Hapgood Wright Town Forest
The Conservation Land
A walk in the Hapgood Wright Town Forest can be a peaceful experience exploring its many natural features, a world apart from the busy roads just above the ridge. This guide describes these features as well as cultural and historical points of interest. Its environs witnessed the lives of freed slaves who settled here struggling to farm its infertile soil. Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and the Alcott and Emerson children were frequent visitors. Thanks to Thoreau’s written observations, we have a mid-1800s snapshot of the natural features and lives of the people who lived here, broadening our understanding of what we see today.
In 2008, Hapgood Wright Town Forest was chosen to be the first Concord conservation land to use the new trail blaze system. A 2013 trail addition was the Emerson-Thoreau Amble connecting Heywood Meadow in Concord Center to Thoreau’s cabin at Walden Pond. The Bay Circuit Trail was enhanced by relocating it off Cambridge Turnpike onto the Amble. The Harry Beyer Assessed Trail loop was added in 2013 from the small handicap parking lot through the Brister’s Hill area.
Location and Access
Access with parking for more than 20 vehicles is provided on the east side of Walden Street across from the entrance to Concord-Carlisle High School. Walden Street intersects MA Route 2 across from MA Route 126. An information kiosk and sign “Hapgood Wright Town Forest” identifies the site. Additional handicap parking is available approximately 2,000 feet towards MA Route 2, at the Assessed Trail entrance.
Fairyland Pond Circuit – From the park- ing lot follow the left side of the fork on the yellow-blazed main Fairyland Pond Trail, passing the Hapgood Wright monu- ment and continuing clockwise around the pond and back to the parking lot. Walking time: 20 minutes.
Brister Freeman extended loop – Follow the Fairyland Pond Circuit but turn left at the red-blazed secondary trail on the south side of the pond that climbs a hill passing Brister’s Spring. Turn right at the “T” junction with Tuttle Lane then right on the red-blazed secondary trail to the Brister Freeman Homesite and back to the parking lot. Walking time: 30 minutes.
Brister’s Hill Loop – From the parking lot follow the red-blazed secondary trail along Walden Street toward MA Route 2, past the handicap parking lot to the Bris- ter’s Hill marker and chained gate. Turn left into the Walden Woods Interpretive Site to reach the “Grasslands” stone mark- er. From there follow the right side of the fork to an arrow pointing left to the Re- flection Circle. From there continue on the path to the ecological “Succession” stone marker. Turn left onto the blue- blazed trail and again left onto the Tuttle Lane (yellow-blazed trail). Turn right on the red-blazed trail toward Fairyland Pond then left at the Pond back to the main parking lot. Walking time 40 to 60 minutes.
Harry Beyer Assessed Trail – From the small handicap parking lot on Walden
follow the route for handicap access dis- played on the kiosk map.
Hapgood Wright Town Forest Points of Interest
Consult the Hapgood Wright Town Forest Trail Map for locations of these interesting features listed here in alphabetic order.
Brister Freeman Homesite
On the red-blazed trail along Walden Street, a stone marker was placed by The Drinking Gourd Project in 2011 to identify the approxi- mate site of Brister Freeman’s late 1700s home. Brister Freeman was enslaved for 25 years to a wealthy landholder and doctor in Concord. On gaining his freedom after the Revolutionary War, he enlisted in the Conti- nental Army, became the second freed slave in Concord to purchase land, worked as a day laborer, and raised a family.
Although Brister’s time here was earlier than Thoreau’s writings, (he died in 1822) Tho- reau considered his cabin to be in Brister’s “neighborhood”. “Down the road, on the right hand, on Brister’s Hill, lived Brister Freeman, ‘a handy negro’, slave of Squire Cummings… With him dwelt Fenda, his hos- pitable wife, who told fortunes….”
Brister’s Hill and Forest Topography
The Hapgood Wright Town Forest has sculpted features that reveal its glacial origin. Brister’s Hill is a glacial kame formed of sand and gravel deposits that have long been exposed by gravel mining that once took place here.
In a shallow ravine beside the red-blazed trail that winds up to Brister’s Hill, water bubbles from underground. A post identi- fies it as Brister’s Spring, named for the freed slave who once lived nearby.
Thoreau mentioned in his writings that this spring was a reliable source of cool drinking water, and he recorded its tem- perature as 49°F.
rested an hour or two in the shade at noon, after planting, and ate my lunch, and read
a little by a
was the source of a
swamp and of a
brook, oozing from under
Brister’s Hill, half a mile from my field.”
The spring bubbles out into a verdant wa- ter course lush with mosses, watercress and skunk cabbage. During cool, damp and snow-covered days of winter, this place can seem magical, with mist rising up from the warmer spring-fed hollow. In
Brister Freeman Homesite Marker
the early spring season blossoms of skunk cabbage and sunny yellow marsh-marigold are a main feature of the site.
Clintonia Swamp and Old Growth Pine
The main yellow-blazed trail from the northeast corner of Fairyland Pond to Cambridge Turnpike was known to Thoreau as “Hubbard’s Wood Path”. He named the area’s marshy land Clintonia Swamp for the wildflowers that were once abundant here. The path skirts the base of Brister’s Hill passing below a hemlock grove with yellow birch trees. Fairyland Pond is the source of the water that flows beside this trail, eventually joining with the Mill Brook near Cambridge Turnpike.
Halfway between the pond and the turnpike, on the west side of the trail, grows one of the oldest and largest white pines in Concord. Measuring 50 inches in diameter, it has all of the characteristics of an old growth tree, and may have been of good size even in Emerson’s and Thoreau’s time.
The centerpiece of the Hapgood Wright Forest is Fairyland Pond, a low-lying area filled with swampy vegetation that was dammed in the late 1800s to form the pond. Henry David Thoreau referred to the hollow as “Hubbard’s Close” or “Hubbard’s shady swamp”, named for its owner Ebenezer Hubbard. The swamp was part of the uninterrupted woodland surrounding Walden Pond where he led the Alcott girls and Emerson children on berry-picking trips, fancifully calling it “fairyland”, the likely origin of the name given to the area by the town’s people. Fairyland Pond as it appears today is a 2.75 acre shallow pond held by a dam.
A visit to the pond is a quiet retreat from the noise of highway traffic above Brister’s Hill. Cattails grow along the pond’s marshy southern shore and pond lilies float along its long shallow surface. The pond is rimmed with sweet pepperbush, high- bush blueberry and grey alder, with a surrounding
forest of red oak, pine, hemlock, yellow birch, American Chestnut saplings and dogwood. All contribute to an ongoing pageant of seasonal color and bloom mirrored in the water. When winter sets in the ice covered pond and snow-covered landscape reflect winter’s light with particular beauty.
Hapgood Wright Monument
At a trail junction near the outflow of Fairyland Pond, a stone monument recognizes Hapgood Wright who provided funds for the town to pur- chase the original 78-acre parcel that bears his name. Wright made the gift on the occasion of Concord’s 250th anniversary, September 12, 1885. His gift of $1,000 was to be invested for fifty years, after which it could be spent for the improvement of the town. In 1935, Concord used the funds to purchase the 78-acre Fairyland parcel, deemed “the most beautiful place in town”, and set this monument at the pond in appreciation of Wright’s gift. It was Concord’s first acquisition of conservation land, and with subsequent addi- tions, became its largest at 181 contiguous acres.
Brister’s Hill Walden Woods Project Inter- pretive Site
Walden Woods Project Land
In the 1970s and 1980s, Brister’s Hill was threat- ened by plans for development of a highway inter- change and a large office park. These projects were defeated through legal action of the Thoreau Country Conservation Alliance and strong opposi- tion from the Concord Historical Commission. A nationwide campaign was soon begun to save Walden Woods.
In 1989, Don Henley, musician and founding member of the Eagles music group, responded to the effort by raising funds to purchase the proper- ty and founded the non-profit organization The Walden Woods Project. In 1998, the Thoreau Institute was established in cooperation with The Thoreau Society, to promote research and educa- tion regarding Henry David Thoreau. The
Walden Woods Project followed with the purchase of Brister’s Hill and the construction of the trails and markers found here today.
Walden Woods Interpretive Site – Thoreau’s Path on Brister’s Hill
A chained gate off Walden Street marks the entry point of the Walden Woods Interpretive Site. From here a trail circles the top of Brister’s Hill where ground-mounted plaques, inscribed with Thoreau’s insights, lead the walker through sections devoted to different aspects of his contributions to society. A meadow is devoted to Thoreau as conservationist, the site of Brister Freeman’s apple orchard honors him as social reformer, Grassland emphasizes his teaching, forest succession woods illustrates his pioneering ecological science, and a Reflection Circle celebrates his gift of philosophy and writing.
Walden Woods Project’s Reflection Circle
The centerpiece of the Walden Woods Project is a circle of large cut granite blocks that invites walkers in for rest and reflection. Each stone block is inscribed with quotations of thinkers and leaders whose words echo or build upon Thoreau’s – Ralph Waldo Emerson, Emily Dickinson, John Muir, Mohandas K. Gandhi, Aldo Leopold, Chief Standing Bear, Rachel Carson, John F. Kennedy, Wendell Berry, Martin Luther King, and Edward O. Wilson.