Lexington and Concord
Spend some quiet time at the most famous pond in American literature
Reminders of the Revolutionary War abound throughout eastern Massachusetts, but nowhere more significantly than in Lexington and Concord. The first skirmish of the war took place just a couple of blocks from downtown Lexington on April 19, 1775.
Tensions between the colonists and the British government had been building for years, and the local militia, or minutemen, would gather at Buckman Tavern to discuss the situation. Learning that British troops were on the march from Boston, Paul Revere and his fellow riders rode into the countryside to sound the alarm. They roused the militia for miles around, and the Lexington minutemen confronted the redcoats on the Battle Green.
This affluent suburb of Boston looks nothing like a battlefield today; the historic site is now a broad, peaceful lawn. Spend a moment at the Visitor Centre, where a diorama illustrates the battle when the first shot was fired. If your visit coincides with the local tradition of waking before dawn on Patriots Day, join the bleary-eyed crowd to witness convincing battle re-enactments, followed by hearty community pancake breakfasts and a day full of family events.
The 900-acre Minute Man National Historical Park preserves sites and structures associated with the Revolution, most of them found along the five-mile Battle Road Trail connecting Lexington and Concord. One of the trail’s principal sites is Concord’s North Bridge, where 500 colonial soldiers surprised the British redcoats. A replica of the trestle bridge over the narrow Concord River is part of the park, which also preserves the Wayside, home of Nathaniel Hawthorne, built in 1688.
The Wayside is but a glimpse of Concord’s great literary legacy. The Orchard House, inspiration of Little Women and home of its author, Louisa May Alcott, and the prosperous-looking home of philosopher-poet Ralph Waldo Emerson, are, like Hawthorne’s, open for tours (many of the town’s literary and revolutionary artifacts have been gathered at the impressive Concord Museum across the way). At the height of their fame in the mid-19th century, Concord was a centre for Transcendentalism, a philosophical movement that looked to the simplicity of the natural world for guidance. Under the shade of ancient trees in this writers’ neighbourhood is the late 19th-century Hawthorne Inn, a welcoming and romantic B&B with just seven guest rooms. Classic country decor of handmade quilts and antique four-poster beds mixes seamlessly with contemporary and traditional art, while everywhere a literary atmosphere prevails.
Longfellow’s Wayside Inn in nearby Sudbury is perhaps the area’s most well-known destination for accommodation and dining. Licensed in 1716 and reputedly the oldest operating inn in the country, it was immortalised in Longfellow’s Tales of a Wayside Inn. With just ten antiques-filled guest rooms decorated in comfortable country style, it once belonged to auto magnate Henry Ford, who amassed a number of historic structures on the leafy 130-acre property. The 1929 gristmill-cum-waterwheel still supplies all the flour used in the inn’s baking, and an extensive kitchen garden helps supply the restaurant, where Sunday dinner in the Yankee style is a venerable local tradition. Linger afterwards with a colonial-recipe rum concoction in the old bar.
Even with such tough competition, Concord native Henry David Thoreau is arguably the author most closely associated with the town, and lovely Walden Pond is the place most closely associated with the author. Thoreau lived on these sylvan shores from 1845 to 1847 in a one-room house he built on property owned by his friend Emerson. His objective? To escape a society in which “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation”. He captured the experience in his 1854 essay Walden, inspiring the modern-day conservation movement while encouraging man’s appreciation of solitude in unrestricted nature. The Walden Pond State Reservation preserves the site of the long-gone house (a replica stands nearby), surrounded by some 4,000 acres of largely undeveloped land, where you can still find that moment of peace and quiet that changed Thoreau’s life.
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Trip idea text ©Patricia Schultz. For contact information about the places mentioned and many more USA trip ideas, see Patricia Schultz's blockbuster book.