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Walking tours tell local lore, history

Concord's Colonial Inn has been a central hostelry in the town since 1716.

David Lyon for The Boston Globe

Concord's Colonial Inn has been a central hostelry in the town since 1716.

In our day-to-day lives, there’s so much we overlook: tidbits of history, flora, fauna, architecture, animals — even other people.

The goal of walking tours is to improve our connections with the world around us — and area residents have a variety of illuminating treks to choose from this spring and summer.

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“Many people love to hear about the stories of the town they live in,” said Julie Nardone, chairwoman of the Ashland Historical Commission, which is offering a walking tour focusing on the community’s economic legacy Saturday. “The stories engage us, make us proud of where we live, and help us understand that we too are part of history.”

In an example of a lesser-known detail, considering the small population at the time, why did early settlers of Concord set up two separate burial grounds?

Scratch off race, religion, and social standing as possible reasons — ultimately, it came down to superstition and logistics.

According to Joel Andrews, the founding director of Concord Guides, the belief at the time was that transporting a body over moving water would disturb the spirit. So, with Mill Brook cutting through town, whichever side of the stream you lived on determined where you’d be laid to rest.

It’s one of the insights that Andrews, who is also a physician, shares on his regular walking tours of the town famous for its role in the American Revolution and its literary residents.

In honor of Mother’s Day, Andrews will be offering half-price admission to moms for his two-hour stroll Sunday exploring the town’s Colonial, revolutionary, literary, environmental, and Native American past — and he will include some yarns about the town’s famous mothers, too.

“Concord is a really unique place, because two big revolutions started here,” he explains in a virtual tour on his website, www.concordguides.com.

The first being the American Revolution, which had at its outset the battle at the North Bridge in 1775; the second was the intellectual revolution heralded by Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Louisa May Alcott in the 1800s.

Tour participants will explore well-known landmarks such as Monument Square, Old Hill Burying Ground, the so-called “American Mile” (composed of original houses from the 1600s and 1700s), North Bridge (which may or may not have been the site of the “shot heard round the world”), and “Author’s Ridge” in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, where Thoreau, Emerson, Alcott, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and their family members are buried in close proximity.

Andrews, in his video tour, describes how “peaceful and quiet” the North Bridge area remains today.

“You could step back 200 years, and the scene’s changed very little,” he says. “But what happened here changed the world.”

Other area tours delve deeper into how individual communities were shaped by the world.

For instance, a trio of monthly walks offered by the Wellesley Historical Society began April 24 with an exploration of how transportation transformed the town. The series resumes next weekend, with an installment starting at 9 a.m. Saturday, and wraps up on June 9.

Similarly, neighborhood self-guided tours are offered by historical societies and commissions in Newton, Maynard, Sudbury, and Framingham’s Saxonville section.

Ashland’s walk on Saturday, meanwhile, will focus on the town’s once-vibrant manufacturing economy and downtown area, according to Nardone. Guide Jennifer Lecesse will discuss the importance of water to Ashland’s early economy, the arrival of the train in town, its lost Greek Revival and Victorian hotels, churches, and office buildings, and the formerly booming Tilton’s Boot and Shoe Factory.

“Outside influences had a huge impact on Ashland,” said Lecesse, who grew up in Ashland but was trained as a tour guide in England. “It really shows that we are not a secluded little town, we make up a larger picture.”

But perhaps one of the most defining periods in the town’s history was in the early 1900s.

Henry Ellis Warren invented the electric clock in Ashland; by 1927, his Warren Telechron Co. employed 1,500, and sold 20 million clocks, according to Nardone. But then, in 1943, General Electric assumed control of the operation, and when the company closed its Ashland factory,the jobs went with it.

“The history of our local economy is the history of the American economy: Jobs come and go, booms get followed by busts, but new economic ideas emerge and the cycle repeats itself,” said Nardone.

The walk in Ashland will be followed with a reception at Stone’s Public House, an allegedly haunted place that’s been showcased on several television shows on the paranormal.

The commission offers one walking tour a year, and the tours usually draw upwards of 60 people, Nardone said.

But they serve a dual purpose, she said: The town is trying to revive its downtown, and creating awareness of what it once was can foster support for that.

Similarly, the commission hopes to save the remaining historic buildings downtown — many of which have been lost to demolition, development, and fire — and possibly to set up historic districts. Ashland, she noted, is one of the only towns in the area without designated local historic districts.

“Our historical walks are a great way to connect with the folks who came before us,” said Nardone, “and the folks that live among us.”

Taryn Plumb can be reached at tarynplumb1@gmail.com.
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