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Massachusetts historic towns (Lexington, Concord, etc.)

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Did You Know … ?

  • The Revolutionary War monument in Lexington is America’s oldest war memorial (July 4, 1799).
  • Female mill workers in Lowell struck in 1845 and won a workday reduction from 14 to 11 hours.
  • In the 1850s, more whaling voyages originated at New Bedford than from all of the world’s other ports combined.
  • The Plymouth founders’ intended destination was the mouth of the Hudson, i.e., site of New York City.
  • By 1850, Lowell’s mills were producing enough cloth annually to circle the globe twice.

It starts with Plymouth

Scratch the surface almost anywhere in Massachusetts, and there’s another town with history to discuss. Town histories start with Plymouth, the oldest (1620) English settlement in the northern U.S., then move to a series of themes beginning with the American Revolution. Boston and other towns were hotbeds of independence-minded citizens. Lexington is famous for “the shot heard round the world” and Concord for the first real resistance to British regulars (1775).

Other themes wash through Massachusetts stories — for Salem, it was the infamous witch hunt; for port cities, it was the whaling industry (with Gloucester America’s oldest seaport, 1623); for Lowell, it was the birth of America’s Industrial Revolution in the cotton mills; for some (Boston, Cambridge, Concord, New Bedford among them), it was the abolition movement. Other sites were Shaker settlements.

Massachusetts’ settlers founded America’s first college in Cambridge, Harvard (1636), to train leaders and ministers. Going forward, philosophy and literature thrived, fostered by groups like the Saturday Club in Boston and the Concord Quartet. Ralph Waldo Emerson was associated with both. Walden Pond, made famous by Henry David Thoreau, is just outside Concord.

More on four big ones:

  • Plymouth is home to Plimoth Plantation, a living history museum replicating 17th century settlements of the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Indians. Other attractions — famously, Plymouth Rock and Mayflower II — are in Plymouth’s historic district; sites also include one house that Pilgrims lived in.
  • Lexington and Concord mark the first Revolutionary War battle sites, historic taverns and houses. The battlefields, Battle Road Trail (route taken by the British solders) and key historic sites are maintained through the Minute Man National Historical Park. The park sponsors reenactment events.
  • New Bedford, an Underground Railroad “station” and a mill town, was the world’s greatest whaling port and is now home to the New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park, a 13-block area of whaling era buildings plus the New Bedford Whaling Museum. The town remains America’s largest commercial fishing port.
  • Lowell’s place at the center of America’s Industrial Revolution is enshrined in the American Textile History Museum, other museums, events and additional features of the Lowell National Historical Park.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Sign on as a reader in the Moby Dick Marathon, a 25-hour readathon in New Bedford, at which about 150 participants will read the Herman Melville opus in 25 hours.
  • In October, attend the Annual Psychic Fair and Witchcraft Expo in Salem. Learn the mysteries of your previous lives at a past life reading.
  • Plan a sailing journey that touches on a few or several of Massachusetts’ historic ports. Top choices are Boston, Fall River, Gloucester, Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, New Bedford, Plymouth, Provincetown and Salem.
  • Cycle your way down history lane. Alternatives are the 11-mile Minuteman Bikeway between Cambridge and Bedford, passing through Lexington, and the five-mile Battle Road Trail, connecting historic sites from Lexington to Concord. Or, be more relaxed: Go canoeing on the Concord River.
  • There are many ways to see Plymouth, such as on a ghost tour, or on a walking itinerary called the Underbelly Tour promising stories “the Pilgrims never wanted you to know.” Another guided tour focuses on women of the Mayflower.
  • New Bedford hosts numerous festivals — folk, jazz, food and wine — but here’s a most fitting one to consider, the biennial Working Waterfront Festival, a no-frills autumn event focused on the fishing business. Song and poetry sessions are devoted to the subject. Tours of workboats and demos get to the heart of what makes a fishing boat work.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Devote a day to sites associated with the Revolutionary War’s first fights, at Lexington and Concord. Notable among them are the Lexington Battle Green, the “Minuteman” statue, Lexington’s Old Burying Ground, Buckman Tavern (where Minutemen gathered on April 19, 1775), and in Concord, Old North Bridge and Wright Tavern.
  • Living history museums help us envision our past. Plimoth Plantation at Plymouth harks back to the earliest days of English settlements while Old Sturbridge Village shines a light on Massachusetts life from 1790 to 1840. With planning, visitors can have a Thanksgiving meal at Plimoth.
  • Pursue an interest in Concord’s intellectual life by seeking out the homes of its luminaries: Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry David Thoreau.
  • Be awed by the story of textile manufacturing in the U.S., with visits to both the American Textile History Museum and Boott Cotton Mills Museum in Lowell. Also, ride a historic streetcar — named Desire — in downtown Lowell, May through October.
  • Put yourself on the trail of the Pilgrims. Seek out points in Plymouth associated with their arrival and earliest days — for example, the Mayflower II, the Jabez Howland House (Pilgrims actually lived here), Burial Hill and the legendary Plymouth Rock.
  • Put the Nathan and Polly Johnson House in New Bedford on the itinerary. It was the first free home for abolitionist Frederick Douglass and a historic site on the Underground Railroad.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Walk the Freedom Trail in Boston. It’s a straightforward way to have personal contact with a lot of the city’s history.
  • Visit the Hancock Shaker Village at Pittsfield. Hear one or more costumed hosts discuss life in the community, which was active for about 200 years.
  • At Gloucester, board a whale watching cruise, available from May through October. Other ports with the cruises are Boston, Hyannis, Newburyport, Plymouth and Provincetown.
  • Take the Liberty Ride, a narrated trolley tour of Lexington and Concord and the Battle Road between them.
  • Take in as much of the New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park as you have time for, with the New Bedford Whaling Museum topping the list.
  • Participate in a seminar on quilt making at the New England Quilt Museum in Lowell. Also, attend and shop at the Lowell Quilt Festival, held in August. In the museum’s library, try quilt-making computer software.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism at www.massvacation.com