Verdant pastures cordoned off by ragged fieldstone walls gently slope toward the softly flowing river; you can almost hear the rebel yell break through the peaceful tableau. Red Coats marching shoulder to shoulder, providing perfect targets for the gritty rebels using trees and rocky ledges as their shield. Just walking through the battlefields transports you to a time and place where the future of our nation was shaped and formed.
The beginning of the American Revolution started in quaint and quiet Concord, Massachusetts. An unassuming small New England town filled our history books with courageous stories of Minute Men, midnight rides, and bloody battles. Much of the area is preserved, as national and state parks are available for everyone to explore.
Concord is also home to many well-loved, illustrious writers, including Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Bronson Alcott, and Louisa May Alcott. Their poetry and prose shaped and recorded America’s search for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
1. Minute Man National Historical Park
The battle for American independence began on April 19, 1775, at Minute Man National Historical Park. “The shot heard round the world” echoes through your thoughts as you explore this historic park and walk across the pastures and along the riverbanks.
Highlights of the park include The Bloody Bluff, an outcropping of rocks that saw fierce fighting; Meriam’s Corner, where a decisive battle was fought; and Fiske Hill, where the Colonial Minute Men used a battle technique unfamiliar to the British — they hid behind trees and the ubiquitous New England stone walls.
There are several noteworthy trails crisscrossing through the park where you can feel the heart and soul of the start of the revolution. The popular Battle Road Trail is an easy, partially paved, 4.6-mile, point-to-point walk that passes many historical landmarks. This trail is part paved road and part gravel with several parking lots along the route.
The park’s free ranger-led tours are a wonderful way to get insight into the area’s history. The Parker’s Revenge Battle Site Exploration, which actually occurred on the Lexington Green, is an interesting look at how history and modern technology came together to pinpoint this battlefield location. The battle site had been unknown until just recently.
The Minute Men: Neighbors in Arms is a fun and educational experience. A park ranger, in period dress, loads and fires a colonial musket. Watching the process of loading, aiming, and firing, you will become even more impressed with the Minute Men’s fortitude.
If you want to explore the battlefields by car, you can download a map and free Cell Phone Audio Tour. The adventure begins at the Minute Man Visitors Center in Lincoln and takes you by many important sites.
Pro Tip: Minute Man National Historical Park spans across three cities: Concord, Lexington, and Lincoln, Massachusetts.
2. Old North Bridge
The Old North Bridge is an integral part of the Minute Man National Historical Park. As you explore the North Bridge Battle Site, you wonder how brave that rag-tag group of colonists were taking on the formidable column of marching British soldiers advancing toward the bridge.
Today you can walk across the reconstructed bridge that crosses the peaceful Concord River. The ranger-led Some Were for Making a Stand will take you back to that turning point in American history with stories from the early events that led to the Revolutionary War.
Old North Bridge Walk through Minute Man National Historical Park is an easy 2.2-mile, out-and-back trail. Enjoy the monuments, gravesites, and beautiful landscaping as you walk where revolutionaries stood their ground.
Pro Tip: The elegant Buttrick Mansion is located just beyond their terraced gardens. It houses historical exhibits and an interesting bookstore.
3. Walden Pond
Walden Pond State Reservation and its famous resident Henry David Thoreau is a beautiful spot to hike, swim, boat, and picnic.
Stroll the Walden Pond Path Trail, an easy 1.7-mile loop around the pond. The path is mostly flat, with a few tree roots popping up, and offers pretty views of the kettle pond. You will find lots of little rocky spots just off the trail where you can grab a seat and spend some quiet time enjoying nature, relishing in some warm sunshine, or simply read one of Concord’s famous authors.
Pro Tip: In the summer, the parking lot fills up early. Once it is full, you need to wait in the queue; there are no alternative parking options.
4. Monument Square
Managed by the National Park Service, Concord Monument Square and the Lexington Road Historic District is the centerpiece of downtown Concord. The square is one block from the Concord Visitor Center, which is a great place to begin your exploration of the area.
The Visitors Center is a wealth of information. They have all the current, up-to-the-minute details of what is happening in and around Concord, making your visit seamless and enjoyable.
Pro Tip: Many of Concord’s historical and literary sites are within walking distance of Monument Square; Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Ralph Waldo Emerson House, and the Concord Museum are good places to start your exploration.
5. Sleepy Hollow Cemetery
The Sleepy Hollow Cemetery opened for business in 1855 with a dedication by Ralph Waldo Emerson. Buried in the cemetery are many of Concord’s noteworthy citizens, including Emerson, Amos Branson Alcott, Louisa May Alcott, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Robin Moore, Daniel Chester French, and more.
Pro Tip: Find your way to Author’s Ridge to see many of the writer’s tombstones.
6. Old Manse
The gathering place of Concord’s elite in the turbulent years of the 1770s, the Old Manse was owned by William Emerson, a local pastor and great patriot. Politicians, thought leaders, and patriots gathered here to plan the future.
Tour the home and learn about the revolutionists, writers, and artists that lived in this great old house. Stroll the gardens and grounds, which will lead you to the Old North Bridge and the Concord River.
Pro Tip: If you are canoeing down the Concord River, you can tie up at the boathouse and visit the mansion and grounds.
7. Concord Museum
Art, historic artifacts, and literary memorabilia are on display at the Concord Museum. Gaze upon Thoreau’s desk from his house at Walden Pond, where he wrote the literary masterpiece, Walden. Explore the Revolutionary War Exhibit that includes muskets, powder horns, swords, and more. The Concord Museum houses rotating exhibits with historical and present-day themes.
Pro Tip: The museum’s new April 19, 1775, galleries are a permanent exhibit timelining the events of that historic day. They are a must-see for anyone interested in history.
8. Orchard House
Louisa May Alcott’s much loved Little Women was penned in her Concord home, Orchard House. A rambling old colonial farmhouse, Orchard House is open to the public.
A guided tour of the home imparts insight into the life and times of this prominent family. Orchard House is not only a historic site to explore, it is an educationally focused organization that offers wonderful workshops, tours, and lectures.
Pro Tip: If you aren’t able to visit in person, a Virtual Tour led by Mary Richardson and John Matteson will make it feel like you are standing next to them. There is a nominal fee for the virtual visit.
9. Longfellow’s Wayside Inn
After a day of exploring the historic sites of Concord, you can enjoy a delicious meal at a traditional tavern and inn. Longfellow’s Wayside Inn was built in 1716 and is located in neighboring Sudbury. It has been a continuously operating Inn since it opened. It is easy to imagine travelers passing through and stopping for a good meal and a soft bed.
The dinner menu reflects the time-honored traditional New England fair mixed with some more contemporary cuisine. Enjoy their signature Cranberry and Cornbread Stuffed Chicken Breast or the sumptuous Lobster Casserole. Wash it down with a Coow Woow, a revolutionary rum and ginger brandy cocktail.
For a classic colonial overnight stay, book one of the rooms at the Inn. Two of the rooms are in the original part of the Inn and are a charming retreat after a day of historic touring.
Pro Tip: If you decide to stay overnight at the Inn, ask to stay in the room with the resident ghost. Perhaps she will make an appearance while you are visiting.
For history buffs and literary lovers, Concord, Massachusetts, is a getaway where you immerse yourself in the space once occupied by masterful writers and brave revolutionary heroes. This quaint, small town offers so many opportunities to explore historic battle sites, museums, hiking, and colonial life you will need a weekend just to see the highlights.