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Posts Tagged ‘Freedom Trail’

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This is the summer, as I said recently, of antiracist reading (along with sunflowers and bike rides and strawberries). On a recent Monday afternoon, a friend and I decided to explore with both our feet and our brains: we met up in Beacon Hill to walk the Boston Black Heritage Trail.

I’ve lived in Boston for a decade now, and I used to wander Beacon Hill frequently when I worked at Emerson College. But I didn’t know this trail existed until recently, and the more sites we found and the more snippets I read aloud from the National Park Service website, I wondered: why not?

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Like many American schoolchildren, I learned certain parts of Boston history: Paul Revere’s famous ride, the Boston Tea Party. I walked most of the Freedom Trail as a newcomer to Boston, ten years ago. I knew Boston was a center for the abolitionist movement (though it is also persistently racist). But I didn’t know about so many of the folks we learned about on the Black Heritage Trail: their names or their occupations or their contributions to the ongoing fight for Black freedom.

The trail comprises about a dozen sites, starting at the memorial to the Massachusetts 54th Regiment, a volunteer infantry regiment made up of Black soldiers (made famous in the movie Glory). The memorial itself is closed for restoration right now, but there’s a great temporary exhibition wrapped around the fencing, so you can still learn about the soldiers of the 54th.

Most of the trail’s other sites are former homes of Black people who fought for the abolition of slavery, helped house people escaping enslavement, helped integrate schools and churches in Boston, and played other important roles in Black community life. There are two former schools along the trail: the Abiel Smith School, the first Black public school in Boston, and the Phillips School, which became one of Boston’s first integrated schools.

The trail ends at the Smith Court Residences and the African Meeting House (now the Museum of African American History), which seem to have been the epicenter of Black life in Boston in the late 19th century. But even as we walked, we saw plaques on other buildings noting people who had lived and worked for abolition and Black rights in the neighborhood.

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I might never have seen these plaques, or any of these houses, if I hadn’t been looking for them – and I kept wondering: why not? Why aren’t we taught these stories, alongside those of Paul Revere and Samuel Adams and John Hancock? Why had I never heard of Lewis and Harriet Hayden or George Middleton or Elizabeth Smith? I want to find out more about them now – but their stories should not be tucked down a side street. They should be highlighted, celebrated.

So much of the work of adulthood, for me, is paying attention: noticing the details of each day, really listening to my loved ones when we’re talking, not simply scrolling or sleepwalking through this life. The work of anti-racism also involves paying attention: seeking out the stories we don’t know, the ones that have been ignored or erased or shunted aside. This walk, this trail, is a small beginning. I’m glad we went, and I’m committed to finding out more.

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I get a lot of questions from blog readers, real-life friends and some people who fit into both categories about “must-sees” in the Boston area. These questions ramp up in the summer, when the travel urge hits America and the tourists descend in hordes.

I love playing tour guide (real or virtual). So I’ve put together a few mini-tour posts to answer your questions. (Bonus: I can point people to these posts when they ask similar questions.)

First up: History! As we all know, Boston is teeming with it. (The series will also cover charming neighborhoods, food, gardens, college campuses and whatever else I decide you can’t miss.)

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My favorite thing about Boston’s history? It’s woven into everything else.

For example: you can spend an afternoon lounging on Boston Common and then tour the beautiful Massachusetts State House, above. (It’s free, though only open on weekdays from 9 to 5, and you can take an interesting guided tour or wander around on your own.)

You can also go for ice cream downtown (or in Harvard Square) and pop into a lovely old church or cemetery. You can tour Paul Revere’s house in the North End and walk down the street for an Italian dinner. You are always walking through – sometimes walking on – history.

The Freedom Trail links together many historical spots downtown, beginning on the Common and going all the way to the U.S.S. Constitution and Bunker Hill in Charlestown. I have a deep love for the Common itself (about which I have written many times). It is Boston’s (smaller) answer to Central Park, green and open, a hangout for all segments of Boston society. It’s also the home of the Soldiers & Sailors Monument and the Shaw Memorial (featuring the regiment from the film Glory).

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Just past the Common, behind the Park Street Church, is the Granary Burying Ground, where John Hancock, Paul Revere, Samuel Adams and Crispus Attucks (among others) are buried. (That’s my mom, above, perusing some of the epitaphs.) You can wander at will, or take a tour starting on the Common.

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Down the street is King’s Chapel, a lovely old Royalist church. That is an interior shot above; there are lots of helpful signs around the sanctuary. (As you walk down Tremont St. toward King’s Chapel, pause before you reach the Omni Parker Hotel and look up: you can see the spire of the Old North Church. The view is protected by city ordinance. I love that.)

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There are many more stops along the Freedom Trail, varying in size and admission fees, but my other favorites are over in the North End: Paul Revere’s house (above) and the Old North Church.

The Revere House is smallish, and it gets crowded during the summer, but I love seeing where and how the Revere family lived, as well as seeing Revere’s handiwork on display (he was quite the silversmith). And it costs $3.50 per person: a bargain.

The Old North Church, where they hung the signal lanterns (“one if by land, two if by sea”) is similar in style to King’s Chapel, but larger, and quite lovely. (All the cemeteries along the Freedom Trail are free; the churches are all “suggested donation.”)

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At the other end of the Freedom Trail, the U.S.S. Constitution (above), alias “Old Ironsides,” sits anchored in the Charlestown Navy Yard. She is the oldest commissioned warship still afloat, and manned by active duty members of the U.S. Navy. They give free and informative tours every day except Monday. You can walk there over a bridge (it’s about a mile from the Old North Church), or you can take the ferry from Long Wharf to save your tired feet.

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And finally, in Quincy (where I live), you can tour three houses connected with the John Adams/John Quincy Adams family. The tour center is directly across from a subway station (on the Red Line); the tour costs $5 and includes a trolley ride. The two original Adams birthplaces stand 75 feet apart from one another, and then you board the trolley again to tour Peacefield, the family “mansion” pictured above. (It features a detached library lined with ancient, beautiful books – obviously my favorite part.)

This is just a taste of Boston’s history – but if you’re visiting for a few days, these are my can’t-miss places. Stay tuned for more mini-tours, and feel free to ask questions in the comments!

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(On the Common, early May 2011)

(On the Common, April 2011)

(On the Common, Nov. 2010)

(On the Common, Oct. 2010)

(On the Freedom Trail, Sept. 2010)

(In the Public Garden, last week)

I’m not sure what this says about me, except that I like documenting the places I’ve walked – and I apparently have a deep affection for my main mode of transportation these days.

What odd/quirky things do you find yourself photographing?

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My friend Daniel hails from California, but we met each other in Oxford, three years ago. He was part of the ACU group when I was there for grad school, and he moved to Boston in May. So we met up last Friday for a walk around the city – since he’s been here three months, he’s an old hand already. He introduced me to some of his favorite places, and I’ll pass the favor on to you.

First, we had lunch, and then walked through Boston Common:

I love the Common, with its fountains, trees, green grass and lots of places to sit and read. I’m sure I’ll be visiting more often.

Next, we toured the Massachusetts State House:

Beautiful, ornate and completely fascinating. I don’t remember half the things our guide said, but I loved walking through all the halls decorated with murals, and touring both the House and Senate chambers. So cool.

Next, we visited King’s Chapel, where lots of Boston notables have attended, including Paul Revere:

It was gorgeous, and so ornate, with the old box pews and carved altar and elaborate script up at the front. You can sit in the pews, actually – so here I am in the pew owned by John May, Louisa May Alcott’s grandfather. She and her mother (and her sisters, of course) grew up going to King’s Chapel. (This is the part where I freak out just a little bit – she is my favorite author from childhood. I’ve read Little Women a hundred times, and I can’t wait to go to Orchard House, where she lived.)

We walked to Mike’s Pastry in the North End, and ordered cannoli. (“Leave the gun, take the cannoli.”) These are rich, gooey pockets of heaven. Mine (please try not to drool on your computer keyboard) was chocolate mousse:

(It’s basically fried dough filled with chocolate mousse, dunked in chocolate chips on either end and then squirted with more chocolate. Heaven.)

We ate our cannoli in Christopher Columbus Park, and talked of “cabbages and kings,” by which I mean Oxford, ACU, Boston and everything in between. Such a fun day with a good friend. I’ll leave you with a view of the harbor from the park:

More soon, friends. Till then, rest assured that I’m keeping my eyes and ears open, for more gorgeous scenes (and desserts!) to share with you.

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