Of all the places we have visited in New England, Concord, MA might be my favorite. It’s not the most scenic nor does it have the best food. There wasn’t a lot of great hiking nor was there awesome wildlife. There was, however, a ton of history, a lot of it unexpected.
Yep, I’m a bit of a history buff.
When we came to Concord, I expected to learn more about the first shots of the American Revolution. I didn’t expect to also discover the cradle of American Literature.
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Updated May 2019
Minute Man National Historical Park
Minute Man National Historical Park follows the battles of Lexington and Concord. The two battles are really one running battle along the Bay Road.
For those whose history is a bit rusty, let me summarize for you. Seven hundred British troops, mostly light infantry and grenadiers (assault troops), left Boston in the middle of the night. The troops marched for Concord to seize arms and ammunition. The colonial militia was stockpiling in Concord.
Word spread of the impending raid and a warning system was set up, leading to Paul Revere and Samuel Prescott making their famous midnight rides, sounding the alarm.
As the troops approached Lexington, 77 members of the Lexington militia formed on the town green. The colonial officer gave orders to let the British pass but the British did not. Instead, they formed up into a firing formation. One of the British troops fired, causing the whole line to volley fire into the colonials, killing eight.
The British continued the march to Concord and began to search the town. The Concord militia stood their ground on the North Bridge and the British again fired a volley, killing two colonials. The colonials returned fire (the “shot heard ‘round the world”) and the British broke ranks and retreated.
More and more colonials joined with the militia, eventually outnumbering the British. The militia pursued the British all the way down the Bay Road back to Charlestown. In the end, the Colonials killed 73 British, wounded 174 more, at a cost of 49 dead and 41 wounded.
The park is a five-mile section of the old Bay Road, dubbed Battle Road. The Park Service preserved several key sites, including the area around North Bridge (pictured above) in Concord. A walk down the trail will lead you by where Paul Revere was captured, several important sites of the battle and houses dating back to the revolution.
I can’t begin to describe the sense of history that comes with walking the Battle Road trail. It is the birth of our country condensed into a walk.
The Birth of American Literature
As important as the battle was, just as important is one of the other things preserved at Minute Man NHP: the cradle of American literature.
I am not going to lie… I completely geeked out. Teaching American Literature and seeing how important Concord was as a birthing ground to some truly amazing authors really impressed me.
The Wayside, the home of militia leader Samuel Whitney, was purchased many years later by Bronson and Abby Alcott. The Alcotts were the parents of Louisa May Alcott (yes, that Lousia May Alcott!!!) with help from their dear friend, Ralph Waldo Emerson (!!!).
The Alcotts, Emerson and Henry David Thoreau(!!!) used to meet often in the house. Later Nathaniel Hawthorne (!!!) lived in the home, writing his final works, as did Harriet Lothrop (author of the Five Little Peppers series), whose daughter preserved the house.
And then there is the Old Manse, a home right next to the North Bridge, where Emerson wrote the first drafts of Nature and Hawthorne rented the place the following decade. Thoreau planted the Hawthorne couple a vegetable garden when they moved in.
The Town of Concord
The town of Concord is pleasantly small and quaint. Following our walk, we stopped at the Main Streets Market and Cafe for a sandwich, a flatbread and a couple of drinks. We enjoyed the food and the beer, plus the building is suitably historic.
At the advice of a park volunteer, we drove into Sleepy Hollow Cemetery for Author’s Ridge, a rise at the back of the cemetery.
Visitors honored the authors’ tombstones with pens, an homage to these titans of American literature. This delighted the English teacher in me.
Not far away is Walden Pond, where Thoreau wrote his famous text, Walden. Really, there is SO much in Concord!
Pro-tip on driving this close to Boston: don’t if you can help it. The roads are tight, confusing and the drivers seem to drive with the attitude of “screw you.” Boston does have a very nice mass transit system, which we plan on using when we return to do all of the Boston-area parks.
Lowell National Historical Park
The other nearby NPS site is Lowell National Historical Park, an interesting site situated in the revitalized downtown area of Lowell, MA.
Lowell tells the tale of the birth of the factory town and the cradle of the textile industry in the United States. Designed by merchants from the ground-up as a water-powered textile factory hub, with company houses for the mostly (at least initially) female workforce, Lowell was spearheading the American Industrial Revolution. Founded in 1821, the town grew to 33,000 in 1850 and was the second-largest city in the state.
The city later became a hub of immigration, with several ethnic neighborhoods springing up throughout the city.
As innovative as the city was initially, the later owners of the mills were reluctant to change in the face of increasing competition. By the 1960s, most of the mills had shut down or relocated to the South. Interestingly, the exhibits talked about the real cost of clothing, identifying why American-made clothing is so much more expensive: wages and working conditions.
Today, the city is a great example of urban revitalization, with new shops and offices in downtown, including a nice pizzeria, Tremonte, with European-style sidewalk seating.
After a nice lunch and some people watching, we headed to the visitor center of the NHP, which has a video and a brief exhibit. From there, we visited a museum with a weave room with operational looms and a very good exhibit above on the impact of Lowell on American industry and mill towns. There was also a museum about the life of the mill girls in one of the old boarding houses. The park even has a working water turbine!
We finished our visit with a stroll along the canals, engineering wonders themselves.
Final Thoughts on Concord
I really want to return to Concord with a school field trip. Walking the North Bridge, seeing the Old Manse and the Wayside, walking the Battle Road and seeing the markers for the British and Colonial dead are truly humbling.
The Fourth of July is coming up and the struggle which began in this humble town is truly inspiring. Walking it, touching it, just makes it more real. That’s one reason we love visiting all of the units of the National Park Service so much.