Quick test: Why is today, April 19, important in American history? If you live in Massachusetts or Maine, you had better know the answer. Today is the anniversary of the Battles of Lexington and Concord, the first official fighting in the American Revolutionary War in 1775. And, along with that, the famous midnight ride of Paul Revere. Patriot’s Day is a state holiday in MA and ME, though it is celebrated the third Monday of April (so technically I guess it was this past Monday).
In honor of this day, let me describe another one of my top ten historic American towns … Concord, Massachusetts. My parents dutifully took me there as a child and the place has drawn me back on various occasions over the years. I had the good fortune to stay for a long weekend one year over Memorial Day when the smell of lilacs permeated the spring air. I stayed on the town green in the Colonial Inn, parts of which supposedly date to 1716. One of the Inn’s original buildings stored arms and ammunition in 1775.
Concord features so many layers of history. Steps from town sits the reconstructed North Bridge, site of a stand-off between the militia and British troops, come to seize weapons and ammunition. The militia held their ground at the bridge, which is part of Minute Man National Historical Park. The bucolic setting today, with the meandering Concord River, features Daniel Chester French’s famous Minuteman statue completed in 1874. Concord resident Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Concord Hymn says:
“By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard round the world.”
If your interest is American authors or the nineteenth century, Concord won’t disappoint. Ralph Waldo Emerson moved to town in 1835, one of many prominent writers to call Concord home. Nathaniel Hawthorne, Louisa May Alcott, and Henry David Thoreau all lived in town. In fact they all found eternal rest there, too, on what is dubbed “Author’s Ridge” in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, overlooking the center of town. That cemetery happens to be one of my favorite burial grounds, along with South Burying Ground with its earliest grave dating to 1697. The elaborate gravestones are filled with skeletons and angels of death, along with Bible verses or brief descriptions of the deceased. The symbols appear over and over again, but it’s the words that eloquently personalize.
Why do I love Concord? Besides the fact that the Concord grape was cultivated there and the original vine supposedly still exists, I love it because it is a perfectly quaint New England town. It has a town green, historic white churches (with spires), several wonderful historic cemeteries, a great independent bookstore, and a train station with regular trains to Boston. Plus, it is a major site in American history. What more could a history geek ask for? One night I was walking down a residential street near the center of town and heard fiddle music. I followed the sound to a church, where through the open windows I could see contra dancers twirling their partners in lines. Perfect, I thought. The New England folk dance (though some might argue it originated elsewhere) was popular in the 1700s and was the natural ending of day in Concord.
Have you visited Concord? Tell us about it.
Read about another one of my top ten historic American towns: https://historyplaces.wordpress.com/2011/08/11/a-top-ten-historic-town/