A massive crowd gathered in Monument Square in 1975
A massive crowd gathered in Monument Square in 1975 for the Bicentennial of the Concord Fight. - Photo courtesy of the Concord Free Public Library

State fires a funding shot for Concord’s 250th celebration

By Jesse Floyd Correspondent
March 22, 2023

Every year, Concord hosts a celebration of the historic North Bridge Fight, marking the 1775 beginning of hostilities between the future United States and Great Britain.

This year, the celebration and parade will attract the usual visitors. In 2025, that will change, as the town hosts the 250th anniversary of the events that put Concord on the historic map permanently. If recent history is a predictor, Concord’s going to get pretty crowded.

“Every 50 years, going back, we’ve had a big event here,” said Select Board member Henry Dane. “It [the battle] was a pivotal event, not just for this country, but for historical institutions everywhere.”

That means interest supersedes regional pride and becomes a national – even international – event.

On March 17, state Sen. Michael Barrett, D-Lexington, announced a proposed supplemental state budget of $2 million to defray some of the expected expenses.

“Pennsylvania, South Carolina and others of the original 13 colonies began their own preparations years ago, but in Massachusetts, state support did not materialize. Now, thanks to the Healey-Driscoll initiative, a proper effort is underway,” wrote Barrett in a press release.

Concord established a planning committee in February 2021. The first step was setting up a committee structure, then establishing the laundry list of subcommittees needed, Dane said.

That committee now boasts 14 members, with duties ranging from arts, literature and music, to hospitality and someone charged with community coordination, among a host of other areas.

Dane called the estimated budget, about $2 million, ambitious. And, while the state supplemental budget is welcome news, Dane said, state aid cannot be a deciding factor in the size or complexity of the 2025 celebration. People, Dane said, will come to mark the occasion, and Concord needs to be ready, regardless of what the state offers.

The biggest expected expense will be public safety. A bill has been introduced to provide $1 million, split with Lexington, to defray public safety costs. A meeting of the two towns is planned for this week, Dane said.

While the 250 anniversary will be financially costly – and logistically difficult – it will be a substantial boon to the area economy, Dane said. All those people, and he said it’s reasonable to expect more than 100,000 visitors, come spending money on hotels, food and transportation, a significant economic boost, Dane said.

Barrett also pointed out the economic potential of the 250th.

“Beginning 24 months from now, we can expect scads of visitors,” Barrett wrote. “All of which means trade for local businesses, not to mention justified pride, which will be good, and crowds and traffic and security costs, which will be problematic.”

And, while Concord faces footing a good percentage of the bill, there is the chance for sponsorships and fundraising. For example, if there is a musical performance, a local business might provide the money to make it happen. Details on specifics will become clear as the town finalizes planning, he said.

The Concord Minute Men will be a big part of the celebration, following the lead of the celebration committee.

“The Concord Minute Men are working with the 250th celebration committee and will be supporting all the events they plan,” wrote past Capt. Doug Ellis in an email. “This includes the Patriot’s Day parade, the Patriot’s Ball, the Evening Vigil on April 18th at the Old North Bridge (a remembrance service to those who died on April 19th) and the Dawn Salute at Minute Man National Historical Park on April 19th.”

According to Ellis, who is a sergeant major and a company safety officer, the company is recruiting, aiming to swell the ranks by at least 100 people by 2025, Ellis said. Anyone interested is encouraged to check out https://concordminutemen.wordpress.com/contact/.

Historic precedents

The most recent celebration, the bicentennial in 1975, drew more than 100,000 people, including then-President Gerald Ford, to Concord. A New York Times article, dated March 2, 1975, was headlined “The coming siege of Concord.”

The Times story relates some details: 400 National Guardsmen for crowd control; the expected 12,000 box lunches to be distributed at local churches because restaurants would be overwhelmed; three shallow-draft Coast Guard river boats; 200 portable toilets; and first aid stations along the parade route.

At the 1875 celebration, when the town, unprepared, was swarmed by 50,000 celebrants, including President Grant. Even Mark Twain couldn’t get a train from Cambridge that day, according to the Times, spending the cold, raw day in a friend’s library.

“Unprepared for the crowd, the town soon ran out of food. Homes were invaded, pantries stormed. The cold and hungry soon warmed their empty stomachs with spirits. Police restored order, and the Middlesex Hotel bar was closed down,” the Times wrote of the 1870s mayhem.

Not a done deal

According to Barrett’s release, there is a lot riding on the 250th anniversary. Towns across Massachusetts will benefit from the tourism-boosting, image-enhancing possibilities of the 250th celebration, he wrote.

“The House and Senate will work plenty of changes into this supplemental budget, which contains a number of other significant items,” he wrote. “But here’s hoping this $2 million for ‘Rev 250’ crosses the finish line.”

And as planning for the 250th wraps up, Concord residents can start looking forward to the town’s 400th birthday, in 2035.