So you arrive in Boston with only 24 hours to spare, what to do?, where to go? It’s obvious isn’t it? Walk the Freedom Trail. The Freedom Trail is a red brick path running right through the heart of the city leading you to many of Boston’s historic sites it covers 2.5 miles and starts at Boston Common which is where I am now.
Today the weather has not been kind, it’s pretty cold and the clouds are looking a little menacing as I set off. Boston Common was established in 1634 and is America’s oldest public park. Puritan colonists purchased the land rights from the first settler of the area, William Blackstone for £30 with each homeowner paying him six shillings. The “Common Land” was used to graze livestock until 1830.
In 1775 during the British occupation of Boston over 1000 Redcoats set up camp here. The common was also a place for celebration during the repeal of the Stamp Act and at the end of the Revolutionary War. In more recent times Charles Lindbergh promoted commercial aviation here and anti Vietnam War and civil rights rallies were held here including one led by Martin Luther King Jnr.
Following the trail up through the common I come to the Massachusetts State House. This grand building was designed by Charles Bulfinch and was completed on January 11th 1798. The land the State House is built on was originally used as John Hancock’s cow pasture. The most distinct feature is the golden dome, once made of wood, but later overlaid with copper by Paul Revere. It was first covered with 23 karat gold leaf in 1874 but was painted grey during WWII to protect the city from bombing. The dome was most recently gilded in 1997. The gilded wooden pinecone that adorns the top of the dome is a symbol of the state’s reliance on logging in the 18th century.
Just across the street is the Robert Gould Shaw Memorial which shows Gould Shaw and his men of the 54th regiment of the Union Army. The 54th Regiment is the first all volunteer African American unit in the US Army which was formed in 1863 during the American Civil War.
At the corner of Park and Tremont Streets is the Park Street Church. The church was founded in 1809 on the site of Boston’s town grain storage building, or granary. It was designed by Peter Banner and for a long time the 217 ft. steeple was the first landmark travellers saw when approaching the city. In homage to the famous architect Sir Christopher Wren, Banner modelled the spire after St. Bride’s Church in London.
Next to the church is the Granary Burial Ground. Established in 1660 it’s the resting place for some of America’s most notable citizens including three of the signers of the Declaration of Independence; John Hancock, Samuel Adams and Robert Treat Paine. Other graves worth mentioning are those of Benjamin Franklin’s parents, Paul Revere and James Otis.
At one time the graveyard was part of Boston Common and the livestock that grazed there kept the burial ground in good order. During the Victorian era, the headstones were reorganised into neat rows so a new invention, the lawn mower, could take care of the grass. Bearing in mind its location in the heart of Boston the burial ground is a surprisingly peaceful place in a busy modern city.
Following the trail I arrive at the corner of Tremont and School Streets where the King’s Chapel is situated. Originally a wooden church was built on this site in 1688 on the orders of the King’s Governor Andros, by 1749 the building was too small and the present granite structure was built around the original wooden chapel. The wood from the old church was carefully dismantled and shipped to Lunenburg, Nova Scotia where it was rebuilt into St John’s Anglican Church.
To build the new church the congregation hired America’s first architect, Peter Harrison. Plans included a steeple, which has never been built, and a colonnade, which was not completed until after the Revolution. The interior is considered to be one of the finest examples of Georgian church architecture in North America.
Next door to the chapel is the King’s Chapel Burying Ground, the first proper cemetery in Boston. Famous names laid to rest here include, John Winthrop, Massachutsett’s first governor and Mary Chiltern, the first woman to step off the Mayflower.
The Boston Latin School was founded on April 23rd, 1635 and is the oldest public school in America. The original School Street location is marked by a statue of former pupil Benjamin Franklin. Five signers of the Declaration of Independence attended Boston Latin: Franklin, Samuel Adams, John Hancock, Robert Treat Paine, and William Hooper.
Where the Boston Latin School once stood is now the site of the Old City Hall, built in 1865. For 104 years Boston’s mayors held court here until they moved into City Hall’s current location near Faneuil Hall.
As the trail winds down the street I come to Boston’s oldest commercial building, the Old Corner Bookstore. Originally built as an apothecary in 1718 it became the centre of American book publishing in the mid 1800’s when Boston was the country’s literary mecca. Sadly the building is now a branch of the American fast food giant Chipotle.
The Old South Meeting House was built in 1729 not as a church but as a meeting house for the Puritans to worship in. It was the biggest building in all of colonial Boston and the stage for some of the most dramatic events leading up to the American Revolution.
On December 16th 1773 three ships were moored at Griffins Wharf, the Dartmouth, the Eleanor and the Beaver filled with over 30 tons of taxable tea. Five thousand colonists crowded into the Old South Meeting House to decide what was to be done with the tea as they didn’t want it unloaded as tax would have to be paid to the British. After the failure of a final attempt to have the tea sent back to England, Samuel Adams addressed the crowd, saying. “This meeting can do nothing more to save the country”. These words were rumoured to be a secret signal to the Sons of Liberty disguised as Mohawk Indians to march down to Griffin’s Wharf and destroy the crates of tea, dumping them in the harbour. This event became known as the Boston Tea Party.
Just down Washington Street is the Old State House. Built in 1713 to house the colony’s government this building was at the centre of civic events that sparked the American Revolution and it was here that the likes of Samuel Adams and James Otis would argue against the policies of the British Crown.
On the front of the building is a balcony where in 1776 the Declaration of Independence was read for the first time, this caused a mini riot during which the Lion and Unicorn which sit on top of the building were torn down and burnt in a fire, they were finally reinstated in 1883 when the building was refurbished.
On the pavement in front of the Old State House is a monument to the five victims killed on March 5th, 1770 during the Boston Massacre which took place in the middle of what is now called State Street (formerly known as King Street). The monument is made up of a five pointed star signifying the five deaths enclosed by six cobblestones which signify the six wounded that night. Stretching from the centre are thirteen cobblestone spokes representing the original thirteen colonies.
The trail leads me to Faneuil Hall. Often referred to as “the home of free speech” and the “Cradle of Liberty”, Faneuil Hall was built by wealthy merchant Peter Faneuil as a centre of commerce in 1741. The hall hosted America’s first town meeting and it was here where the Sons of Liberty proclaimed their dissent against royal oppression.
Paul Revere House is the oldest remaining structure in downtown Boston and was built around 1680. Paul Revere purchased the former merchant’s dwelling in 1770 when he was 35 and he and his family lived here when he made his famous messenger ride to Lexington on the night of April 18/19th, 1775. This was later immortalised by Longfellow’s famous poem Paul Revere’s Ride.
Following the trail further I arrive at the Paul Revere Prado, one of the most photographed statues in Boston. The statue sits in the shadow of the church that made him famous, The Old North Church.
Christ Church in the City of Boston, or the Old North Church as it’s more commonly known, is the oldest standing church building in Boston, having first opened its doors to worshippers on December 29th, 1723. The steeple is 191 feet tall and, because of its prominence, would play a dramatic role in the American Revolution.
It was on April 18th, 1775 that Paul Revere met up with sexton Robert Newman to tell him how to signal the advancement of British troops towards Lexington and Concord. Newman then met fellow Sons of Liberty Captain Pulling and Thomas Bernard. Leaving Bernard to keep watch outside, Newman opened the church and he and Pulling climbed the stairs and ladders up eight stories to hang two lanterns. The lanterns alerted the patriots in Charlestown, that the British were advancing by boat across the Charles River, the rest is history.
Named after shoemaker William Copp, Copp’s Hill Burial Ground is the final resting place and cemetery of merchants, artisans and craft people who lived in the North End. The burial ground dates from 1659.
After crossing the river the trail splits and you can either go up to Bunker Hill or the USS Constitution, I chose to go to the USS Constitution first. The USS Constitution dates from 1797 and is the oldest ship in the US Navy. It was built to protect American merchant ships from pirates off the coast of North Africa and was made famous during the war of 1812 where it never lost a battle and was nicknamed “Old Ironsides”. The ship is currently in dry dock being refurbished but there is a fascinating museum that you can visit that explains all about life onboard.
My final destination on the Freedom Trail is the Bunker Hill Monument. The monument opened in 1843, 68 years after the famous battle took place. It took 16 years to construct and stands at 221 feet tall. If you fancy climbing it there are 294 steps to the top.
What a fascinating city Boston turned out to be with a lot more history than I realised. I’ve enjoyed my short stay here and only hope I’ll be back very soon to explore a little more.
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