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Best known as the site of the “shot heard 'round the world” that inaugurated the American Revolution, Lexington still glories in its colonial past. The image of the Revolution is stronger than the reality, however, as relatively few of the buildings standing in 1775 remain. Rather, Lexington represents other, perhaps contrasting, themes in the development of the Boston area. First settled as Cambridge Farms in 1636, a north parish of Cambridge was established here in 1691, with Lexington becoming an independent village in 1712. The town center emerged at Vine Brook (now Lexington Center), emphasizing the east-west axis of the road from Cambridge to Concord, now Massachusetts Avenue. Surviving colonial taverns document the importance of this corridor.

Peat harvesting and dairy farming were principal occupations of the early residents. Waterpower sites in East Lexington marked the area for future industrial development, especially the dressing of furs, which became the dominant industry by the early 1800s and continued through midcentury. The magnets of the town center and the East Lexington craft industries produced a continuous line of residences along the connecting route of Massachusetts Avenue. The arrival of the railroad in 1845–1846 increased but did not greatly change these patterns. The decline of the East Lexington industries at the end of the century corresponded to the reasserted growth of Lexington Center. At the turn of the nineteenth century, the street railroad spurred suburban development of much of the former farmland. Substantial residences climbed the hills from the Massachusetts Avenue corridor. The national centennial in 1876 inspired new pride in the role Lexington played in the Revolution, leading to the recognition and preservation of colonial sites and buildings and the flowering of the Colonial Revival style as an appropriate private and civic mode of design. In contrast, architects and developers who sought laboratories for modern design claimed the remaining open lands in the period following World War II. Six Moon Hill (LX3), Peacock Farm (LX4), Middle Ridge (LX14), and other developments presented new models for functional, modern residences, creating a new revolution in Lexington with broad influence. Also since the mid-twentieth century, the building and expansion of the industrial/commercial corridors of Route 2 to the west and Route 128 to the north have challenged the more residential character of Lexington at large.

Writing Credits

Keith N. Morgan

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