From its early days, Concord’s motto had been “The Wilderness Was Glad for Them.” By the early days of the 20th century, the wilderness was more likely to be rearranged to suit the needs and whims of humans. The natural landscape had been subjected to change from Concord’s earliest settlement with the clearing of land for agriculture, the installation of dams and canals on the river, and the development of roads and railroad tracks. But in the century’s last decades “progress” and “growth” lost their unequivocally positive connotations.

If a turning point can be identified, it would be in the early 1970s, as a series of development proposals were rejected because they were perceived to damage the city’s environment, just at a time when environmental consciousness became widespread. Though the notions of protecting open land and reducing pollution were not novel, they gained considerable currency as Concord, like America as a whole, confronted the visible and widespread consequences of its neglect. Population growth and development had followed Interstate 93 north along the Merrimack River and wrought substantial change in Manchester and Nashua. Residents in Concord, logically the next town to boom along the corridor, began to express fear of unplanned growth and the accompanying loss of open space, overcrowding of once-quiet neighborhoods, and increased pollution.

“Alteration” of the ecosystem was becoming synonymous with abuse of the environment. Nowhere was this more apparent than the Merrimack River, often given the nickname “Merrimuck” and accurately described as an open sewer.


This excerpt written by Geoffrey R. Kirsch appears in the chapter “The Land” in “Crosscurrents of Change.”