Minuteman National Historical Park and The Manse

Originally posted on 5/19/2010 on my 52b452 blog. This post relates to our visit to the park on Patriots’ Day in 2010. We returned to the park to hike recently. The photos included in the post are ones we took this year, but the writing relates to our visit on that day over 10 years ago! Please search my travel posts to read more about both my travels back then, and the photos we’re taking now as we revisit those sites. I hope you enjoy.

Minuteman National Historical Park

A park memorializing so many events it spans three towns!

a statue of the minuteman in Concord
This minute man with his plow and rifle greet you at the Old North Bridge

But we had to draw the line at walking the whole way. We drove through them instead! Believe me though, if we’d had segways or bikes and a significant portion of the trails hadn’t been flooded, we may have been tempted! (As you’ll not from the 2020 photos, there was no flood when we visited this time!)

  • Our Rating – 4 wags
  • Tucker’s Rating – 4 wags
  • Accessibility – excellent. Flat trails, accessible historic homes and visitor’s centers, handicap parking, special listening devised at visitor’s centers for films/slide shows, and even cell phone guided tours!
  • Fees – $5 to access the Wayside House, free for children 16 and younger. Group tours available. Wayside House wasn’t yet open for the season at our visit. Access to all the rest of the park is free!
  • Other Activities – Biking, hiking, picnicking, historic reenactments, museums and historic homes, nature/viewing areas, colonial craft demonstrations and lessons, and lots more! Special date if you can plan ahead – Patriot’s Day in April. That’s when we went. It’s a long weekend and the park has events going on the entire weekend! Check the park website for details on times, dates, locations, etc.

Early Morning Wake Up Call

Well, we knew this park was on our list and we knew that this weekend was the SAME weekend as our contest in Springfield. It’s also a holiday weekend in MA but since I work in NH I made a last minute request  for an extra day off. Then we crossed our fingers for at least sunshine rather than the rain we had at Wahconah State Park (watch for that post if we get back out that way in 2020) a few days before, and planned to get up at the crack of dawn, head to Lexington, and watch the reenactment of the start of the Revolutionary War on Patriot’s Day. It’d be a dawn battle between the British regulars and the local militia. “Our side” lost that initial battle, but won the war. When we called Beth’s brother to let him know where we’d been that day, he was quick to point out the “lost the battle” part,  but we were there and we know the whole story!

Sign for the Old Manse
Historical buildings are closed this year, but in 2010 we had access!

The Early Bird Sees the Battle

In contrast to our first dawn awakening, to visit our first park back in September, this time when the alarm clock went off at 3:30 AM we knew we needed to be up and out! It was freezing on Patriot’s Day, or very near to it! And the moon was still out, so Tucker stayed home. He’s NOT an early bird and loves nothing better than lying on the couch on a Saturday or Sunday morning watching old movies and snoozing. But this is a park he would love. Just not so early, and not with muskets going off all around, and not with soldiers yelling… and he wouldn’t have been allowed into the visitor’s center. But on a regular visit to this park, we’d definitely bring him along!

He would definitely have stayed in bed that morning.

We left the house right on schedule, bundled in layers and headed to Lexington Green at 4 AM. Silly us to think that would get us there ahead of the crowd! There had to be at least 1,000 people there at 4:30 AM! People standing 2 – 3 deep around the green, tarps spread out and covered with quilts, sleeping bags and kids drinking hot cocoa, indicated that the truly early birds probably SLEPT here to get their spots. Some even brought ladders to sit on to see over the crowds. That’s what experience teaches you.

Not our chilly sunrise, but perhaps what it looks like all those years ago.

Have You Ever Met a Polite Crowd?

We parked our car in a nearby lot and hoped we wouldn’t get ticketed because parking was tight even at this early hour! That, and the fact that some parking was blocked out on the main street in preparation for a parade later that day. Next time it might pay to just head to Lexington the night before, have a nice night out, then stake out our spot up close with all the rest of the “campers”. But lucky for us we headed to a large group of children standing on the edge of the green, and positioned ourselves right behind them… we knew the number of tall people blocking our view would be minimal! Except for one father who had been sitting when we got there, but stood up shortly after we arrived… I quickly found myself standing on the edge of a curb, leaning backward to avoid this guy’s back. If I tried to step backward OFF the curb I crunched the toes of the person behind me, who was snapping pictures with her cell phone CONSTANTLY.

I take selfies too, but not within inches of someone else’s ear!!!

Did you know that when you have the ringer turned up, the snapping sound your phone makes is ALSO loud???  OK, so at 4:30 in the morning maybe we’re ALL a bit more sensitive, but seriously, at a few points I had this woman’s phone shoved in FRONT of my face and snapped… thinking I should have at least gotten a few copies of those shots! But we could see, and that was the point. And we had selected a spot right in front of one of the colonial soldiers… He talked about his “family” and the events of that day and asked questions of all the children and adults in the area. Religion, women’s rights, labor and gun laws, he brought current issues from today’s news back into colonial times and we learned that things back then weren’t so “old-fashioned” as we thought.

minus the children, and a different church, but you get the picture.

As the sun slowly rose, we noticed children sitting on rooftops, the steeple of the church gleaming white against the early morning sky and the crowd had at least tripled in size! And as time passed, people started getting colder, more territorial, and some children, products of the instant gratification generation, had suggestions for the solider on how things could be made “more realistic” or “more fun”, and some families who’d staked out their area with blankets, began to stand up… which made people behind (including us) want to move closer since a family lying down that may have taken up a 6 x 12 foot area, now only took up 4 x 5… but no, these parents didn’t want their kids rubbing elbows with others, so they kept hawk eyes out for ANYONE who dared to move into their blanketed territory! Funny when I think back, but when I was standing there watching my breath frost out in front of me, and wishing I could see just a teensy bit better, I did NOT appreciate this behavior. I understand it was the kids’ first time… but it was my first time too, and somewhere deep inside, the younger Madeline was itching to step forward with hands on hips and DEMAND I be allowed to join the front line where there was obviously space! I mean how much does a blanket need to see? (But let me take a step back and return to my adult self!)

Gunfire on the common

Time flew (the actual battle didn’t start until 6!) and suddenly alarms rang out, colonial soldiers started to flee and were called back by their leaders, shots were fired, dogs barked, men fell to the ground and the battle with it’s sulphur-laden smoke and early morning surprise was over. The British had won. I think this shocked a number of the children in the crowd, and some adults, too. The red coats ran back into formation and some people thought they were running scared, but it didn’t take long to realize there weren’t many colonial soldiers left standing. The “dead and wounded” were tended to by family, with bodies removed to the cemetery behind the church. Later the colonial soldiers gathered to play a memorial tune for their fallen brothers before their march to Concord. And we headed to find breakfast (heartless souls that we are!).

The Revolutionary Battle Road
It was still too early for most places to be open for breakfast. Starbuck’s was standing room only, and Nourish, the natural foods restaurant that had people out on the sidewalk handing out flyers, wasn’t open for another half hour or so, so we headed out of town… on the road to see Paul Revere’s capture site, the Hartwell Tavern, the Visitor’s Center in Lincoln, and onto Concord to see the Minuteman statue and the North Bridge. (As of this writing, Nourish is longer open. But if you’re looking for a restaurant, this link has some great options for places to eat in Lexington, MA)

Our view of the Old North Bridge, from the lawn of the Old Manse, 2020.

The Historic Old North Bridge and Beyond

Unfortunately due to all the rain we’ve had, we saw many signs stating that the road to the bridge was washed out and not easily accessed. Hopefully they’ll get everything back into shape for the summer because this is definitely a great trail for biking, hiking, segwaying and everything in between. While we didn’t catch EVERY stop along the way, this is a beautiful park that educates as well as providing space for appreciation of nature and history. We stopped first at the Minuteman Visitor’s Center right on Mass Ave. It wasn’t supposed to open until 8:30 or 9, but because of the day’s events they’d opened early. Very nice center with a short multi-media presentation, an impressive mural depicting one of the battles, a gift shop, and on this day a fully outfitted British soldier for me to pose with! I did apologize to him for winning the war and ask that he smile for the camera rather than scowling. I’ll let you decide if he cooperated. They’ve also got picnic tables, and a very large parking lot so this would be a good spot to start your trip if you’re not stopping in Lexington first. The actual trail starts at Fiske Hill just outside of Lexington Center, off of Mass Ave and runs all the way to Concord (3 1/2 hours walking according to the website), weaving in and out of fields and woods along Mass Ave. For a good map, check here.

Paul Revere’s Capture Site and the Hartwell Tavern

Our stop at Paul Revere’s capture site was quick. Very nice memorial and a lot of joggers along the path that runs behind it. We drove a bit further and came upon the parking lot for the Hartwell Tavern site. The tavern is a short walk from the lot and at the early hour we were there, the costumed staff had just started to arrive. We caught a couple photos of one “colonial woman” carrying her cup of Starbucks coffee, and another wearing sneakers rather than her traditional shoes. She asked us whether we could cut that out of the photo, but we try to report it as we see it, so….But this is definitely a part of the trip not to be missed. The tavern itself is beautiful and includes raised herb beds, barns, and the chance to watch cooking and musket firing demonstrations, ranger guided tours, and a chance to chat with costumed guides. There is also a short hiking trail across from the tavern.

Parades and Authors

We had planned on driving into Concord and then out to the North Bridge, but due to the holiday parade which was starting shortly after we arrived, we didn’t quite get there. Parking had stretched all the way out to Wayside House and many roads were actually closed off. Wayside House, home of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Louisa May Alcott, and Margaret Sidney (author of Five Little Peppers), is not open year round. Margaret Sidney and her daughter are the ones responsible for the preservation of much of the history in the area including Wayside House itself. If you want to catch this literary site and Orchard House (just down the street from Wayside, and the setting for Little Women), check the linked websites for visiting hours and activities.
As we said when we visited Walden Pond (another post I’ll be pulling over to this blog), this is an area FILLED with authors and historic homes. Definitely a destination you could fill a week with, if you wanted to walk in your favorite author’s footsteps, or imagine the settings that inspired these classic tales. We headed home after taking a few photos of both Wayside and Orchard House, but will definitely be back.

A peaceful setting for a morning hike, or a picnic and day out with the family

That’s the best part of this entire blog project! We’re finding all kinds of places we can run to for a quick day trip or weekend getaway! Hopefully you’ll find them a handy guide for your own family, friends, pets or for just a solitary day on your own!

6/21/2020 – As I said, writing my blog back in 2009/2010 was our way to escape a very difficult time at home, caring for two elderly parents (Beth’s father and my mother) and managing major upheavals at home and work. I’m thrilled to have a chance to revisit our adventures from back then, both through the blog, but also as we revisit the places we went. Looking forward to many more. And as always, these past blog posts and or revisits in 2020 are dedicated to both my mother and our corgi, Tucker, who used to travel with us wherever dogs were welcome (and sometimes when they weren’t!)