Meriam’s Corner, Concord, Mass

The view looking northeast at Meriam’s Corner in Concord, with Old Bedford Road to the left and Lexington Road on the right, around 1900. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2020:

The battles of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775 marked the start of the American Revolution, when colonial militiamen resisted British attempts to seize military supplies in Concord. However, the fighting did not consist of a single battle, but rather a series of skirmishes spread out across several towns between Boston and Concord. It began at dawn in Lexington, when about 80 of the town’s militiamen gathered on the town common to confront the advancing British. A tense standoff led to both sides exchanging gunfire, killing eight colonists before the British continued their march to Concord. There, they seized some of the colonial supplies, but their advance was halted at Old North Bridge, where militiamen fired the famous “shot heard ’round the world” and forced three companies of redcoats to retreat.

Up until this point, the day was relatively bloodless for the British, who had one soldier wounded at Lexington, three killed at Old North Bridge, and nine wounded there. They had partially succeeded in their objectives, having destroyed some of the colonial cannons and supplies, but they now found themselves deep in hostile territory, with an ever-increasing number of militiamen streaming in from the surrounding towns. Facing a 17-mile march back to the safety of Boston, the redcoats ate lunch in Concord before leaving the town around noon.

Lt. Colonel Francis Smith, the commander of the British soldiers here, ordered a flank guard to protect the column of redcoats as they marched out of Concord. However, just beyond this intersection the road crosses a small stream, requiring the flank guard to return to the road in order to cross the bridge. At the same time, militiamen from Reading, Chelmsford, and Billerica arrived on scene. Observing that the British were vulnerable to attack without a flank guard, Captain John Brooks of the Reading minutemen ordered his soldiers to open fire, beginning what would soon turn into a long and bloody struggle for the British as they made their way back to Boston.

This intersection is known as Meriam’s Corner because it was the longtime home of the Meriam family, who had lived here since the mid-1600s. By 1775 there were three different houses here that belonged to members of the family, including the one on the left side of these photos. Built around 1705 by Joseph Meriam, it was subsequently owned by his son Nathan, who was living here with his wife Abigail and their children in 1775. Nathan was 54 years old at the time, and he was serving as one of the three town selectmen in Concord. He does not appear to have participated in the fighting here, but accounts of the battle suggest that his house and outbuildings were probably among the structures that the militiamen used for cover when they opened fire on the British column.

Contemporary descriptions of the day’s fighting lack specific details about how the fighting unfolded here at Meriam’s Corner, but several later accounts provide more information. Among these is a letter, written in 1825 by Reverend Edmund Foster, who had been one of the Reading minutemen who fought here a half century earlier. In this letter, he wrote the following, which is quoted from the National Park Service’s Historic Structure Report on the Meriam house:

We rendezvoused near the middle of the town of Bedford; left horses, and marched forward in pursuit of the enemy. A little before we came to Merriam’s hill, we discovered the enemy’s flank guard, of about 80 or 100 men, who, on their retreat from Concord, kept that height of land, the main body [being] in the road. The British troops and the Americans, at that time, were equally distant from Merriam’s corner. About twenty rods short of that place, the Americans made a halt. The British marched down the hill with very slow, but steady step, without music, or a word being spoken that could be heard. Silence reigned on both sides. As soon as the British had gained the main road, and passed a small bridge near that corner, they faced about suddenly, and fired a volley of musketry upon us. They overshot; and no one, to my knowledge, was injured by the fire. The fire was immediately returned by the Americans, and two British soldiers fell dead a little distance from each other, in the road near the brook. The battle now began, and was carried on with little or no military discipline and order, on the part of the Americans, during the remainder of that day. Each one sought his own place and opportunity to attack and annoy the enemy from behind trees, rocks, fences and buildings, as seemed most convenient.

As noted in the letter, the brief exchange of fire here at Meriam’s Corner was only the beginning of what would become an afternoon of guerilla warfare and ambushes on the part of the colonial militiamen. They inflicted particularly heavy casualties less than a mile to the east of here, at a spot now known as the Bloody Angle, where 30 British soldiers were killed or wounded. By the time the column reached Lexington the retreat had turned into a rout, and only the timely arrival of reinforcements from Boston saved the British from total disaster.

The British retreat marked the beginning of the Siege of Boston, which lasted until they evacuated the town 11 months later in March 1776. In the meantime, no further fighting occurred here in Concord for the rest of the war, and life in the town largely returned to normal. Nathan Meriam continued to live here in this house until his death in 1782. His son Ephraim subsequently acquired the property, and it would remain in his family until the death of his son Rufus in 1870. Rufus was a bachelor with no children, and the family sold the house a year later, ending two centuries of Meriam family ownership of this lot.

In 1871, the house was purchased by Thomas and Rose Burke, two Irish immigrants who lived here with their four children. He was a farmer, and he and Rose were still living here when the first photo was taken around 1900. According to that year’s census, all four of their children, who were now adults, were also still here, along with a hired hand who worked on the farm and lived with the family.

The first photo shows the scene looking northeast from the intersection. From here, the road on the left is Old Bedford Road, the route that the Reading minutemen took to get here. Out of view on the right is Lexington Road, which the British took on their way to and from Boston on the day of the battle. In the foreground on the right side of the scene is an inscribed boulder, which was installed in 1885 as part of the commemoration of the 250th anniversary of Concord’s founding. It reads: “Meriam’s Corner. The British troops retreating from the Old North Bridge were here attacked in flank by the men of Concord and neighboring towns and driven under a hot fire to Charlestown.”

Today, around 120 years after the first photo was taken, this scene has not changed substantially, except for the paved roads and increase in vegetation. The commemorative boulder is still there, as is the Meriam House in the distance, although it is now mostly hidden by trees from this angle. This site, along with much of the land surrounding the historic Battle Road, is now preserved and administered by the National Park Service as part of the Minute Man National Historical Park, which was established in 1959.

Old North Bridge, Concord, Mass (4)

The view looking east across the Old North Bridge in Concord, around 1890-1901. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

The Old North Bridge was discussed in more detail in an earlier post, which shows the view looking west across the bridge. However, this view shows the opposite side of the bridge, facing east from directly in front of the famous statue The Minute Man. The bridge was the site of the Battle of Concord, which occurred on April 19, 1775, only a few hours after the first shots of the American Revolution were fired in a skirmish in nearby Lexington.

Although the Battle of Lexington came first, it was almost entirely one-sided, and the British continued their march to Concord with only a single wounded soldier, compared to eight dead and ten wounded militiamen. As a result, it was here in Concord that the British first encountered significant resistance from the colonists. Prior to the battle, the British had secured the bridge during their search for hidden military supplies. However, as the colonial militiamen began assembling on the west side of the river, the outnumbered redcoats withdrew to the east bank, where the monument stands in the distance of this scene.

When the battle began, the militiamen were approaching the bridge from approximately where these photos were taken. At this point, some of the British soldiers began opening fire, evidently under the mistaken impression that their commanding officer had given the order. Two militiamen at the head of the line, Private Abner Hosmer and Captain Isaac Davis, were killed, but the colonists did not break ranks. Instead, they returned fire with a devastating volley that killed three redcoats and wounded nine more. This came to be known as “The shot heard round the world,” and it was the first time that American colonists killed British soldiers in battle. It also forced the British to retreat, marking the first American victory of the war.

The original bridge here across the Concord River was removed several years after the end of the war, and the roads were rerouted to a new bridge nearby. As a result, for many years there was little evidence of the brief but momentous battle that was fought here. The first memorial here on the battlefield was the obelisk in the distance of this scene, which was installed in 1836 and dedicated a year later. At the time, there was still no bridge here, so the monument was placed on the east bank, where it was more reality accessible from the center of town. A new bridge would not be constructed until 1874, in advance of the battle’s centennial celebration. As part of the centennial, the statue The Minute Man was dedicated here on the west side, marking the colonial position during the battle.

By the time the first photo was taken around the turn of the 20th century, the bridge had been replaced again after the 1874 one was destroyed in a flood. This one was, in turn, destroyed in a 1909 flood, and its replacement was a concrete bridge that was designed to resemble the original one. However, it sustained heavy damage in a flood in 1955, and it was subsequently replaced by the current one, which is a wooden replica of the original. Aside from the bridge, though, this scene has remained well-preserved, with few changes since the first photo was taken, and the battlefield is now part of the Minute Man National Historical Park, which was established in 1959.

Captain John Parker Statue, Lexington, Mass

The statue of Captain John Parker, on the Lexington Common at the intersection of Bedford Street and Massachusetts Avenuen, around 1900-1901. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

As discussed in more detail in the previous post, the Lexington Common is famous for being the site of the first battle of the American Revolution, which occurred here on April 19, 1775. Early on that morning, a group of some 80 Lexington militiamen gathered here on the Common, in preparation for the arrival of a large British force headed for Concord. In the short skirmish that followed, the militiamen, under the command of Captain John Parker, exchanged fire with the British. The result was eight dead militiamen and another ten wounded, compared to only one wounded redcoat. The British continued on to Concord, but the confrontation here in Lexington marked the opening shots of the conflict that ultimately led to American independence.

Captain Parker survived the battle, although his cousin Jonas Parker was among the eight who were killed. However, the 45-year-old Parker was dying from tuberculosis at the time, and the disease ultimately took his life less than five months later. Despite his short service in the war, though, he is regarded as one of the heroes of the battles of Lexington and Concord, in part because of his famous—but possibly apocryphal—command to his men prior to the battle, instructing them to “Stand your ground. Don’t fire unless fired upon, but if they mean to have a war, let it begin here.”

In 1884, these words were inscribed on a boulder on the Lexington Common, which marks the spot where his militia company stood during the battle. Then, in 1900 Captain Parker became the subject of another memorial here on the Common, which is shown in this scene. Officially known as the Hayes Memorial Fountain, it originally featured a water fountain and a watering trough for horses, and it was topped by a bronze statue of Captain Parker. The statue was the work of noted sculptor Henry Hudson Kitson, although Parker’s appearance was largely conjecture, as there are no surviving portraits of him.

The monument was dedicated on April 19, 1900, on the 125th anniversary of the battle. The ceremony included an address by town selectman George W. Sampson, who praised the egalitarian nature of its design, noting:

The drinking fountain itself, built of rough breastwork stone, is emblematical of the spirit of equality and democracy. Best of all, the figure itself carries us back to the historic past and teaches the lesson of April 19. The statue is true to life. No aristocratic figure surmounts yonder heap of rocks, and none were in the battle.

The first photo was taken sometime within a year or two after the dedication. It shows the fountain in the center of the scene, along with several other monuments on the Common. In the distance to the left is the stone pulpit, which marks the site of the town’s first three meeting houses. Just behind this pulpit is an elm tree that had been planted by President Ulysses S. Grant some 25 years earlier, as part of the battle’s centennial celebration. However, probably the most notable feature in the first photo, other than the statue, is the large 45-star flag that is flying above the Common.

Today, around 120 years after the first photo was taken, the statue remains a prominent landmark in downtown Lexington. The fountain itself is no longer in use, perhaps because there is now far less demand for horse watering troughs, and the basin is now used as a flower planter. There are also now a number of shrubs planted around it, but otherwise the monument itself has not seen any changes. Further in the distance, the stone pulpit is also still there, although President Grant’s elm tree is long gone, having probably fallen victim to Dutch Elm Disease at some point in the mid-20th century.

Lexington Common, Lexington, Mass

Looking north on the Lexington Common from near the corner of Bedford Street and Harrington Road, around 1900. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene around 1910-1915. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

These photos show a portion of the Lexington Common, which is also known as the Lexington Battle Green. Nearly every New England town has some sort of a common in the center of town, yet this one in Lexington is one of the most famous. It was here, just after dawn on April 19, 1775, that the first shots of the American Revolution were fired, and where eight Lexington militiamen were killed after a brief skirmish with British redcoats who were bound for Concord.

The British soldiers had departed Boston late in the previous evening, with the goal of seizing colonial military supplies that were being stored in Concord. This prompted Paul Revere and other messengers to make their famous midnight ride, alerting the militia companies in the outlying towns. Here in Lexington, a force of about 80 militiamen assembled on the Common. They were led by Captain John Parker, who is said to have instructed his men to “Stand your ground. Don’t fire unless fired upon, but if they mean to have a war, let it begin here.”

Upon arrival, the British ordered the militiamen to leave, with Major John Pitcairn supposedly shouting “Disperse, ye villains! Ye rebels, disperse!” Along with Parker’s earlier command, this would become one of the most famous quotes of the war, although it is hard to say exactly how accurate either of these lines really are. This uncertainty may be due, in part, to the fact that both men died within less than five months after the battle, leaving future historians with little opportunity to verify their battlefield statements.

In any case, Captain Parker recognized that his men were vastly outnumbered, and he ordered them to disperse. However, few evidently heard him. Then, in the midst of this standoff, a shot was fired. The identity of the shooter remains unknown, with both sides generally placing blame on the other, but both the redcoats and the militiamen then began exchanging fire.

The British proved to be far more effective in their fire. By the time the brief battle was over and the redcoats had resumed their march to Concord, they left behind eight dead militiamen and ten wounded, compared to just one wounded British soldier. Among the dead was Jonathan Harrington, who lived in the house that is visible in the distant center of all three photos. According to tradition, he was mortally wounded after the battle, but he managed to crawl back to his doorstep, where he died in his wife’s arms.

Despite how short and one-sided the battle was, it marked the first armed resistance to British aggression, and the Lexington Common has become an important symbol of American independence. The common is now marked by several monuments, including the one here in the foreground of this scene. Dedicated in 1884, this boulder marks the line where the militiamen stood, and it is inscribed with Captain Parker’s famous—if possibly apocryphal—command to his men to stand their ground.

The first photo was taken around the turn of the 20th century, and it shows the Harrington house as it appeared prior to a major renovation in 1910. This project, which was completed by the time the second photo was taken, involved the removal of a wing on the right side of the house, along with the replacement of the large central chimney with two smaller ones. It was intended as a restoration, although the work appears to have been based more on early 20th century ideas about how a colonial house should look, rather than how the Harrington house actually looked during the colonial era.

Today, more than a century after the second photo was taken, very little has changed in this scene. The boulder is still here marking the line of militiamen during the battle, and the Harrington house remains standing in the distance, with few major exterior changes since the 1910 alterations. The other house in this scene, visible further in the distance, also survives today, although it is somewhat younger than the Harrington house, dating back to 1820. The Common itself has also been preserved, serving as both a public park and a historic site, and in 1961 it was designated as a National Historic Landmark.

Jonathan Harrington House, Lexington, Mass

The house at the corner of Harrington Road and Bedford Street in Lexington, around 1896-1901. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The house in 2018:

This house was built sometime around the first half of the 18th century, although it has been altered over the years. It stands at the northern end of the triangular Lexington Common, and it is most famous for having been the home of Jonathan Harrington, one of the eight Lexington militiamen who were killed in the opening shots of the American Revolution on April 19, 1775.

At the time of the battle, Harrington was about 30 years old, and lived here in this house with his wife Ruth and their son Jonathan. Just after dawn on April 19, Harrington and about 80 other militiamen assembled on the Common, less than a hundred yards directly in front of his house. Here, they confronted a much larger force of British redcoats who were on their way to Concord to seize supplies of colonial munitions. A standoff ensued until someone fired a shot on or near the Common, resulting in both sides opening fire.

The ensuing skirmish marked the beginning of the American Revolution, although it was largely one-sided. It failed to stop the British advance, and only one redcoat was wounded, compared to eight dead militiamen and ten who were wounded. Of the fatalities, Jonathan Harrington is perhaps the best-known. According to tradition, he was mortally wounded during the battle, but he managed to crawl back here to his house, where he died in his wife’s arms on the doorstep.

Subsequent owners of this house included John Augustus, a shoemaker who lived here during the 1820s. He eventually moved to Boston in 1827, where he continued his career as a shoemaker. However, he is remembered today for his role in criminal justice reform when, in 1841, he began bailing criminals out of jail and taking them under his care, including finding employment for them. This eventually led to the establishment of probation as an alternative to incarceration in Boston, and the practice later spread throughout the state and the rest of the country.

Later in the 19th century, the house was owned by James Gould, and it remained in his family until at least the early 1890s. By the end of the decade, though, it was owned by Dr. Bertha C. Downing, a physician who had her practice here in the house. A native of Kennebunkport, Maine, Dr. Downing attended public school in Boston before graduating from Radcliffe College and the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania. The 1899 town directory shows her living in this house, and her office hours were listed as being from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. The first photo was taken at some point during her time here, as the sign above the two front windows on the left has her name on it.

Dr. Downing moved out of here by 1902, and in 1910 the house underwent a major renovation that ostensibly “restored” it to its colonial-era appearance. The owner at the time was Leroy S. Brown, and he hired local architect Willard D. Brown (evidently no close relation) for the project. Part of the work involved removing the wing on the right side of the house, which does not appear to have been original anyway, along with the replacement of the large central chimney with two smaller ones. Other less significant changes included the addition of a pediment above the front door, as shown in the present-day scene.

In retrospect, this restoration probably did more harm to the historic character of the house than if it had simply been left alone, but it did help to ensure its long-term preservation. Today, despite the early 20th century alterations, the house still stands as an important landmark in the center of Lexington. It is one of several surviving buildings on the Common that date back to the famous battle, and the house features two signs that attest to its historic significance. The one on the right tells the story of Jonathan Harrington’s death, while the one on the left identifies the building as having been the home of John Augustus.

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.