Colonial Period – Becoming a Town, 1692-ca.1770

The construction of the meeting house at Lexington Center provided a focal point for future development. As a result, the primary highway corridor shifted from the Watertown-Bedford (north-south) route to the Cambridge-Concord (east-west) route. In the late 17th century, Main Street (now Massachusetts Avenue) was improved over the Vine Brook causeway and Concord Hill. At the same time, additional roads were established radiating out from the meetinghouse center including Lincoln, Adams, Grove, Hancock, Woburn, and Waltham Streets. Secondary cross highways such as Marrett-Spring Streets and Revere-Hill Streets had also been laid out by the early 18th century.

Photocopy of 1794 Thompson Map of Lexington Courtesy Cary Memorial Library
Photocopy of 1794 Thompson Map of Lexington - Courtesy Cary Memorial Library
(original at Massachusetts State Archives)

Commercial development prior to the town’s incorporation consisted primarily of taverns and several small mills. Munroe Tavern was constructed in the 1690s while the Buckman Tavern dates to about 1710. Both still stand today and are owned by the Lexington Historical Society. Few of the town’s slow-flowing streams provided any substantial waterpower. The fall in Vine Brook just below where Sheridan Street crosses over the brook provided power for a small grist mill erected by the Estabrooks. The Muzzey family also had a mill on Vine Brook near the main street, about halfway between what is now Massachusetts Avenue and Vine Brook Road. Clay pits had been established along Kiln Brook (now Bedford Street) by the 1680s. Extensive peat swamps at Great Meadow in East Lexington were harvested during this period for local fuel consumption. Oak along the edge of the Great Meadow was sent to Medford shipyards. Clockmaking was introduced to Lexington about 1751 by an Essex County clockmaker, Nathaniel Mulliken.

Lexington colonial period - photo 1
Buckman Tavern, 1 Bedford Street

In 1711 a plot of land near the meetinghouse was purchased from Benjamin Muzzey for a public common. In 1713 it was voted to build a new meetinghouse on the land recently bought from Muzzey. Modeled after the meeting-house at Concord, the building was 40’ x 50’ and stood until it was replaced in 1793 by a new structure. Also in 1713, the parish of Cambridge Farms became the town of Lexington. Benjamin Wellington was paid four pounds by the town to build a thirty foot square pound and stocks near the meetinghouse.

A holding area for stray livestock, the pound is thought to have been located in the vicinity of the current Hancock Church. The first public schoolhouse in Lexington was built on the Common in 1715.

By the time of the 1765 state census, Lexington was an agricultural community of 912 residents, living in 126 houses.

HEadstone from Lexington's Colonial Period
Old Burial Ground

Surviving properties

Lexington has relatively few dwellings dating before ca. 1770 and not surprisingly, even fewer survive without some alteration or addition. Most of these early houses are simple two-story, symmetrical houses that are five bays wide and a single room deep with center chimneys. Many were oriented to face south for maximum sun exposure in the living areas. During this period evidence of an interest in style first become apparent. Houses designed in the Georgian style differ from their earlier predecessors in having greater symmetry, double-hung window sashes rather than hinged casements and sometimes, even a classically-inspired doorway, decorative moldings or interior paneling. In the 18th century the exposure of the wood clapboards was often graduated to provide less exposure near the bottom of a wall than near the roof. It is not known whether this practice was ornamental or was intended to provide greater protection against moisture near the foundation, or both.

Whittemore-Muzzey House, 21 Marrett Road
Colonial Lexington interior paneling example.
Whittemore-Muzzey House, 21 Marrett Road

Now part of the Minute Man National Park, the Whittemore-Muzzey House at 21 Marrett Road dates to 1745 and stands out among other local examples for retaining a sense of its original setting as well as original finishes. Perhaps the most high-style structure of the group is the Hancock-Clarke House at 36 Hancock Street. Dendrochronology studies of the timbers performed in 2007 indicate that the gable-roofed main house and its gambrel-roofed ell both date to 1737-8. The dwelling was constructed for Rev. John Hancock and his son, Rev. Ebenezer Hancock. Given the sophistication of the dwelling, it has long been believed that John Hancock’s other son, Thomas, a wealthy Boston merchant was involved in the construction. The structure was acquired by the Lexington Historical Society in 1896 who moved it across the street. In 1974 it was moved by the Society back to its original location. The Hancock-Clarke House, a National Historic Landmark, is significant for its architectural merit, for its associations with the American Revolution and as one of the earliest house museums in New England.

Hancock-Clarke House
Hancock-Clarke House, 36 Hancock Street

The Matthew Bridge House at 271 Marrett Road is another early 18th century house with important historic associations. It was constructed by the Bridge family, which included a number of wealthy and influential early Lexington residents. Local tradition states that part of the house may date to the 17th century although this has never been verified. The ell does appear to predate the main house which was remodeled in the Federal period (early 19th century). Additional physical investigation might clarify the original construction date of this early dwelling.

There are at least two Lexington houses predating 1770 which are notable for retaining integral lean-tos which probably resulted from an extension or rebuilding of the chimney to provide a new kitchen fireplace. The Joseph Bridge House at 419 Marrett Road was constructed for one of Matthew Bridge, Jr.’s sons and was reportedly built about 1722. In addition to the lean-to, this house exhibits several other period details including the way in which the outermost windows on each level of the façade are grouped closer together. The Harrington-Fiske House at 70 East Street dates to 1745 and is one of the best-preserved of Lexington’s remaining Georgian houses. The 2 ½-story, 5 x 1-bay dwelling retains its center chimney as well as its lean-to and its center entrance is enhanced by a door surround composed of a projecting molded cornice and fluted pilasters. The Munroe House at 1906 Massachusetts Avenue is another well-preserved gable-roofed dwelling which in this case dates to 1729. What was probably originally a simple doorway was later redesigned to contain a more elaborate Colonial Revival surround.

Jonathan Harrington House
Jonathan Harrington House, 1 Harrington Road

During the pre-1770 period, gable roofs predominate, followed by lesser numbers of hip and gambrel roofs. The hip-roofed Harrington House at 1 Harrington Road dates to about 1750. Its original owner, Jonathan Harrington, was mortally wounded by a British soldier during the clash between the Minute-Men and the Redcoats on April 19, 1775 and died on his doorstep. The handsome pedimented door surround actually dates to 1910, at which time the center chimney was also removed. The Fiske House at 63 Hancock Street was reportedly built in 1732 for Dr. Robert Fiske. It is the only one of Lexington’s surviving Georgian houses to display a gambrel roof. Many of the dwelling’s other decorative details including the Greek Revival-style pilastered cornerboards and the Colonial Revival entrance are later embellishments. The ell of the Hancock-Clarke house is also capped by a gambrel roof and was constructed in 1737.

63 Hancock Street
63 Hancock Street

Not all of the pre-1770 dwellings in town apparently followed the conventional 5 x 1-bay form favored in the Georgian style. The John Mason House at 1303 Massachusetts Avenue dates to the late 17th or early 18th century and displays a façade which is just three bays wide. Its original owner, John Mason, was a tanner and held various local offices including assessor, constable, town clerk and selectman. He was also one of eleven subscribers who purchased the town green from Benjamin Muzzey in 1711. This First Period House is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

1303 Massachusetts Avenue
1303 Massachusetts Avenue

The Underwood House at 26 Blossom Street reportedly dates to the early 18th century and as originally designed, appears to have had two rooms over two rooms. It has been altered and enlarged many times but retains some early finishes. Other early houses in this area include 92 Blossomcrest Road and 29 Allen Street (relocated to 50 Kendall Road). Allen Street was once a major route from Lexington to Boston.

Nor were all the early houses more than two stories in height.  The oldest portion of the Sanderson House at 1314 Massachusetts Avenue is the 1 ½-story, four-bay structure which is closest to the street.  This house has been listed on the National Register for its historic significance.

A number of pre-1770 buildings in Lexington have been moved from their original sites elsewhere in town.  These include the Amos Muzzey House at 42 Forest Street (1750); the Meriam-Viles House at 37-39 Woburn Street (1750); the Stephen Robbins House at 1295 Massachusetts Avenue (1716); the Mulliken House at 1361 Massachusetts Avenue; and the Chandler Homestead at 116 School Street (1758), which was altered and converted to a two-family dwelling.  At least two other period homes were actually moved to Lexington from more distant locations.  The Barrett House at 1299 Massachusetts Avenue dates to 1750 but was disassembled and moved from East Weare, New Hampshire in 1948 while the Robey-Parker House at 7 Mountain Road (1753) stood in Merrimack, New Hampshire until 1978.

The Munroe Tavern at 1332 Massachusetts Avenue and the Buckman Tavern at 1 Bedford Street are the only remaining commercial buildings of the period and both exhibit elements of the Georgian style.  The two buildings are owned by the Lexington Historical Society and open to the public.  The Munroe Tavern dates to the early 1690s and is named for William Munroe, tavern operator from 1770 to 1827.  A large ell was added in 1797 and contained a store and upstairs hall.  It was removed c. 1860. 

munroe Tavern - Lexington, MA

Munroe Tavern, 1332 Massachusetts Avenue

The slightly later Buckman Tavern was erected by John Muzzey about 1710.  It was purchased by John Buckman in 1774 and it was here that the patriots met on April 19, 1775 to await the arrival of the British.  The dormers punctuating the compound hip roof are later additions.  In light of its significance to the country’s early history, the Buckman Tavern has been declared a National Historic Landmark.

Buckman Tavern - Lexington, MA

Buckman Tavern, 1 Bedford Street