Aside from their relation to my inability to follow directions, and the fact that their residents fought against slavery in America, these two homes have nothing to do with each other. I stumbled across them, on different days, while visiting Concord, so I thought I’d focus on them today, as I wind my way through the treasure trove of early American homes I found in Concord, Massachusetts.
Although Ralph Waldo Emerson was born in The Old Manse, he didn’t live there as an adult. He lived about 2 mi (3.22km) away. That seems like nothing today, but in 1835, it was a good distance to travel. Then again, with today’s traffic through Monument Square in Concord, maybe Ralph would have made better time than I did. This description is from the National Registry of Historic Places (NRHP) Nomination form:
“When Emerson purchased the 2-story frame and clapboard house, it consisted of an L-shaped main block with hipped roof and a rear service wing with pitched roof. In 1836, he added two rooms at the southwest corner of the main block, giving it a square shape. The upper of those rooms, known as the “Straw Carpet Chamber”, was altered and enlarged (by the addition of a bay window) in 1857. At the same time, another room, lighted by a shed dormer, was created in the attic on the southwest side of the house. Named “the den”, it was intended as a work area for Emerson, though he rarely used it. Entrances to the house are located at the center of the northeast (front) and southeast elevations; each is covered by a 1-story porch with Doric columns and full entablature. Windows are 6/6 double-hung sash with louvered blinds.”
The house wasn’t open on either day I was in Concord but, again from the NRHP Nomination form:
“The interior of the house follows a center hall plan with two large, square rooms at either side. To the left of the front entrance are a guest room, which Emerson called the “Pilgrim’s Chamber”, and the dining room, with the kitchen in the service wing beyond. To the right are Emerson’s study, in which the major part of his reading and writing was done, and the parlor. On the second floor are four bedrooms; notable features of the master bedroom are two alcoves reached through round-headed, keystoned arches.”
The Robbins House currently sits near an entrance to Minuteman National Park, diagonally across from the Old North Bridge. I discovered the house when I was looking for The Old Manse (I had just walked past it). I was drawn to the Robbins House because of a large parking lot – I assumed was associated with the North Bridge.
I didn’t know anything about the Robbins House, nor had I ever heard of Caesar Robbins. For that matter, like most people in New England, I wasn’t always aware of the history of slavery in New England. Around here, the history lessons focus on the abolitionist movement, and the people, like Ralph Waldo Emerson, who supported that movement. Well, so did Caesar’s son Peter Robbins.
It remains unclear how Caesar Robbins came to Concord, and how he came to own this house. One thought is that he saved the money he was paid from three periods of service during the Revolutionary War and bought the house using cash. He and his descendants lived in this house, often with multiple families living in the small home at the same time. The home is significant for two reasons. First, it’s hard to understate the impact made by this family to live as free men and women and on the early efforts to end slavery in America. Second, were it not for some very creative people, this home would have been destroyed. Fortunately, it was saved from the wrecking ball and moved to a safe place. Later, it was moved again to a place of appropriate historical prominence. This is from the Robbins House website:
“We have a house full of little known history. By sharing a house and land, several early Concord African American families were able to support themselves and to lead independent lives.
The stories of the occupants of The Robbins House reveal the ways in which the first generations of free Concord African Americans pursued independence and contributed to the antislavery movement and abolitionist causes.”
If you have a few minutes, please watch the video, in which John Hannigan, scholar-in-residence at the Robbins House talks about the Robbins family and the lives of African Americans in early Massachusetts.
This more serious post is part of Norm Frampton’s Thursday Doors series. Each week, Norm invites people from around the world to visit his site, check out his doors and share doors that they have discovered. Head up to Norm’s place to begin the process.