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As crowd cheers, historic Robbins House rolls across Concord to its new home

Posted by Leslie Anderson  May 21, 2011 09:56 PM

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The crowd held its breath as the Robbins House inched its way under some overhanging utility wires on Bedford Street. A hearty cheer went up as the historic house, built by the son of Revolutionary War veteran and former Concord slave Caesar Robbins, moved by flatbed truck to a new site abutting the Minute Man National Historical Park.

After a spate of dreary, rainy weather, the sun added to the Saturday celebration as the small and dilapidated shingle edifice stopped at the Town House, where brief remarks were made by those involved in salvaging and preserving the home.

See a video of the move here.

The Drinking Gourd Project, a local nonprofit organization focused on raising awareness of the town’s African and abolitionist history, began the effort after learning of plans to demolish the house two years ago.

“It’s a very exciting time in Concord’s history,” said Nancy James, whose company insured the house for the move. “It’s been a long time coming.”

Maria Madison, president of the Drinking Gourd board of directors, thanked John and Johanna Boynton for buying the property and donating it to the project. Bill Barber, retired owner of the Cheese Shop, handed a symbolic check for $10,000 for the move, and is matching dollar for dollar all future donations that are needed to complete the work of restoring the home as an educational resource.

Speeches were short, as the house traveled through Monument Square past the Old Manse to the Minute Man parking lot where the house will stand. A foundation was poured before the move.

Professor Charles Willie, a Concord resident, said he, too, is descended from freed slaves as was Robbins. “Thanks to the Drinking Gourd Project for recognizing the significance of the Robbins house and to people of color in Concord,” said Willie.

Madison said she was proud of the town for the effort to restore the house and offer it for future generations. Drinking Gourd member Polly Attwood said she was first and foremost relieved that the dark brown house held together for the move. It is small, water-logged and battered by years of neglect, but will be restored and maintained by the Drinking Gourd for years to come. The Community Preservation Fund in Concord contributed to the effort.

The town center was filled with smiling faces as the house moved slowly by. Police Chief Barry Neal looked well pleased with the scene.

“We had no problems,” said Neal. “We just rerouted traffic. So far, so good.”

And as the house made a right at the Colonial Inn, a car following the flatbed played the soulful Richie Havens’ rendition of “Follow the Drinking Gourd.” The song comes from the Big Dipper constellation that is in the north sky. Slaves knew to head north by following the stars.

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Betsy Levinson can be reached at

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