Sunday, April 19, 2009

Concord Massachusetts — Patriot's Day

Minuteman Statue 1968

In Concord, where the first shots of the American Revolution rang out, Patriot's Day is always celebrated on April 19th. While the official state holiday may now fall on the third Monday of the month, residents of Concord and neighboring towns keep with tradition in commemorating that particular day in 1775 when Minutemen engaged the Redcoats in Concord and Lexington. Today, as residents play the role of local militia and British soldiers to re-create the fight by the bridge, crowds of onlookers will once again thrill to the crack of muskets and the smell of blackpowder smoke.

Growing up in a town that neighbored Concord, on Patriot's Day I often went to the Old North Bridge to witness the re-enactment of the battle. Sometimes, I would walk with local Minutemen as they made their way from Acton to Concord. On those early spring mornings, the weather was typically cold but everyone's spirit was high as we followed the militia on their 7 mile march to Concord. Wearing tri-corner hats and shouldering muskets, our neighbors tried to act the part of 18th century farmers called to war. Accompanied by fife and drum, they gave the appearance of being a determined if not a disciplined lot.

During my youth in the 1950s, the Old North Bridge was not yet part of the national park system. Although world famous for the fight that took place there, the park itself was small. From Monument Street you walked down a short, tree-lined path to the bridge. Across the bridge stood the famous Minuteman statue by Daniel Chester French. Here, a hedge marked the park's limit. You could take it all in within the few minutes it took to walk from the street to the statue. Or you could spend a quiet afternoon pondering what happened here while sitting on a bench overlooking the scene. Except in the summer, the park was seldom busy. Most of those who came by were, like me, local visitors who enjoyed the park's tranquility and natural beauty. If you looked across the river, the Buttrick estate dominated the view. The Buttrick mansion stood on a rise overlooking the river. During spring and summer, flowers on the hillside created a tapestry of color flowing from the grand house down to the riverbank. Today, the flowers are mostly gone as the National Park Service has tried to restore the landscape of 1775. The Buttrick mansion itself has become a visitor center where you can see exhibits describing the Concord and Lexington battles. The Old North Bridge is now just a small part of Minute Man National Park which covers all of the battleground from Concord to Lexington.

With Patriot's Day transformed into another Monday holiday in Massachusetts, for most residents of the Bay State Patriot's Day now means being able to enjoy the first long weekend of spring—a harbinger of the carefree summer days to come. For many, Patriot's Day has become synonymous with the Boston Marathon, a wonderful event celebrated by runners and sports fans around the world. For me, however, Patriot's Day will always be the 19th of April. Wherever I am, this holiday always brings me back to thoughts of Concord and my many visits to the Old North Bridge.

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