Michael Dwyer  /  AP
The exterior of the Buckman Tavern is seen in Lexington, Mass. The tavern, built circa 1710 and restored to appear as it did that century, is most famous for being a gathering place for local militia before the Battle of Lexington.
updated 4/2/2007 2:32:59 PM ET 2007-04-02T18:32:59

Buckman Tavern is near many reminders of the 1775 skirmish between colonial militia and British troops that helped start the Revolutionary War - the grassy area where they clashed, the bell that rang an alarm that day, a statue commemorating the Minutemen.

Built around 1710 and restored to its original appearance, the tavern is most famous for being a gathering place for the local militia before the Battle of Lexington. About 33 men stayed at the tavern overnight to await the arrival of the British on April 19, 1775, after townspeople were warned the night before by Paul Revere that the British were on their way.

When the roughly 700 British soldiers marched into Lexington that morning, 77 local men met them outside Buckman Tavern on the town's common. Being hugely outnumbered, the men merely wanted to make a point, but a shot was fired - from which side remains unknown - chaos broke out and the Revolution began on the Lexington Green. Eight members of the militia died and nine were wounded during their retreat.

The tavern, being so close to the action, suffered its own wounds. Among them is a musket shot that pierced its red door - possibly painted that color as a welcome for travelers. The damaged door can be seen inside the museum today.

But the tavern - a yellow clapboard building with off-white trim listed on the National Register of Historic Places - is more than just an old pub with a military past: From inside emerge broader tales of men, women and children living and working in the 18th century.

"We're trying to offer both of those stories," said Susan Bennett, executive director of the Lexington Historical Society, which runs the museum. "I think it's an advantage that you can come to Buckman Tavern and learn all these different things."

Visitors to Buckman learn this history lesson from tour guides dressed in period costumes. But what many visitors find even more interesting than the tales of war are the stories of everyday life in the ground floor's tap room, kitchen, bedroom and ladies' parlor.

Guide Steve Cole explained the different artifacts in the kitchen, pointing out the large fireplace used for cooking and a low, uncomfortable-looking wooden chair used by women during labor. Childbirth and burns were the leading causes of deaths for women during the time, he said.

"I'm just amazed they could prepare meals for men in a tavern, guests upstairs and then their own family," said Debbie Hatox, who toured the tavern while on vacation from Gulf Shores, Ala.

Visitors also learn about long-ago customs, like keeping an eye on young lovebirds with a strategically placed mirror in the parlor, and techniques that most people no longer know, like how to make sausage or thread.

"I'm just glad I didn't live back then," said Debbie Mayfield, who also toured Buckman. "We're terribly spoiled."

And though much of what you learn at Buckman Tavern deals with how things were different more than 200 years ago, small reminders also surface of how that past influences the present - such as idioms that can be traced back to colonial times. There is the wooden post where men would nail the latest news - "Keep me posted" - and the bottles holding pints and quarts of liquor and ale. Should someone begin acted badly, the bartender could ask the patron to "Mind your P's and Q's."

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