As spring takes hold in New England the tourist season starts to pick up in the area. One of the must do attractions for many coming to Boston is the Freedom Trail. Recently two of us set out to remind ourselves what all the fuss is about. Winding its way through the city, the Freedom Trail is roughly 2.5 miles, including the trek to Charlestown. There are 16 official Freedom Trail sites (three of which charge admission) and several points of interest along the way. On this day, we chose to stick just the first part of the Trail, which includes Boston Common to Faneuil Hall. Having limited time, we chose to stop at places that piqued our personal interests.
Starting the Park Street T station, we took a moment to get our bearings and admire the Massachusetts State house high on its perch over Boston common, on what was once John Hancock’s farm. The incline of ground in the area is a reminder that at one time Beacon Hill was the highest peak in the area, hence the early settlers choice to place their warning beacon there. Tremont Street was actually named after the “Tri-mount” or three hills that once stood in the area. Today, only a shortened version of Beacon Hill remains, the other two mounts as well as part of Beacon Hill were used as landfill in different parts of Boston.
After taking in the bustle of Boston Common, the oldest public park in the country, we picked up the start of the Freedom Trail. Walking less than a block down Tremont Street, we stepped into the Old Granary Burial Ground. Here, the graves read like the pages of an American History textbook. From Paul Revere to Samuel Adams and the Boston Massacre victims, it is hard to wander down any of the pathways and not recognize a name. Among the revolutionaries and dignitaries is also the grave marker of Mary Goose, or as countless generations know her as, the beloved Mother Goose.
Leaving the Old Granary Burial Ground, we continued down Tremont Street toward the corner of Tremont and School Streets, where if you have a sweet tooth you may want to stop at The Omni Parker House Hotel. One of the oldest hotels in the country, the Omni Parker House is where the Park House Roll and the famed Boston Cream Pie were born.
Just across for the hotel on Tremont St., you will come to King’s Chapel and the King’s Chapel Burial. If you turn on to School St., you will see a large ornate building that used to be Boston City Hall. Today this building is to home to a restaurant and several private offices, however if you continue down School St., you will also see a plaque marking the spot of the first public school in Boston. Though, not a part of the Freedom Trail, it is hard to miss the Boston Irish Famine Memorial, at the corner of School and Washington Streets. It is well known that this famine had a major impact on the population of Boston. The memorial also commemorates the prejudice faced and overcome by that generation of immigrates.
Also at the corner of Washington and School Streets, is the Corner Bookstore building, one of the oldest buildings in the city, dating back to the 1700′s. It took me a second to wrap my head around this, but it is now home to a Chipotles Mexican restaurant. The odd mix of old and new has a disorientating effect.
Across the street from the Irish Famine Memorial is the Old South Meeting House. We chose not to enter this historic site, but took time to enter the side door and browse the souvenir/ bookshop beneath the building. We do suggest taking the time to read the information plaque on the outside of the building and tour the inside if you have the time (admission required). The Old South Meeting House sits on the corner of Washington St. and Milk St and just a little further down Milk St. Benjamin Franklin was born in 1706. (Please note that the Franklin monument in the Old Granary Burial Ground is not for Benjamin Franklin, but his parents and other relatives. Benjamin Franklin is buried in Philadelphia.)
Following the Freedom Trail down Washington St. you will come to my personal favorite site on the trail, The Old State House. This is the oldest public building in Boston, built in 1713. The building has been a witness to nearly three hundred years of history. Early on it was the seat of British Royal government for the colony of Massachusetts. Later on it was the first Massachusetts Statehouse and at one time Boston City Hall. There has not been much Boston history this building has missed. Just as the Old State House sits at the corner of State and Washington Streets it also is the meeting place of historic Boston and modern Boston. Beneath this grand old building is a subway station, and you can even feel the trains rumbling beneath your feet if you are standing on the first floor! Being a little short on time, we chose not to tour the Old State House museum. However from past experience, I know it to be an amazing museum of Boston history. We decided instead to continue our walking tour outside to take in the site of Boston Massacre. On March 5, 1770 a confrontation between British soldiers and Boston citizens left five citizens dead and a city on edge. This massacre took place beneath the balcony of the Old State House.
The Boston National Historic Park Visitors’ Center is located directly across an alleyway from the Old State House. This visitors’ center has a wide variety of information available about other attractions in the area (in and outside of Boston). It is from the visitors’ center at 15 State St that National Park Rangers give free tours that cover the heart of the Freedom Trail. Visit http://www.nps.gov/bost/planyourvisit/guidedtours.htm for more information on these wonderfully informative guided tours. For you own comfort, please note that there are restrooms at the visitor center. There is curious lack of public restrooms along the Freedom Trail.
At this pointed we detoured slightly off the Freedom Trail and walked over to the Government Center area. We cut across City Hall Plaza and picked the Freedom trail back up at Faneuil Hall. If you wish to see a bit of modern Boston, you may want to pause in the Government Center area, however as a proud Bostonian, all I can really say about the design of Boston City Hall and City Hall Plaza is—they are tried. The current Boston City Hall was built in 1969 and as recently as 2008 one online poll named it the world’s ugliest building. Not Boston’s proudest moment.
We crossed Congress St. and walked over to Faneuil Hall. Faneuil Hall is still used a meeting hall to this date. On most days, you can visit the shops on the ground floor, and the meeting hall that is located upstairs. Since 1746 the top floor has been the headquarters of the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts. The Companies’ armory and museum are also open to the public.
Located just behind Faneuil Hall is Quincy Market (aka Faneuil Hall Marketplace). There are three buildings that make up the Market Place. These three buildings offer a large collection of restaurants, food stalls, shops and souvenir kiosks. The center building is a food court with just about any type of food you could imagine, organized down a long corridor lined with food stalls. About half way down the corridor is a central seating area, however even with two levels of seats it is still very difficult to find a place to sit during peak meal times.
If you step to the left or right of the food court, you will find many retail stalls selling just about any type of souvenir ever made. Stalls, retail kiosks, restaurants and more food stalls make up the majority of Quincy Market. I personally have a weakness for the cookies at the Boston chip Yard. There is also Boston’s famed Durgin Park restaurant located on the second floor of the North Market building.
Our abridged tour of the Freedom Trail ended at this point. The trail continues into the North End (including such sites as the Old North Church, Paul Revere’s House and the Cops Hill Burial Ground) and across to Charlestown (USS Constitution, Charlestown Naval Yard, Bunker Hill Monument). At some point we may chose to finish the trail, but for now hunger won us over, and we decided to instead to stop for lunch in Boston’s North End.
We took the long way around and followed Commercial Street along the waterfront. This course gave us a chance to admire both the views of the Boston Harbor on one side and Christopher Columbus (Waterfront) Park on our other side. There are plenty of great Italian restaurants in the North End and we settled on lunch at Cantina Italiana on Hanover St.
Please don’t hesitate to ask our front desk staff to help you find a part of the Freedom Trail that fits your plans. There are guided walking tours as well as trolleys for those who do not feel they can walk it.