Friday, November 6, 2009

George Washington Really Did Sleep Here, Day 16

George Washington woke up the morning of November 5, 1789, in Haverhill, Massachusetts. In his diary, the president called the town and the area along the Merrimack River "a beautiful part of the Country."

Around sunrise, Washington took a ferry across the Merrimack and traveled through Bradford before arriving in Andover (my hometown, hooray!). He had breakfast at the Abbot Tavern, which still stands at 70 Elm Street. Supposedly, the innkeeper's daughter Priscilla received a kiss on the cheek from the president for repairing his riding glove. (The tavern was later Andover's first post office.) While in Andover, Washington visited the house of Samuel Phillips, who was then Massachusetts Senate President. He was also the father of Samuel Phillips, Jr., the founder of Phillips Andover Academy, which was established in 1778. (One of the large buildings on campus is named in Washington's honor.) According to some accounts, Washington addressed Phillips students on horseback before leaving town.

Phillips accompanied Washington through Billerica and the president was very impressed with the scenery on his entire route through the Merrimack Valley, writing: "The Country from Haverhill to Andover is good, and well cultivated. In and about the latter (which stands high) it is beautiful. A Mile or two from it you descend into a pine level pretty Sandy, and mixed with Swamps; through which you ride several Miles till you begin to ascend the heights on which the Town of Bellarika stands, which is also pleasantly situated 10 Miles from Andover."

In 1896, the Billerica Historical Society affixed a plaque to the trunk of a massive oak tree along Boston Road in Billerica that stood from the day Washington passed through in 1789. Unfortunately the tree was felled in 1985 by Hurricane Gloria. An historical marker commemorating the "Washington Oak" now stands diagonally across from the Billerica Museum on Route 3A in Billerica. (The museum has another plaque that commemorates the visit.)

Washington stopped in Lexington to dine at the Munroe Tavern and to pay his respects at the Battle Green, or what he referred to in his diary as "the Spot on which the first blood was spilt in the dispute with great Britain on the 19th. of April 1775." (Again, as on October 26, Washington uses the word "dispute.") The Munroe Tavern, operated by the Lexington Historical Society, is open to the public, and the room where Washington dined has been preserved. The society is in possession of the chair that Washington sat in along with a 20th century painting depicting his visit.

The president continued on from Lexington to Watertown, where he spent the night at the tavern kept by the widow of Nathaniel Coolidge near the bridge from Watertown Square. The site of the tavern along Galen Street is now home to the MBTA's Watertown Yard, where numerous bus lines terminate. A plaque near the bus stop commemorates the tavern.

Washington noted in his diary that the Coolidge Tavern was a "very indifferent one." Ouch. That couldn't have been good for business. Good thing for the widow Coolidge that GWashington couldn't post that review on TripAdvisor.

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