‘Twas The Nineteenth Of April In (18)75 — And The Centennial Was Coming Unstuck

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“1775— NINETEENTH OF APRIL —1875.”

The statue was put in place early in April, 1875.

The design of the old North Bridge was well-known. Amos Doolittle had shown it clearly in his engraving, The Engagement at the North Bridge in Concord , which he made in the very year of the battle. The committee intended to copy the design of the old bridge, but on a somewhat lighter scale. However, it soon decided to embellish the plan in the taste of the time. In place of the simple post and beam railings of the original, it substituted graceful patterns of lunettes and cross members in cedar with the bark on. At the center the committee added rustic half-arbors overhanging the water “where pilgrims might sit and watch the river brimming its meadows.” During the first week in April the Concord River was indeed brimming; the meadows were so thoroughly inundated that the raised area where the Minuteman stood was an island cut off from the hillside where the patriots had formed their ranks one hundred years earlier. Fervent prayers were offered for dry erround on the nineteenth.

 

While John S. Keyes and his committee concentrated on the statue and the bridge, other committees planned the ceremonies. As this was to be the first of a series of centennial celebrations throughout the country, its scope was considered from the beginning to be of national interest and importance. Newspapers in New England and beyond printed a letter of invitation expressing the hope that all who were connected with Concord and Lexington by descent or affection would join with them in this commemoration. Special invitations were sent to the officers and citizens of the battle towns, the governors of the thirteen original states, the President of the United States, his Cabinet, and other dignitaries. Concord was so filled by the weekend preceding Monday the nineteenth that the committee revised its estimate of visitors upward to twenty thousand.

Meanwhile, Lexington braced itself for a similar onslaught. The chief attraction of its observance was to be the unveiling of statues of John Hancock and Samuel Adams; both men had been in Lexington on the morning of April 19, 1775. The statues, carved in Italy, had arrived in the nick of time; the two ships they were aboard did not reach Boston until Saturday the seventeenth, only a matter of hours before the ceremonies were to begin.

President Grant and his party arrived in Concord on Saturday evening. The crowd that might have cheered him as he stepped down from his palace car at the Concord railroad station was otherwise occupied. The Concord Artillery, the Ransom Guards of Vermont, and their respective bands offered better entertainment.

Sunday provided a grim preview of bad weather to come. The wind was cold and the sun did not put in an appearance. Church services were held at the First Parish meeting house in the morning and at the Trinitarian Congregational Church in the afternoon. Both services were crowded, and so was the bar at the Middlesex Hotel. Worshippers at the First Parish were favored with a sermon by the Reverend Grindall Reynolds expounding the overlap in the Puritan mind of true religion and true politics, a religious interpretation of the foundations of government that, he said, had allowed the colonists to defy the king with a clear conscience.

 

A reporter from the New York Herald felt himself to be in a foreign land. “As provincial New England could do nothing without preaching a sermon over it, or before it, or after it,” he wrote, “so republican New England found it impossible to celebrate the past without a reasonable amount of preaching.”

 

Two cannons from Battery A, First Artillery, Massachusetts Volunteer Militia, rumbled through the sleeping town Sunday night and were set up in firing position on Nashawtuc Hill. At eighteen minutes past five o’clock, on Monday morning, April 19, 1875, the first cannon spoke. One hundred rounds signalled the beginning of the republic’s second century. Soon the rolling of drums and the urgent call of bugles joined the pounding rhythm of the great guns. The day had come: the sky was clear, the streets were dry, the temperature stood at 22 degrees Fahrenheit.

On the railroad lines running both to Concord and Lexington, a monumental traffic jam was already in the making. Concord was served by two lines, the two-track Fitchburg Railroad, which was running trains directly from Boston, and the Middlesex Central Railroad, a single-track line operated by the Lowell Railroad. Middlesex Central trains passed through Lexington on their way to Concord, providing the only rail service from Boston to both towns. Within a few hours the Middlesex Central track was so choked with trains, some as long as thirty cars, that the superintendent of the road telegraphed instructions to Boston to sell no more tickets to Concord. Those who had purchased tickets to Concord, preferring this route to the Fitchburg line, never got farther than Lexington.