Boston: Follow the Red Brick Road, The Freedom Trail

While I’m between trips, I thought I’d share some (edited) posts I originally wrote while in school in Boston in 2009/10 on a now defunct blog (read at most by only three family members). Inspired by The Year of 52 Adventures, I made a point of using my weekends to explore much of what Boston had to offer. I fell in love with Boston, so if you happen to find yourself in Boston, perhaps these posts will lead to your own love affair…

By now it should come as no surprise that as a historian, the first outing I would take on in Boston was to seek out all the historical sites. Walking the Freedom Trail was a great way to get an introduction to the streets of Boston and the different parts of the city. I soon learned that everything in Boston is fairly close together and the city is easily navigable by foot. (I can’t say the same for by car- the roads seem to have been put where the cow paths were, so if you’re driving, I’m sincerely sorry.)

Speaking of cows, the Boston Commons, Boston’s central grassy park, used to be the common green where the community left their cows to graze. Today it contains a ball field, rolling lawn, and the “Frog Pond” (which is frozen for skating during the winter!). This also happens to be where you can find the beginning of the famous Freedom Trail, a line of red bricks set in the pavement that connects Boston’s historical sights as you follow it through downtown Boston and across the Charleston Bridge to Bunker Hill.

Follow the red brick road, starting at the Historical Re-enactors

I attempted this trail on two different days. (This is to explain why some of the photos appear to have sun, while others are quite dark.) The first time I only made it part way. The second time there were six of us and we walked the Freedom Trail from beginning to end in five hours with stops at each historical landmark. It was absolutely pouring rain, but we didn’t let that dampen our spirits.  We all put on our rubber boots, opened our umbrellas, and set out.

The first stop was the Robert Gould Shaw and 54th Regiment Memorial 

and across the street, the New State House.

 

From there we followed the red bricks to the Park Street Church and behind that to the Granary Burying Ground. This is where John Hancock, Paul Revere, the 5 victims of the Boston Massacre, a few other signers of the Declaration of Independence, Ben Franklin’s parents, and many many more are buried. I learned several interesting things about this grave yard by eavesdropping on a tour group. There are most likely between 5,000 and 8,000 people actually buried there. This was the first grave yard the Bostonians decided to turn into a park-like burial ground, so the headstones were picked up and moved into neat rows- thus they no longer actually correspond to where the bodies are buried. Also, only those wealthy enough were able to have headstones. Finally, the “table top” tombs are actually crypts. If you were to move the top rock slab aside, it would reveal a narrow staircase that leads down into a crypt. Thus there are more people buried in the ground than it appears. In the middle of the small grave yard is a large monument for the parent’s of Ben Franklin. The tour leader said that the large monument was placed there as part of the effort to create a park like area. The epitaph was written by Ben Franklin. It was comforting in a way now that I’ve left Philly to find a connection to Ben Franklin in Boston.

Ben Franklin’s Parents Tomb
Paul Rever’s Tomb
Notice the pennies people have left here- I added one of my own to the pile in front of the little stone which says “Revere’s Tomb”
John Hancock’s Tomb

From the Granary Burying Ground we followed the trail to King’s Chapel and the King’s Chapel Burying Ground. The King’s Chapel is an Anglican church, however those buried in the King’s Chapel Burying Ground were Puritans. As the doors to King’s Chapel were open when we reached this building, we ran inside, to dry off before continuing the trail. At King’s Chapel we discovered there is a $3 crypt tour, however, as we were already on a five-hour walk we left the crypt for another day.

King’s Chapel
Old City Hall is now a Ruths Chris Steakhouse. I was not altogether disappointed by this fact, and made a mental note for when I tired of school dining hall food.

Being a bunch of library school students, we were rather excited about the next site on our map which was labeled, The Old Corner Bookstore. Could there be a more wonderful old bookshop than the place where Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Harriet Beecher Stowe used to gather? We were all rather bummed upon arrival to discover that there was no bookstore at all, but instead a jewelry shop. So without going inside, we moved on

to the Old South Meeting House, where the Boston Tea Party was planned. We found ourselves in a shopping district, but with several stops left to go, we left shopping for another day.

Old South Meeting House

A short walk from the meeting house is the Old State House. This building stands in Boston’s government district and is also the start of the most touristy section of Boston.

The balcony of the Old State House is where the Royalists used to give decrees to the Colonists and was later where the Declaration of Independence was read for the first time in Boston. A circle of stones on the street in front of the balcony represents the spot of the Boston Massacre. Inside the Old State House is now a tourist information center and gift shop. Underneath this building also happens to be one of the T stops (Boston’s underground), but we were on a mission so we weren’t turning around here. After a quick peek inside we proceeded outside to the site of the Boston Massacre. We may have used our umbrellas for a little re-enacting…

Re-enacting on the site of the Boston Massacre in front of the Old State House

Faneuil Hall (Pronounced like “Daniel”) is the last stop on the trail before leaving the tourist district. The bottom floor is filled with small booths selling tourist souvenirs, and the second story is still set up as a community meeting room. This building is next to Boston’s Quincy Market, which is my favorite place to eat in Boston. We didn’t stop for food on this day, but this market is a MUST eat at.

We left the “tourist district” behind as we entered Boston’s North End, known as the “Italian District.” It is full of little Italian groceries, restaurants, and home Mike’s Pastries, possibly the most famous pastry shop in Boston.

By the time we reached the North End where we walked by Paul Revere’s house, before heading to the Old North Church, the rain had stopped.

Paul Revere’s House

As we plodded through the puddles between the two landmarks, we passed by a statue of Revere where we could see the Old North Church in the background.

Paul Revere and the Old North Church

At the Old North Church we were able to see “The Third Light,” a light that remains lit in memory of the original two- as in “One if by land/two if by sea.” The third lamp hangs in the ground-floor window that Robert Newman, the sexton of the Old North Church who hung the lanterns in the belfry, climbed out of to escape after hanging the lights.

“One if by land, and two if by sea” …and three out of memory.

From the Old North Church crossed the Charleston Bridge into Charlestown where we had two options: the Bunker Hill Monument, or the USS Constitution museum and ship. We chose to skip the ship and head towards the end of the trail. It was close to five hours since we had started and half of us were finally starting to drag our feet a bit. By the time we reached Bunker Hill we elected to not climb the 294-step monument and instead found the end of the Freedom Trail marker and took our picture to prove we had made it from beginning to end.

The Bunker Hill Monument – it was growing dark by the time we reached it.

 

We found the end of the trail!

To finish off the day of American Revolution history, and feed our now-hungry tummies, we headed back into Boston for a dinner at the Green Dragon Tavern- the Headquarters of the Revolutionary War.

All in all, it was a wonderfully historic day!

Have you explored Boston’s historic offerings? Is it on your list to visit? Tell me about it in the comments!

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