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Historic day for farm site

On path to join Minute Man park

By Jennifer Fenn Lefferts
Globe Correspondent / April 2, 2009

President Obama signed legislation this week that extends the boundary of Minute Man National Historical Park to include Barrett's Farm, a Concord property that played a central role in the American Revolution.

The farm is where colonists were storing the munitions that caused British troops to march from Boston through Lexington to Concord, a key milestone in the War of Independence.

The measure, part of an omnibus public lands package, brings the 1705 farmhouse and 5 acres of land one step closer to becoming a permanent part of the national park. The nearly 1,000-acre national park in Concord, Lincoln, and Lexington preserves and protects the significant historic areas associated with the opening battles of the war between Great Britain and the 13 Colonies.

"This was the first and most important step forward," said US Representative Niki Tsongas, a Lowell Democrat who spearheaded the farm's inclusion in the legislation, along with US Senators Edward Kennedy and John Kerry. "Now we have to go about appropriating the necessary funds to purchase the land and the farm."

The omnibus measure also addresses issues involving the Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area and the Taunton River, and establishes a new Freedom's Way National Heritage Area in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

The Minute Man provision extends the boundary of the park by 67 acres to include Barrett's Farm. The farm is owned by Save Our Heritage, a preservation group that is restoring the home off Barrett's Mill Road.

All the 67 acres that are now within the boundaries of the national park have not changed ownership and most will not any time soon, said Nancy Nelson, superintendent of the Minute Man National Historical Park. The park only has its eye on the Barrett's Farm property, she said. The remaining acreage is owned by the town of Concord, its school district, and two private individuals. She said the boundary change will make it easier if the park does pursue purchasing other parcels or if property owners would like to donate land to the park.

That means Save Our Heritage still owns Barrett's Farm, and the group will now work with Congress to approve funding so the park can take over ownership, an official said.

"We feel very strongly that it was essential to preserve and to include Barrett's Farm into the boundaries of Minute Man National Historical Park, and we look forward to it being a centerpiece of the park," said Anna Winter, executive director of Save Our Heritage.

The land must be appraised and the government will pay fair market price for the property, which is expected to be around $2.1 million, according to John Noble, a spokesman for Tsongas.

Securing funding could take up to two years.

"But without this authorization, the funding would not be possible. This was the most significant step," Tsongas said.

Barrett's Farm is 2 miles from the famous Old North Bridge in Concord. At the time of the Revolution, the property belonged to Colonel James Barrett, the commander of the Middlesex Militia, who used his farm to store cannons, gunpowder, and other munitions.

British forces marched from Boston to Concord on April 19, 1775, to seize the munitions stored at the farm, but Barrett received advance notice of the British plan and hid them. Some had been moved from his property and the rest was hidden underground in the fields.

Barrett's militia confronted the British soldiers at the North Bridge, where the "shot heard 'round the world" was fired - launching America's war for independence.

"It's wonderfully apropos this legislation was passed so close to this April 19th date," Winter said. "The inclusion with Minute Man National Historical Park now ensures the story of these brave individuals will be told for generations to come. This is something that is tangible and can be seen all within Minute Man National Historical Park."

Nelson said she is looking forward to adding Barrett's Farm to the park because the house played such an important role in the Revolution. "This is why the British troops were coming out there," Nelson said. "It's a critical part of the story and it completes the park's story."

Also, because the house only had two owners before Save Our Heritage, many of its original features are still intact, she noted.

"We have many Colonial-era structures but this is such a central part of the story of April 19th and is in such extraordinary condition, in terms of seeing what was there so long ago."

After the Barretts, the property had been owned by the McGrath family for the next 100 years. Save Our Heritage bought some of the property for $800,000 in December 2003, and two years later acquired the house and the remaining land for $790,000. The farm is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is certified as a nationally significant site.

Since then, the group has been raising funds to restore the dilapidated structure.

The restoration effort is moving along, although more funds are needed, Winter said. A new roof and chimney have been put in, and work on the front façade is underway. Winter hopes the façade will be done in time for the park's 50th anniversary gala in the fall.

The renovation is expected to cost about $1.5 million. About half of that has been raised from private donations and public grants, and about $700,000 more is needed, Winter said.

The public lands measure also designates the Taunton River as part of the wild and scenic river system, and establishes the Freedom's Way National Heritage Area, which includes 37 communities in Massachusetts and eight in New Hampshire.

The heritage area highlights the history of New England, including Colonial life, the American Revolution, and early social justice, religious, abolitionist, and conservationist movements. Besides Minute Man National Historical Park, significant examples of the area's unique resources include Walden Pond, which inspired Henry David Thoreau and Walt Whitman, and Shaker villages in Shirley and Harvard.

The law also adds the Island Alliance, a nonprofit organization, to the list of entities with which the Park Service may enter into cooperative agreements to construct Boston Harbor Islands facilities.

While the Park Service has relied on the Island Alliance for past construction projects, the legislation allows this business arrangement to continue.

For more information about the Barrett's Farm property, go to Jennifer Fenn Lefferts can be reached at

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