History of the Museum
Cummings Davis (1816–1896), the Museum’s founding collector, moved to Concord, Massachusetts in July of 1850, a few months after the celebration of the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Battle of Lexington and Concord. After moving to Concord, Davis opened a refreshment saloon, first at the train depot and later in the center of town, selling pastries and newspapers.
By that time, Concord already had a history of celebrating the past. The visit of the Marquis de Lafayette in 1824, the fiftieth anniversary of the North Bridge Fight, and the 1836 bicentennial of the town’s founding were all made occasions to reflect on the town’s past, which was further monumentalized by the 1835 publication of Lemuel Shattuck’s History of the Town of Concord. Davis lost no time initiating his own monument to Concord, a collection of mostly colonial artifacts with local histories. By 1860, he had enough of a collection to display to interested visitors.
Davis’s collection began to attract more attention over the course of the 1870s; there were articles on him in the Boston newspapers, and his Revolutionary War relics were displayed in the dinner tent, which sat four thousand people, during the 1875 Centennial celebration in Concord. Davis’s collection was perceived by his neighbors as an appropriate repository for relics. He displayed his collection in rented “antiquarian rooms” in the old courthouse in the center of town, owned at the time by the Middlesex Insurance Company. Within a few years of the Centennial, Davis, not yet sixty-five, began to find it increasingly difficult to care for himself and his relics. In 1881, a group of thirty Concordians headed by John Shepard Keyes (1821-1910) offered to pay to rent a larger room at the courthouse, at a cost of about $150 a year, “for the purpose of securing a better place for the arrangement and exhibition of the valuable collection of Mr. C.E. Davis.” That effort culminated in 1886 with the transfer of the collection, numbering about two thousand objects, to the newly formed Concord Antiquarian Society.
In 1887, the Society bought the house that had belonged to saddler Reuben Brown to display the collection and to house the collector. The initial arrangement of the collection was made by George Tolman (1836-1909), Secretary of the Society and one of the charter members, and by Cummings Davis. Davis’s health continued to fail and in 1893 he was committed to the asylum at Danvers, where he died at age eighty.
No significant change was made to the installation between 1887 and 1890, when Alfred Hosmer photographed the house. Hosmer’s photographs show Davis’s collection in an achronic arrangement with little reference to function. Photographs taken by Wallace Nutting in 1912 document a major reinstallation of the collection undertaken in 1907 which organized the material into period room groupings, an early essay in the idiom. Period room settings were retained and augmented with salvaged interior woodwork when the Society built a new brick building for the collection just up the Lexington road from the Reuben Brown house in 1930.
The new building was designed by architect Harry Little under the direction of historian Allen French. The guiding genius of the new installation was Russell Kettell, an avid collector and author of two influential publications, Pine Furniture of Early New England (1929) and Early American Rooms (1936).
During the 1970s, the Museum rededicated itself to educating a growing public about Concord’s history and to be a Museum for all. The Museum appointed its first professional director and initiated a modest series of school and public programs. In 1981, a new education and administrative building, the Davis building, was added. Conscious of its growing public commitment, the Museum adopted the name Concord Museum in 1984.
In 1991, the Museum constructed a major new addition, designed by Graham Gund, with three changing exhibition galleries, a theater, and ungraded visitor amenities, fully accessible to all audience. Today, the Concord Museum is a center of cultural enjoyment for the region and a gateway to the town of Concord for visitors from around the world.