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American Revolutionary War sites around Boston

In 2019, on a trip to Boston, I visited some American Revolutionary War sites in and around the city. While there, I shot some videos to record what I saw, and recently I edited the footage into three little documentaries about important episodes of the first year of the American Revolution.

Confrontation at North Bridge in Concord

North Bridge in Concord, Massachusetts is one place where the American Revolution began. There were two small skirmishes that took place in the area west of Boston on April 19, 1775. The first of them was at dawn in Lexington, a little to the east of Concord. The other skirmish took place at North Bridge in Concord at about 11 AM.

The American forces (the Massachusetts Militia and the Minutemen) and the British faced off against each other on opposite sides of the bridge. The British tried to march over the bridge, and they fired on the Americans, and the Americans fired back. Two people were killed on both sides. Then the British started retreating back to Boston. With this skirmish, there was no doubt that the American Revolution had begun.

The Battle of Bunker Hill

An imposing obelisk on top of Breed’s Hill in Boston commemorates the Battle of Bunker Hill, which was fought there in the summer of 1775. Following the brief clashes at Concord and Lexington (mentioned above), Bunker Hill was the first major battle of the American Revolution.

You might be wondering: Why is the battle named Bunker Hill if it took place on Breed’s Hill? The Continentals had been under orders to fortify Bunker Hill in order to encircle the British who were occupying Boston, but instead they fortified Breed’s Hill. Nevertheless, the “Bunker Hill” name stuck, and the battle is named after a hill where it didn’t take place!

The Continentals built their fortifications on the top of the hill, where the monument and park are located now. On June 17, the British launched an assault on the American fortifications. Two waves of British troops marched up and were cut down. Finally the third wave was able to overrun the American defensive works, because the Continentals had run out of powder to fire their guns.

The Battle of Bunker Hill was technically a British victory, but the British only won after suffering very heavy losses. The Continentals, for their part, felt that they had won a moral victory, because they had fought well against the British and stood their ground when their positions were overrun.

Dorchester Heights and the Siege of Boston

After the Batttle of Bunker Hill, the British and the Americans were in a stalemate: the British occupied Boston, while the Americans surrounded them outside the city. To get the British to leave Boston, the Americans set up cannons on the top of Dorchester Heights, a hill to the south of the city.

The cannons were actually British cannons, which had been captured at Fort Ticonderoga on Lake Champlain back in May 1775. Teams of oxen dragged 60 cannons from the fort through the wilderness to Boston. Once the British saw the cannons go up on Dorchester Heights in early March 1776, they decided it was time to get out of town. They sailed out of Boston harbor, and 1,000 loyalists went with them.

In the early 1900s, the anniversary of the British leaving Boston in 1776, March 17, was established as the holiday of Evacuation Day in Boston. Irish immigrants, who lived in large numbers in the area around Dorchester Heights, adopted the holiday and merged it with their own holiday, St. Patrick’s Day, which happens on the same day.

Rocket test stands on Leuhman Ridge

Rocket-testing relics in the Mojave Desert

Edwards Air Force Base, where the Air Force and NACA or NASA have tested experimental aircraft since before the Cold War, occupies a vast dry lakebed in the Mojave Desert in Southern California. Although the base lies just south of California State Highway 58, most of it isn’t visible from the road, because sight-lines are blocked by low hills and a railway embankment between the highway and the lakebed. One exception to this is Leuhman Ridge, which rises above the desert floor southwest of the junction of CA-58 and US Highway 395. Several large metal and concrete structures stand on the crest of the ridge, plainly visible from the highway miles away. These are rocket test stands, used in the Cold War and Space Race to test out new rocket engines and test articles of complete rocket stages.

Rocket test stands on Leuhman Ridge

View of the Rocket Engine Test Site on Leuhman Ridge, Edwards Air Force Base.

The Air Force started out testing missile components on Leuhman Ridge in the 1950s. Missiles tested there included the Thor IRBM, the Atlas and Titan ICBMs, and the Bomarc cruise missile. Some of the test stands had large gantries that could hold complete missile stages like the Atlas. One of the stands, Test Stand 1-1, still has its gantry in place.

Test stands used for Air Force missiles on the western end of the ridge. Test Stand 1-A is on the left of the picture.

Test stands used for Air Force missiles on the western end of Leuhman Ridge. Test Stand 1-1 is on the left of the picture, with a large gantry that could hold a complete Atlas missile in a vertical position for tests. The stand on the right is 1-2.

Atlas missile exploding during test in stand 1-A

Photo of an Atlas missile exploding in Test Stand 1-A, March 27, 1959. The stand was never repaired for Atlas use but was instead modified for F-1 engine testing. (Source: HAER)

Subsequently, NASA and Rocketdyne tested the F-1 engine for the first stage of the Saturn V moon rocket on Leuhman Ridge. F-1 tests started on stands originally used for the Atlas missiles, then moved to purpose-built stands that were much larger than the earlier missile stands. Rocketdyne test-fired a prototype F-1 for the first time on February 10, 1961, before Alan Shepard’s first flight and before President Kennedy had committed America to the moon race.

F-1 prototype firing in Test Stand 1-A

F-1 prototype test-firing in stand 1-A. This test engine is firing without its nozzle skirt, or rear part of the nozzle. (Source: HAER)

The biggest of the F-1 stands was Test Stand 1-C, which could hold a pair of engines side-by-side. As tall as an 11-storey building, it had foundations deep into the granite bedrock of the ridge in order to withstand the power of the engines.

Test Stand 1-C during a test-firing of an F-1 engine in 1962. (Source: NASA)

Test Stand 1-C during a test-firing of an F-1 engine in 1962. (Source: NASA)

Test Stand 1-C is the most prominent of the stands on Leuhman Ridge, because it now has a huge white building on top of it with an American flag painted down the side. Two similar test stands nearby, 1-D and 1-E, were also built for F-1 engine testing.

Apollo-era test stands on Leuhman Ridge: 1-D (L) and 1-C (R). Test Stand 1-C has been modified from its original configuration with the addition of a white tower on top, but 1-D looks about as it did in the 1960s. Test Stand 1-B is out of view to the right.

Apollo-era test stands on Leuhman Ridge: 1-D (L) and 1-C (R). Test Stand 1-C has been modified from its original configuration with the addition of a white tower on top, but 1-D looks about as it did in the 1960s. The large tanks directly behind and to the right of 1-C held water that was pumped over the flame deflector during tests. Test Stand 1-E is out of view on the other side of the ridge behind 1-D.

Since the Apollo-Saturn Program, some of the test stands have been modified for use on other programs. Even with the modifications, the stands are still visible relics of the Cold War and the race to the Moon.

Rocket test stands on Leuhman Ridge with annotations

Panoramic view of the rocket test stands on Leuhman Ridge, with annotations.

Sources and links

Quick thought: Indian roads and radical monopoly

In his 1973 book Tools for Conviviality, Austrian author Ivan Illich writes about the “radical monopoly,” in which one technology comes to dominate over all others, even going so far as to transform the landscape to exclude technological alternatives. Illich singles out the automobile in America, which in most parts of the country is the only safe and practical way to get from Point A to Point B anymore. Do you want to take the train from the suburbs to the city? Good luck! How about walking or biking on the Interstate highway? If you aren’t killed by a semi truck, you’ll probably get picked up by the cops, because walking or biking on freeways is illegal in most parts of the country.

While this is the case in most parts of the United States, it isn’t the case everywhere. Take India for example. While automobiles are widely used throughout the country, they have not established a radical monopoly there. On city streets, rural roads, and even highways, cars and other motor vehicles (especially motor scooters) have to share the road with other forms of non-mechanized transport, including bicycles, cycle-rickshaws, ox-carts, camel carts, and the occasional horse-tonga.

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