Old North Bridge: History & Facts

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

The USA has many great bridges, but not all of them helped start wars. In this lesson, we'll check out the design and history of the Old North Bridge.

The Shot Heard Round the World

In the 1830s, famed American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote the dedication for a new monument to the colonial soldiers of the Battle of Concord, the first official battle of the American Revolution. Of the dedication, entitled ''The Concord Hymn'', a few lines (the last two in particular) have stood out:

''By the rude bridge that arched the flood
Their flag to April's breeze unfurled
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
and fired the shot heard round the world.''

Many of us have heard of the 'shot heard round the world', but where did it actually occur? Emerson's dedication was for a monument placed at the North Bridge, often called the Old North Bridge, just outside of Concord, Massachusetts. It was along this structure that the American Revolution truly began.

Old North Bridge
Old North Bridge

The Battle of Concord

To appreciate the significance of the Old North Bridge, we need to talk about the Battle of Concord.

In April of 1775, the colonial governments of Massachusetts had been dissolved and were in hiding. Members of this government were being kept in the towns of Lexington and Concord, as well as weapons and supplies that the British were after. British troops were sent to these towns to capture and destroy the contraband supplies, and arrest any hiding officers. In order to prevent rebels from escaping, the soldiers at Concord realized they had to establish a presence along the bridges around the town.

The local minutemen (militia) of the towns heard of the British plans, and started moving supplies and people. They also grabbed their weapons and prepared to fight, holding off the British until the contraband was safely relocated. British troops arrived in Lexington first, where shots were briefly exchanged.

In Concord, however, the British found a greater resistance. As they marched into the town, about 400 militiamen appeared and marched towards them. The British retreated to the east side of the North Bridge, while the militia took its position on the west side, blocking British access to the town. Shots were fired, and the British were forced to retreat.

The Battle of Concord was fought across the North Bridge
Old North Bridge

While fighting technically occurred at Lexington first, this is considered the first battle of the Revolution because it was the first time that the militia was formally ordered to fire upon British troops. In doing so, they had committed treason against the empire. The Revolution had begun.

The Bridge: Design and Replacements

That history is obviously very important, but this is a lesson on architecture. The North Bridge was one of many which had stood on that site, replaced every 20-30 years by the people of Concord since 1654.

The bridge that was present on April 19 of 1775 was a pile bent bridge, built in 1760. Basically, this wooden structure was made by erecting timber pillars across, then placing a superstructure of loose planks over it to form a trestle, a horizontal frame that supports the weight of passengers.

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