned with the family. Clearly the owner of the home, the widow needed—she needed funds, and we understood that. She needed to sell this property, so we had to buy it basically. We had to give her what she needed, it wasn't as if we wanted to prevent her from having what she needed, so the Town actually joined with the citizens. It was a public-private partnership to raise money to buy this property, all twenty-five acres and the house that Henry David Thoreau was born in.
And it was—this was in—I think I might have put this on my cheat sheet, or I might not have. It was 1997 when I got the call, and in 199—and that's when the effort began, and in 1998, a private citizen's group called the Thoreau Farm Trust, which I was a founding member of, became—came into existence as the private part of this effort. So ultimately we won, and the Town—with some grants from the State, from private funds, and from—we only used $160,000.00 from the Town of Concord Municipal Funding, $160,000.00 to save the 25 acres of land and the house that Henry David Thoreau was born in. The buying price—the selling price was $960,000.00, so all of that rest of that money--$800,000.00 was raised privately. As I said, the State put up matching funds, so they put in $160,000.00, the Town put in $160,000.00—
CK: The State?—What partner?
LS: State, the State put in—it was a special—I don't know, I'd have to look back on my records, but there was a special matching fund for historic sites, I think and part of this was historic. So they were able to match it, but again, it was this constant work by these amazing citizens to help all this happen. And so we were able to buy the land, and then what the Town said at that point—and we understood this, the citizens understood it was—"The Town has done all that it can. We can spend no more tax dollars on this, but now we turn it over to you as private citizens, and you decide how you're going to use this, how you're going to save the house," because the house was really falling down.
CK: And why was it important to buy the twenty acres?
LS: Well, I think the Town wanted to use some of it as conservation land, and if—if you—if you let that go, if you let the rest of that land go, something was going to be developed on it, and it was really I think important to keep—it surrounds the house, so it really would have had a great impact on beauty of the place and on appeal of the place. So I think the Town did a really good job of saying, "We're going to divide this lot, so we're going take about twenty-two acres of it as natural resources land and we're going to lease it to a non-profit which is already in existence called Gaining Ground, which was working on a small farm near a house in Concord.
Gaining Ground raises food for the hungry all by volunteers, and I guess there are a couple now staff farmers, but very part time. And so Gaining Ground now farms twenty-two acres—about twenty acres of that land. and the [Town] said, We're going to spin off, though," the Town said, "two acres, the acres that the house is actually sitting on, and we will sell it to the Thoreau Farm Trust," —the citizens' non-profit that opened up-- "we will sell it to you as soon as you've raised the money to restore the house." So that was our job to now raise more money.
The Town said, "Now we're done, so now it's up to you to do it." So the Thoreau Farm Trust began in 1998, it's still in existence, and we've raised enough money to restore the house, put a little addition on it, it now is open to the public, and we are still—we just feel very excited that we were able to save the house that Henry David Thoreau was born in. There are two things that are interesting—the house was completely run down, but when we had historic architects look at it, they said, "This is a lucky thing that everyone who owned the house as private owners—no one really had enough money to do too much to the house, which means that a lot of the historic fabric is intact."
And so the room that he was born in was barely touched, and they were able to remove linoleum and sort of get down to the wood and have a lot of—allow a lot of the original fabric of that room to emerge, and we've kept that room very simple and lean, and people now can visit the house where Henry was born.
It's a very special feel. I'm a pretty down-to-earth person, but as Editor of the paper, as soon as this house became—as soon as the Town bought it, I could go visit it, and so when I went to visit it, I just felt something very special in that house, and I don't usually—I don't feel things like that, it was just something—I don't know, I don't like to use words like "other-worldly" or "transcendent," but it was something about the house that felt very special to me, and so I stayed involved. I'm still a board member, so 1998 to 2014, I was president for seven of the years, I was president of the—during the time when we actually bought that land from the Town. We were able to say okay, we've raised the money, the Town sold us those two acres for a dollar and said we trust you to now be stewards of this space, so that's what we've been doing.
So that's something that's been very special to me and I don't know if you've interviewed Joseph Wheeler, he was our first president and one of the great families of Concord. And so he was my mentor in all of this and remains that until today. So that was one of the other big—big pieces of work that we did.
Now it's one interesting thing is that my name was different at the time. I was married, I remarried during my time in Concord, so as Editor of the Journal and when I first started working with Thoreau Farm, my name was Lucille Daniel with no S at the end, just Lucille Daniel like a boy's name. And in 2002 I changed my name to my second husband's name which is Stott, so a lot of people know me under Daniel from the old days.
CK: 0:24:35.7 So during the saving of the birthplace of Thoreau, your name transitioned?
LS: Exactly, yeah, my name transitioned then. While I was Editor it was always Daniel, so that's where all my bylines, that's what all my bylines say on the newspaper.
CK: What's the mission of this—of the place now that you saved, what—?
LS: Yeah, it's interesting because there are a lot of places in Concord that honor Thoreau and what we wanted to be was—we didn't want to repeat what other people were doing, that the museum has wonderful Thoreau artifacts, and of course there's the replica at Walden Pond, but we wanted to do something different. This was the place where he was born. He only lived there for a year and a half of his life, because his family couldn't make the farm work, so they moved out of the house, but still—that's where he started. So we started to make it the kind of seed for ideas, we wanted to make the birth—we're calling it "The Birthplace of Ideas," and we don't want it to be a museum, it's not going to have period furniture in there. We wanted to it be a place where people can gather to carry on the legacy of Thoreau and to the future. So rather than have it be a place that looks toward the past, our mission is to take Thoreau and kind of propel his ideas into the future.
So we're trying to do a lot with kids and teens and people of the next generations who will carry Thoreau's word and work forward. So we welcome writers there, we welcome environmentalists, we welcome local groups, we allow local groups to gather there free of charge if they would like to meet there, we hold workshops for kids either about writing, journal writing, or about ways to save the environment. We hold workshops for adults about sustainable living, about solar energy—those kinds of things.
And we've also, we've renovated the house in ways that are as green as we possibly could make them and we also hold workshops to help people see how they can take historic houses and still renovate them environmentally—in environmentally responsible ways, because a lot of people feel they can't touch a historic house, and there's certain things you probably shouldn't if you want to keep that house authentic. But there are things you can do, and our architect helped us do that. He helped show what we could do, so we have a composting toilet, we have—we're just installing some solar panels. We had to raise extra money for that, we have a special heating—heat, I don't know all the terms but we have a special heating that uses very, very low energies, so everything that we're doing we're trying to do in the spirit of Thoreau, yeah.
CK: 0:27:24.8 So you have staff that—?
LS: We have one executive director who works very part time for almost nothing, so it's a labor of love, and that's our staff. We have some guides that we pay a minimal fee to help show people around, we have a nonprofit board that's completely volunteer, and we have members who do pay a membership fee just to support the house, so we rely mainly on annual funding and grants.
CK: So people will come in to lead workshops?
LS: Yep, yep.
CK: And if one goes on a tour, what's the nature of that—what's the nature of the experience?
LS: Of the tour?
LS: Yeah, we talk a lot about Thoreau's beginnings. His mother lived in the house when she was growing up, and so we talk—he writes about her in his journal and the things she said about growing up on a farm. So we talk a little bit about her, and we talk about Thoreau's value of simplicity that we kept the house simple and what simplicity means.
We try to make it interactive so we ask people to leave something behind. For example, a card on our wall that says, "this is how I practice simplicity" or this is what Thoreau meant to me or this visit has taught me X and so, and I love to go, actually whenever I visit the house and look at that board and see what people are—people are saying. But we have on the walls quotes from Henry Thoreau, but also quotes from people who were influenced by Henry Thoreau. So we go to each of those during the tour and explain to people how Gandhi, for example, was influenced by Thoreau, how various people—both living and dead—used Thoreau's words to guide them. And then we have a wall of local people—contemporary people—whose lives have been influenced by Thoreau. So, we talk a lot about basically what Thoreau means today.
Again, even with the tour, we tell the history of the house and how it all—when he was born and what the house tend then 0:29:37.5 to always leave people with a future view of things. You know, what can you do when you leave here to take Thoreau with you?
MK: It's—I'm always impressed by the level of general knowledge in this Town. (laughter) The Town's history—
LS: 0:29:57.5 Yeah.
MK: —and people value it so much, so I—having all these questions in my mind, what was the process for coming up with the interpretation?
CK: Yeah, it's such a brave way—
MK: Did your funding sources—for example—if I were doing this in West Virginia with Humanities funding, I would have to get registered scholars—
CK: So let's ask her.
MK: Yeah, but just as—that was an example of what I'm asking.
CK: That was my question as well, it's a kind of a brave way.
MK: What was the process for coming up with the interpretation?
LS: Yeah, well there was—there's a historical consortium of fourteen historic places in Concord, and we joined that. But before we established our own mission, one of us on the board visited at least one of the—I think I visited three of those historical—the executive directors of those historical sites and said, "Okay, what would we—in a few sentences, what is your mission? What do you think we can do to add to the historical consortium, but not A, impinge on anything you're already doing and B, not be redundant?" So we actually sought advice first, that was our first step.
In part, frankly, that's also a way to build advocacy, because people realized right off the bat that we were not trying to compete with any of the other places in Concord, we were trying really to establish some kind of synergy, and we felt that there might be something that was missing. What came out of those talks was that—one of the things that was missing was a place—an actual space for people to—particularly kids, but for people to consolidate their visit to Concord. There wasn't a place where they could go and journal, they could go, so they said why don't you establish a room or a space either indoors or outdoors—depending on the season—where people can just stop by, sit and reflect on all that they've seen because none of us can do that, and so that was one of the things, so that is what we do. So that was one of the things we wanted to do.
And we—one of our future goals is to build a barn, there was always a barn on the property, there was always a farm that we'll have a larger space where whole classes can come in—large classes can come in and do that. Right now we use Thoreau's room for that, we have benches outside, people—a lot of people come and bring picnics and journal right on the property.
CK: The website talks about getting—paying for a space to write did I miss (inaudible)?
LS: That would be for an actual writer—yeah, if you're a writer, or you have a writing project, you can actually rent the room, but if you're just visiting, you can visit the room and you can sit and journal. You don't have to pay to do that, but if you're—if you want to rent it for a weekend, or a week, and just sit and write and have no one disturb you, that's what the website was referring to. So—
CK: 0:32:53.4 So otherwise you can sit in there and reflect.
LS: Otherwise, yeah, when you come you can sit there and reflect. Right, exactly. So, that's the first step we did.
The second step is that we do have a Concord historian who is a certified historian by the State of Massachusetts, Jayne Gordon—you might've even done an oral history. She was on our Board at the time, and she was really the resource person that we looked to to establish our interpretation, and we hired also a professional interpreter to work with her. We had Board retreats, and we talked a little bit about what did we find when we were out there talking to Concord? What did we think was missing, what were our values? And with her help we came up with the idea of projecting Thoreau into the future, because we do think that Concord has enough museums. But we didn't get any push back on that, so I think that we had hit—I think we felt we'd hit on the right idea.
CK: It's brilliant.
LS: I think it's a good one, I'm really happy because I'm a teacher, so I really love the idea of bringing future generations into the picture and making them see. We were very surprised because even little kids just love to think about Henry, and they'd come they'd want to dress up like him, they want to—it's a very—he's very appealing. I think some people feel that he's not for kids, but there's something there that grabs them, I think if you talk about him in the right way, so—
CK: So does dressing up like him embody the ideas?
LS: No, no but I mean that's what kids do to get the feel for it. That's what kids do to sort of—I don't know—I think to—just like if you wanted—if you're interested in butterflies, you'd dress up like a butterfly. It's that sort of thing, but I was surprised at how many kids just felt exhilarated by being where he was born. So I like the fact that we can do some things for kids that are meaningful and then teenagers—my husband teaches a class at Concord Academy about Henry David Thoreau and they're very interested, so it does mean something very special to them. So that's one of the big things. I'm just, again, looking at my cheat sheet to see if there's anything else that—
LS: Thanks, I know, it's been—it's very exciting ‘cause I'm retiring. So, I'm retiring from Concord Academy in June and moving to Maine where I have a home because I live on the Concord Academy campus. We don't actually have a home in Town, so this means a lot to me to be able to kind of put a little closure on all the work that I've done ‘cause Thoreau Farm is very special.
CK: What have you been doing at the Academy all these years?
LS: 0:35:41.8 Well I taught French for a number of years, that was always my—that I had taught French before. But then when I took my decade off to write, to be a freelance writer, I actually worked for the Library here for a while just as a volunteer to help them with their capital campaign writing, worked with their development office. So, I did a lot of kind of plugging into Town, but also did freelance writing and editing, then I came back to Concord Academy as an English teacher, so since 19—since 2005 I guess I've been teaching English. I was also administrator as Academic Dean for seven years, acting head of school while the head was away for seven months, so it's been a long and good ride at the school.
CK: We've not heard anyone really speak about Concord Academy from the inside, so that would be interesting.
LS: Oh, interesting.
CK: Yeah, yeah. What are its goals, who is it for, how is it succeeding?
LS: Yeah, yeah, it's a great—it's a great school for kids. There are four private schools in Town, Concord's very lucky. There are two high schools, Middlesex School and Concord Academy, both now co-ed and two elementary schools—one for girls, Nashoba Brooks and Fenn School for boys, so it's a pretty rich educational community.
When Concord Academy was founded in 1922, it was an all-girl school and mostly day school, but then it evolved into a national boarding school. Caroline Kennedy came to Concord Acad—graduated from Concord Academy, John F. Kennedy's daughter, and a lot of other wonderful kids. When it became co-ed, Henry Kissinger's son graduated from Concord Academy. Middlesex was the boys' school, Concord Academy was the girl's school, and there was some connection. They would have classes together. Then in 1971 when the colleges were all going co-ed, the private schools decided that they probably needed to go co-ed to survive as well, so Exeter Phillips, Andover, Groton—all the major boy's schools went co-ed and some of the girl's schools, Concord Academy was one of them. So, 1971 Concord Academy admitted its first boys, and Middlesex also started admitting its first girls, and their connection—they disconnected because they were now serving the same populations.
So I got to Concord in 1978, and it had been co-ed for seven years by that time. Everyone struggled with the coeducational aspect of it, and now you would never know. I think that it did coeducation beautifully, I think it welcomed boys beautifully without giving up its identity. Its values as a caring school—what we call a relationship school, it talks a lot about relationships. It's very high-powered school. I love the fact that that it's right in the village, so it's right across the street and kids can come here [to the Concord Free Public Library] during their free periods. They often do for a quiet space upstairs. So there's been a very close relationship between the Concord Public Library and Concord Academy for all these years. So much so, frankly, that we have a library, but we've never had to have a huge library in part because we consider the Concord Public Library to be part—you know, sort of an extension of the campus, and we've even had a library staff member work at our school. I think either she donated her time or we did something—there was some arrangement between the two organizations, so students can actually become part of the community because they're right in the village. They don't have to take any transportation to get into Town. So I think that is great.
Right now we have 360 students, so it's a little bigger than it was. When I first started it had 310 when I began in 1978, now it's 360. There's no goal to get any bigger, we're about fifteen percent international and we are about twenty-five percent scholarship. We keep trying to increase that. Twenty five percent of our kids are on scholarship, so we get kids from all over the world.
CK: 0:40:02.6 what percent are Concord native or West Concord?
LS: I don't know.
CK: Majority, minority, any sense of that?
LS: Mm-hmm, and we get about 100 students who come in by the train from the commuter rail from the greater Boston area, so the train is really a big—and they can walk from the depot right to the school, so that's why we have so many. So it's a great way to get kids from different communities easily to come through, so—
CK: So mix of day students—
LS: Mix of day and boarding, yeah, it's a hybrid school. It's about sixty percent day—fifty-five percent day, forty-five percent boarding, and all of the houses that students live in are old Concord houses. There are no dormitories built for that purpose—they're all houses, so it started with one house that the school bought in 1922, and then now we own I think seven houses probably. But it's wonderful, I think the kids love it—the home away from home kind of feeling.
CK: And you've been living at Concord Academy since you arrived in Concord, is that right?
LS: No, no, I joined the boarding faculty in the fall of '78 when I realized I was being hired full time, not just as a sabbatical replacement, then I bought my own home in '83, so I've been in and out, and then I came back onto the campus in '99 and I've been there ever since, so a good part of my life, but not—but not all of it here.
CK: Can you get most of your shopping needs and other needs met on foot then from your home?
LS: Absolutely, yeah, that's one of the great things about being in the village, everything is—your bank, your library, your supermarket, everything is within walking distance. That's been a great advantage. But Concord, you know—Concord is beyond us, it's an expensive, it's an expensive little Town, so I think we could afford to buy a home in Concord, but we could afford then to do nothing else except live in that house in Concord. So it's sad for me to be leaving Concord, but I think we're moving to a Town in Brunswick that we can afford to live in, and that feels good as well. I don't think Concord ever lets you go, I'll definitely always feel connected. I'll stay connected with Thoreau Farm. For me it's a very—I love history, so it's a very special place, and I don't think it lets you go, which I'm happy about.
CK: 0:42:53.0 Great, I distracted you when you were consulting your notes, are there other directions you've been wanting to go? This is really beautiful.
LS: Well it's interesting because you mentioned Town meeting, that Town meeting would be a little foreign to West Virginians, possibly the whole concept of—and one of the things, one of the biggest controversies that occurred while I was Editor of The Concord Journal was a battle over whether or not we should retain the Town meeting system of government, and it—
MK: Whether or not?
LS: Whether or not to actually just do away with the Town Meeting.
MK: What year was that?
LS: Well, it must've been '95, '96, right around there—'96.
CK: Talk about that.
LS: Well, the people who wanted to do away with it—many of them came into Town as business people, were not long-time residents of the Town, and there were two—generally two earner families, so what they were saying is that Town meeting runs several nights in a row. If you have children and you both work, it's really very hard to attend. And so the people who are attending are generally retired folk who are what they were called "Old Concordians," who have an agenda and know what they want, and so there's a small group of people making decisions for the Town.
The other side said if you really care enough about your Town, you can—you can make this effort to come and they also—the Town itself tried to make some accommodations for babysitting and for other things. We considered a Saturday Town meeting which some Towns have, all day just get it done in one day, and there were people taking care of your kids outside, and I don't know why Concord didn't do that. But there was some reason we didn't go for the all-day Town meeting. We're still doing a few evenings one week, and then if we're not done, a few evenings the next week. So, it's a little bit unweilding.
I love the idea of Town Meeting, because I liked the idea of people having to stand up in front of their neighbors and say what they thought and say what they think. We still do it, and there seemed to be something very—again, I guess because I love also the hands-on newspaper idea, I like that hands-on government. You showed up, you had to show up, and I was called I think in the Letter to the Editor that I was a romantic, that I had a romantic view of Town Meeting, and I think that that was probably accurate.
CK: Do you go?
LS: I go, I go—I don't—when I was Editor, I went all the time because I was really interested. But because I don't pay taxes, I don't own a home in Concord, I always felt a little bit guilty voting for anything that demanded a raise in taxes. To me that seemed wrong, but if there were other kinds of issues, I would—I would definitely vote for those, but I did enjoy Town meeting. I have to admit that in recent years, I haven't gone to all the Town meetings, so I guess you can slip if it doesn't seem convenient, or if it doesn't—you know—if you're not as involved. But when I went I really did, I have to say I really did like it, and I still have friends and people on boards that I belong to who will do nothing else—they simply clear their slate for that time and they get there and they go.
The one thing you can do, you can watch it on your television. There's the cable—Town cable, and that has helped actually, because if you watch it and you realize your article that you really are interested in is going to happen in ten minutes and they have—they've now given you an indication, you can drive to the Town meeting, you can register, you can vote for that and you can watch the rest of it on your TV screen. So there's a way to kind of be home with your kids, get to vote at the same time, you know. So they're trying to make some accommodations for that. I can really understand both sides, I just think that it is—it is an interesting way to feel what government is really like, and that it is of the people.
CK: 0:47:07.3 Would it function well if they achieved the ability to have people vote from home? I mean, all you'd have to do is watch it on the computer screen and click the mouse I guess.
LS: I know, I know, and I think that was suggested. I'm not sure if that's being done now or not. I don't think that change has been made, but it does make sense if they can somehow figure out that you're not voting seven times, or that someone else is doing it or something like—
CK: I wonder what effects that would have on the community.
LS: I know, ‘cause it would feel different if you're voting from home and you're not actually showing up.
CK: No one has to see your face.
LS: No one has to see your face, which really makes—which really makes a huge, huge difference,
And a whole margin of civility, that's something that's going to be lost I think if you do it that way too, because you know how incivility just seeps in when you're on the internet and your comments can be things that you wouldn't say in public, and I think that having to say-- people can be uncivil certainly in Town meeting, but there they are. You know, people are seeing them be uncivil, and they know who they are and they're doing with a name attached to them, so this is sort of a different—a different deal from voting at home with a click.
CK: That's a fascinating point.
LS: So, it's interesting, but ultimately Town Meeting won on that one and I don't know—with, with changes—I think some good changes were made. So I think all the controversy did reap some benefits that made it easier for people to participate. But that was also was one of those things that was really kind of fun to be involved in—to be part of, and there were downsides to being the Editor of The Concord Journal since Concord takes its newspaper seriously. I would go to the supermarket and people would comment on whether they liked or didn't like my Editorial. My father was with me one time from out of state and somebody banged my cart and said something—something about the Editorial. I don't think it was too harsh or anything, but my dad said, "Does that happen to you all the time?" And I said, "Kind of, it does kind of." So that could be pretty intense if people don't like what you're saying.
And now I'm not sure how much that happens anymore because there are very few local Editorials if any. A local Editorial these days might be go vote—you know, make sure you go vote or something like that, but not getting to the nitty gritty of what we believe. So something that would actually put you out there and have people disagree with you, which I think is so important.
CK: You do.
LS: I do, I really do. The other thing I became involved in—I think through my newspaper days, because I became very close to our now retired Police Chief Leonard Wetherbee—I hope he's going to do one of these [interviews], or already maybe has. Great, great police chief, and he allowed a group to come in called the Domestic Violence Victims Advocacy, the DVVAP program.
LS: D-V-V-A-P, Domestic Violence Victims Advocate Program. We were one of the first. We were one of the pilots in Concord because of him, and he allowed that to come in. So what that means is that a group of volunteers come and help—have a room in the police department and they work with the police to help victims of domestic violence by providing them with personal contact that the police don't have time to do, and also with advice about how to advocate for themselves if they want to. There's nothing forced, there's nothing coerced, it's just—I'm here for you if you want me to be with you at your hearing. And so I was asked to join that group and became president of that group for a year working closely with the police, and I didn't stay on that group because it was—it had an intensity that while I appreciated it, I wasn't completely comfortable—I didn't feel it was a good fit for me. But, I think the group is wonderful, and I think that what it showed for me is that the Town of Concord was courageous enough to embrace it and say, "Okay, we're going to try this. We're going to see how this works, and we're going to help our women in our city."
Mainly it was women. It wasn't always women. So that was an interesting piece, and it's funny being Editor of the newspaper got me to know a whole array of people who made Concord work—the Town Manager, and I think that Concord's very lucky in the people that it gets to work here. Leonard Wetherbee is one of those great people, as was Barbara Powell, head of the Library. I don't know if that era's over or not, I'm not as connected as I was before, but it was—for me it was a real golden era for Concord because I felt they were—they opened their institutions for the good of the community. There wasn't territorialism, it was a great time to be working with people.
CK: Including the Town you're saying? Who—
LS: At that point Chris Whalen was still Town manager, and of course he was a political guy, so he had to be political during part of it, but I had lots of meetings with him and I felt he—great guy and always had the best interest of the Town in mind. So I enjoyed working with him as well. It was a good thing.
CK: Great, and what other boards did that wind up putting you on? Were there others as well? It seems like you were so incredibly active.
LS: I don't think I—I'm trying to think if there were any other boards, I probably forgot something.
CK: 0:53:03.2 The Library or no?
LS: I wasn't on the Library Board. I did work with them in other capacities, as I said writing and editing for them, they called upon me for things, but I didn't join the Library Board.
CK: Talk about that, you wrote and edited for the Library?
LS: I wrote their capital campaign statement, you know the whole piece. They gave me all the notes from all the different constituencies and I sort of turned it into something that had one voice, and they used it for their—for the campaign, which was an honor for me to do because I love this Library, so it was something that I could offer.
CK: What is it about this Library?
LS: You know—some if it is going down—you talked to Leslie Wilson, and Leslie will tell you that she had scholars coming and they opened a Thoreau survey and they started to cry, or they open Walking, she has the original manuscript of Walking, and she showed it to me and she said "people just sob" and you think about that—people come to this place and it's like a shrine, it's such an interesting thing. There was one time when I was at the newspaper and still associated always with Concord Academy. I stayed involved with the school, and Terry Tempest Williams, the writer from out west—wonderful writer—was a visitor at the school. I knew her work, and so kind of got involved with her visiting here, and she said, "You know, I've never been to Walden Pond. Do you think you could take me to Walden Pond before I take my plane back?"
So the morning she left was an April morning. We met at 7:00. I drove her to Walden Pond. And it was misty, and there were a couple of fishermen. And she took out of her purse her high school copy of Walden, right? So she opens this high school copy of Walden and it's—she said, "Would you believe I underlined it—of course—in green." So she has all her underlines. And she took the book, she went to the edge of the water, she dipped her hand in and she sort of baptized her book. It was unbelievable—she just dipped her hand in and said, "I can't believe I've never been here before," and then she sat with me and read aloud from Walden and her voice—she has this wonderful honeyed voice, and we just sat there for a while looking at the fishermen, and she closed her book and we left.
I thought, "Oh my God, it's Concord." It's such a special place, and the Library always felt very much at the center of that, probably because of the treasures that it holds. And I have to say Barbara, our hippy dippy—I called her our hippy dippy Library director, which is always so cool. I mean, she always wanted people to come and opened her doors. And I always felt welcome, and living right across the streets I just would pop over, open a book or two, chat with some people and leave and was really like, like a second home. If you love books, and for a little library, this is an outstanding collection—she did a great, great job, and of course, they have all these wonderful treasures that they keep—they keep so carefully. So it is just a great place, I feel very lucky to have been here for this long.
LS: But I don't think—I don't think I have anything left on my cheat sheet that I didn't already say.
MK: 0:56:42.8 Carrie and I were thinking just before this interview about all the people we've talked to in the course of this project over ten years, and we wonder if there is a clear-cut date when Concord developed a self-consciousness as a tourist destination—began to realize that there could be money in putting on the tourist dog so to speak. Was there at time like that that you ever ascertained? Well, you came here in '78, it was pretty clearly—
CK: Already, yeah.
MK: —a venue by that time, wasn't it?
LS: It was already, yeah. I think those are two questions—that one was when did Concord become a destination, and when did the Town feel it could capitalize on it, right? Are those two questions?
MK: Yeah, sure, yeah. That's a good way of putting it.
LS: I'm trying to think about Thoreau's time. He was born in 1817. Because it has the Revolutionary and the literary roots, it became a destination for great writers in the 19th century—it was the mecca, so Emerson came, and then people came to be where Emerson was. So it was a destination for great thinkers already in the 19th Century. Tourists—gosh, I don't know. Leslie probably would know that, you know?
CK: And then what I was wondering is how does a community maintain a private and communal life sort of under the bridge, or around—
LS: No, I know. I think that's really important—really important. I've heard so many times over the years we're not a museum, this is a Town, this is a dynamic Town, we live here. People live here, and think the Town does a pretty good job of that, actually. A couple things—we have a great ball field. Emerson Field is right in the middle of Concord, and families and kids play out there all the time, and a lot of people have told me over the years that they come to Concord after seeing Emerson Field—that actually people live here. So, I think that they do do a great job in that regard. The schools are fabulous and I think that a lot of people come here for the schools, and that keeps the Town young, and it keeps the Town lively. The private schools that bring people from outside create a very vibrant mix of people coming in.
CK: Are the schools particularly progressive, or just have high standards?
LS: They have very high standards, they're really top tier schools. I won't speak for Middlesex—Concord Academy is progressive, always has been progressive.
CK: In terms of its educational—
LS: Yeah, it's a very liberal kind of school, so I think it does that.The other thing is that the Town has its traditions that are really well attended by folks. There's a July 4th celebration—everybody shows up and they still—their Patriots' Day parade, everybody shows up. They have a lot of wonderful traditions that are just grasping to me, and they keep going. The other thing is that Concord isn't just a—the superficial thing—view that you get here is that Concord Academy is so affluent, but there's still the Italian immigrant families and their generations—children of those families who still live here, there are still farms that are working farms, and farm stands, so I think that it's kept simple in a way that I think allows people to actually live. People use the resources, they walk along the river every day, they use Estabrook Woods—a, I don't know how many acres of land out there by Middlesex School, but they use those woods to walk their dogs and to walk. People are outside all of the time and it's a great pride I think in the Town, so I don't see it as a Town where you walk in and it's like a ghost Town and nobody's around and it's just for the tourists ‘cause everybody else kind of gets away from the tourists—there isn't that. There isn't that feel to it.
CK: And is there a divide between—from here and come here?
LS: Oh yeah, sure, sure. I think that you're from here, you've got to be here—I don't ev—a really, really long time. The big divide, though, I do think the tourist thing I think that gets people's goat and gets my goat is that it's very hard to shop in Concord. I really believe in shopping locally, and I think that's a mantra that we keep pushing and pushing and pushing. If you see it here and like it here, buy it here, but the shops are for tourists a lot of the time, and I think that they have in some ways out-priced Concord residents for a lot of—so a lot of people go out of Town to do some of—there used to be a Five and Ten. I'm sure people have told you about that with its hot dog bar, and that's gone. There used to be a Brigham's and a Friendly's. I think that's unfortunate that a lot of Concord residents feel that they need to go out of Town in order to shop, and the shishi shops in Town are really, really high priced, and there are a couple of exceptions, which people—Vanderhoof's Hardware Store who's been there for years, and people go there and he'll get you anything that you need, and people still go to West Concord Five and Ten, so there's still exceptions that people frequent and cherish. They really value those places that have stayed affordable, stayed manageable. You can just go downtown and maybe buy something right in your own Town—but for clothing shops and things like that, there's very little if anything that you can get in the Town that's affordable. And I think that's very sad because I think buying locally is important. That's a bow definitely to the tourists. It's an interesting question, though. I'm going to ponder that one myself—when did the Town become self-aware enough to capitalize on it. I don't know. There are a lot of tourists who come through—
MK: And other than renting or selling real estate to the people who wanted to develop those kinds of shops, how did locals participate in this flowering of the new kind of economy? If that's what happened, in fact. I mean, you can really trace that in some places.
LS: Yeah, I think that only a few people own the commercial sectors, so I think some of it's their decision. They'll sometimes rent—the rent prices will go up beyond what people can pay and things like that, so I think it's just a few people who own a lot of commercial real estate. A lot of people in Concord work out of Concord, so it isn't as though it's local merchants necessarily—you know, small local merchants who've made these decisions, but that would really be beyond my prevue. I don't really know enough about it.
CK: 1:04:17.9 Well, you're just as articulate as I imagined. Are there areas that we've failed to cover? I saw a note about Appalachia Magazine, or—?
LS: Oh, yeah, I think that isn't really connected terribly to Concord. I was Editor of The Appalachia Journal. My husband and I are members of the Appalachian Mountain Club, and he was Editor of the jour—it's a mountaineering journal—it's the oldest mountaineering journal in the United States, actually. It's a nice little journal, and he was Editor for ten years, and then I became Editor after that for six years. In fact, there are a lot of Concord people who are part of the Appalachian Mountain Club. It's located in—it's a national—international organization, but it's located in Boston. That's where it's headquartered. So that was a lot of fun because it got me to meet people from all around the world.
It was interesting too, the newest Editor called me and my husband and another teacher at Concord Academy who's the Poetry Editor of The Appalachia Journal and said, "I really want to do a Thoreau issue—all Thoreau issue--" this was last year-- "and would you help and write for it?" And so we all participated in writing an article and Leslie helped me out with some details. So, we produced a Thoreau issue for the Appalachian Mountain Club, which was a lot of fun to do, and I think was really well received.
CK: What was your piece about?
LS: I did a piece about Thoreau in the community, because that's again why I love the Thoreau birth place—it's because it's about Thoreau and his family. And my whole point was to try to debunk the myth that Thoreau was a hermit and was a total misanthropist. He really was part of this Town and one of the things that I like about him so much is that the kids in Town loved him, so there are these moments when—in other people's journals-- when it would say kids would grab him and say "let's go berrying today!"
And when he was dying, the kids came to his door—this group of kids came to door and wanted to see him and Thoreau's mother said that Thoreau couldn't see children because he was too sick, and Thoreau heard about that and said, "Please let the children come." And so she let the children visit him, and it was really important to them to be able to see him. And I wanted to show that side of Thoreau. So, my article was more about Thoreau in the Town of Concord and why he loved it so much and why people loved him so much.
Certainly he was a curmudgeon and certainly he could be prickly and all those things that are there, but he wasn't a hermit. Or some people say he was a hypocrite because he pretended to be a hermit but really wasn't. He never pretended to be a hermit. He actually cut down the first Christmas tree in Concord, and it's become an annual tradition ever since. So, that was my piece as sort of the kind of—
MK: What resources did you—oh, you said that Leslie helped you with some research?
LS: She helped me with some resources.
MK: What other areas of research did you—did you have any old family stories of people to go by? Any oral sources?
LS: Yeah, I did. I don't have my bibliography here, but I did have Louisa May Alcott's journals when she talks about Mr. Thoreau and how she loved it when he would visit and the kinds of things he would say. It was his—there was Emerson's—one of Emerson's sons who adored him, and so I read his. Then the church had a memorial actually for Henry on the 150th anniversary of his death it must have been, and I attended that, and that was where I heard the story about the children wanting to see him, and so I looked that up and saw that that was true. So there are a whole number of things that I looked up and did a lot of research. Some of it I knew ‘cause I've just been involved with him for so long, but there was definitely a bibliography, and I talked about his—I looked up his journals about his time in Maine and why his time in Maine was so different from his time in Concord when he was climbing Katahdin as opposed to things he said when he was around Walden and Estabrook Woods, and sort of the—. This was really home for him in so many more ways, even the animals were home and the flora—everything that surrounded him was home. When he came back from Katahdin, which was an intimidating experience, exciting but intimidating, he felt that he had come back to sort of his species, his people, his—his home, so that was a big piece of what I wanted to write about.
CK: Sort of humanizing him.
LS: Yeah, yeah. That's why I've stuck with him all these years, I really see him as a very warm, funny guy.
MK: I love his references to "the boys."
LS: To the boys?
MK: "The boys." If the house burned and he got up and went to the fire, the boys were already there, or if he went to his favorite blueberry patch, the boys had already been there—
MK: —and there weren't any blueberries. You get these ubiquitous boys who are—
MK: —just sort of moving around the community like spirits almost.
LS: Yes, yes, and when he got—he got fired from his teaching job because he wouldn't whip a boy, he said, "I don't believe in that kind of punishment." And so he didn't want to teach there anymore, because if he taught they were required to whip kids.
CK: Where was that?
LS: That was—I believe that was here in Concord, because he and his brother then opened up their own school in Concord, which was the first Concord Academy.
CK: Oh, I did not know that.
LS: Yeah, it wasn't there, it was—it still has a little sign I think on Academy Lane.
CK: So a private?
LS: 1:10:25.1 Yeah, a little, a little private school for—I guess it would have to be all boys because—I'm not sure if girls went, I shouldn't say that, but generally girls didn't.
CK: Were the kids outside, or what was his educational theory?
LS: I don't know for sure, I think some of it was inside but they were outside too, and then his brother died. His brother died young, so he was devastated by that and never did that never taught again.
CK: So much to know.
LS: Yeah, I know, and I keep forgetting that I have all the details in my head some of the time and other times I don't.
CK: Well, you were very clear, very articulate, very full of wealth.
LS: Well this was fun, this was fun.
CK: Thank you.
LS: I'm honored to be asked, and what fun for you.