The Minute Man, Concord, Mass

The Minute Man, a statue on the west side of the Concord River at the Old North Bridge in Concord, around 1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The statue in 2018:

This statue, which was dedicated in 1875, marks the site of the Battle of Concord, which was one of the opening events of the American Revolution. It stands on the west side of the Old North Bridge, on the spot where the colonial militiamen assembled on April 19, 1775 and fired the famous “shot heard round the world” at the British redcoats on the east side of the river. This short skirmish lasted less than three minutes, but it forced the British to abandon their search for colonial military supplies and retreat to Boston. This was the first military victory of the war for the colonists, and it was also the first time that British soldiers were killed in combat during the war.

The first monument at the battlefield was a granite obelisk, which was installed in 1836 on the east bank of the river. It was dedicated a year later, and the ceremony included the singing of a poem, “Concord Hymn,” which Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote for the occasion. The poem is best known for its opening stanza, which reads:

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.

The obelisk was placed on the east side of the river because, at the time, there was no longer a bridge across the river here, and the east side was more accessible from the center of Concord. However, this meant that the monument was actually on the spot where the British fought. This motivated one local resident, Ebenezer Hubbard, to bequeath money to the town for the construction of a new bridge and the creation of a new monument on the west side, where the militiamen had fired their famous volley.

This gift came only a few years before the 100th anniversary of the battle, so over the next few years the town prepared for a large celebration. Boston architect William R. Emerson designed a new bridge, and the town commissioned noted sculptor Daniel Chester French to create the statue. Both the bridge and the statue were completed in 1874, and the town also built two large tents in preparation for the event, which were located to the west of the statue, on the hillside in the distance of both photos. One tent was for orations, and it could fit about 6,000 people, while the other was a dinner tent that could seat 4,500 people.

The statue was formally unveiled at the centennial celebration, which was held on April 19, 1875. The festivities ultimately drew crowd of some 50,000 people to Concord, far exceeding the capacities of either tent. There were a number of dignitaries here at the event, including President Ulysses S. Grant, Vice President Henry Wilson, and four members of Grant’s cabinet: Secretary of State Hamilton Fish, Secretary of War William W. Belknap, Postmaster General Marshall Jewell, and Secretary of the Interior Columbus Delano. Grant’s former Attorney General, Concord native Ebenezer Hoar, presided over the event, which also included brief remarks by Ralph Waldo Emerson and the recitation of a poem by James Russell Lowell. The main orator for the day was George William Curtis, who spoke about the history of the battle and how its lessons can be applied to the present day.

The Minute Man was well-received by the public. An article, published in the Boston Globe on the day of the ceremony, provided the following description of the statue:

[I]t is of heroic measure, more than seven feet in height, generously proportioned, and represents a young man turning at the hurrying call of the messenger from his labors in the field, and instantly ready for duty. His left hand rests a moment on a handle of his abandoned plough, across whose upper brace his coat is flung, his right hand grasps the old flint-lock musket; he rests on his left foot, while his right is just leaving the ground behind—the whole attitude indicating a moment’s pause, as if to listen. The figure is attired in the traditional continental costume, and will preserve its details for future ages. . . .

The features are strongly marked and bear the energy, the self-command, the ready shrewdness, immediate decision, and, above all, the air of freedom that belong to the New England face. The frame is stalwart, the shoulders squarely held, the muscles of the bared forearm—the one that leans strongly on the plow, the one that strongly grasps the musket—are tense and unencumbered by flabby flesh; the great veins stand knotted on the strenuous hands. The man is alive from head to foot, and indeed we know not where there is better represented the momentary pause of vigorous action than in this noble statue.

The statue stands atop a 7 1/2-foot granite pedestal, which was cut from the same boulder as the older monument on the other side of the river. The east side of the pedestal, shown here in this view, has the first stanza of Emerson’s poem inscribed on it, and on the other side is the date of the battle and the date of its dedication. The site of the statue is 110 feet west of the bridge, in line with it and the other monument. This spot is said to be where Captain Isaac Davis fell during the battle, becoming one of the first colonists—and the first officer—to be killed in the American Revolution.

Today, nearly 150 years after it was unveiled here, and more than a century after the first photo was taken, the statue still stands guard over the Old North Bridge. The statue itself looks essentially the same as it did in the first photo, although the surrounding area has seen a few changes. At the time, the statue was surrounded by a hedge, which had originally been planted for erosion control. Another hedge of Japanese barberry was later planted here, although it was ultimately removed in the late 20th century. Other changes include the base of the statue. Concrete curbing was installed here in 1909, probably soon after the first photo was taken, and in the late 1950s it was replaced by new granite curbing, along with granite slabs at the front and back of the statue.

Over the years, The Minute Man has remained an iconic symbol of the American Revolution, as well as one of the most important works of 19th century American sculpture. French made a number of smaller copies of the statue, including one that is now held by the Smithsonian, and images of the statue have also appeared in a variety of other mediums. For the 150th anniversary of the battle in 1925, the statue was featured on the five cent commemorative stamp, as well as the Lexington and Concord commemorative half dollar, which was issued the same year. More recently, in 2000 it appeared on the Massachusetts state quarter, superimposed over an outline of the state. However, perhaps its most famous use is as the logo of the U. S. National Guard, where it represents the historic tradition of citizen-soldiers that was exemplified by the colonial minutemen of 1775.

Concord River from Old North Bridge, Concord, Mass

Looking north on the Concord River from the middle of Old North Bridge in Concord, around 1908. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

These photos were taken facing north from the middle of the Old North Bridge in Concord, looking downstream on the Concord River. The river forms about a half mile upstream from the bridge, at the confluence of the Assabet and Sudbury Rivers, and it flows north from here for about 16 miles, eventually entering the Merrimack River in Lowell.

This site here is probably the best-known spot on the Concord River, as it was the site of the Battle of Concord, which occurred on April 19, 1775. Along with the Battle of Lexington, which had occurred several hours earlier, it marked the beginning of the American Revolution. During the battle, the colonial militiamen had assembled on the west bank of the river, on the far left side of the scene, in an effort to prevent British forces from seizing colonial military supplies. The British, on the east bank, opened fire, resulting in the militiamen returning fire with what came to be known as the “shot heard round the world,” as it resulted in the first British fatalities of the war and forced the redcoats to retreat back to Boston.

During the 19th century, the battlefield was marked by two famous monuments, with one on each side of the river. Since 1874 there have also been a series of commemorative bridges built on the site of the original bridge, which had been removed in 1788. The photographer of the first photo captured this scene from the second such bridge, which was built in 1888 and was destroyed in a flood in 1909, about a year after the photo was taken.

In the center of this photo is the boathouse for the Concord Canoe Club, which stood on the east side of the river on what was known as Honeysuckle Island. The club was established in 1902, and the boathouse was probably built around the same time. However, in 1909 the club built a new boathouse just to the south of this one, closer to the foreground on the far right side. The club existed until at least the 1920s, but both boathouses are now long gone, and the present-day scene actually looks more like its 1775 appearance than it did in the early 20th century.

Today, the bridge and the surrounding battlefield, including the land on both sides of the river in this scene, is now part of the Minute Man National Historical Park. This park, which was established in 1959, preserves important sites and buildings related to the battles of Lexington and Concord, and in recent years it has drawn upwards of a million visitors each year. However, years after the demise of the Concord Canoe Club, the river remains popular among recreational paddlers, and on summer days it is not uncommon to see groups of anachronistic kayaks passing through an otherwise colonial-era setting.

Old North Bridge, Concord, Mass (3)

Looking west across the Old North Bridge over the Concord River in Concord, around 1875-1885. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

The scene around 1900-1909. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

As discussed in more detail in an earlier post, the Old North Bridge over the Concord River was the site of the Battle of Concord at the beginning of the American Revolution. It occurred on April 19, 1775, only a few hours after the opening shots of the war in nearby Lexington, and it was the first American victory of the war, resulting in the British abandoning their search for colonial munitions and returning to Boston.

Because of its historical significance, the battlefield is now marked with two monuments. On the east side of the river, directly behind the spot where this photo was taken, is a granite obelisk dedicated in 1837, and on the west side of the bridge is the statue The Minute Man, visible in the distance of all three photos. This statue was the work of prominent sculptor Daniel Chester French, and it was dedicated on the 100th anniversary of the battle on April 19, 1775, in a ceremony that included dignitaries such as President Ulysses S. Grant.

Aside from the monuments, the most significant landmark here on the battlefield is the bridge. The original one was removed in 1788, and from 1793 to 1875 there was no bridge on this site after the roads were rerouted. However, as part of the centennial celebrations of 1875, a new one was built around the same time that the statue was installed. This bridge, shown here in the first photo, bore no resemblance to the original one. It was designed by noted architect William R. Emerson, and it featured a rustic Victorian-style design, with cedar logs for railings and two half-arbors at the middle of the bridge.

The centennial bridge was ultimately destroyed in a storm in 1888, and it was replaced by a simpler yet sturdier wooden bridge, as shown in the second photo. It was similar to, although not identical to, the original bridge here at this spot, and it stood here until it too was destroyed in 1909. Its replacement, built later in 1909, lasted until 1955, when it sustained serious damage in a flood. The current bridge was completed the following year, and it was designed to be a replica of the original colonial-era bridge.

In 1975, this bridge became a focal point for the bicentennial celebrations here in Concord. As was the case a century earlier, the event included a visit from the president, with Gerald Ford speaking from a platform here at the eastern end of the bridge, which was located just out of view on the right side of the scene. Since then, very little has changed here. The battlefield has been well-maintained in its 1775 appearance, and today the site probably looks more like it did on the day of the battle than in either of the two earlier photos. Much of this is due to the efforts of the National Park Service, which has administered the battlefield since 1959, when the bridge and the surrounding area became a part of the Minute Man National Historical Park.

Old North Bridge, Concord, Mass (2)

The Old North Bridge over the Concord River, with the memorial obelisk in the foreground, around 1900-1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

As discussed in more detail in the previous post, this is the site of the Battle of Concord, a short but significant skirmish between British redcoats and the colonial militia on April 19, 1775. Along with the Battle of Lexington, which had occurred several hours earlier, this marked the beginning of the American Revolution, and it was here at Concord that the British suffered their first fatalities of the war. This was also the first American victory of the war, as it forced the British to abandon their efforts to seize colonial munitions and retreat back to Boston.

The major landmark here at the battlefield was the North Bridge, which crosses the Concord River about a half mile north of downtown Concord. Prior to the battle, the British forces controlled both sides of the bridge, but they ultimately retreated to the east side, here in the foreground of the photo, as a larger colonial force approached from the west. By the time they exchanged fire, the redcoats were standing here on the east bank, while the militiamen were across the river on the west bank.

The original North Bridge was removed in 1788, and it was replaced by a new bridge that stood here until 1793, when the road leading to the bridge was rerouted. For most of the 19th century, there was no bridge here, and the only significant marker on the battlefield was this obelisk, which was installed in 1836 here on the east side of the river. It was dedicated a year later, on July 4, 1837, and the ceremony is best known for the poem “Concord Hymn,” which was written by Ralph Waldo Emerson and sung here during the event. Emerson, who had not yet achieved widespread literary fame at this point, was the grandson of the late William Emerson, the town minister who had witnessed the battle from his nearby house. The poem is particularly remembered for its opening stanza, in which Emerson describes the farmers-turned-soldiers firing “the shot heard round the world” here at the the bridge.

The bridge itself was not replaced until 1874, when a new one was constructed as part of the 100th anniversary celebration of the battle. This also coincided with the dedication of a new monument on the other side of the river, located just out of view beyond the trees on the left side of both photos. Known as The Minute Man, it was designed by sculptor Daniel Chester French, it has since become one of the major symbols of the American Revolution, with its image forms the basis for the United States National Guard logo.

By the time the first photo was taken at the turn of the 20th century, the 1874 bridge had been destroyed and replaced by a new one that was completed in 1888. This one was destroyed in 1909, and a new one was constructed later in the year. The current bridge here was built in 1956, and underwent extensive restoration in 2005. Unlike the earlier bridges, it is intended to be a replica of the original bridge that stood here during the battle.

Today, this area is now part of the Minute Man National Historical Park, a largely linear park that stretches along the route that the British took from Lexington to Concord and back. As a result, the Concord battlefield has remained well-preserved in its colonial-era appearance, with few changes in more than a century since the first photo was taken. The neighboring Old Manse, where William Emerson and his family watched the battle, has also been preserved, and it stands directly behind the spot where this photo was taken.

Old North Bridge, Concord, Mass (1)

The Old North Bridge over the Concord River, with the memorial obelisk in the foreground, around 1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

This view shows the scene looking west across the Concord River, at the site of the Battle of Concord, which occurred on April 19, 1775. Along with a brief skirmish in Lexington earlier on the same day, this battle marked the beginning of the American Revolution, and the site is now marked by several monuments and a replica of the original Old North Bridge that stood here at the time of the battle.

The battle was the result of a British attempt to seize colonial munitions that were stored in Concord. Late on the previous night, a force of some 700 British soldiers under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Francis Smith had left Boston, bound for Concord. This prompted Paul Revere and several other messengers to make their famous midnight ride, warning the minutemen in the surrounding towns. By dawn, the British had reached Lexington, where a group of minutemen had assembled on the Lexington Green. The two sides exchanged fire, the first shots of the war, and the result was eight colonists dead and ten wounded, compared to one British soldier who received a minor wound.

From Lexington, the British continued on their way to Concord, where they began searching for the hidden supplies. Three of the companies ended up here at the North Bridge, which they guarded while other soldiers continued to search. However, by this point the colonial militiamen had begun assembling in a field on the west side of the bridge, visible in the distance on the right side of this scene. This led the outnumbered British to withdraw across the bridge to the east side of the river, here in the foreground. They briefly attempted to tear up the planks of the bridge, but they soon abandoned this effort.

The colonial forces, under the command of Colonel John Barrett, advanced on the bridge from the west, although they were under orders to not fire unless fired upon. Captain Walter Laurie, who commanded the British forces here at the bridge, never gave an order to fire, but some of his men opened fire, killing two militiamen. This prompted the colonists, who were by this point positioned on the west bank of the river, to return fire. In the process, three British soldiers were killed, nine were wounded, and the rest of them began retreating back to the center of Concord. The entire battle took less than three minutes, but it marked the first victory of any kind for the colonists during the war, and the first British fatalities of the war.

This battle would prove to be the only military engagement in Concord during the war, and within less than a year the British forces had evacuated Boston, never again to return to Massachusetts. Here in Concord, life steadily returned to normal after the war, and in 1788 the original North Bridge was demolished and replaced with a new one, evidently without much regard to its historic significance. However, this new bridge did not last very long; it was removed in 1793 when the nearby roads were rerouted.

With the bridge gone, and the old road becoming pastureland, there was little visual evidence of the battle that had occurred here. Probably the first major celebration here at this site came in 1824, on the 49th anniversary of the battle. The event was marked by a parade to the battlefield, and a speech that was delivered here by Ezra Ripley, the pastor of the First Parish Church. He lived right next to here, in a house that later became known as the Old Manse, and his wife Phebe had witnessed the battle from the house, back when she lived here with her first husband, William Emerson.

Despite this celebration, though, it would be more than a decade before the site of the battle was marked by a permanent monument. In 1835, Ezra Ripley donated some of his property here at the spot where the bridge had once stood, and the following year an obelisk, shown here in these two photos, was added to the site. It stood 25 feet in height, and it was designed by Solomon Willard, whose other works included the much larger Bunker Hill Monument in Boston. It was mostly comprised of granite, with the exception of a marble slab here on the eastern face, which reads:

Here on the 19 of April, 1775, was made the first forcible resistance to British aggression. On the opposite Bank stood the American Militia. Here stood the Invading Army and on this spot the first of the Enemy fell in the War of that Revolution which gave Independence to these United States. In gratitude to God and In the love of Freedom this Monument was erected AD. 1836.

The monument was formally dedicated on July 4, 1837, with a ceremony that included a keynote speech by Congressman Samuel Hoar. However, the event is best remembered for “Concord Hymn,” a poem that was sung here. It was written for the occasion by Ralph Waldo Emerson, the grandson of William Emerson, and it was among his earliest notable literary works. Although he would later be known primarily as an essayist and founder of the Transcendentalism movement, the poem remains perhaps his single best-known work, particularly the opening stanza:

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.

At the time, there was still no bridge here, and it would be several more decades before one was finally reconstructed. This ultimately occurred in 1874, in advance of the 100th anniversary of the battle. As part of this project, a new bridge was designed and a new monument was dedicated on the west side of the river, marking the militiamen’s position during the battle. This monument, visible in the distance of both photos, features a bronze statue designed by noted sculptor Daniel Chester French. Known as The Minute Man, it consists of a colonial militiaman leaving behind a plow and carrying a musket, representing the farmers who came to the defense of their country. Beneath the statue is a pedestal, designed by James Elliot Cabot, with the first stanza of Emerson’s poem inscribed on it.

The 1874 bridge was destroyed in a storm in 1888, and it was subsequently rebuilt. This bridge, which is shown in the first photo, stood here until 1909, when it too was destroyed. The next bridge here was a concrete structure, completed later in 1909, and it survived until 1955 before being severely damaged by a flood. Its replacement, which was built in 1956, is still standing today, although it underwent a major restoration in 2005. Unlike the earlier bridges, it is a replica of the original one, and it has remained here at this site for longer than any of its predecessors.

In 1959, the bridge, the monuments, and the surrounding battlefield became part of the Minute Man National Historical Park, which encompasses a number of historic sites relating to the battles of Lexington and Concord. The park gained significant attention during the American bicentennial celebrations, and in 1975 President Gerald Ford gave a speech here at the bridge to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the battle. Today, under the administration of the National Park Service, this scene has remained well-preserved, with few significant changes since the first photo was taken more than a century ago. The site of the battle continues to be a major tourist destination, and the park as a whole draws upwards of a million visitors each year to Lexington and Concord.

Forest Park Lily Ponds, Springfield, Mass

The lily ponds in Forest Park in Springfield, around 1907. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

Forest Park is the largest public park in Springfield, encompassing 735 acres of land in the southwestern corner of the city. The origins of the park date back to 1884, and over the years it has been steadily expanded through various donations and land purchases. One of the most significant of these donors was Everett H. Barney, a local ice skate manufacturer who owned much of what is now the western section of the park. He built his house, Pecousic Villa, on the property in 1883, and he subsequently landscaped the grounds with ponds, fountains, a waterfall, bridges, and a network of paths.

Barney had intended to construct a house here for his only child, George. However, George died in 1889, and Barney instead built a mausoleum for his son on the site of what would have been his house. With no other heirs, Barney donated his entire estate to the city, including the house and the meticulously-maintained grounds. His only stipulation was that he and his wife Eliza would be able to reside in the house for the rest of their lives, and they went on to live here until her death in 1905 and his in 1916.

The first photo was taken sometime around 1907, showing the lily ponds that Barney had constructed. It was taken from the path between the lily ponds and the Pecousic Brook, and the view faces north, with Pecousic Villa just out of view on the far left side, on the other side of the hill. Unlike the other sections of Forest Park, which were left in more or less a natural state, this scene was mostly artificial, and the plan was not necessarily admired by all. For example, in 1901 the Springfield Republican published a lengthy commentary on the park, in which it lamented that “Not all the changes of recent years have been for the better.” The article went on to explain:

Everyone must admire the enthusiasm with which Mr. Barney has cultivated the extensive grounds which he has generously added to the park, and criticism of the results would be a most ungrateful task, yet it must be clear from the principles which have been indicated, that a somewhat difficult problem is raised by the conflicting ideals which have been pursued. The rare beauty of the lotus and lily ponds is undeniable, but the general scheme of the park and that of Mr. Barney’s very valuable addition are incongruous. In the park the effort has been to keep as much of nature as is possible in a city park. Mr. Barney’s plan, carried out with diligent personal attention through many years, has involved a design which, though not conventional, is at least artificial.

This criticism notwithstanding, Forest Park proved to be a popular recreation area, with most visitors evidently remaining unfazed by the inconsistencies between the more natural eastern half of the park and the carefully-manicured areas here in the western half. One of the city’s other newspapers, the Springfield Union, praised Barney for his landscaping work in his obituary in 1916, writing:

Forest Park is Springfield’s great breathing ground, and a trip there always includes a visit to “Barney’s front yard.” There he showed his passionate love for nature and that he was an expert horticulturalist. He planted there rare shrubs and trees from Europe, Egypt, China, Japan and India, and there he planned and maintained lily ponds containing nearly all varieties of lilies. There, too, he maintained a lotus pond. Mr. Barney’s nature was a restless, untiring one, and he changed his lawns and flower gardens frequently. His taste ran strongly to mathematical arrangement of flower beds and shrubs, and one is constantly startled by coming suddenly on a stone deer or other piece of statuary.

Today, more than a century after the first photo was taken, Forest Park has undergone some significant changes, including the demolition of the Barney house in the late 1950s to make way for Interstate 91. However, many other scenes in the park, including this one, have remained largely the same. Forest Park is actually much more forested now than it was when it acquired its name, and there are far more trees in the present-day photo, including in the foreground and on the distant hillside. Overall, though, Barney’s lily ponds still look as they did when he first laid them out in the late 19th century, and much of his other landscaping work remains intact after having been enjoyed by many generations of Springfield residents.