Mr Bell In Boston: Discovering Beacon Hill


Beacon Hill is Boston’s most exclusive neighbourhood, to live there you need to be rich. However it’s a beautiful part of the city to explore which is just what I did on my recent trip there.

One building you can’t miss on Beacon Street is the impressive Massachusetts State House. It was opened in 1798 on land that once belonged to John Hancock. It is the oldest continually running state house in the USA and the seat of government for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The architect Charles Bullfinch designed this and a lot of the buildings around the Beacon Hill area. The stunning dome is made from 23 karat gold and is 30 feet high and 50 feet around. It was guided on the 100th birthday of the USA in 1876.

Walnut Street takes me into Beacon Hill’s most historic area. Even today the ornate lampposts you can see are all lit by gas.

Mount Vernon Street crosses the top of Walnut Street and just up to the right is the Nichols House Museum. The house is a classic example of Federalist architecture. It was built by Jonathon Mason and is open to the public and provides a glimpse of life on Beacon Hill in the 19th and 20th centuries.

At number 57 Mount Vernon Street is the former residence of Daniel Webster who was a US Senator representing Massachusetts. He was also Secretary of State under three different presidents. Mark Twain even wrote about him in the story “The Devil and Daniel Webster”.

Number 65 Mount Vernon Street was once the home of Henry Cabot Lodge, above the main entrance archway CABOT is engraved in stone. He was a republican senator and was the first unofficial Senate Majority leader and is best known for his foreign policy disagreement over the Treaty of Versailles with President Wilson.

A little further down at 85 Mount Vernon Street is the Harrison Grey Otis House, which was built in 1802 by Charles Bullfinch. It is the only remaining freestanding house on the hill, all the others have been converted into apartments. Harrison Grey Otis was the third mayor of Boston, a US Congressman, a US Senator and a member of the Federalist Party. He was also one of the richest men in Boston. His other house, also built by Charles Bullfinch is at 141 Cambridge Street and is a museum open to the public.

The very pretty Willow Street was home to the Pulitzer Prize winner Sylvia Plath who lived at number 9. She was married to the English poet Ted Hughes and had two children but suffered terrible depression and committed suicide aged 30.

At the corner of Willow Street and Mount Vernon Street is number 88, this is where the poet Robert Frost lived from 1938 until 1941. He was also a Pulitzer Prize winner and a Congressional Gold Medal holder. A plaque outside the house commemorates him living there.

Directly opposite here is Louisburg Square, the most exclusive place to live in Boston and also one of the most expensive places to live in the USA. This beautiful square with a private park in the middle of it has been home to many famous people including the writer Louise May-Alcott, author of the novel Little Women, and more recently US Secretary of State John Kerry.

Acorn Street is one of the most photographed streets in Boston and looking at it I can see why, it’s very pretty, with its well cared for houses, window boxes overflowing with colourful flowers and its quaint cobblestones it makes for the perfect picture. The cobblestones all come from the bed of the Charles River.

A short walk away is Charles Street, the main shopping area for the residents of Beacon Hill. Here you can find lots of coffee shops, restaurants, antique shops and boutiques.

On Beacon Street just around the corner from Charles Street I find the Bull & Finch Pub at number 84. The exterior of this rather non-descript bar is famous around the world as the one used in the opening titles of the hit TV show “Cheers”. The bar is now called Cheers but be warned if you pop inside, the interior is completely different to the TV show but they capitalise on their reputation very well.

Walking back down Charles Street I stop outside the Paramount Cafe where there’s a queue of people waiting for tables but that’s not why I’m here. I’m looking up to the second floor apartment, this was where Mary Sullivan was found dead on 4th January 1964, the last victim of the notorious Boston Strangler.

Carrying on down Charles Street I come to the Charles Street Meeting House designed by Asher Benjamin in 1804. The meeting house was a major player in the Abolitionist movement in Boston and hosted speakers like William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth and Charles Sumner.

Just off Charles Street, down Mount Vernon Street at number 130 is the Sunflower House. Built in the 1840’s this Queen Anne style house stands out because it is surrounded by other houses in the Federalist style of architecture. It was the former home of artist Frank Hill Smith as well as another artist Gertrude Beals, the sunflower above the second floor window is where the house gets its name. The house is 3200 square foot and was recently listed for sale for $4.6 million.

At the end of Charles Street and just across the road is the former Charles Street Jail. Having been built in 1851 it was the jail for Suffolk County up until its closure in 1990. Some of its more notorious inmates include former Boston Mayor James Michael Curly, Malcolm X and Sacco and Vanzetti. The jail was forced to close in 1973 but didn’t close until 1990. The building was designed by Gridley James Fox Bryant and was built with a 90 foot octagonal rotunda with wings stretching out in a cross which allowed segregation of prisoners by class of crime. It has now been converted into a luxury hotel with lounges and restaurants being given a jail theme.

If you’d like to explore some more of Boston then take a look at these posts.
Harvard
Freedom Trail

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