We noticed a small wooden house next to the North Bridge parking lot when we pulled in. “What’s that?” I asked Kathie, an intimate of every pre-1900 house in New England.
“No idea,” was her surprising response. “I’ve never noticed it before.”
It did look new. It also looked tightly closed and unoccupied – not a house for touring. So we gave it a miss and moved on to the North Bridge. But on our way back to the car, we saw that the front door had been opened and there were people — not we-live-here people but museum-people people — mulling about. We made a beeline for it.
We were about to turn onto the walkway that lead to the front door when a woman called out to us. “Do you think this sign will be good here?”
She was with a man, and they were a few feet farther down a path away from that walkway. He was planting a sign.
We joined them and took a look at the sign, which said that the public entrance to the house was through the back. “I think you need to move it over there,” I said, pointing back to where the front door path veered off from the path where we stood. “Otherwise, visitors won’t see the sign before they turn down that path to the front door.”
The woman pursed her lips and tilted her head, as if considering my suggestion. But she wasn’t committing to anything just then. Instead, she told us that they’d just finished the renovation on the house. It wasn’t opening until the next day but, she offered, we could go in for a sneak peak if we wanted.
If we wanted?!
The Robbins House was built in the early 19th century and originally located a bit to the east. In 1823, the just-built house and 13 acres were sold to an African-American farmer named Peter Robbins. Robbins was the son of Caesar Robbins, a former slave who had served in both the Revolutionary and Spanish-American Wars. Peter and his wife lived in half the house, while Peter’s sister, Susan, lived with her husband, Jack Garrison, in the other half. After the Robbins/Garrisons left, other African-American families lived in it until the late 19th century, when it was sold and moved closer into town.
The reason Kathie didn’t remember it from previous visits is that it had been moved to the Minute Man property just last year. While on NPS property, it’s run by an independent nonprofit and will house a museum that focuses on Concord’s African-American history.
My recommendation to move the directional sign closer to the path to the front door didn’t fly. The sign man — who turned out to be the architect responsible for the renovation of the house — continued to pound the sign into the ground.
So if you end up going to the wrong door, don’t blame us. We tried.