the Concord Magazine July/Aug 2000
The Ezine for and about Concord, Massachusetts

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Conantum: Concord's First Residental Development

By Manya Kapikian , Concord Free Public Library Special Collections Student Intern from the Simmons College, Library Science Program.


Photo by Herbert Wendall Gleason of Fairhaven Bay from Lee's Cliff, Conantum, 1899

Conantum, Concord's first residential housing development, was built in the 1950's. The Kalmia Woods Corporation is the non-profit organization that facilitates the use of the common land and coordinates community activities within Conantum. Recently, the corporate records of the Kalmia Woods Corporation have been processed by Special Collections of the Concord Free Public Library. The records of Conantum were donated by the organization.

The records held at the library reflect the lives of Conantum residents and activities of the Kalmia Woods Corporation. Records include: the 1951 Agreement of Association, publications such as the Bulletin, The Conantum Crier, The Conantum Saga (by Robert Butman), audio cassette tapes and transcripts from interviews with residents, including Carl Koch. The Bulletin provides a broad view of community topics and concerns and touches upon specific issues not covered elsewhere in records. For example, the Bulletin contains an integrated housing proposal summary as well as local reaction to rising real estate prices and taxes. The records cover a date span from 1951-1996.

Conantum is located off Sudbury Road on a tract of land once owned by Ebenezer Conant, a farm owner in the vicinity. Henry David Thoreau named the area Conantum after him. The Kalmia Swamp bordered on the
Newspaper ad
"22 Minutes from Harvard Square" read this newspaper ad run by the Conantum Realty Trust

north of Conant's property, Kalmia being the genus name for the plant Mountain Laural (pictured at left on the border of this page). When the Kalmia Woods Corporation was founded in 1951, the name was specifically chosen to preserve the name of this wetland. The wetland is today located in an area between East Circle and Heath's Bridge.

The development began construction in 1951 and today, is comprised of over 100 homes on about 190 acres of land. Approximately sixty acres were set aside as common land. Over the years, the common land has been used for ball fields, playgrounds, tennis courts and boat landings.

Conantum was the idea of MIT economics professor, W. Rupert McLaurin, who envisioned affordable cost housing for young couples. McLaurin sponsored the initial expense. Carl Koch, an architect and also a MIT professor, planned the houses. Joseph Kelley, a local contractor, was the builder. Houses were originally sold for between $10,000-16,000, plus an additional cost of approximately $3,000 for land, water and a share of the common land. Buyers had the choice of two basic frames and a variety of minor features. The minimum house lot size was one acre.

The development was successful in attracting young academics from diverse backgrounds. They were mostly graduate students and faculty with connections to MIT, Harvard and other local universities. Former residents have included Nobel prize winners.

In the beginning, Concord residents had reservations about the development. There were fears among conservative residents of Concord as to what impact a large development would have on the character of the town. The Conantum houses had a liberal anti-discrimination clause in their deeds. Although today, anti-discrimination clauses are standard, this was unusual in the 1950's.

1906 map of concord - detail
Gleason's 1906 map of Concord showing Kalmia Swamp circled (click for larger image)

Others felt that the size of the development would strain the ability of the town to provide services to Conantum. There was also concern about Conantum's vulnerability to fire. The houses were being built in a largely wooded area far from high pressure hydrants. In response, Conantum residents agreed to build their own water system. They created the smallest water district in the state of Massachusetts. And they were among the first to fluoridate their drinking water, as far back as 1953. Eventually, the town connected the water system to them and the water district was no longer needed.

Conantum residents were proactive in forming their own community groups and activities. These included annual Christmas festivities, spring balls and July 4th picnics. They formed the Conantum Garden Club. Mothers became PTA members and classroom volunteers in their local elementary school. As a result, test scores improved. Over the years, as the landscape of Concord changed, Conantum became an integrated part of the community.


Text: ©2000 The Concord, MA Homepage
Mountain Laural (Kalmia latifolia) art by Hometown Websmith and ArtToday.
Other images courtesy of the Concord Free Public Library's Special Collections.


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