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Biking the Battleground

American history meets natural beauty at Concord’s Minute Man National Historical Park


By some accounts, America’s political destiny began to take shape on a rough dirt road just 20 miles northwest of BU’s campus. On April 19, 1775, the decadelong feud between the British government and its American colonists came to a climax when British troops clashed with colonial militia at the North Bridge in Concord, Mass. The fight that erupted there galvanized colonial militia in towns all over New England and sparked the American War of Independence.

Today, nearly 1,000 acres of land surrounding the Concord battle site make up Minute Man National Historical Park, which features more than five miles of walking and biking trails, a historic tavern, and a 16th-century house.

“Unless you want to take a really long walk,” says Bob Derry, the park’s acting chief of interpretation, “I recommend biking the length of the park. It’s just too big to see everything on foot.”

Derry advises beginning a bike tour of the park at the Minute Man Visitor Center, at the eastern entrance of the park. Here, visitors can watch a multimedia theater program that depicts Paul Revere’s ride, as well as the battles at Lexington Green, at the North Bridge, and along Battle Road.

The Battle Road Trail, connecting historic sites from the eastern boundary of the park in Lexington to Meriam’s Corner in Concord, crosses farming fields, wetlands, and forests. The trail has undergone many changes in the last 200 years, and the section near the visitor center has been restored to a dirt and clay surface, similar to the original road.

Derry suggests that after leaving the center visitors travel west to Paul Revere’s Capture Site, where a monument marks the “approximate” place where the silversmith’s famous midnight ride came to an end. At the 274-year-old Hartwell Tavern, the former home of Ephraim and Elizabeth Hartwell and their children, visitors may tour the interior, which includes furniture and period pieces from the colonial era. From May through October, costumed rangers present 20-minute programs that include a musket-firing demonstration.

Meriam’s Corner is the site of one of American history’s pivotal events. The shots exchanged here between colonial militia and British soldiers began a long and bloody fight that continued as Minute Man regiments from surrounding towns came together to chase the British for 16 miles back to Boston. (The Minute Men were members of a colonial militia who were expected to be ready at a minute’s notice to defend the colonies. Each town that had the financial means to do so had assembled a minute company.)

The next stop is the Wayside, also known as the Home of Authors, which gained fame during the 19th century, when it was the home of Louisa May Alcott and her family, then of Nathaniel Hawthorne, and finally of Margaret Sidney (Harriet Lothrop).

Last, the North Bridge, site of “the shot heard round the world,” spans the Concord River and connects tourists to the Minute Man statue. Sculpted by Daniel Chester French in 1875, the bronze statue represents the farmers who left their plows to fight in the Revolutionary War. The statue is the logo for the National Guard, and it is also seen on the back of the 2000 Massachusetts quarter. The North Bridge Visitor Center features a short video about the North Bridge battle, a bookstore, and exhibits.

Minute Man National Historical Park is open from sunrise to sunset daily. There is no entrance or parking fee. Guided tours of the Wayside are $5 for adults and free for children under 16. For more information, call 978-369-6993.

Vicky Waltz can be reached at vwaltz@bu.edu.

This story originally ran June 18, 2007.