The USS Constitution, also known as Old Ironsides, was the first warship in service of the US Navy. It is technically still in commission, but don’t expect this sailing vessel to be chasing down Somali pirates any time soon. The ship was launched in 1797, making it the oldest commissioned vessel in the world, and saw active combat in the Mediterranean and the Atlantic during the during the early part of the 19th century. Old Ironsides also served as a training vessel for the navy during the Civil War, but for the latter half of the 19th century and the 20th century she primarily served the purpose of a cultural ambassador for the US Navy and the American people. In 1997, the ship sailed independently to mark the bicentennial of her launching. Today you can visit Old Ironsides at the Charlestown Navy Yard. Admission is free, but you should plan on spending a fair amount of time to see the ship, as tours are timed and must be guided. I didn’t go aboard, opting instead to go aboard the USS Cassin Young (the lines are far, far shorter). From what I understand, USS Constitution has some pretty cool cannons that will undoubtedly impress the younger crowd.
Copp’s Hill, the last stop on the Freedom Trail on the south side of the Charles, is one of Boston’s larger historic cemeteries. It contains lots of interesting tombstones, many of which date from the 17th and 18th centuries, and it also has a great view out over the Charles. It was founded in 1659, about 30 years after the King’s Chapel burying ground was established, but the Hill appears to house the graves of Boston’s lesser known historical figures, not including the major personalities of the Revolutionary period. It was also a burial ground for the New Guinea African American community, although these graves are largely unmarked. The draw of Copp’s Hill really is the photogenic nature of the area; both the vista and the old tombstones alike. This wasn’t originally meant to be part of Freedom Trail when the route was created 1951, but it gradually gained popularity and was added to the list later on.
Sometimes it can seem like everything in Boston is called Paul Revere something or other, and, while I recognize that the people of Boston are proud of Revere’s role in the Revolution, it does make navigation rather difficult. The Paul Revere House, of course, is one of those sites that necessarily must have Revere’s name attached to it, as it was his home during the latter half of the 18th century, when he was a silversmith and a member of Boston’s middle class. The home has been preserved as a museum for visitors to learn more about the life and times of the Revere family. It was not the site of historical events (Revere spotted the British from Old North Church, about a ten minute walk from his home), and as such the displays inside the house are dedicated primarily to family life and the family’s history, including famous descendents and the link between the Reveres and the Lincolns. It is an interesting bit of trivia to know about Revere’s childrens names or what sort of bed he slept in, but the house itself is not something that will make your chest swell with Revolutionary pride.
The Old State House was the old government house for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. It was built in 1713 (i.e. it was the government house for the colony before the Revolution) and was used as the Colonial Supreme Court as well during the British period. In 1776, the Declaration of Independence was read out from the East Balcony, but this was not the first revolutionary activity that involved the Old State House, as the legislative areas and the courts featured a number of Colonist attempts to settle the disputes that culminated in the Revolution during the early 1770s. The building was used as the State’s government house until the 1790s, when the current building on Beacon Hill was opened. The building was used as the Town Hall in the 1830s and 1840s too, after which time it became commercial property. The architectural style of the building is quite pleasant, which is a bit of a change from the usual Puritan spirit that pervades the other structures on Freedom Trail. Similar to King’s Chapel, it was constructed in Georgian style and, interestingly enough, the lion and unicorn on the building’s east side were allowed to remain – despite the fact that they were symbols of the British Crown.
Despite the fact that the 13 Colonies were, until 1776 (well, de jure, until 1782), part of the British Crown and thus under the suzerainty of the head of the Church of England, the founding fathers of Massachusetts and the first families to establish Boston were Puritans. These dissenting Christians sought to break away from the Anglican tradition, and that’s why the names of some of the religious institutions that formed the bedrock of the community seem a bit strange. Take the Old South Meeting House, which sounds like a recreation centre for Alabamans but is in fact a Congregationalist church that was first founded in 1729. Its members included Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Adams and William Dawes, so it should not be a surprise that the building’s fame comes from its use as a meeting place for the Patriots who took part in the Boston Tea Party. Not only was the Old South Meeting House important as a meeting place for revolutionaries, but like the Park Church, it has been a place for people to organize for free expression of dissent and protest. These days, however, the most common people to gather here are the souvenir hawkers, who are a bit of a contrast against the plain, Puritan lines of the building’s structure.
The Old Corner Bookstore is a rather unassuming part of the Freedom Trail itinerary. Actually, it’s a bit confusing, given that the signs on the building are now for a diamond shop and across there is a large Barnes and Noble (a chain bookstore). Still, the historical nature of the building should be evident from its typical early 19th century style among more modern buildings. From the 1830s to the 1860s, this was the site of the Tricknor and Fields publishing company, which attracted famous authors of the 19th century, such as Dickens, Hawthorne and Longfellow. The building was almost destroyed in the 1960s, but a historical society purchased it and preserved it, before it was declared a national historical monument in 1973.
Boston Latin School is a quite unique educational institution. The historical air about this high school makes it hard to believe that it is in fact a place of learning – I use the present tense because it is, in fact, still an operational high school. In fact, it was one of the top 20 high schools in the US in 2007. It was first founded in 1635, making it the oldest functioning high school in the country. Stories about that Harvard (founded in 1636) was established to provide a university for the School’s graduates, but this is not confirmed. Outside the Boston Latin School, you’ll find an interesting plaque commemorating the school’s founding, and inside the grounds there are various statues, including one of Benjamin Franklin, who attended by did not actually finish (so did Louis Farrakhan, but there is no statue to him). Make no mistake; this is where the city and, arguably, some of the country’s elite send their children to be educated.
It may seem a bit strange that King’s Chapel is actually from a later period than the King’s Chapel Burying Ground, but the history of this building is a bit of a tribute to the religious nature of the founding fathers. The graveyard dates from 1630, but the Chapel is from 1686. The Chapel was built (in its original wooden form) by the Royal Governor of the Colony, and it was the first Anglican church in Boston. None of the original residents would sell land for the establishment of a church that wasn’t Puritan, so the structure had to be built on the burying ground. In 1749, a Georgian style stone building was erected around the wooden one (which is what stands today) and an English bell was added in 1772. The church was out of use for several years after the Revolution, as the Anglican population of Boston shrunk considerably with the exodus of loyalist families to Canada. The interior has a historic 18th century organ and hand-carved Grecian columns. The Chapel is today a sort of hybrid church, because its liturgy was infused with Unitarian elements when it was reopened after the Revolution, and the Anglican (Episcopalian in the US) Church refused to recognize it. I unfortunately didn’t get to see the interior of the church (opening hours are odd on Easter weekend), but I read that the interior is suppose to be quite impressive.
Park Street Church is stop number three along Freedom Trail, a historic building founded 200 years ago (1809) as a Congregationalist house of worship. The church is famous for both its structure and its preachers. The spire, which is 66 metres tall, can be seen from a number of central neighbourhoods in the city, and the otherwise conservative and rather plain style of the building is a synthesis of various patterns adopted by the church’s founders. In contrast with the conservative style of the architecture, the congregation is known for its fiery and aggressive preaching, which, together with its use as a storehouse for gunpowder during the War of 1812, earned it the nickname of “Brimstone Corner”. Park Church has long been involved in social causes, so don’t be too shocked if this historic church seems to have some very modern issues infused into its promotional materials.
Definitely a not-to-miss experience during your Boston visit. The Freedom Trail is about a 2 1/2 mile historic walking path, marked in red bricks, that will take you on a journey through time when America was struggling to make its mark as an independent nation. This trail will lead you to the history of America through the various historical sites--from parks, churches, burial grounds, among other interests of historic significance.
It is best to obtain a free map from the Information Center at the Boston Common and do a self-guided walk through this trail. There is also a free ranger-guided group walk from the Old State House.
For more information about the Freedom Trail, check out this website:
The Freedom Trail is a 2.5 mile red-brick walking trail that leads you to 16 nationally significant historic sites. The historic sites are well marked.
You can get a free map at the start of the trail at the Boston Commons on Tremont st between Park and Boylston. Or you and just follow the red lines on the sidewalk.
The maps and walk are free but they also have paid working tours where the guide is dressed in period costume and give you a historic talk as you walk.
The trail is 2 1/2 miles long and can be started at any point. It has red brick, sometimes hard to follow, but the genereal direction is okay.I chose the middle, went to the north end and then back to the south and ending at the State House. They have 16 designated sites along the way.
The trail has 16 sites interspersed through the modern buildings of the city. Some key destination points include Quincy Market, and old set of two buildings that was an open market centuries ago, and today. Also at that location is Fanueil Hall, a meeting hall form inception of the town founding. Then venture to the Italian north end and see Paul REvere house. Coming south, you go by the Old State Capitol, which may be closed for viewing, the Old Meeting house, and over to Boston Commons park and State Capitol.
The 16 primary sites on the Freedom Trail map are shown in various colors and style. Below presented is that variety. The trail itself is 2.5 miles, but diversions along the way could make the trek much longer. The red brick path is to direct you, but some can get merged into the other red brick areas. Have a map ready.
I walked 9 miles each day for two days, and got rather tired but it was worth the effort to see what is important.
The Freedom Trail is a 2.5 mile red-brick walking trail that leads you to 16 nationally significant historic sites, every one an authentic American treasure. Preserved and dedicated by the citizens of Boston in 1958, when the wrecking ball threatened, the Freedom Trail today is a unique collection of museums, churches, meeting houses, burying grounds, parks, a ship, and historic markers that tell the story of the American Revolution and beyond.
The Freedom Trail:
The Boston Common
The State House
Park Street Church
Granary Burying Ground
King’ Chapel Burying Ground
Benjamin Franklin Statue/Boston Latin School
Old Corner Book Store
Old South Meeting House
Old State House
Site of the Boston Massacre
Paul Revere House
The Old North Church
Copp's Hill Burying Ground
USS Constitution — “Old Ironsides” & USS
Bunker Hill Monument