One of the pleasures of volunteering at Jenks Library is finding unexpected connections. Recently, a volunteer was going through a ledger that wasn’t very old. Inside, she found a ribbon printed with a picture of Acton’s Davis Monument and the dates 1775, APRIL 19th, and 1895. In another setting, it might have been taken for a meaningless piece of junk. But not at Jenks.
While doing research earlier that morning, one of our other volunteers had been reading an article about Acton’s big Patriots’ Day celebration on April 19, 1895 and realized that the ribbon stuck in the ledger must have been a souvenir of that day. It was quite a coincidence to have discovered something tangible from the event while the newspaper description was so fresh in memory.
In early 1895, a planning committee put together an ambitious program to commemorate Acton’s involvement in the events of April 19, 1775. The plan for the day included dedicating three historical monuments and placing markers at Revolutionary War veterans’ graves. The Sixth Massachusetts (Civil War) Regiment was to hold a reunion. Dignitaries were invited, and crowds were anticipated.
Massachusetts Governor Greenhalge was invited to the celebration. He undoubtedly had a particular interest in the proceedings as he had proclaimed Patriots’ Day (April 19th) a public holiday the year before. Speaking at the Sons of the Revolution banquet that evening, he joked that he had swallowed so much dust during his afternoon in Acton that he felt as though he had a claim to a birthplace there. [Boston Post, April 20, 1895, page 4)
The April 25th Concord Enterprise put a different spin on the day, stating that there was “no dust, no mud, a warm sun, a refreshing breeze.” The same Enterprise also reported that the Sixth Regiment had spent the morning of the 19th marching. When the governor arrived in the middle of their reunion meeting, the veterans declined to march out to meet him “on the ground that they had done about all the marching they wished or proposed to do.” [page 4]
The April 20th Boston Post captured an outsider’s view of Acton at the time, calling it a “dreamy, tiny, one-streeted town, bejeweled in dark hills” and continuing, “Strange were the sights in ... all the Actons, Centre, South, East and West. Thronged trains flooded the little railroad stations, from morning until noon. All turned toward Acton Centre, where the big celebration was held. ALONG DUSTY LANES...” The writer described houses and public buildings festooned with patriotic decorations. The grounds of the Town Hall and the Common were filled with booths and stands set up by traveling (and apparently very noisy) barkers. Transportation was offered (for a fee) to city folks by “young hustlers, who ransacked barns and stables for spacious vehicles to transport the unwonted horde of patrons, bringing out weird things of conveyance, ramshackle some, possibly a few, apologetic all. And all through the day these wonders of contrivances following along after enthusiastic but antiquated nags, came to the Centre and went to the depots creaking under human burdens.” [page 1]
John F. Fitzgerald (“Honey Fitz”), a Congressman at the time, arrived late in the day. He had married Mary J. Hannon of South Acton, and in his speech said that he “had deprived Acton of one of her fairest daughters, but she had showed her patriotism by presenting to the country this April 19, 1895, a bouncing ten-pound boy.” [page 5] He claimed himself an adopted son of Acton, as he had spent summers there for the past 20 years. A more lasting tribute to the town is that the parents named their bouncing newborn Thomas Acton Fitzgerald.
After the event, the April 25th Concord Enterprise aired various views on Patriots’ Day 1895. Some had evidently hoped for even bigger crowds in Acton and blamed Boston papers for drawing away participants by “booming” about the celebrations in Lexington and Concord, “places which Acton had done much to make historic.” [page 4] A Concord writer clearly disagreed with that assessment, saying that even through the Concord event was well-planned, the event was lackluster, the townspeople were bored, and the crowd that did come was “undesirable.” [page 8]
Other writers were much more positive about the day. The Acton Centre correspondent called the event a “great gala” with an orderly crowd. The West Acton correspondent noted that the whole town had pulled together, “each village and hamlet contributing a share to the glorious event.” [page 8] Even the writer disappointed by the size of the crowd finished on a positive note, saying that “Those however who took the trouble to come to Acton must have been impressed with the rural beauty of the place. Hundreds who were here on that day realized for the first time that among the Middlesex hills was a delightful little village removed far enough from the noise of the city and the rush of the steam cars to give one that quiet and rest so often sought in the summer months and no doubt many will find their way hither in consequence of this visit.” [page 4] Hopefully, the potential tourists didn’t mind the dust.
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