True Tales from Canton’s Past: Walking in his Footsteps

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After five years of writing these stories, the sense that Canton has a far greater history than many comparable towns is now apparent. And when you take stock of what this town has become economically and socially and where it is going, we are in a remarkable position to memorialize and capitalize on some of our greatest historical assets.

The very first New England Patriot, Paul Revere, made one of the most indelible marks on this town, and indeed this country. This writer was transfixed in the fifth grade when tasked with creating a diorama of Paul Revere’s farm. I had an ideal in my mind of what his farm could have looked like — small plastic horses dotted a green cardboard box, and a brown shoebox within became his saltbox-style house. The modesty of the history project echoed what vision floated in an 11-year-old mind. Today, we have the opportunity of sharing in a tangible way the story of Paul Revere.

A concept of the planned visitor center that would echo the original Revere house and bell tower (Joe Viamonte Design)

A concept of the planned visitor center that would echo the original Revere house and bell tower (Joe Viamonte Design)

It is important to say it over and over again: Paul Revere lived here and he chose to live here. One of the greatest Americans who helped start this boundless experiment we call the United States of America walked the same streets and sat under the same sky that we do. It is not hyperbole, exaggeration, or boastful legend. The simple fact is that in 1801, Revere decided to wager his entire fortune on a fledgling industry that he himself would create. He came to Canton for the water, the location, and the proximity to the people he would need to build an empire that still exists today.

And while we have long told the stories and folklore of Paul Revere’s time here in our town, we have yet to meaningfully mark this place. There is neither a statue nor a monument, and hardly a passing sign. People flock to his house in Boston in enormous numbers. The Paul Revere House is one of the top tourist attractions in Massachusetts. And while there is a small story of his life in Canton on display there, we have the real deal right here off Neponset Street.

What is most exciting is that you now begin to see a vision and direction take shape in the conversations and plans that are underway. As you know, the town has begun an ambitious and daunting plan to transform what was once an industrial waste site into a premier destination. The Paul Revere Heritage Site will become one of the best places to visit and learn about Revere as an industrialist and entrepreneur — his life as a “patriot” bolstered by his life as one of the nation’s first great entrepreneurs.

It was not a simple idea, to convince people that the old site of Plymouth Rubber could become a tourist destination. The path was clouded for many years by the fact that at one time the Chicago-based developer had threatened to tear all of the buildings down and simply reuse the land as the highest and best use. Several heroes answered the bell. It started so long ago with the local Historical Commission sounding the alarm and working to show the nation that this was one of the most critically endangered historical sites in the country. It continued with the Planning Board riding in and joining to craft zoning that would protect the few remaining signature buildings of the Revere Copper Company. Then, the Board of Selectmen took up the lantern and guided a rezoning process and development agreement that assured our historic sites would become public treasures. The largest commitment came through the acquisition of the seven acres of open space combined with the two and a half acres surrounding the buildings that the site’s owner had agreed to donate to the town. We are proud of our officials who have been stalwart visionaries thus far.

It was the people themselves at annual town meeting who had begun to hear the concept of the site and opened up their minds to what would be possible on a world-class scale. The town, long a home to corporate giants, would establish themselves yet again as a place of note. We would reach back into our history and take our most august patriot and place him firmly in the minds of visitors as one of our own. The story of Revere & Son at the Paul Revere Heritage Site in Canton, Massachusetts will be told to thousands of people each year. The site will grow and become a destination for tourists and schoolchildren who want to walk in Paul Revere’s footsteps.

This site played enormous, game-changing roles in the American experience. The story starts before the Revolutionary War, where the gunpowder was made that freed us from tyranny, to the birth of the copper industry, and then on through the Civil War. We will tell the heroic story of the Revere grandsons who fell on battlefields far away, while at the same time the bronze cannons from their family business boomed in the darkness of the night. And we will acclaim the rise of the rubber industry that built the auto industry in America as well as the working class neighborhoods of this town.

We now have beautiful artist’s renderings of what this site will look like. We have a landscape architect working with the Heritage Planning Committee to create the acres of public park. And now our attention turns to the barn and rolling mill. The question at hand is how will we accomplish what seems so formidable? The answer is to start with a shared vision and a sound plan. The first steps being taken right now are to commission an economic vitality report that will gauge the impact of a heritage museum and visitor center as part of this project. The town, through the guidance of the newly hired town planner, has received responsive bids for this work. At the same time, the Historical Society has begun taking stock of the artifacts and stories that can be told at the soon to be established museum. And the groundwork is being laid to raise public and private funds to meet the challenges of actually building on the dreams.

In practical terms, and by anyone’s estimation, this will take a lot of money. And yet, this same obstacle may have faced Paul Revere himself. Through using his own money, and government subsidies, and smart business arrangement, he was able to realize the potential of his plan. We must do the same. To that end, it is exciting to share the fact that a $10,000 challenge grant has been brought forward by anonymous benefactors who have long believed in what this site will become. We need to raise and match at least $22,000 to show the town a public commitment towards drawing up the plan.

There are great plans underway, and as you read this, my hope is that the excitement is palpable and that you want to contribute to this legacy work. There are concrete ways for you to help. Join me on a public tour of the site on the morning of Saturday, October 8, or on the afternoon of Sunday, October 16. You will need to sign up because space is limited. Visit CantonHistorical.org to secure your free ticket, and come take a walk in Paul Revere’s footsteps.

True Tales from Canton’s Past by George T. Comeau appears biweekly in the Canton Citizen. Not a subscriber. Order one today and take advantage of our fall promotion — 52 issues for just $25. Offer valid until October 15.

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