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Boston - Around Town : Beacon Hill (part 1)

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With its elegant 200 year-old row houses, quaint grocers, pricey antique shops, and hidden gardens, Beacon Hill screams “old money” like no other area in Boston. That some of the city’s most exorbitant apartment rentals can still be found here suggests it will remain an enclave of exclusivity for years to come. Yet throughout the 19th century and well into the 20th, this inimitably charming neighborhood was a veritable checkerboard of ethnicities and earning groups – segregated though they were. Little of Beacon Hill’s diversity has survived its relatively recent gentrification, but visitors can still experience the neighborhood’s myriad pasts inside its opulent mansions and humble schoolhouses, and along its enchanting cobblestone streets.

Black Heritage Trail

By and large the Paul Reveres and John Adams of this world have monopolized Bostonians’ under-standing of their city’s history. As a refreshing counterpoint, the Black Heritage Trail posits that black Bostonians, through their long-marginalized histories, have played an indispensable role in the city’s development. The trail illustrates this point at every turn, taking visitors past the homes and businesses of some of Boston’s most influential black Americans. Tours leave from the Shaw Memorial at 10am, noon and 2pm, Mon– Sat (Memorial Day to Labor Day) (www.nps.gov/boaf).


Ivy-clad façade, Beacon Hill

Attractions
  1. Massachusetts State House

    A 200-year-old codfish, a stained-glass image of a Native American in a grass skirt, and a 23-carat gold dome crowned with a pine cone – such are the curious eccentricities that distinguish Beacon Hill’s most prestigious address .

    Senate Chamber, Massachusetts State House
  2. Museum of African American History

    Based in the African Meeting House (the oldest extant black church in the US) and the adjoining Abiel Smith School (the nation’s first publicly funded grammar school for African-American children) – the MAAH offers a look into the daily life of free, pre-Civil War African-Americans. The meeting house was a political and religious center for Boston’s African-American community and it was here that abolitionists such as Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison delivered anti-slavery addresses in the mid-19th century. The museum has successfully preserved their legacy and that of countless others through workshops, exhibitions, and special events.

    Sign, African Meeting House
  3. Nichols House Museum

    An 1804 Charles Bulfinch design, 55 Mount Vernon is one of the earliest examples of residential architecture on Beacon Hill. Rose Nichols, the house’s principal occupant for 75 years, bequeathed her home to the city as a museum, providing a glimpse of late-19th and early 20th-century life on the Hill. A pioneering force for women in the arts and sciences, Nichols gained fame through her authoritative writings on landscape architecture and philanthropic projects.

    • 55 Mount Vernon St

    • 617 227 6993

    • Open Apr–Oct: noon–4pm Tue–Sat; Nov– Mar: noon–4pm Thu–Sat

    • Adm

    Drawing Room, Nichols House Museum
  4. Louisburg Square

    Cobblestone streets, a genteel little gated park, and a hefty dose of Boston Brahmin cachet make this tight block of townhouses the city’s most exclusive patch of real estate. Modeled after the traditional residential squares of London in 1826, the square was named in remembrance of the 1745 Battle of Louisburg in modern-day Quebec.

    Louisburg Square
  5. Harrison Gray Otis House

    One of the principal developers of Beacon Hill, Harrison Gray Otis served in the Massachusetts legislature and gained a reputation for living la dolce vita in this 1796 Bulfinch-designed manse. Like a post-Revolutionary Gatsby, Otis ensured his parties were the social events of the year. After falling into disrepair, the property was acquired in 1916 by the historical preservation society and restored to its original grandeur.

    Dining Room, Harrison Gray Otis House
  6. Appalachian Mountain Club Headquarters

    The Appalachian Trail, or the A.T. as it is known to hiking cognoscenti, is America’s premier walking path. Snaking through 2,168 miles (3,492 km) of pristine eastern wilderness – including 90 miles (145 km) in Massachusetts – the trail is maintained by members of the club. With a scale model of the trail, informative plaques on the walls, maps, guidebooks, and a knowledgeable staff, this is an essential stop for those planning a hike.

    • 5 Joy St

    • 617 523 0636

    • Open 9 am–5pm Mon–Fri

    • Free

  7. Beacon Street

    Although it extends well beyond the Fenway, Beacon Street finds its true essence in the blocks between Park and Charles streets. Here it passes such highlights as the Boston Athenaeum, one of the oldest independent libraries in the country, the Massachusetts State House, and the Bull and Finch Pub of Cheers TV fame.

  8. Boston Center for Jewish Heritage

    The Vilna Shul testifies to the area’s former vibrancy as Boston’s first predominantly Jewish quarter. The congregation was founded in 1903 by immigrants who came from Vilna, Lithuania. The synagogue has become a center of Jewish culture with programs and exhibits.

    Boston Center for Jewish Heritage
  9. George Middleton House

    The oldest remaining private residence on Beacon Hill built by African-Americans is a highlight of the Black Heritage Trail. George Middleton, a revolutionary war veteran, commissioned the house’s construction shortly after the war. Legend has it that Middleton commanded an all-black company dubbed the “Bucks of America.”

    • 5–7 Pinckney St

    • Closed to the public

    George Middleton House
  10. Parkman House

    George Parkman – once a prominent physician at Harvard Medical School – lived in this house during the mid-19th-century. In 1849, in one of the most sensationalized murder cases in US history, Parkman was killed by a faculty member over a financial dispute. Both the crime and its aftermath were grisly – in the ensuing trial dental records were entered as evidence for the first time.

    • 33 Beacon St

    • Closed to the public

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