Minute Man National Historical Park Lexington and Concord, Mass. Visited: April 18, 2004 Second Visit: July 27, 2006 NPS Site Visited: 27 of 353 NPS Website; Local Website
Want More? Click Here for Gab's 2004 Patriots Day Open Letter to Boston Click Here for Michael's 2004 Patriots Day Open Letter to Boston
WHAT IS IT? Battle Road, Hartwell Tavern, the North Bridge and other sights preserved to commemorate the events of April 19, 1775, Patriots Day. The day that the American Revolution began. Also included at Minute Man NHP is The Wayside, the Concord home of Louisa May Alcott, later purchased by Nathaniel Hawthorne.
BEAUTY (4/10) Minute Man NHP is situated along Boston’s outskirts, in between the city’s urban sprawl and the beginnings of the Massachusetts countryside. In fact, the Battle Road portion of the Site ends before it reaches Lexington because of U.S. Interstate 95, the road that is effectively Boston’s beltway. The Site itself is not particularly beautiful; it looks like a pleasant suburban park. The significance is historical, not natural, as are the visual draws: the Lexington and Concord Minute Man statues, the oft-rebuilt North Bridge and the period structures that still stand along the Battle Road.
HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (10/10) The place where the American Revolution began. That's the popular, understood and correct contextualization of the events of that fateful April day. At the time, however, the event was purely a local phenomenon. A single national consciousness and determination began to form over a year later when the Declaration of Independence was signed. And even then the solidarity was dubious and pragmatic at best.
Bostonians wanted the British out of their backyard. Simple as that. At no time did these unruly and violent rebels see themselves as either a part of a greater national whole or catalysts for a world-quaking governmental revolution. Samuel Adams, Paul Revere, William Dawes and thousands of Bostonians probably never thought they were starting a War. The British only thought they were seizing contraband rifles.
The notion that the United States of America, in every sense, began and exists today due to a few Minute Man who fired back because they (mistakenly) believed the Redcoats were burning their rural town is overwhelming. We wonder if those Minute Man are the epitome of the American spirit: determined, hot-headed, reactionary, delusional, resourceful and stubbornly successful. They started it all, right?
If that is not enough, the Site also includes the house where much of Louisa May Alcott’s novel “Little Women” took place, perhaps America's most beloved children’s novel.
CROWDS (6/10) Our first visit to Minute Man NHP came on Patriot's Day, 2004. Understandably the crowds were large and the excitement was tangible. A whole lot of people were wearing three-cornered hats. If you can visit Boston during their Patriot's Day holiday, do it.
Our next visit was a lot less hectic, although there were no open spaces in the Minute Man Visitor Center parking lot (too many bus spaces). On Patriot's Day everyone parked on the grass. On a mid-summer weekday, however, the crowd tended more towards babysitters and their obligations, local joggers enjoying their park and (gasp) foreign, even British, tourists.
Most out-of-town Boston vacationers appear to stay downtown where they slog the Freedom Trail, relax at Boston Common and enjoy the city from their centralized hotel. Few venture out to the sticks to see where the Revolution began and that's a shame. But who can blame them, Boston's subway does not drop you off here and the traffic can be horrific.
EASE OF USE/ACCESS (4/5) The Site's Minute Man VC is located right off U.S. Interstate 95, about 20 miles west of Boston. Take I-95, Exit 30 (Massachusetts Route 2A) and go west. The Minute Man VC will be on your right in about a quarter mile. The Site continues westward from the Minute Man VC along the Battle Road. A driving route parallels the Battle Road Trail for about four miles until you get to the town of Concord and the North Bridge Visitor Center.
There are five parking lots located along the Battle Road Trail if you wish to walk the historic trail. The trail itself consists of crushed stone and might be difficult in a wheelchair. Both the Hartwell Tavern, a restored tavern that sits along the Battle Road, and The Wayside are only open from May through October.
CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (3/5) The Minute Man NHP Visitor Centers vend a good selection of Revolutionary War books as well as books by and about the Concord-area writers: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Louisa May Alcott and Nathaniel Hawthorne.
COSTS (4/5) Battle Road and all Minute Man related sections of the Park are free. There is a $5 per person charge (free with the National Parks Pass) for entry into The Wayside and the mandatory Ranger-led tour.
RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (5/5) The Rangers were working hard on Patriots Day weekend. Most were dressed in period costume. Lectures were plentiful. We spoke to the musket-shooting Ranger about Revolutionary War-era Tavern culture and the events of April 19 for about 20 minutes. After his lecture, we saw him walking with about seven other people explaining incidents along the Trail. He was wonderful. He had a nose for people who wanted to ask questions.
Our second, less eventful visit, happily brought the same level of Ranger surplus and attentiveness. And a few were still dressed in period costume! They probably dress in modern clothing when off-duty. Then again, who knows?
TOURS/CLASSES (7/10) We really enjoyed the multi-media Road to Revolution theater presentation shown at the Minute Man VC. The show, which combines electronic maps with set pieces, video screens and a moving clock, does a terrific job at establishing the complicated geography and time frame of the day's events. Michael had been inculcated with the “one if by land, two if by sea” story since he could read but never fully grasped its complete topographic meaning before the multi-media presentation. Start your visit here.
The best part of the Site is that Minute Man NHP posts a few of its Rangers at the important Battle Road locations, instead of just at the Visitor Centers. We love this method and wish that more Parks would put there knowledgeable staff at the places where the questions are sparked. The Rangers at Minute Man NHP know their history and are immediately engaging. Our interactions delved into historical theory, legend creation and 18th-century tavern life. And yeah, they all shoot muskets too!
We were disappointed by the confusing, abstract designs of the Minute Man VC and in the lack of substantial learning opportunities at the North Bridge VC but the Rangers and the intro film more than made up for any static display shortcomings. The Wayside Tour was a little under whelming and very slow; perhaps the privately-run Concord area writers' museums (Louisa May Alcott's The Orchard House and Nathaniel Hawthorne's Old Manse) offer more engaging tours.
FUN (9/10) Pictures of the North Bridge and Daniel Chester French's Minute Man statue are so ubiquitous in tourist photos and history text books that seeing them in person feels revelatory. The distant past, the reckless bravery, the fiery chase down the Battle Road, the manic urgency and the epic drama become inescapably real. The 'Shot Heard Round the World' is instantly imagined; this is a place where the World's political path irrevocably changed, moving towards a system of representative government and away from the monarchy not because of political decisions, voting solutions or protracted thought but because an angry farmer fired a rifle.
WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (10/10) The Battle Road from Lexington to Concord, with its leafy shade, forested turns, restored buildings, oft-pictured statues and famous bridge, is the real Freedom Trail. Don't be distracted by the moniker of downtown Boston's wonderful tourist walk. No visit to New England is complete without a visit to Minute Man NHP and no place offers a better visceral understanding of the American Revolution and the American character.
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