Concord and Lexington Massachusetts are two towns located northwest of Boston steeped in the history of the “birth” of America. The National Park Service has done a wonderful job of preserving many important sites in these towns associated with the battle of April 19, 1775, when colonial militia fought British troops (called “regulars”) in a battle that began the American Revolution. Collectively, these sites are known as the Minute Man National Historic Park. It’s well worth your family’s time to spend a day (or two or three!) visiting the area. Here are my top picks:
Start at the Minute Man Visitor Center. The center is a five minute walk from the parking lot, so take the stroller for younger children. Grab a junior ranger program book from a park ranger so your child can record what they learn as you tour the various sites. The Visitor Center has several displays that describe the significant locations, important dates, and key people involved in the battle. The Road to Revolution is a 25 minute film that explains much of the history. It runs every half hour starting at 9am; be on time, as they’re strict about start times. Little children might find the dark room and frequent gun sounds alarming, although my 7 and 9 year old children were fine. Don’t forget to get your parks passport stamped.
From the Visitor Center, walk through the woods and across the street to the Jacob Whittemore House, built in 1777. Whittemore was supposed to be part of the colonial militia but never showed up to the battle; you’ll have to visit the house to find out why! Inside the house, my children loved playing dress up in period costumes, coloring fact sheets about the battle, “shooting” the wooden muskets, and exploring the replica food in the “What’s for Dinner” station, which included period recipe cards. Upstairs there are display panels of significant historical dates, people, and events. There are also two stereoscopes of Victorian pastimes. If you time it well (check the website for up to date information), you can catch a musket firing demonstration, which is held a few times each day. They give plenty of warning, so everyone can cover their ears.
A short drive through town will bring you to the North Bridge Visitor Center. You can approach the bridge from two directions, but the Visitor Center is located inside a mansion built in the early 1900s and has a nice display of the uniforms of both the militia and British soldiers, an hour by hour timeline of events, and an eight minute video entitled “Treason or Liberty?”. Plus, you can collect three parks passport stamps. From the center, take the quarter mile walk (bring the stroller). Careful with little ones on the bridge: there are wide gaps on the wooden railing. If you’re coming from the Visitor Center side, when you cross the river, you’ll see the Minute Man statue, the grave of British soldiers who died, and a spot where park rangers give historical talks. We stayed for a talk, but there are no interactions or visuals to hold the attention of younger children.
Finally, drive to The Wayside, a home originally owned by Samuel Whitney, who was part of the Concord Minute Men. After Whitney, over a dozen authors and their families lived in the home in the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth centuries The most famous inhabitants of the home were Nathaniel Hawthorn and Louisa May Alcott’s family. We took a very informative tour of the home (they’re offered a few times each day) which was fully furnished with pieces original to the homes and its owners. My children (again, seven and nine years old) were well behaved and enjoyed most of it, but there are very small rooms, tight, steep staircases and many delicate objects well within the reach of little hands, so younger children might not enjoy it as much (nor will their parents, trying to keep little hands and children from wandering).
If you park in the visitor lot for Wayside, you can also walk next door and check out Orchard House, where Louisa May Alcott lived, wrote and based her famous novel, Little Women. The forty five minute tour includes a short video and tour of the house. A better bet for little kids is to plan your visit to coincide with one of their Living History tours offered a few times each month. The Living History tours include an interactive tour of the home by an expert of the time period, as well as opportunities to playing period games, singing popular period songs, and follow along on a treasure hunt.
That was about all we could fit into one day, but if you have more time, or different interests, your family might also enjoy:
- Walden Pond: with an entrance fee, you can spend the day swimming, hiking, fishing, boating, and exploring the park. There are plenty of restroom facilities located throughout the park.
- Concord Museum: which currently has exhibits on the personal desks of famous authors Thoreau and Emerson. There are also family scavenger hunts and family trail guides. You can also borrow drawing materials to remember what you see and learn about while exploring the grounds.
- Emerson playground: located across the Armory on Stowe Street and Everett Street.
- Hartwell Tavern (located 5 minutes away in Lincoln, but still part of the park) has ranger led programs of the authentic American Revolution farm and tavern during the summer.
- Buckman Tavern, Hancock-Clarke House, and Munroe Tavern: 18th century homes located in Lexington, and are living histories of the "first shot of the American Revolution."
- Revolutionary Dogs: Paws for the Cause: Bring your dog along for a one hour guided tour along Battle Road and explore the life of dogs during the American Revolution.
Eat with the Locals: We had a hard time deciding between Helen’s and Mainstreets Market & Cafe, both located on Main Street in Concord and both with extensive menus. Ultimately, we ate at Mainstreets and were happy with our choice, but if I went back, I would definitely find time to eat at Helen’s. There are many cute shops and galleries located on Main Street. If you’re looking for a fancier meal for dinner, I’d check out the The Colonial Inn in downtown Concord, which came highly recommended to me by locals.