In 1951, a Boston journalist envisioned creating a pedestrian pathway linking many of the city’s most important historical sites. Named the “Freedom Trail,” this red brick trail covers 2.5 miles, beginning in Boston Common and ending at the Bunker Hill Monument. Emphasizing the city’s colonial history and its involvement in the fight for American independence, the Freedom Trail is a must-see attraction for any visitor to Boston (via
Wikipedia). Talk to anyone who has been to Boston, and you’re almost certain to hear their tales of hiking this historic path. It is also an excellent way to orient yourself to the city.
Freedom Trail has a special place in my heart as well: when I was a high school senior, my Mom took me to visit my first-choice college in Boston and make sure it was a good fit for me. No sooner had we arrived and checked into our hotel, then my mom took me to the walk the Trail. We had a wonderful time hiking in historic Boston; indeed, it is one of my fondest memories of my travels with my mom. While I had hiked a small section of the Freedom Trail last month when I visited the USS Constitution and Bunker Hill Monument, I thought I would hike the rest of the trail today, spending a gorgeous summer day outdoors. Rather than writing anymore, however, I am going to turn this post into a photo essay and let the pictures tell the story. I hope you enjoy this journey!
After work this week, I took my car for a checkup to my local Honda dealer. Imagine my shock when I saw an honest-to-goodness diner in the showroom! The diner serves breakfast and lunch for free to customers when the dealership is open. Alas, I went after work, so the diner was closed for the day, but you better believe my next oil change will be scheduled so I can order diner pancakes for breakfast!
Over 86,500 miles on the odometer, but DH is doing fine. In fact, the service advisor told me that they’ve never seen a five-year old car in such good condition before!
Traffic on I-93 slowed to a crawl as I drove to the city. Was there an accident? Police activity? Suspicious behavior? None of the above. Everyone was stopping to look at the very large and colorful kites being flown at a local park.
Ah, Boston traffic. Despite having driven in the city for many years, it’s still nerve-wracking. It is no coincidence that Boston drivers consistently are rated the worst in the nation- the end result of a mixture of small streets, too many cars, and some kind of deep-seated fear in every driver that if they miss the next light and are stuck at a red for a few moments, their life will be ruined.
Today’s adventure. The Freedom Trail stretches from Boston Common in the lower left to Bunker Hill at the top. Since I had already visited Bunker Hill a few weeks ago, my final stop along the Freedom Trail would be Copp’s Hill Burying Ground, at the upper reach of the North End.
I managed to find an underground garage that charged a reasonable amount of money to park- always an achievement worth celebrating!
The Trail begins in Boston Common, the oldest city park in the United States (1643). This pond is part of the Boston Public Garden, which is adjacent to the Common. During spring and summer, the pond is home to countless ducks and several swans. In the 19th century the swans inspired the Swan Boats, which you see pictured. Swan Boats give tours of the pond are a very peaceful way to see the Garden and relax.
The Public Garden had a supporting role in a major Hollywood film: Robin Williams and Matt Damon filmed an iconic scene of the 1997 movie Good Will Hunting while sitting beside the pond.
Here I am, at the very beginning of the Freedom Trail.
The second stop along the Freedom Trail is the Massachusetts State House. Designed by noted architect Charles Bulfinch and completed in 1798, the building is where the legislature and governor of the state have their offices.
Across the street from the State House is this statue honoring the men of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment. The 54th fought during the Civil War, and was the first fighting unit almost entirely composed of African-Americans (aside from the officers- Army regulations at the time stipulated the officers must be white). The 1989 film Glory depicted the story of this heroic unit.
The next stop is Granary Cemetery. Established in 1660, this cemetery houses the remains of Paul Revere, Samuel Adams, John Hancock, and Ben Franklin’s parents. Many of the tombstones have elaborate carvings at the top, such as the “Death’s Head” on the one at left and the “Winged Cherub” on the one at right.
Many roads in Boston were closed for the 2017 Puerto Rican Festival of Massachusetts, and this parade was one of the highlights. I was waiting for the parade to pass so I could cross the street. A police officer told me to cross, but I think he did not time it right, and I ended up accidentally walking through a part of the parade. It felt like that scene in the movie The Fugitive, when Dr. Richard Kimball walks through the St. Patty’s Day Parade. Oops. Sorry, guys.
Built in 1749, King’s Chapel was the first Anglican Church in the colonies, built under direct order by King James II.
While a popular tourist attraction, King’s Chapel is still a functioning Unitarian Christian church. Old churches such as King’s Chapel feature an elevated pulpit. For years, I have teased my Dad that if the members of his church really loved him, they would build him such a pulpit so he could have a commanding view of his congregation.
In the 17th and 18th century, families would pay rent on a specific pew within the church. That pew, then, would be their pew and no one else could sit there. Visitors who could not afford to sit in such a pew were first consigned to the upstairs galleries. However, eventually the church began to charge rent for those pews as well. This church was not intended for “the common man.” The practice of renting pews at King’s Chapel ended in the 19th century.
At the end of my trip, I was walking back to my car when my I saw that my Mom had sent me an email, asking if I had made it to King’s Chapel Burying Ground next to the church. I realized I had missed it! I turned around and hiked back to the church. The headstone of Joseph Tapping is considerate one of the most ornate in Boston. In an engraving at the bottom, Father Time battles a skeleton over the eventuality of death. (Despite this photo and the next one being the last two I took on the trip, I have them here so they are in the right order for the Freedom Trail).
The middle of the elevated tombs is for Mary (Chilton) Winslow, reportedly the first woman to disembark from the Mayflower. Mom, here is the photo, as per your request.
Onto the Old South Meeting House. Check out the skyscrapers behind the House. The white on the windows is not a camera aberration. It is a reflection of the clouds in the sky!
Owing to their strong Puritan heritage, Congregationalists built “meeting houses,” not “churches.” Notice how plain everything is. Congregationalists believed nothing should be within the building that detracts from one’s worship of God. A meeting here on December 16, 1773 against British taxation led to the Boston Tea Party later that same day.
The Old State House, which was the seat of the Colonial government. The circle on the ground indicates that in 1770, British soldiers, under attack from a mob on this spot, fired their muskets, killing 5 and injury 6. Despite the British soldiers acting in self-defense, pro-independence leaders quickly dubbed the attack the “Boston Massacre,” helping to whip up further anti-British anger.
The Royal Governor’s Council Chambers in the Old State House. From the balcony at the back of the room, the British Governor of Massachusetts would make announcements of the King’s laws to the colonists. In 1776, after the British had left Boston, the Declaration of Independence was read from this same balcony.
Faneuil Hall, built in 1743, was originally a public market and meeting house. Samuel Adams, among other pro-independence leaders, gave several speeches here, arguing for the colonies to reject British rule.
The Great Hall in Faneuil Hall. This is where Samuel Adams argued for Independence.
Okay, I am going to level with you. The Freedom Trail is cool. It’s free. During the fall and spring, it’s a very peaceful was to explore Boston. During the summer, though, anyone and everyone is trying to use it to separate tourists from their money. T-shirt vendors. Street performers. Merchants selling useless souvenirs and tchotchkes of every variety. It is, frankly, annoying. Get ready to say “No” a lot. I was going to grab lunch in Quincy Market, an eatery and shopping area behind Faneuil Hall. It was far too crowded, however, and I left. During the fall and spring, the crowds are 90% smaller.
Not on the tour, but worth visiting, is Union Oyster House. Opened in 1826, it is the oldest restaurant in the United States. It’s a little on the expensive side, so my advice is to go there once for the experience, and then find other, cheaper places for oysters (there are plenty). The building itself was built around 1704.
The North End. One of the oldest sections of the city, the North End has long been Boston’s Little Italy.
Not on the Freedom Trail, but worth a visit, is Mike’s Pastry, an Italian bakery in the North End. Generations of families have been coming to Mike’s for their pastries, most especially their cannoli.
Not far away is The Paul Revere House. For a minimal fee, you can tour this house. Built in 1680, it is the oldest building in Boston (and is the second-oldest building I have ever entered).
One if by land, two if by sea. From the top of the Old North Church’s steeple, Paul Revere hung two lanterns to warn that the British were heading to Lexington and Concord to attack.
Built in 1723, the Old North Church’s design was inspired by British architect Sir Christopher Wren.
The final stop for the day: Copp’s Hill Burying Ground. Boston’ second cemetery, it was created in 1659. During the Revolution, British soldiers used the headstones for target practice.
The tomb of Samuel Mather, his son Increase Mather, and his grandson Cotton Mather. Increase was a minister and President of Harvard College. His son Cotton, also a minister, is best remembered for enthusiastically supporting the Salem Witch Trials. I’ll have more to say about this tragic event in American history when I visit Salem in the fall. Stay tuned!
On the way back to the car, I stopped by the New England Holocaust Memorial (located near Faneuil Hall). Six glass towers are etched with the Nazi-assigned numbers of the 6 million Jews who perished in the Shoah (Shoah is the Hebrew word for the Holocaust- its literal translation is “calamity.”). For all its simplicity, it is a deeply moving memorial to visit.
The Freedom Trail is a wonderful way to learn the history of Boston and see many buildings that date to the founding of our nation. The Freedom Trail itself is free, although some of the sites charge a nominal fee to enter (for instance, for adults, $5 for the Paul Revere House and $10 for the Old State House). I had never attempted the Trail during tourist season, and was surprised at how much different of an experience it is in the summertime. My strong advice is to walk the Trail during the fall or spring. Pick up the official Freedom Trail map in Boston Common, lace up your walking shoes, and set off on your own Boston adventure! I hope you have enjoyed this introduction to the Freedom Trail, and thank you for coming along on another journey on the open road ahead.
‘Til next time.