Freedom Trail Tour Sites
Massachusetts State House
The Massachusetts State House on Beacon Hill has long been one of the city’s main landmarks. The cornerstone for the building was laid in 1795 in a ceremony overseen by Governor Samuel Adams, and Grand Master of the Masons, Paul Revere. The building stands on land once owned by colonial Boston’s wealthiest merchant, John Hancock. It was designed by Boston native Charles Bulfinch who would become the leading architect of his day. At the time of its completion, the State House was praised as the finest public building in America.
Today, the building’s gleaming dome, which measures 50 ft. in diameter and 30 ft. high, is gilded with gold leaf. Originally, it was covered with wooden shingles, and in 1802, sheathed in copper manufactured by Paul Revere. The original brick building now has wings on either side and an extension in the rear. These additions haven’t detracted greatly from Bulfinch’s original design. The State House is the seat of the Massachusetts government. Inside you will find the Senate Chamber and the House of Representatives where the “Sacred Cod” a five-foot-long carved wooden codfish hangs. This symbol marks the importance of the fishing industry to the Commonwealth.
Open 10 AM to 4 PM, Monday-Friday
(617) 727-3676, www.state.ma.us/sec/trs
Admission is Free
In the center of the city, on 44 acres of open land, you’ll find Boston Common… the oldest public park in America. This land was once the pasture of William Blackstone, who first arrived in the area in 1622. Over the years, it has served many purposes. It was a place for grazing cattle and sheep (until 1830), the site of the town gallows, a training field for the militia, and during the occupation of Boston, it became a British army camp. At the foot of the Common (near what is now Charles Street) on the evening of April 18, 1775, the British Regulars left for their expedition to Lexington and Concord.
Today, the citizens of Boston use the Common as a place to relax and gather with friends. Children get wet in the Frog Pond during the summer and ice skate there in winter. People stride by the Soldiers and Sailors Monument and stop to stretch out on the grass or sit on park benches. Concerts can be heard at the Parkman Bandstand. At the far end, near the State House, one can view the monument to Robert Gould Shaw and the Fifty-fourth Regiment immortalized in the 1989 film Glory. During the holidays, the trees on Boston Common are illuminated and magnificent ice sculptures appear… all a part of Boston’s annual First Night celebration.
Park Street Church
The Park Street Church was built in 1809 and is located at the intersection of Park and Tremont streets. It stands on the former site of the Old Granary, a large barn where the town kept wheat and other grains that it would distribute to the poor. During the War of 1812, gunpowder was stored beneath the church and the site earned the nickname of Brimstone Corner. Brimstone (sulfur) is a critical ingredient of gunpowder.
On July 4, 1829, abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison gave his first anti-slavery address here. This was just one of many fiery speeches delivered at the church. Two years later, on Independence Day, the song “America,” also known as “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” was first sung in public by a children’s choir standing on the building’s front steps. Park Street Church is an evangelical Christian parish that has long supported missionary and social work.
June 22-August 24 – guided tours available Tuesday-Saturday 9 AM to 4 PM
(617) 523-3383, http://www.parkstreet.org/
Admission is Free (Donations Accepted)
Granary Burying Ground
The city’s third oldest burying place, Granary Burying Ground was first used in 1660. It was initially called South Burying Ground and then Middle Burying Ground as the town’s population extended further south. Located on two acres of land that were situated next to the Old Granary, the cemetery is the final resting place of many famous people. On the left side of the burying ground, a large pillar marks the tomb of John Hancock, the well known signer of the Declaration of Independence and Governor of Massachusetts. Along the rear path, a square monument of white marble marks the grave of silversmith, midnight rider, and industrialist Paul Revere.
At the right front of the burying ground you will see the marker of Samuel Adams who organized the Sons of Liberty, signed the Declaration of Independence, and also served as governor of the Commonwealth. Next to his marker is the grave of the five victims of the Boston Massacre. Other prominent people buried here are patriot James Otis, Peter Faneuil (benefactor of Boston’s town meeting hall), and the parents of Benjamin Franklin.
Open daily 9 AM to 5 PM, (Spring-Fall); 9 AM to 3 PM (Winter)
Admission is Free
King’s Chapel, located on the corner of Tremont and School streets, has a fascinating history. When the Puritans settled Boston in 1630, they fled England’s Anglican Church. Fifty years later, King James II ordered that an Anglican parish be established in Boston. Angry Puritans would not sell any of their land for this purpose so the Royal Governor seized a section of the town’s burying ground and a small wood chapel was built there to house the first Anglican congregation in North America. Membership in the church grew, and the building was enlarged in 1710. By 1741, plans were being made to replace the wood chapel with one built of stone. Once the funds had been raised, construction began on the granite version of King’s Chapel in 1749 and it was completed in 1754.
In 1785, the remaining congregation adopted a new theology and became the first Unitarian Church in America. On October 27, 1789, President George Washington attended a concert here and sat in the Governor’s Pew, which you can still see when you visit. In 1790, a front portico with columns was added, and the building soon resembled the King’s Chapel that Bostonians recognize today. In 1816 a bell for the church, weighing more than one ton, was cast at the Revere Foundry. Paul Revere called it “the sweetest bell we ever made.” Today, the bell is rung by hand for all church services and special occasions. The interior of the church is elegant and one of the most beautiful in New England. The pulpit and its sounding board date from 1717 and were once used in the original wood chapel.
Hours vary by season. Typical hours are:
Monday-Saturday 10 AM to 4 PM
Sunday 1:30 PM to 4 PM
July-August 10 AM to 5 PM
Sunday 1:30 PM to 5 PM
(617) 227-2155, http://www.kings-chapel.org/
Admission is Free (Donations Accepted)
King’s Chapel Burying Ground
Located on Tremont Street next to King’s Chapel, this is Boston’s oldest burying place. It occupies land that was once the vegetable garden of Isaac Johnson who was the first person buried here in 1630. Johnson’s marker has been lost to time but many old stones survive, including one from 1658. Many of Boston’s early English settlers were buried on this small piece of land. The exact number of those who rest here is not known, but it is estimated that there were 10-20 burials for each stone you see today. The stones themselves have been moved several times so even they are not accurate markers for the people they honor.
As you walk through King’s Chapel Burying Ground, you will view some intricately carved markers and spot some famous names. Just inside the gate is a beautiful stone carved in painstaking detail by an early Charlestown stonecutter. It is the marker for Joseph Tapping who died in 1678. In the middle of the burying ground, to your left, is the table tomb of John Winthrop, the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. In the exact center is the marker for Mary Chilton, who arrived on the Mayflower. Behind the Chilton marker is the tomb of the Dawes family. Evidence now shows that William Dawes, who rode with Paul Revere, rests in Forest Hills Cemetery instead of here with his ancestors.
Open daily 9 AM to 5 PM
Admission is Free
The Old Corner Bookstore Building
In 1712, Thomas Crease built a brick home on the corner of what would become School and Washington streets. It served as his residence and Boston’s first apothecary shop. In the 1820s the Crease house was purchased by William B. Ticknor who turned it into a bookshop. Ticknor paid royalties to British authors and obtained the rights to publish their works. In 1833, he went into partnership with a book clerk named James T. Fields who helped the company sign contracts with New England authors. From 1833 to 1864, the firm of Ticknor and Fields was the leading publisher in the United States. Its list of well known authors included Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and Henry David Thoreau. These writers often gathered at the Old Corner Bookstore, as did their English counterparts, including Charles Dickens.
After Ticknor and Fields left the building, it became a location for several other booksellers. By the mid 1900s, one of Boston’s oldest structures was serving as a pizza parlor and showing its age. With financial assistance from the Boston Globe, Historic Boston, Inc. purchased the building in 1960 and restored it. Today their offices are located on the second floor where they continue their efforts to preserve historic sites in Boston. The first floor housed the Boston Globe Store from 1998 to 2002. Presently, the building’s tenant is Chipotle.
For more information visit www.historicboston.org
Old South Meeting House
The Old South Meeting House stands on Washington Street and is the second oldest church building in Boston. It was built in 1729, housed a Congregational parish, and remained an active church until 1872. The brick building features a tower clock installed in 1770, Palladian windows, and a 180-foot wooden steeple. Old South was the largest building in Colonial Boston and often used for gatherings that were too large for Faneuil Hall. One such gathering occurred on March 6, 1775 when patriot leader Dr. Joseph Warren delivered a moving oration in honor of those killed five years earlier in the Boston Massacre. The meeting house was packed so tightly for the event that Warren had to climb in through a window behind the pulpit to make his address.
The most famous meeting at Old South occurred on the afternoon of December 16, 1773. Thousands of Bostonians who filled the building and spilled into the streets listened to Samuel Adams and others speak about non-importation and colonial rights. Three merchant vessels with a shipment of tea in their holds were docked at Griffin’s Wharf that day. The anxious crowd demanded that the ships return to England without leaving their cargo. As darkness fell, word came from Governor Hutchinson that the tea must be unloaded and the tax paid. From the pulpit of Old South, Samuel Adams then spoke the immortal words that would result in the Boston Tea Party… “This meeting can do nothing more to save the country.” Sons of Liberty dressed as Mohawk Indians marched to Griffin’s Wharf, boarded the three merchant ships, and threw 342 chests of tea into Boston Harbor.
Over the years, Old South has shown a knack for survival. During the siege of Boston, the British gutted it, burned the pews, and used the building as a riding school. Old South survived fires in 1810 and 1872, and was destined for demolition in 1875 when concerned citizens stepped in, formed an Old South Association, and raised the money needed to save the building. Today, the association continues to operate Old South as a museum. It is the site of lectures, meetings, concerts, plays, and church services. The steeple now contains an 876-pound bell cast by Paul Revere in 1801. Hooked up to the 1766 tower clock, it rings out the time on the hour, reminding Bostonians of an earlier era.
Open April-Oct, 9:30 AM to 5 PM daily; Nov-Mar, 10 AM to 4 PM daily
(617) 482-6439, www.oldsouthmeetinghouse.org
Admission fee required
Old State House
The Old State House, originally called the Town House, was built in 1713 and located close to Long Wharf near Boston’s waterfront. Situated at the head of King Street, the Town House was the symbol of Royal authority in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and the location of the British government in Boston. Official proclamations were made to the townspeople from its second floor balcony, and statues of a lion and a unicorn (symbols of the King’s power) stood atop the brick building. The governor and other royal officials met here, but it was also the home of the Massachusetts Assembly, a body elected by the people. In 1766, they debated the Stamp Act before the public here, and for the first time, common people could see their elected officials at work.
On July 18, 1776, from the balcony of the Town House, Colonel Thomas Crafts read the Declaration of Independence to the citizens of Boston from a copy printed by John Gill the previous day. Artillery pieces fired, bells rang, and there was a great celebration. Later that day, the royal symbols of the lion and the unicorn were removed from the building and burned in a bonfire in Dock Square. Soon afterward, King Street was renamed State Street and the Town House was called the State House.
Shortly after the Revolution, the Massachusetts’ government moved from the State House to the New State House building on Beacon Hill. Its former home, now referred to as the Old State House, eventually fell into disrepair and some even urged that it be demolished. In 1881, the citizens of Chicago offered to purchase it and move it “brick by brick” to their city. This outraged Bostonians and they decided to preserve this historic landmark for future generations right here in Boston. Since 1882, the Old State House has been a museum run by the Bostonian Society that features many wonderful exhibits on Boston’s colorful history. Here you can see a suit of clothes that belonged to John Hancock and the wool flag with nine red and white stripes that may have been used by the Sons of Liberty. Today, replicas of the original lion and unicorn are back in place. The current versions are from 1901 and were recently restored.
Open daily 9 AM to 5 PM
July and August 9 AM to 6 PM
January 9 AM to 4 PM
(Closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day)
(617) 720-1713 ext. 21, www.bostonhistory.org
Admission fee required
Boston Massacre Site
In front of the balcony of the Old State House a circle of paving stones with a star at its center honors the victims of the Boston Massacre of March 5, 1770. On that fateful evening, hatred for the Redcoats who had occupied Boston since the fall of 1768, reached a high point. An angry crowd gathered near the Town House where they surrounded and taunted a lone British soldier. Fearing for his safety, a rescue party of eight men, led by Captain Thomas Preston, soon came to the soldier’s aid. Once there, Preston and his men also became trapped by the growing mob.
The crowd moved closer to the soldiers, waved wooden clubs, taunted them, and cursed at them. Snowballs and rocks were thrown in their direction. The soldiers kept the mob at a distance with bayonettes. Soon a club was thrown, it hit one of the soldiers, and he fired his musket. Three or four shots rang out, one after the other, and more soon followed. The musket fire hit eleven men; three died instantly, one a few hours later, and a fifth within a matter of days. Six others who were wounded survived. The victims were Samuel Gray, Samuel Maverick, James Caldwell, Crispus Attucks, and Patrick Carr. They were buried in a common grave at Old Granary Burying Ground. Paul Revere’s famous engraving of the Massacre, although inaccurate, served as great propaganda for the patriot cause.
Peter Faneuil, one of Colonial Boston’s most prominent merchants, donated a beautiful brick meeting hall to the town of Boston in 1742. The building that would bear his name was originally proposed as a market, but after some opposition, sufficient space for town meetings was added to the second floor, above the market stalls. Here, the colonists protested “taxation without representation,” gathering to speak out against the Stamp Act, Townshend Acts, and the landing of the British troops. After the Boston Tea Party, the British restricted the use of Faneuil Hall for such purposes.
Faneuil Hall was enlarged in 1806 by well-known architect Charles Bulfinch. In the mid 1800s, it was the site of anti-slavery speeches by many abolitionists including Frederick Douglas, Wendell Phillips, and William Lloyd Garrison. Today, the site continues to champion the right to free speech. The meeting hall contains an enormous painting of Daniel Webster speaking before the United States Senate. It took the artist seven years to complete the 16 feet high by 30 feet wide canvas. Above the hall is the museum of the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company, the oldest militia organization in the country. Here you can view some interesting artifacts from Boston’s early history.
High atop the meeting hall is a unique grasshopper weather vane built by master craftsman Shem Drowne in 1742. Constructed of copper and gold leaf, with glass doorknobs for eyes, it measures 52 inches long and weighs 38 pounds. It was modeled after a similar weather vane that sat atop the Royal Exchange in London. The Faneuil Hall grasshopper has turned in the breeze above the Boston skyline for over 250 years, and is one of the city’s most cherished symbols.
Open daily 9 AM to 5 PM (Closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day)
Admission is Free
Paul Revere House
The Paul Revere House is the oldest building in downtown Boston. The home was built about 1680 on the site of the former parsonage of the Second Church of Boston. It stood just one block from the water, overlooking North Square. The first owner of the two-story townhouse was Robert Howard, a wealthy merchant. When Paul Revere bought the home in 1770, a third story had been added to the 90-year-old building. This added space was ideal for his growing family who moved here from their residence near Clark’s Wharf. Revere worked as a silversmith at his own shop that was only two blocks away.
From this house on the evening of April 18, 1775, Paul Revere, a messenger rider and member of the Sons of Liberty, left for his famous Midnight Ride to Lexington. At the parsonage of Reverend Jonas Clarke, Revere warned Samuel Adams and John Hancock that the Regulars were on their way to seize the colony’s store of weapons and gunpowder and the patriot leaders might be in danger. This event was later immortalized in the poem “Paul Revere’s Ride” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. After the Revolution, Revere expanded his business interests and became one of America’s first industrialists. He had opened a foundry by 1788, and produced bolts, spikes, nails, and cannons. After 1792 he cast bells, including one for Boston’s King’s Chapel that still rings today. In 1801, he opened the first copper rolling mill in North America where he produced copper sheeting for the dome of the new Massachusetts State House in 1802 and the U.S.S. Constitution in 1803.
Paul Revere sold his three-story home in North Square in 1800. As the years passed, it began to deteriorate along with the rest of the neighborhood. At various times, it served as a boarding house, a cigar store, an Italian bank, and a green grocer. By the early 20th century, there was some fear that the house might be torn down and replaced with a tenement apartment. In 1902, a Revere descendent bought the property and a few years later, a group of Revere family members, preservationists, and local officials formed the Paul Revere Memorial Association and raised the funds needed to restore the home to its original 1680 appearance. It opened to the public on April 18, 1908. Inside the newly-added Visitor Center (connected to the Revere House by an elevated walkway) you can view samples of the patriot’s silver work, and see exhibits on his many business ventures and Midnight Ride. In the courtyard you’ll see a 931-pound bell cast at the Revere Foundry in 1804.
Open 9:30 AM to 5:15 PM (mid April-October 31); 9:30 AM to 4:15 PM (November 1-April 14)
Closed on Mondays in January, February and March
Closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day
(617) 523-2338, www.paulreverehouse.org
Admission fee required
Old North Church
The Old North Church, or Christ Church in Boston, was built in 1723. The walls of the church are over 2 1/2 feet thick, and the building contains over 500,000 bricks! At 191 feet, its steeple has always been Boston’s tallest. The original steeple was blown down by a hurricane in 1804, and its replacement was blown down in a similar storm 150 years later. Today, the steeple of Boston’s oldest church matches its original colonial design. Inside the building’s brick tower, are the first peal of eight bells brought to English America. They were cast in 1744 and still ring today. On the front of the tower, a tablet commemorates an historic event that took place here in 1775. It helped make the church a patriotic landmark.
On the evening of April 18, 1775, from the northwest window of Christ Church steeple, sexton Robert Newman and Captain John Pulling Jr. held two lanterns aloft to warn the patriots in Charlestown of the British troops’ march to Lexington and Concord. This signal, the idea of Paul Revere, occurred as he was being rowed across the Charles River to begin his Midnight Ride. Visitors to Old North today can view the window near the altar that Robert Newman and Captain John Pulling Jr. climbed out after they displayed the lanterns. The inside of the church reflects its last major restoration in 1912. The high box pews have plaques bearing the names of their original occupants. Two brass chandeliers with 12 candles on each hang above the central aisle. They have illuminated the church for evening services since 1724.
March-May 9 AM to 5 PM
June-Oct 9 AM to 6 PM
Nov-Dec 10 AM to 5 PM
Jan-Feb 10 AM to 4 PM and closed Mondays
Closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day
(617) 523-6676, www.oldnorth.com
Admission fee required
Copp’s Hill Burying Ground
Located on the highest piece of land in the North End, Copp’s Hill Burying Ground is Boston’s second oldest cemetery. It became a burial ground in 1659, and is named after 17th-century shoemaker William Copp, the property’s original owner. In colonial Boston, Copp’s Hill was much higher, extending as a cliff to the water’s edge. Standing atop this cliff, one could view several of the town’s shipyards and wharves, and see Charlestown just across the Charles River. From this location, in June 1775, British troops bombarded Charlestown during the Battle of Bunker Hill. In 1807, the upper section of Copp’s Hill was removed and used as landfill for Mill Pond.
When British troops were encamped on Copp’s Hill, they used the grave markers of patriots they disliked for target practice. Today, their musketball marks can be clearly seen on the marker of Captain Daniel Malcom, a member of the Sons of Liberty. Malcom, who died in 1769, lies buried “in a Stone Grave 10 feet deep” as noted on his headstone. Notable people buried at Copp’s Hill are Robert Newman and Captain John Pulling Jr., the men who displayed the signal lanterns; Prince Hall, a freed slave and founder of the African Grand Lodge of Massachusetts; Increase and Cotton Mather, Puritan ministers; and Edmund Hartt, builder of the USS Constitution.
Open daily 9 AM to 5 PM (Spring-Fall), 9 AM to 3 PM (Winter)
Admission is free