Follow the Freedom Trail to Boston’s Historic Sites

During my first visit to Boston in 1974, I was focused on the swan boats in the Public Garden and Robert McCloskey’s Make Way for Ducklings. When I returned to Boston last week, I took off on a scavenger hunt to find Boston’s historic sites, following the red bricks, red painted lines, and granite stones that are embedded in sidewalks as part of the Freedom Trail. 

The trail crosses the path of the Parker House, which was my home base. Since its opening in 1855, this hotel has offered a perfect location for sightseeing, luxurious accommodations, fine dining and an interesting history to its guests. 

For example, the Parker House was home to the Saturday Club, a literary men’s club to which Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Ralph Waldo Emerson belonged. The club met on the last Saturday afternoon of each month in the hotel’s dining room for more than 100 years to read poetry, critique literature and discuss topics of the day. Dickens lived at the Parker House for two years; while he was there, he recited and performed A Christmas Carol for the Saturday Club. 

John F. Kennedy announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate in the Parker House’s Press Room. Kennedy also proposed to Jacqueline Bouvier and held his bachelor party at Parker’s Restaurant. 

The Parker House is also where Boston Cream Pie and Parker House Rolls were invented. Click the links to make these classic Boston treats with the Parker House’s recipes.  

Two more Freedom Trail stops near the Parker House offer some of the most artistic scenery in Boston. 

Stop in front of Old City Hall on School Street and look down to see a unique piece of artwork that commemorates how the street got its name. In the sidewalk, there’s a colorful mosaic that resembles a hopscotch grid. The mosaic is the work of artist Lilli Ann Killen Rosenberg and is made of brass letters, as well as pieces of glass and ceramics. This commemorates the site of the Boston Latin School, the first public school in America, which was established in 1635. In 1636, a subscription was raised for a free schoolmaster. Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Adams, John Hancock and Charles Bulfinch went to school there. Today, the school is located in the Fenway neighborhood of Boston. 

The original school building was torn down in 1745 to make way for the expansion of its neighbor, King’s Chapel, which was built in 1688 to serve as a chapel for the first Anglican congregation in Boston. The present structure dates from 1749 and the chapel became the home of a Unitarian congregation in 1787. The bell inside is the largest ever cast by Paul Revere. 

The adjacent Burying Ground is the oldest in Boston. While many headstones include skeletons and winged cherubs, the most elaborate one belongs to 23-year-old Boston shopkeeper Joseph Tapping (d. 1678). Carved by “the Charlestown Stonecutter,” the headstone depicts symbolic images of the “Death’s head,” a skull with wings that represents the soul leaving the body; an hourglass, representing time running out; a skeleton snuffing out the candle, symbolic of Death ending life; and a bearded Father Time attempting to stop Death, my AAA tour book told me. The Burying Ground is also the burial site of Mary Chilton, the first Pilgrim to touch Plymouth Rock. 

The Freedom Trail continues past the brick building at the corner of School and Washington Streets, known as the Old Corner Bookstore. Built in 1718, it opened as an apothecary shop and became a bookstore in 1829. Later, it served as the home of the Ticknor & Fields publishing company, which attracted authors like Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Harriet Beecher Stowe. The Scarlet Letter, the words to the Battle Hymn of the Republic and the earliest editions of the Atlantic Monthly are said to have been printed here. Today, it’s home to a Chipotle. 

Across School Street, there’s a memorial to the Irish Potato Famine. At the Old South Meeting House, where Samuel Adams gave the signal that led to the Boston Tea Party in December 1773, you can pick up some Boston tea and other Boston Tea Party merchandise. 

Follow the red line on Washington Street and you’ll spot the Old State House, the seat of British colonial government between 1713 and 1776. The lion and unicorn — the symbols of royal Britain — are on each corner of the eastern façade. The Declaration of Independence was read from the balcony on the eastern façade in 1776. A circle of cobblestones below marks the site of the Boston Massacre, which occurred on March 5, 1770. The building’s basement wine cellars are now the T’s State Street subway station. 

Minutes away, you’ll find Fanueil Hall, a Boston landmark topped by a grasshopper weathervane that has served as a public market and a meeting place for centuries. At Faneuil Hall Marketplace, browse a great selection of handcrafted items at the Boston Pewter Company, in the South Market.

In the North Market, don’t miss Durgin-Park, a restaurant that began in 1826 as a lunch hall for produce and meat market workers. Known for its generous portions, Durgin-Park serves local specialties like Boston baked beans, apple pan dowdy, corn bread, chowder, New England boiled dinners and Indian pudding, made of spiced cornmeal, molasses and milk. To train for Thanksgiving, order the tasty Roast Stuffed Tom Turkey. 

Continue on to Boston’s North End and stop at 19 North Square. This is the Paul Revere House, which I’ve wanted to see again ever since Mrs. Berry gave me this numbered china model of the Paul Revere House that was made by John Putnam of England as part of the Heritage Houses series over 25 years ago. 

Built about 1680, the Paul Revere House is Boston’s oldest surviving frame house. The famous silversmith and engraver purchased the house in 1770. From here, Revere began his famous “midnight ride” on April 18, 1775 to warn Lexington patriots of the impending arrival of British troops. 

The Reveres owned the house until 1800. After it was a sailors’ boardinghouse and housed shops on the ground floor, it was restored to its earlier appearance and became a historic house museum in 1908. 

Outside, the home features small diamond-paned casement windows and a front door studded with nails. Inside, the home has been restored to its late-17th century appearance. Ninety percent of it is original. Three rooms contain large fireplaces, period furnishings belonging to the Reveres and items made in Revere’s workshop. It was rough not being able to take pictures inside.

Open the back door of the Revere House and you’ll find yourself in the kitchen. My guidebook said that before it was a kitchen, it may have been Revere’s mother’s bedroom, from 1770 until her death in 1777. 

Next comes the Hall, a large room that served as a combination living room and dining room and was the most public room in the house. Dating from between 1650 and 1720, the furniture in this room included a gateleg table and a joint stool that served as either a high seat or a low table.

Climb up the steep, narrow staircase and walk into the Best Chamber. This wallpapered room served as both the master bedroom and the parlor, and it contained the best furnishings of the house. Furnished to reflect how it would have been in the 1790s, the room includes furniture and objects that belonged to the Reveres, including an upholstered wing chair, a pair of Windsor side chairs, a sewing table that was owned by Revere’s second wife, Rachel, and a large china bowl decorated with Masonic symbols.

In the back bedchamber, with its timbered walls, we saw two more Revere family pieces: a Windsor rocking chair and a sampler made by Maria Revere Curtis, Revere’s great-granddaughter, in 1819. The bed has its original blue paint and it can be folded up on hinges, so that the room could be used as a sitting room. 

The courtyard includes a kitchen garden and lilacs taken from Revere’s copper mill property in Canton, Massachusetts. You can also see a 900-pound bronze bell cast by Paul Revere & Sons in 1804.

Keep following the red line a few more blocks and stop at Old North Church. To warn patriots in Charlestown of the arrival of British troops on April 18, 1775, two lanterns were hung as signals in the church’s belfry tower. Inside the church, see the brass chandeliers that were brought from England in 1724 and the high-sided box pews that were designed to keep their occupants warm during the winter.

The brick-paved plaza between Old North Church and Hanover Street is home to Cyrus Dallin’s statue of Paul Revere.

Across Hanover Street, visit St. Stephen’s Church. The original building dates from 1714 and was enlarged by Charles Bulfinch between 1802 and 1804. Paul Revere cast his first bell for the church’s belfry. In 1862, the Congregationalist meeting house became a Roman Catholic church. Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy was baptized here in 1890, and her funeral Mass was held here in 1995.

Paul Revere deserves follow-up reading. Two old favorites are And Then What Happened, Paul Revere?, by Jean Fritz, and “Paul Revere’s Ride,” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s famous poem. 

I discovered another part of Boston history that bears Paul Revere’s name: the Saturday Evening Girls and the Paul Revere Pottery. Edith Guerrier, a librarian at the Boston North End branch, founded the Saturday Evening Club in 1907 to provide Jewish and Italian immigrant girls who lived in the North End with an opportunity to tell stories, learn to read, appreciate the arts, and learn the trade of pottery-making. The members came to be known as the Saturday Evening Girls, talented artisans who produced ceramic dinnerware and decorative objects for more than 30 years. The Paul Revere House sells a couple of reproductions of their designs. To learn more about their work, read Art & Reform: Sara Galner, the Saturday Evening Girls, and the Paul Revere Pottery, by Nonie Gadsden.

One address that wasn’t on the Freedom Trail, but one I had to walk by, was 158 ½ Tremont Street. This is where the Boston Cooking School was located. Founded in 1879, the school offered instruction in cooking; Fannie Farmer served as its principal from 1891 to 1902. To read more about Fannie, her Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, and her preference for including precise measures of ingredients in recipes, check out Fannie in the Kitchen, by Deborah Hopkinson. This children’s book includes helpful hints from her famous cookbook, such as always making biscuits small; three ways to determine the freshness of eggs; and flipping a pancake to cook on the other side at just the right time – when it is puffed, full of bubbles and cooked on the edges. It also includes a recipe for Fannie’s famous griddle cakes. Fannie’s Last Supper, by Chris Kimball, describes what it was like to recreate Fannie Farmer’s menu for a 12-course Christmas dinner using 20 different recipes from the Boston Cooking-School Cook Book.  Did you see the companion PBS program a couple of years ago?  I wish I had.  Here’s a preview of the show.

This entry was posted in Architecture, Art, Books, Boston, Churches, Food/Restaurants, History, Museums, Travel. Bookmark the permalink.

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