In the early hours of April 19, 1775, Paul Revere entered Lexington on his momentous Midnight Ride to warn the local militia and revolutionaries, John Hancock and Samuel Adams about the approaching British troops, heading to Concord to destroy Colonial powder and cannons.
That morning the first armed engagement in the American Revolutionary War took place on Lexington’s town green, which is today a monument to the dramatic events that defined the course of American history.
Modern Lexington is steeped with this history, and at various sites around the town you can retrace the hours before the battle, track the movements of the British regulars, and see where John Hancock and Samuel Adams were staying before they were hustled to safety.
1. Lexington Battle Green
This triangular space, acquired by the town at the turn of the 18th century as a common and militia training area, was the site of the beginning of the armed struggle for American independence.
On April 19, 1775, the Battle of Lexington was a short skirmish between the British and the Minutemen, lasting little more than half an hour, and with no order to fire from either side.
Following a spontaneous exchange of gunfire, the British advanced, running several militiamen through with their bayonets.
The final toll was eight Lexington men killed and ten wounded, while the Minutemen’s leader, Captain John Parker, already sick with tuberculosis, would succumb to the illness within months.
Lexington Battle Green is today regarded as the Birthplace of American Liberty, and is the scene of a precise reenactment every year on the third Monday in April to mark Patriots’ Day.
2. Buckman Tavern
Next to the green is the tavern where some 77 Minutemen assembled early on April 19, 1775 awaiting the British regulars.
The Buckman Tavern dates to the very beginning of the 18th century, and was a stop for drovers and a gathering place for militiamen during training exercises on the green.
The interior has changed little since this was the HQ for the Minutemen in the last hours before their confrontation with British troops.
Upstairs are rotating exhibitions on the first battle of the American Revolution, and the front door still has a hole, thought to have been made by a British musket.
Close by is the Lexington Minutemen Memorial, erected in 1949 and recording the names of the Minutemen killed on the green in the battle.
3. Hancock-Clarke House
The first signer of the Declaration of Independence, John Hancock (1736-1793) grew up at this Early Georgian house, built in 1738.
Hancock and Samuel Adams were guests here on the night of April 18, 1775 when they were awakened by Paul Revere following his long ride, and quickly led away from the town to avoid capture by British forces.
The Hancock-Clarke House is the only surviving building with a direct connection to John Hancock, and has been in the care of the Lexington Historical Society since 1896.
Inside you can view period furnishings and art, as well as intriguing artifacts like the drum of William Diamond, the drummer of Captain John Parker’s Company, and the pistols of British Major John Pitcairn, one of the leading officers in the Battles of Lexington and Concord.
4. Munroe Tavern
For the British perspective on the Battle of Lexington, you can stop at the Munroe Tavern (c. 1690), which became the headquarters and field hospital for British Brigadier General Earl Percy (1742-1817) and his 1,000 reinforcements on the afternoon of April 19, 1775.
Later, George Washington dined at the Munroe Tavern when he visited the Battle site in 1789.
Downstairs are exhibits relating to the British experience in the early days of the American Revolution, while upstairs you can see the table and chair used by Washington during his visit, as well as a collection of documents from that trip.
5. Minuteman Statue
Standing proud at the southeast corner of the Battle Green is the Lexington Minuteman Statue (1900), by sculptor Henry Hudson Kitson (1863-1947).
The monument, in bronze on a rugged pedestal, originally depicted a generic minuteman, but has come to be associated with the leader of the Lexington Militia, Captain John Parker.
Residents from the area served as models for Kitson’s work. The orientation is significant, as the Minuteman faces the direction of the British advance, and the statue was unveiled on April 19, 1900, exactly 125 years after the Battle of Lexington.
6. Lexington Centre
Threaded by Massachusetts Avenue, Lexington has a welcoming downtown area that came into its own from the mid-19th century following the arrival of the railroad (now the Minuteman Commuter Bikeway).
Lexington Centre is compact, flush with green space and packed with stores and eateries, all within a few footsteps of the town’s historical riches.
Food-wise there’s a veritable cornucopia, with Indian, Japanese, deli specialties, Italian, Thai, fro-yo, ice cream, modern American and pizza all on the menu.
These spots are side-by-side with a small directory of local stores, and right in the heart of it all there’s the Lexington Venue, a cozy moviehouse for independent and foreign film.
7. Minuteman Commuter Bikeway
An integral part of Lexington’s townscape for more than 30 years, the Minuteman Commuter Bikeway is on the approximate route of Paul Revere’s Midnight Ride in April, 1775.
That path became the route of two railroads: East of Lexington was the Lexington and West Cambridge Railroad (1846), and while to the west was the Middlesex Central Railroad (1873).
Completed in stages in the 1990s, the Minuteman Commuter Bikeway is an attraction in its own right, running for 10 miles from Bedford to Cambridge, where it connects with another four bike paths.
You can use the trail to get to bus and subway connections, visit downtown areas and attractions, or simply travel the landscape that witnessed the dawn of the American Revolution 250 years ago.
8. Cary Hall
One of the great landmarks in Lexington Center is this regal auditorium, built in 1928 in the Colonial Revival style.
For almost a century, Cary Hall has offered Lexington a year-round venue for live music programming, and is the seat of the Lexington Symphony, which has regular performances here.
There isn’t a bad seat in the house, and along with the Lexington’ Symphony’s season there’s a calendar loaded with performances by smaller ensembles and soloists, mostly with classical music or jazz backgrounds.
The building also houses the smaller Estabrook Hall for more intimate performances.
9. Minuteman National Historical Park
Partly in Lexington and Concord, and encompassing the Battle Green, is the Minuteman National Historical Park, which preserves several battle sites from the opening exchanges of the American Revolution.
Starting in the west at Concord’s North Bridge, where “the shot heard round the world” was fired, you can make your way east towards Lexington through a compelling Colonial landscape via the five-mile Battle Road.
There are tons of detours to make along the route, like the 18th-century Hartwell Tavern, which now serves as a living history center with costumed park rangers.
There’s a literary element to the park, at The Wayside, home to novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864) for a time in the 1850s.
10. Lexington Depot
The headquarters for the Lexington Historical Society are housed at Lexington’s historic train station, which opened on the Lexington and West Cambridge Railroad in 1846.
The current design, with cupola, round arch windows and grand porch, is from a Colonial Revival update in the early 1920s.
The station was in use until the 1970s and, as well as housing the society’s offices, is now a setting for temporary exhibits, as well as an events venue. When we compiled this list the building was undergoing renovations to create a new gallery space.
11. Lexington Visitors Center
On the grounds of Buckman Tavern there’s a facility to help you get oriented in Lexington. Inside there’s a detailed diorama of the Battle of Lexington, and you can head here for information about sights and attractions in the area, as well as for unique gifts.
The Lexington Visitors Center is the embarkation point for the Liberty Ride Trolley Tour, taking in the highlights along the historic Battle Road in Lexington and Concord, with a guide in period dress giving a play-by-play account of the events of April 19, 1775 as you go.
This is also the departure point for guided walking tours around Lexington Battle Green.
12. Scottish Rite Masonic Museum
Formed in 1813, Lexington is the headquarters for the Scottish Rite’s Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, overseeing bodies in 15 states in the Northeast and Midwest.
The museum was founded in 1975, and, along with the headquarters, moved into a new building on the property in 2013.
In these galleries, filled with vintage photography and historic regalia, you can browse wide-ranging exhibits exploring freemasonry and fraternalism against the backdrop of American history.
There’s a special focus here on the story of the Scottish Rite, and a fascinating rundown of the various presidents who have been freemasons, from George Washington to Gerald Ford.
13. Lexington Belfry
On the south side of the Battle Green there’s a path leading up the hill to a reproduction of Lexington’s belfry, which initially stood on this site from 1762 to 1768.
The bell had a number of roles, including marking the end of the day at 9:00 pm, tolling following a local death, and warning the townsfolk of danger.
The structure was relocated several times, and was set on the Battle Green on April 19, 1775, when it was used to summon the local militia between 1:00 am and 2:00 am.
The location of that incarnation of the belfry is now marked with a boulder, while the current structure, ringed by a fence, was erected in 1910 atop Belfry Hill after the previous belfry was destroyed by a fire. If you find yourself in Lexington on Patriots’ Day you’ll hear the bell toll at 5:30 am.
14. The Old Burying Ground
For another peek into Lexington’s distant past, the town’s oldest cemetery is just northwest of the Battle Green. This was established in 1690 and served as Lexington’s only burial ground until 1831.
The Minutemen who died on the Battle Green were originally buried here, and their remains were relocated to the green in 1835. Among the graves are important early settlers, and soldiers from the Revolutionary and Civil Wars.
Look out for the isolated stone for the grave of a British soldier injured fighting on the Battle Green and who died at Buckman Tavern a few days after.
15. Wilson Farm
Still in the same family, this farm has been operating at the same location in Lexington since 1884 when it was founded by Irish immigrants.
Wilson farm has used environmental conservation methods for its entire history, both at these 33 acres and the farm’s other property in Litchfield, New Hampshire.
The farm stand in Lexington opened not long after WWII, and has become an essential stop for shopping in the town.
Come for more than 120 varieties of fruit, vegetables and herbs, much of which has been harvested within hours of appearing on these shelves.
There’s also an award-winning bakery, fine local specialty food, a cheese shop, a range of prepared meals, a selection of delicious meat and seafood and fresh cut flowers.