Visiting Historical Boston

boston waterfront

As many of you know, I have spent some time traveling with my adult children one-on-one. It’s a nice way to explore each of their interests and learn about them as individuals. It’s different than experiencing them all as a group, when there are three of them and only one of me.

Today I’m reminded of a trip that Marina and I took last year to historical Boston. As a history afficianado and world history teacher, the trips, and even the local outings, I take with her skew towards the historical.

250th Anniversary of the Boston Tea Party

She’s headed out in a few weeks to Boston again, this time with a friend from college. They’re just going for the weekend and plan to join in the celebration of the 250th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party. There are a number of activities during the weekend culminating in a reenactment on December 16. (Special note: if you can’t make it to Boston and still want to participate, they welcome you to send loose leaf tea and they will send you a certificate after the fact. For more information, click through to the website.)

Our Trip to Historical Boston

Last year, Marina and I spent four days in the Boston area. We stayed at an AirBNB in Jamaica Plains, a short drive from the city. Hotel rooms and rental in the Boston area were fairly expensive. Our rental was small, clean and quite frankly the cheapest room that we could get. It served its purpose but was nothing out of the ordinary.

The exterior of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Historical Boston. A blue sky is in the background.

We had a bit of a turnaround getting out of the airport and to the rental car counter, but eventually made it. Then we headed to our first stop, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library. Unfortunately, it closed early and we were turned away by the security guard. We walked the grounds, which were lovely, and didn’t feel that cheated of the experience. Across the water we got our first look at downtown Boston.

Massachusetts Archives

Our next stop was the Massachusetts Archives where Marina felt right at home. Some of the building was devoted to just that, archives. There were plenty of bound volumes and some very serious historians hard at work.

A museum display of indigenous peoples at the Massachusetts Archives.

The rest of the building was devoted to museum displays. This was more my speed. There were exhibits of the indiginous peoples alongside original documents signed by our founding fathers.

Haunted Tour of Historical Boston

After we checked in to our rental, we regrouped and planned for our evening. First on the agenda, some locally famous food. I was looking for a lobster roll and Marina was looking for a local brew. We settled on Legal Sea Foods on the waterfront.

On the left is a photo of Copps Hill Burying Ground by moonlight. On the right a photo of a brick lined crypt under the Old North Church.
On the left is Copps Hill Burying Ground by moonlight. On the right is a photo from the crypts under Old North Church.

Legal Sea Foods is a chain, with most of their locations in the Boston area, but it fit our needs. The lobster roll was delicious (as I believe all lobster rolls are) and Marina tried a brew called Mass Appeal from a local brewery. Parking was exorbitantly expensive and made me appreciate the parking prices at home.

Following dinner we booked the Ghosts and Gravestones tour. Neither of us were especially interested in hearing ghost tales, but we weren’t ready to retire for the evening and this was something to do after dark.

Open-air tourist bus for the Ghost and Gravestones tour of historical Boston.
The open-air bus for the tour. It was a little touristy but gave us access to some great sites!

Our first stop, under the light of the full moon no less, was Copp’s Hill Burying Ground. Originally this cemetery was called North Burying Ground but was renamed for a local shoemaker named William Copp. In addition to a few ghost tales, our tour guide shared a good bit of history from the Revolutionary era and of burying practices at the time.

Boston Common

We climbed back on our open air bus and headed to our next stop, Boston Common. Boston Common is the oldest city park in the United States and came with its share of history and, according to our guide, ghost stories.

In the early years of our nation and before, people were hanged at Boston Common for differences in religious beliefs, witchcraft and more. The Great Elm, a large tree which later toppled during a storm, was often employed for this use.

During the construction of the subway in 1895, workers discovered the remains of hundreds of British soldiers who perished during the Revolutionary War. It was estimated that between 900 and 1100 graves were unearthed and the skeletal remains later reburied in the Central Burying Ground in a mass grave.

Granary Burying Ground

King’s Chapel Burying Ground is the oldest cemetery in Boston and holds the remains of Massachusetts’s first governor. The Granary Burying Ground was established due to overcrowding in the former and holds several notable residents.

The Granary Burying Grounds in historical Boston with the city in the background Photo is at night.

One advantage of taking the Ghosts and Gravestones tour was access to the historical cemeteries after dark. They were surrounded by iron fences and kept locked after sundown.

The Granary Burying Ground is a bit of history right near downtown Boston. This cemetery holds several notable residents including: Samuel Adams, Paul Revere, John Hancock and five victims of the Boston Massacre. Benjamin Franklin’s mother and father are also buried here.

USS Constitution

The next morning, we started bright and early and set our bearings for the USS Constitution and Museum. We hit a Dunkin Donuts on the way, and I have to confirm the rumor: I believe there is a Dunkin on nearly every corner in Boston.

Launched in 1797, the USS Constitution (known as Old Ironsides) is the oldest commissioned naval war ship still afloat. She is currently in dry dock at the Charlestown Navy Yard where 75 active-duty Navy sailors act as her crew.

The back of the USS Consitution.

The museum itself has a number of interesting exhibits. There were displays that showed the history of the Navy during wartime, others which were focused on the USS Constitution and still others which showed the life at sea of the men and women of the US Navy. A large section was devoted to the history of boat design and building over the years.

We did pay for parking in a nearby garage, but the visit to the museum and ship were entirely free. Marina has a particular interest in maritime history so this was a great stop for us.

Freedom Trail

You may have heard of Boston’s historic Freedom Trail. By following the trail you can hit most of Boston’s historic sites. The trail is a 2.5 mile route, marked with a red painted line across the sidewalks. You can walk it on your own or check the website for one of the guided tours. Marina and I decided to hit and skip through the city so, even though we crossed that famous red line several times, we didn’t walk the whole of the trail.

Paul Revere House

Next, we headed to the historical section of Boston with two stops in mind. Marina was keen to see the Old North Church and I was interested in seeing Paul Revere’s home.

Parking was difficult to say the least. After driving around for a while, we finally found a place to park approximately ten blocks away from our destination. And it was expensive, at least by what my midwestern brain considers normal. I complained that we could park across the street from our destination in Columbus for one fifth of the price. Marina ignored this.

On the right is Paul Revere's House. The city of Boston is in the background.

Paul Revere’s house was about what you would expect from a period home. The kitchen featured an open fireplace, overall the home was fairly small and it was adorned with handmade furniture. Our guide told us a bit of the day-to-day life of the family, and it seemed an accurate window to the past.

Paul Revere was not the original owner of the house but purchased the home in 1770 for his family which included himself, his wife, five children and his mother. In 1800 he sold the property, and it passed through numerous hands, serving as several types of shops over the years.

A plate of fish and chips including tartar sauce and cole slaw served in Boston's Bell in Hand Tavern.
Fish and chips (my favorite) inside America’s oldest tavern.

Eventually the descendants of the Revere family purchased the home to avoid its destruction. And in 1908 the Paul Revere House opened as one of the earliest museum homes in the country.

Admission to the Paul Revere House and the Pierce/Hichborn House next door was just $6 each. There is no photography allowed inside the dwelling, but the admission was well worth the price. The guide was knowledgable and patient, answering several questions during the tour.

Old North Church

The Old North Church is actually a fully functioning Episcopal church and you actually can attend worship there. If you’re more interested in the historical value of the property, book a visit Monday through Saturday for a tour.

There are a number of tours available. The cheapest option is general admission at just $5 per person. We opted for the crypt tour underneath the church which included general admission and was $10 each.

The interior of the Old North Church in historical Boston. Instead of pews there are family foxes. In the back you can see the pipe organ and the balconies are on the sides.

The church is beautiful and inside looks nothing like the open-pewed churches that we are used to. The main floor of the church is filled with family boxes, each with their own door. Here, we were told, wealthy families would rent their own box. They would often decorate them to their own taste. Those families unable to afford a box on the main floor, were invited to sit in the balcony.

As part of our tour, we descended a set of steps at the back of the church, being careful to duck our heads as we entered the crypt. During our tour below the church, we saw the final resting place of a number of parishioners, some very new and others dating from the Revolution.

Beautiful curved wooden staircase inside historical Boston's Old State House.
The beautiful staircase inside the Old State House.

Special note for fellow fans of the Nicolas Cage movie, National Treasure: the location featured in the movie was not the actual Old North Church. The crew was filming in Philadelphia at the time and it was much easier to use a stand in church in that area than it would be to move everyone to Boston for the scene.

Historical Boston

There are so many stops in Boston for the history lover. We didn’t make it to the Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum, so I’m glad that Marina will be making a trip back for this attraction.

The exterior of Faneuil Hall. A statue of Samuel Adams stands in the foreground.
Faneuil Hall in Boston’s historical area.

We did make a quick stop at the Old State House, Samuel Adam’s Brew House and Faneuil Hall, which hosted America’s first town meeting. We had dinner at The Bell in Hand, billed as the nation’s oldest tavern.

History is everywhere in Boston. Everywhere we turned there was something to read or learn and Marina was in heaven. I’m glad she’s making a trip back for the special anniversary.


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