Emerson and Robbins Homes – #ThursdayDoors

Emerson House Front Door

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.

 

47 thoughts on “Emerson and Robbins Homes – #ThursdayDoors

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    1. I’m glad you like this Joanne. These places are gentle reminders of a past we often don’t want to embrace. It’s interesting to read about the way different people achieved what that had. Emerson, obviously had the financial means to live well. The Robbins families did not, but the pooled their resources and still managed to live well. But, they both made it a point to try to improve the situation (slavery) in this country.

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  1. I learn more history from your posts than I ever did in school! It’s so easy to forget the struggles people went through to gain their own freedom or to insure the freedom of others. This is a very sobering post Dan and I appreciate the research you do to share the information with us.

    It seems quite appropriate to be reading this on D-Day, another struggle for freedom.
    🐾Ginger 🐾

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much, Ginger. This particular bit of history struck me as being important to try to convey to others. When I see things that are new to me, I always hope (for various reasons) that they might be new to others. Or, at least others will find them interesting.

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    1. Thanks Cheryl. There is so much history in these houses. If I had been a better student of existentialism, I would have focused more on Emerson, but I am ill-equipped. I didn’t know about the Robbins house and its history, but I found it fascinating.

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      1. I was always interested in human histories, Dan. How people lived and worked, what they thought and did. I feel that connection to the past is being lost with our younger generations unless there is some dramatic event attached to it. I learned so much from my own family histories but many young people I find to be quite disinterested. Emmerson, Thoreau, Whittier, were all favorites of mine.

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  2. I loved the photos and history in your post, Dan. I have an old book about Emerson, published in 1889, which contains a sketch of the Emerson house. Looks exactly the same in your photos, so hasn’t changed too much. The video was very interesting, too, thanks.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. As a history buff, I really enjoyed this post and it’s an excellent reminder both of where we’ve been and how far we’ve come. While there’s always progress to be made, at least many are making the effort to make it, following in the footsteps of these rebels from the past.

    janet

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed this, Janet. It is interesting to see not only where we’ve come from, but to understand how we got where we are. It’s not always as simple a story as we’ve been taught.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Great post Dan. Slavery in the north is often overlooked or ignored as if it never happened, and even here many don’t realize that slavery existed in some parts of what became Canada as well. Not a part of history to be proud of but certainly important to keep educating people so we don;t make the same mistakes again.

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  5. Wonderful historical perspective Dan. I can just imagine the lives behind the doors and particularly the Robbins House. It reminds me of lives affected throughout history and the associated struggles. May we always remember how we all desire to be free, and that is the right of each individual, each soul, physically, mentally and spiritually – as God created us. :-)

    Liked by 1 person

  6. How interesting, Dan. I wondered how they moved it, imagining it was a brick house, and then I saw it is a wooden structure which makes it easier. I researched a famous house in South Africa which is built from metal sheeting. It was also moved and was originally an army barracks during the Anglo Boer War.

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  7. Excellent post, Dan. While I have been in the Old Manse a number of times, I have not been inside the Emerson house. Nor have I been in the Robbins house. Thank you for the history. Wonderful houses and doors.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Thank you so much for that history, Dan! I wasn’t aware of the Robbins family. I did watch that video. Have you read Edward Rutherfurd’s NEW YORK? One of the storylines is that of enslaved people in New Amsterdam/New York. Those of us who identify as Northerners don’t like to think that we were part of the slave culture, but we were. It’s good to be reminded of that, lest we get all self-righteous.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Very interesting, Dan – thank you for sharing. I watched the Robbins video – WOW $260 in cash for a house!! It’s awesome the structure has been saved and restored. Great photos – even the one peeking through the window!

    Liked by 1 person

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