Boston National Historical Park

Location: Boston, Massachusetts

Webpage: National Park

General Description: The Boston National Historical Park is an association of sites that showcases the importance of Boston to the cause of freedom and independence during the Revolutionary War.  It consists of 8 sites along the Freedom Trail, most of which are not operated by the National Park Service, but in cooperation established upon the creation of the Historical Park.  The National Park Service does operate Visitor Centers at Faneuil Hall in downtown Boston, the Charlestown Navy Yard, and the Bunker Hill Museum in Charlestown.

Brochure

Impressions:

1) The Faneuil Hall Visitor Center is located in downtown Boston along the Freedom Walk and is a good place to begin visiting all the historic sites around town.  Unlike other historic cities, such as Philadelphia, each of the historic sites is surrounded by modern downtown Boston so you had to contend with the traffic and other businesses.  We visited Boston on a Saturday, which meant there were not the normal crowds of the people working in downtown, however, there were a lot of visitors, vendors, street performers, and even a gay activist parade through the middle of downtown.

2) I am going to mention each of the historic locations along the Freedom Walk in order from south to north, however, in one day we were not able to visit all of them.  We are still considering returning to Boston to see the remaining locations, so there may be a future update to this page.

3) The Freedom Walk begins at the Boston Common.  It is a 50 acre public park dating from 1634 and consequently is the oldest public park in the US.  Used as a cattle pasture by the Puritans until 1830 when cows were banned, it has always been a public place and is now National Historic Landmark.

4) The Massachusetts State House was completed in 1718 as is widely acclaimed to be one of the finest public building in the country.  Its dome was overlaid with copper by Paul Revere and covered in gold leaf in 1874.

5) The Park Street Church was founded in 1809 on top of Boston’s granary.  The 217 foot steeple was once the first landmark visitors seen by visitors.

6) The Granary Burial Ground was established in 1660 is the burial location for some of the most noteworthy citizens, including Paul Revere.  The burial ground has over 2300 markers although it is estimated that over 5000 citizens were buried there.  We found this to be a common practice in Boston as new burials were often done on top of older ones.  Burials include Paul Revere, Samuel Adams, John Hancock, and the five citizens killed in the Boston Massacre.

HamiltonTomb

7) In 1688, King’s Chapel was built on the town’s burial ground when no one in the city would sell land to establish a non-Puritan church.  The present granite church was built in 1749 when the congregation had outgrown the original wooden church.

8) The Boston Latin School is the oldest public school founded in 1635.  It offered free education to boys and former students included five signers of the Declaration of Independence: Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Adams, John Hancock, Robert Paine, and William Hooper, of which only four graduated (it was not Franklin).

9) Old Corner Bookstore is the oldest commercial building in Boston, begin built in 1718 as an apothecary and home of the Puritan dissident Anne Hutchinson.

10) The Old South Meeting House was built in 1729 a meeting house for the Puritans to worship.  As the largest building in colonial Boston, it was the stage for many of the most dramatic meetings of the Boston citizens protesting the actions of the British crown.  This included the meeting on December 16, 1773 when the Boston Tea Party was planned to be executed by the Sons of Liberty.  Today it has been converted into a steak restaurant as an example of reusing historic buildings instead of tearing them down.  There is also a statue to Benjamin Franklin.

OldSouthMeetingHouse-

11) The Old State House has stood as the emblem of liberty in Boston since 1713 when it was the center of civic events.  The Declaration of Independence was first read to the citizens of Boston from the balcony in 1776.  Today this is a private museum which we did not spend the money for, although it should be noted that they have multiple actors performing in the museum on a regular basis.  We did get some pictures of the outside.

OldStateHouse

12) The Site of the Boston Massacre is commemorated with a ring of stones where on March 5, 1770, citizens upset with the British occupation since 1768 clashed with British regulars who fired into the crowd killing 5 citizens.  This led to their trial for murder.  Their defense was led by John Adams who was a true believer of justice, as well as, the American call for liberty.

13) Built by James Faneuil as a center for commerce in 1741, Faneuil Hall became an open forum meeting hall and marketplace for the Sons of Liberty to protest the British, including the Sugar Act and Stamp Act setting the doctrine of “no taxation without representation.”  This is the location of the Visitor Center and is still a marketplace and public forum for debating the political topics.  When we visited it was the site of a large street company that drew large crowds of spectators.  There is a military museum on the third floor, which for some reason was closed that day.  The second floor is used for concerts, of which, there were a series of small orchestras playing on that Saturday.

FanueilHall

14) Paul Revere’s House was built around 1680 and is now the oldest remaining structure in downtown Boston.  Paul Revere purchased the property in 1770 at the age of 35 and he and his family lived here when he made his famous ride to Lexington to warn of the British in 1775.  Today the house is operated by the Paul Revere Memorial Association as a museum.  We decided not to pay the entrance fee to see the inside but we got some great pictures of the outside, which is a modest home.  It does look strange in the middle of downtown Boston, however.

PaulRevereHouse

15) Christ Church of Boston or the Old North Church first opened in 1923.  The 191 foot steeple was the tallest in Boston at the time of the Revolution and was chosen to send a signal to Paul Revere and William Dawes about how the British were traveling to Lexington and Concord.  If they were taking the longer route by land, then a single lantern was to be shown.  However, if they were taking boats across the Charles River, then two lanterns would be shown.  This information was critical for knowing how fast the British would be traveling and was vital information to carry to Samuel Adams and John Hancock in Lexington.  For a small donation you can look inside the church and view the family boxes.  The owner of each box at the time of the Revolutionary War is placed on the outside of the box.  They have also fixed up two of the boxes to show what they would have likely looked like since each family was free to decorate their own box.  They have also uncovered a back window in the church which would have been used by Robert Newman, the sexton of North Church, to escape from the church since there was a strict curfew at the time.

InsideChurch OldNorthChurch

16) Copp’s Hill Burying Ground was Boston’s largest burying ground established in 1659.  There are many notables buried there including Cotton and Incense Mather, two Puritan ministers closely involved in the Salem Witch Trials.  I was interested to learn that the gravestones had all been moved in the past to create a more orderly cemetery and that surrounding the cemetery are tombs built into the sides of the hill.  While many of the tombstones at the front of the tombs are still there, in many cases there are now buildings on top of them, if there is anything at all behind the plaque.

CobbHillCemetery

17) Bunker Hill Monument commemorates the Battle of Bunker Hill in June of 1775 when the British dislodged the Colonial Militia from hastily constructed redoubts on the top of Breed’s Hill outside Charlestown.  The cornerstone of the 221 foot granite obelisk was placed in 1825 by Revolutionary War hero Marquis De Lafayette.

18) The USS Constitution was launched in Boston in 1797 and is the oldest commissioned warship afloat.  During the War of 1812 it earned the nickname “Old Ironsides” when cannonballs seemed to just bounce off the hull.  Today it is berthed at the Charleston Navy Yard which was established in 1800 and was active until 1974.  From the beginning it was the forefront of shipyard technology and now provides numerous examples of its 174 year history.

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