Walking The Freedom Trail in Boston
I was fortunate to visit two of our oldest cities in the past six weeks: Boston and Charleston . They are both such fascinating port cities founded in the 17th Century and have found themselves still flourishing in the 21st Century. Boston was founded earlier in 1630 for primarily religious freedom reasons, and Charleston in 1670 for business reasons. Boston was the center of the Revolutionary War and contains many sites to visit that relate to Colonial America and the Revolutionary War. Boston,in some ways, reminded me of London with an interesting mix of modern and old side by side. The oldest parts of Boston still maintain its old narrow city street pattern and really helps to immerse you in history. Boston makes it easy for you to visit this history by having created the Freedom Trail that connects the most significant historic sites. They also make it easy for you with a literal line of bricks in the street to guide you!
I was in Boston for a travel blogging and writing conference called TravelCon and stayed at the Westin Copley Plaza in Copely Square. This area was called Back Bay and was all built on landfill in the 1800s. Boston is a compact city and you don’t have to walk too far to get to the Freedom Trail and the historic sites of Boston.
I started my walk in Copley Square in front of the beautiful Trinity Church designed by the architect Henry Hobson Richardson in the 1870s. On the west side of Copley Square is the wonderful Boston Public Library designed by Charles Follen McKim and opened in 1895. I toured the Boston Public Library and was impressed by its wonderful murals, especially the third floor mural by John Singer Sargent.
A walk east on Boylston Street leads you to the Boston Public Garden with its famous pond, bridge and swan boats. A walk through the Public Garden takes you to the Boston Common established in 1630. I walked across the Common and made my way to the Massachusetts State House where I picked up the Freedom Trail. The State House is on Beacon Hill and was the highest point on my walk. The gold dome of the State House makes for a good visual landmark on this part of the Trail. Across the street from the State House is the beautiful Memorial to Robert Gould Shaw and the Massachusetts 54th Regiment by Augustus Saint-Gardens from 1884. The story of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment was the basis of the movie Glory.
The Freedom Trail in Boston begins
The Freedom Trail was easy to follow as it is either a line of bricks in the pavement or a painted line. When you leave the Massachusetts State House, you descend Beacon Hill and the trail leads you to Park Street Church, a beautiful red brick church from 1809 with a gleaming white steeple. It was the tallest structure in Boston for nearly 60 years. This congregation is steeped in a tradition of social justice, abolition and ant war sentiment. Next to Park Street Church, you come to the Granary Burial Ground. The Cemetery was established in the 1660s and some of America’s most influential citizens lay at rest here. There are grave markers and monuments to the parents of Benjamin Franklin, a grand obelisk for John Hancock, Paul Revere, Samuel Adams and victims of the Boston Massacre are all represented. The stones are all very interesting with visible writing and allegorical images representing death and the soul flying to heaven. One of the more interesting stones is for the grave of Mary (Mother) Goose! It is well worth the stop!
The streets in this part of Boston are much more narrow and you can really sense that you are in an old city. The next site on the Freedom Trail is King’s Chapel and King’s Chapel Burying Ground. This is Boston’s first Anglican Church and the buiding you see today is from 1754 and sits on the original church site. The burying ground is Boston’s oldest and contains the grave of John Winthrop, Massachusetts’ first governor. Around the corner from King’s Chapel, you will see a whimsical marker for the oldest public school in America. Keep following the line in the sidewalk and it will bring you through some more modern buildings and you will see the Old Corner Bookstore building(now a Chipotle!) built in 1718 and is considered Boston’s oldest commercial building. In the midst of modern city traffic and commotion you then come upon the Old South Meeting House where the Boston Tea Party began. The Old South Meeting House was one of the largest buildings in colonial Boston and was built as a Puritan meeting house(church) in 1729. The hall here, was used as a gathering place where speakers and speeches of the day could be heard. It was from here in 1773 that the debates over a controversial tea tax boiled over and resulted in the crowd walking down to the warf and dumping chests of tea into Boston Harbor. This was one of the events that lead up to the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, just a few years later.
The modern city really surrounds the important historic sites and that is really evident when you come upon the Old State House with its gleaming “royal beasts” the lion and the unicorn on top of the red brick colonial structure built in 1713. This was the government center of colonial Boston. Outside of the Old State House, is the marker for the Boston Massacre site from 1770. Your next stop is Faneuil Hall, a market hall and commerce center constructed in 1741. The public spaces in Faneuil Hall became an important meeting point for the Sons of Liberty who openly preached about dissent from royal rule and became a rallying spot for revolutionaries. The hall is currently undergoing and exterior renovation but the interior is still a market hall and upstairs is the museum. The hall is capped by a cupola with a grasshopper weathervane.
As you move on from Faneuil Hall you will come across a beautiful new greenway park with gardens, water features and places to sit and even swing. You will then progress through a series of narrow streets with pubs and tourists shops that gives you a sense of 18th century Boston. The last two stops on this tour will take you through the North End which is a true Italian-American neighborhood., There are many tempting Italian restaurants and bakeries here and if you time it right you could have a late lunch or come back for dinner. Mike’s Bakery seemed to be a most popular place to buy a cannoli! The North End is also the site of Paul Revere’s House. The home was built around 1680 and was owned and lived in by Paul Revere in the late 1700’s. The house is just a few blocks from the last stop on my tour: Old North Church. The Revere Mall leading up to Old North Church is a pleasant place to relax under the trees and contemplate the events that unfolded here leading up to the Revolutionary War. The Old North Church is where the Revolution began as the famous story is told about the midnight ride of Paul Revere: “One if by land, two if by sea” it is said was the signal to Paul Revere to set out to warn others of an imminent British attack and to gather the troops to fight. It is a lovely site and there is much to see adjacent to the Old North Church that you could spend some time here.
I ended my tour of the Freedom Trail at Old North Church. The trail (keep following the line) continues across the Charles River and takes you to Copp’s Hill Burial Ground, the USS Constitution and ends at the Bunker Hill Monument. This tour makes for a long day, but not too demanding. You may want to spread it out over two days if you plan on visiting inside many of the sites and museums. Boston and the National Park Service does a great job putting colonial American history into context. Boston is a great city to experience early American history and makes for an enjoyable visit!