J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Monday, May 23, 2011

Hold-Up at Barrett’s Farm

The National Parks Conservation Association is the non-profit group that advocates for the U.S. of A.’s National Park System. In the group’s Spring/Summer 2011 newsletter, Northeast Regional Director Alexander R. Brash’s “What Would Sam Adams Say?” sounds the alarm about a delay in funding an important expansion of Minute Man National Historical Park.

The essay includes some historical errors. Paul Revere didn’t originally intend to ride to Concord, for instance, and he never made it that far. The skirmish at the North Bridge wasn’t “for the possession” of James Barrett’s farm; the militia companies massed on the rise above that bridge let three companies of regulars march off in that direction. They advanced on the three additional companies assigned to hold that bridge because they were alarmed at the sight of smoke from the center of town.

But Brash is right on target when he writes about the importance of Barrett’s farm on 19 Apr 1775. That was the end goal of the British army march. It was the top item on Gen. Thomas Gage’s list of places for his troops to search. Barrett, a militia colonel, had indeed been hiding weapons for the Massachusetts Provincial Congress there.

A few years ago the group Save Our Heritage began work to preserve the site and make it available to the Park Service. In April 2009 Congress authorized the park to expand and incorporate that site. Yet Barrett’s farm is still not part of the Minute Man park.

Brash writes:
There is a grim irony that in Washington D.C., the very people who brand their efforts with the iconic patriotic emblems of the American Revolution now thwart their preservation for posterity. . . .

Since the Revolution, Colonel Barrett’s house and farm has been owned by only two families, and today the fragile structure stands much as it did then. The current owners have been holding on, just waiting to close a deal so that the last piece of the story’s puzzle can be placed safely, and for posterity, inside Minuteman National Park. The owners are more than willing sellers, and not a soul for miles around would stand in the way of the farm house’s inclusion in the park.

But with the recent turmoil in Congress, the National Park Service has been prevented from advancing its efforts to purchase this site. The site was included within the park’s boundaries several years ago, the sellers are willing, yet funding has been tied up for over a year by Congressional turmoil. All that remains is for money from the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) to be freed up so that the National Park Service can close the deal.
That fund, according to its website, “receives money mostly from fees paid by companies drilling offshore for oil and gas,” up to $900 million per year. Congress has never authorized spending that full amount, and according to American Trails and the National Resources Defense Council, the current Republican-controlled House of Representatives started the year with a budget bill (H.R. 1) that cut $393 million from the previous year’s L.W.C.F. outlay, leaving only $58 million to cover the whole country. That budget has no chance of becoming law, but until the Interior Department does have a budget the fund can’t buy the Barrett property.


Anonymous said...

This angers me to no end. I have marched the trail from Acton to Concord for many years. I even wrote a letter to the Concord selectmen many years ago urging them to refurbish the farm due to its historical significance. But unfortunately as we all know politics plays an unfortunate role in almost everything. To hold up restoration is doing a disservice to historians and public alike. No Barrett's farm, no reason for Gage to march out. So simple isn't it???

EJWitek said...

I have been a member of the Friends of Gettysburg and its predecessor organization for a number of years. During these years the organization has acquired land on which the battle was fought, obtained easements and funded many renovations and projects on the battlefield in conjunction with the National Park Service.
Rather than bemoaning the fact that a budget is wrapped up in politics (what a shock that would be to the minutemen), it would seem to me that some private foundation or organization could just as easily acquire the property and turn it over to the National Park Service. The Boston area has many large wealthy corporations and foundations who could be approached.
A private/public partnership to acquire and maintain the land is the solution. Massachusettians may look to the Government as the solution to every problem, but most of the rest of the country doesn't.

J. L. Bell said...

I’m quoting from this webpage of the private Conservation Fund:
“Today the U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, the National Park Service and The Conservation Fund announce the incorporation of a historic Civil War battlefield site at Gettysburg into the Gettysburg National Military Park. . . . In 2008, with support from the Pennsylvania Congressional delegation, the U.S. Congress appropriated funding from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) to enable the National Park Service to acquire this property. . . . This conservation project at Gettysburg, as well as other efforts to protect our national resources and heritage for future generations, would not be possible without financial support from the LWCF. To build on the success of LWCF, The Conservation Fund and the conservation community strongly support President Obama’s America's Great Outdoors Initiative that proposes full funding for this crucial program in Fiscal Year 2012.”

As for public-private partnerships, the posting explains how the Save Our Heritage non-profit has already been involved in acquiring and preserving the Barrett property.

Regional prejudices aren’t pretty, especially when they’re based on ignorance of the facts.