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, which was unveiled here in 1875 by President Ulysses S. Grant, was the work of prominent sculptor Daniel Chester French, and it has since become one of the most iconic symbols of the American Revolution.

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, and it was unveiled by President Ulysses S. Grant at the dedication ceremony. This statue has since become one of the major symbols of the American Revolution, and 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.

North Bridge, Salem, Mass

Looking north across the bridge over the North River in Salem, around 1895-1905. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

More than a century before the first photo was taken, this scene on North Street in Salem was the site of Leslie’s Retreat, a confrontation that is said to have been the first armed resistance to British rule in the American colonies. The event occurred on February 26, 1775, less than two months before the more famous battles at Lexington and Concord, and was the result of a British effort to seize cannons that were stored in a blacksmith’s shop on the north side of the river.

On that day, some 240 British soldiers, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Leslie, landed in Marblehead and subsequently marched through Salem on their way to the North Bridge. However, by the time they arrived at the south side of the river, the town’s militia had already assembled here, and the drawbridge span had been raised to obstruct their path. Colonel Leslie demanded that it be lowered, and even threatened to open fire if it was not, but the militia stood their ground, their ranks swelled by a growing crowd that shouted insults at the British soldiers.

At one point during the long standoff, the British made an attempt to seize several boats in the river. However, the locals noticed this, and began smashing the bottoms of the boats before the British could reach them. During the ensuing struggle, the soldiers threatened the men with bayonets, but one Salem man, Joseph Whicher, opened his shirt and dared them to stab him. One soldier obliged, lightly pricking him in the chest with his bayonet. It was enough to draw blood, making it arguably the first American blood spilled during the Revolution.

As dusk approached, Leslie realized that the situation was hopeless. He finally reached a compromise with the militia, and was allowed to cross the bridge if he agreed to proceed no further than the blacksmith shop. Everyone on both sides knew that the cannons were long gone by this point, having been removed to a more secure location, but the deal allowed Leslie to save face by technically carrying out his orders. He duly performed a cursory search of the blacksmith shop, found no cannons, and then he and his men marched back to their ship in Marblehead, escorted by local militiamen from all of the surrounding towns.

Although little-known today, this confrontation was an important test of American resolve, and also demonstrated the colonists’ ability to summon large numbers of militiamen at short notice. These same factors were present, on a much larger and bloodier scale, less than two months later, when the British made a similar move to seize military supplies in Concord. Coincidentally, the subsequent battle in Concord also occurred at a bridge known as the North Bridge, and it is that one, as opposed to the North Bridge here in Salem, that has been immortalized as “the rude bridge that arched the flood” where the embattled farmer “fired the shot heard round the world.”

By the time the first photo was taken, the scene had changed significantly from its 18th century appearance. Salem was no longer the prosperous seaport that it had been in the years immediately after the American Revolution, and much of this area along the North River had been developed for industrial use. A few of these industries are visible on the right side of the photo, including the Locke Brothers company, which produced steam fittings in the large three-story building near the foreground. In front of this building is a one-story building that housed the offices of the Collins Brothers coal company, and the coal shed is partially visible on the far right side of the photo.

Today, this scene is essentially unrecognizable from the first photo. Not only are most of the 19th century buildings gone, but the road itself has been completely rebuilt. The river, once been an impassable barrier for the British soldiers, is now hardly even noticeable for modern drivers. However, there are several buildings that appear to survive from the first photo, including one that was likely standing during the events of February 26, 1775. Located at 98 North Street, directly opposite Mason Street, this three-story gambrel-roofed house is barely visible in the distance of both photos, at the point where the road curves out of view. It is now heavily modified from its original appearance, with a storefront occupying part of the ground floor, but it was probably built between 1750 and 1770, making it old enough to have been here when the Leslie’s Retreat occurred.

Burnham Tavern, Machias, Maine (2)

Another view of the Burnham Tavern, taken on June 17, 1937. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey Collection.

738_1937-06-17 loc habs

The building in 2015:

738_2015
This view shows the rear of Burnham, which as explained in the previous post was built in 1770 and played a role in the planning of the Battle of Machias, one of the first naval battles of the American Revolution.  Today, the building is well-preserved, and is maintained by the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution as a museum, complete with period furnishings on the interior.  The first photo shows its appearance when it was documented for the Historic American Buildings Survey in 1937, and its exterior is virtually unchanged in the nearly 80 years since.  The only noticeable difference is the use of painted shingles instead of clapboards; this is actually in keeping with 18th century customs of putting clapboard on the front and shingles on the sides and back.