By Bridget Jackson
I think summer is the perfect time to take a trip to Boston, especially in July since this is the month we celebrate our country’s birthday. This is the month I chose to visit the city. The weather was pleasant and I was able to enjoy all the historical sites by foot, especially since Boston is known as the walking city. Boston has the first historic walking tour-The Freedom Trail. With only one day in Boston, walking the Freedom Trail was one of my priorities.
I started out by driving to Boston Common and utilized the parking garage on Boylston Street. The rates were reasonable and I was close to the visitor center in Boston Common and also the beginning of The Freedom Trail. At the visitor center they have all sorts of maps of the trail. I encourage you to pick up a map so you don’t miss out on seeing one of the 16 historical sites along the Trail. Tour guides are also available if you like walking with a group of people. I chose to walk the trail at my own leisure so I could set my pace and explore areas off the trail as I walked. With my map in hand and a brochure with detailed information of each site; off I went following the red brick road that marks the Trail. The Freedom Trail begins at Boston Common and ends at the USS Constitution across the harbor in the naval shipyard. The trail is 2.5 miles long and it can take anywhere from 2-3 hours to walk, but it really depends on how much time you spend at each site. I walked the entire trail in 4 hours, stopping along the way often. Although the trail is immersed in the middle of modern day architecture and high rise buildings, as I walked along the cobblestone roads I still could envision over 250 years of history in the making. I was overcome with patriotism knowing that I was walking in the very same spots that our forefathers had lived, worshipped, debated and fought for our country. Here is a summary of my journey along the Freedom Trail that might also work for you.
The beginning of the trail is Site 1 – Boston Common. This is America’s oldest park. It was established in 1634. It spans across 50 acres which include Tremont, Beacon, Charles Park and Boylston Streets. The park is absolutely beautiful, with ponds, trees, walking trails, statues, and play areas for the children. It’s a perfect place to take your dog for a walk or to have a picnic. I could have spent all day here!
As you leave Boston Common, cross the street to Site 2 – Massachusetts State House located on the corner of Beacon and Park Street. The State House was completed in 1798. The gold dome you see today was originally overlaid with copper made by Paul Revere. The State House covers over 6 acres and is one of the oldest structures on Beacon Hill. Continue to follow the trail along Park Street to Tremont Street where Site 3 – Park Street Church is located; this brick structure was founded in 1809. The white steeple is 217 feet tall and was originally the landmark that people were greeted by as they approached Boston. In 1831 the church choir sang “My Country ‘tis of Thee” for the first time.
Next door to the Park Street Church is Site 4 – The Granary Burying Ground established in 1660. Three signers of the Declaration of Independence are buried here; Samuel Adams, John Hancock and Robert Treat Paine. Also buried here are distinguished Bostonians Paul Revere, James Otis, Peter Faneuil, and Benjamin Franklin’s parents. There are markers to guide you to these gravesites to pay your respects. It’s tradition to lay a penny on Paul Revere’s grave, so following tradition I laid my penny upon his tomb. Rumor is the penny will bring you wealth or perhaps it’s just to thank him for his contribution of copper to make early pennies. The majority of the markers in the graveyard are made out of slate, and you will notice the tombs have a scary skull head with wings. The early Bostonians believed this icon depicted the soul flying to heaven. Also on many headstones are Father Time and the Grand Reaper.
Turn left when you leave the graveyard and head north. On the corner of Tremont and School Street is Site 5 – Kings Chapel Church. This is an Anglican Church that was ordered to be built by King James in 1688. Originally it stood as a wooden chapel, but the Georgian architecture church was reconstructed in 1749 out of granite. Paul Revere recast the church bell in 1816 that still rings every Sunday for church services. The interior is sophisticated with white walls, beautiful stained glass windows, a large pipe organ, tall pulpit, massive pillars and high box pews with with red cloth seats. President George Washington sat in the Governor’s pew. Steps away from Kings Chapel Church is the first graveyard in Boston; Site 5 – Kings Chapel Burying Ground. Look for tombs of John Winthrop who was the first governor of Massachusetts and Mary Chilton, the first woman off the Mayflower! As you continue, walk down School Street and you will notice a hopscotch mosaic on the ground in front of Site 6 – Boston Latin School Site; founded in 1653. This is the oldest public school in America. Historical students that attended the school were Ben Franklin, John Hancock, and Samuel Adams. A few steps away is a bronze statue of Benjamin Franklin in front of the old City Hall built in 1864.
Continue walking to the corner of School and Washington Street to Site 7 – The Old Corner Bookstore built in 1808. This is one of Boston’s oldest bookstore and authors such as Louisa May Alcott, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Charles Dickens, and Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. were frequent visitors to this store. Unfortunately this is not a bookstore anymore but is home to a restaurant, so what you will find outside the building is a small plaque confirming the building’s historical value. Diagonally across the street at 310 Washington Street is Site 8 – The Old South Meeting House. The early Puritans worshipped here but it was not considered a church. Constructed in 1729 the Georgian style church once was the largest building in Boston. Continue to follow the red brick road to Washington Street to Site 9- The Old State House. Built in 1713, it was originally the home to the government. It was here on July 18, 1776 the Declaration of Independence was read from the balcony to the people of Boston. If you decide to take a tour inside you will see a vial of tea that was saved from the Boston Tea Party! Next on the Trail is Site 10 – Boston Massacre Marker. This marker is on the corner of State and Congress Street. A crowd is usually gathered around the marker taking pictures of the ground so it’s not hard to miss. Interestingly, this marker was once located on the spot where Crispus Attucks, the first casualty of the Revolution, was killed. The current location of the marker is not the site of the original event as it has been moved several times in the past. Site 11 – Faneuil Hall was constructed in 1741 and in its early days was the center of commerce. Today the first floor is still an active market and the second floor is used to hold Boston city meetings. Opposite of Faneuil Hall is Quincy Market which has been in operation for 150 years, currently it houses several restaurants, shops, and street entertainers and musicians.
Past the marketplace, follow the trail along Union Street. You will come across Blackstone Block, which is the oldest business district in the country. There are many taverns, restaurants and quaint shops along this block. The Union Oyster House is a must stop. This restaurant was built in the 1700’s and is the oldest restaurant in the country! They have a raw bar near the entrance and the oysters are delicious! Two doors form the Union Oyster House is a house that John Hancock built in 1760 and gave to his brother Ebenezer Hancock. Continue the trail where you will walk through the Rose Kennedy Greenway. Here you will come to Hanover Street, which is Boston’s Italian district. You can’t help but notice the tasty aroma coming from the many Italian cafes in this area.
I then made my way to North Street, where Site 12 – The Paul Revere House is located. This Colonial architecture house was built in 1680 and is the oldest dwelling in downtown Boston. This simple wooden house is nestled in the middle of modern day architecture. Paul Revere lived in this house for 30 years. I suggest taking a tour of the house. I was surprised that a man of his stature lived in a modest home. After leaving Paul Revere’s house you will see a huge statue of him riding a horse in honor of his famous Midnight Ride. From here you can also see the Old North Church steeple in the background. Don’t miss out on this great photo opportunity!
Site 13 – Old North Church (originally called Christ Church) on Salem Street first opened its doors to worshippers in 1723 and is still an active church. The steeple is 191 feet tall and is the tallest in Boston. The interior of the church is elegant painted in white. The high box pews, brass chandeliers and church clock are original. Look for pew 54 which Paul Revere’s family sat in. Heading uphill I arrived at Site 14 – Copp’s Hill Burying Ground on Hull Street. It is the last site on the downtown trail before you cross Boston Harbor. Copp’s Hill was founded in 1659 and is the second oldest graveyard in Boston. It sits on a hill where you can see glimpses of the harbor. Walking through the graveyard during the day was eerie and the resident black cat added even more character.
As I continued my journey to Commercial Street, the trail crossed over the Charlestown Bridge. I stopped on the bridge and as I looked out at the harbor I imagined the scene of the Boston Tea party as well as battles that took place in the surrounding waters. After my reflection on history, I made my way toward Site 15 – Bunker Hill Monument located in Monument Square. The monument stands 221 feet tall on Breeds Hill in honor of those that fought in the Battle of Bunker Hill on June 17, 1775. In this battle the phrase “don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes” was used. The monument reminded me of the Washington monument in D.C. but on a smaller scale. You can climb the 294 steps to the top, where you will enjoy an amazing view of the city. Last on the trail is Site 16 – The USS Constitution. It is located in the naval shipyard on Constitution Road. The USS Constitution was launched in 1797 and is the oldest commissioned warship in the world and it was ordered built by George Washington. When I visited, the ship was in dry dock for restoration and unavailable for tours. When you look at a sample of the three layers of oak wood, notice the copper fastenings for the ship, they were made by Paul Revere. A few steps away is the USS Constitution Museum which is very informative and has interactive activities for the whole family. The restoration is planned into 2017, but the Museum remains open.
After my walk on the Freedom Trail, I made my way toward the Boston Public Library. As I traveled along Boylston Road I couldn’t help but notice another beautiful Boston landmark; Arlington Street Church. As I approached the library I was greeted by another church, the spectacular Trinity Church. The Boston Public Library, located at 700 Boylston Street, opened its doors in 1848 and was the first free municipal library in the United States. The outside architecture is amazing, but once you walk inside the doors you will quickly realize that this is no ordinary library. This library is filled with a collection of rare books, marble floors, statues, exquisite murals, grand architecture and a beautiful courtyard in the center of the library. It is the most visually stunning library I have ever seen. I strongly encourage everyone to take a peek inside, you won’t be disappointed. After I left the library I headed back toward Boston Common. Since I was craving Italian, I found a quaint Italian restaurant along the way named Artu (89 Charles Street). This gem is a charming Italian restaurant. I had the calamari appetizer and a lasagna entree and it was fabulous!! After dinner I knew a trip to Boston wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Cheers neighborhood bar on Beacon Hill. It’s located on 84 Beacon Street. Cheers was originally established as the Bull & Finch Pub in 1969 and was the inspiration for the hit TV show Cheers – (where everybody knows your name). They didn’t know my name, but I still was excited to experience this pub.
My time in Boston was short, but I had a great time exploring and experiencing this beautiful, historic city. I only have one word of advice – take your time and make sure you wear comfortable shoes because Boston is known as the walking city. On a side note, I did wear tennis shoes but I managed to trip on the irregular cobblestone road which led to a skinned knee. So, be careful or you too will become a true patriot and shed blood on the Freedom Trail! If you have any questions about this trip ask Bridget. Safe travels!!!