Save Our Heritage

Protecting the Birthplace of the American Revolution,

the cradle of the Environmental Movement,

and the Home of the American Literary Renaissance


Remarks by Wendy Nicholas

 Director, Northeast Office of the National Trust for Historical Preservation

Old North Bridge Minute Man National Historical Park Concord, Massachusetts May 29, 2003

Good afternoon. Thank you, Anna Winter, for your introduction. And thank you, too, to you and your colleagues at Save Our Heritage for the work you are doing to preserve this vital piece of our nation's heritage.

We are here today on this sacred ground to sound the alarm, to call our citizens – not to arms, but to democratic commitment – to save this treasure, these few square miles that have defined us as a people and a nation for more than 225 years.

The late Thomas Boylston Adams, descendant of the Presidents Adams, wrote of this place:

“The Battle Road is a long road, leading even to the present and beyond. Its first five miles are more worth preserving than any other five miles of country road in the United States.

“No bit of ground in all the world, save only the field at Runnymede, where King John signed the Magna Carta in 1215, holds equal place in the mind and imagination of free peoples.”

The National Trust for Historic Preservation was created by Congress more than 50 years ago to serve as the people’s advocate, the nation’s voice to help preserve and protect the places of significance in this country, places such as Minute Man National Historical Park. We are a private nonprofit organization with 250,000 members dedicated to protecting the irreplaceable.

In 1988, the National Trust began an annual listing of the nation’s 11 most endangered historic places. We did that to draw attention to genuine threats to destroy the places that are the physical manifestations of our history – whether city neighborhoods or rural landscapes, Native American landmarks or 20th century sports arenas, whole communities or single buildings. We also did it because we knew that naming a site to America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places list would serve as a catalyst for saving it.

We have found over the years that placing a site on the 11 Most Endangered list works. In the past we have listed the Civil War battlefields of Manassas and Chancellorsville in Virginia.

Both were endangered by encroaching development and -- in the case of Manassas, the creation of a Disneyland theme park. Both were saved.

Locally, we listed the Historic Theaters of Boston in 1995. That action spurred architects and developers, government officials, preservationists and a host of others to participate in a day-long charette the National Trust hosted with the Boston Preservation Alliance to come up with workable solutions to save these important structures.

Last year, Mayor Menino – one of the nation’s leading voices for historic preservation – was able to announce restoration plans for the Boston Opera House, the Modern Theater and the Paramount Theater. These structures will now be restored and reused, bringing new life and vitality to an important piece of downtown Boston.

But just as some threats dissipate, others appear. That is why we are here today.

Recognizing the very real threat of the Massachusetts Port Authority’s expansion plans for the Hanscom Field civilian airport, the National Trust for Historic Preservation today is naming Minute Man National Historical Park and the surrounding sites in the historic towns of Concord, Lexington, Lincoln and Bedford to the 2003 list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.

Within the national park where we stand today and the four adjacent towns are more than 1,000 sites on the National Register of Historic Places. What are some of these sites?

Walden Woods, the scene of Henry David Thoreau’s reflections on man, nature and civil disobedience.

The homes of Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and the Alcotts. Lexington Green.

The place where Paul Revere was captured by British troops near the end of his Midnight Ride.

The Old North Bridge behind me where was fired the shot heard ‘round the world, the first battle in what may be the most historically significant conflict of humankind.

And, the Battle Road, the scene of a daylong running battle as the Minutemen chased the British troops back to Boston and the site, even today, of the graves of many of those British soldiers who were buried where they fell.

These sites came to prominence long before the first runway was laid out at Hanscom.

225 years ago, we stopped an empire on this very spot. It’s time to do it again.

Massport’s ambitious plans for expanded use of the Hanscom Field civilian airport – already the second busiest in takeoffs and landings in all of New England -- are threatening the park and the surrounding sites with increased ground and air traffic, noise and visual intrusion. Their plans would worsen existing problems and necessitate major structural changes to the Battle Road that would destroy its historic authenticity.

The Battle Road – Route 2A -- is the primary resource Congress intended to protect when it established the Minute Man National Historical Park in 1959. It is also the only public access road to Hanscom Field, which abuts the national park.

The patriots who fought and died here more than two centuries ago created a nation and an ideal. It’s up to us to honor their sacrifice by protecting these historic places from the increased noise, development, and drastic changes to the Battle Road that would result from expanded airport operations.

What can be done to save this treasure?

· Federal legislation is needed that would limit the number and type of civilian aircraft operations at Hanscom.

· Federal and state officials must work diligently in developing and implementing a regional transportation solution that includes increased Northeast Corridor high speed rail, as well as smarter use of ground and air resources.

· If Massport continues to refuse to treat its neighbors and the nation’s historic treasures with respect and honor, then control of civilian operations at Hanscom Field should be transferred to a new local authority that will.

Most important of all, however, is that committed citizens here today and those who will join your ranks tomorrow continue to make your voices heard – if not ‘round the world, at least ‘round the commonwealth and ‘round the nation.

I look forward to returning to Minute Man National Historical Park for the celebration that this sacred, hallowed ground has been saved and can be removed from the list of America’s Most Endangered Historic Places.

Thank you.


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