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.

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.