The Freedom Trail is a red (mostly brick) path through downtown Boston that leads to 16 significant historic sites. It is a 2.5-mile walk from Boston Common to USS Constitution in Charlestown. Simple ground markers explaining events, graveyards, notable churches and other buildings, and a historic naval frigate are stops along the way.
Boston Common is the oldest public park in United States history and is the beginning of the Freedom Trail. The “Common” has been used for many different purposes throughout its long history. Until 1830, cattle grazed the Common, and until 1817, public hangings took place here. British troops camped on Boston Common prior to the Revolution and left from here to face colonial resistance at Lexington and Concord in April, 1775. Boston Common park is almost 50 acres in size and is currently used by locals and visitors as a green space in the city to relax in, catch a local concert, gather with friends or throw around on a warm afternoon.
Photo credit: Arc Hernandez
Massachusetts State House – Built in 1798, the “new” State House is located across from the Boston Common on the top of Beacon Hill. The land was once owned by Massachusetts first elected governor, John Hancock.At the top of the golden dome sits a wooden pinecone which symbolizes logging in Boston during the 18th century.
Park Street Church, the site of the old town granary where grain was kept before the Revolution, dates back to 1809. Its 217 foot steeple was the first landmark travelers saw when coming into Boston.This Evangelical Church is the location of the first Sunday school in 1818 and the first prison aid in 1824. On July 4, 1829, William Lloyd Garrison gave his first public anti-slavery speech here and two years later, “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” was sung for the first time by the church children’s choir.
Old City Hall – The first public school in America was established by Puritan settlers in 1635 in the home of Schoolmaster Philemon Pormont. Boys from various socio-economic backgrounds attended Boston Latin School until 1972 when girls were also accepted. A portrait statue of Benjamin Franklin overlooks the former site of Boston Latin School which Franklin, Samuel Adams, and John Hancock once attended. Franklin’s place of birth was just one block away on Milk Street, across from the Old South Meeting House.
In 1828, Andrew Jackson established the Democratic party and ran for president using the populist slogan, “Let the people rule”, his opponents thought him silly and labeled him a “jackass”. Jackson, however, picked up on their name calling and turned it to his own advantage by using the donkey on his campaign posters. Over the years this donkey had become the accepted symbol of the Democratic party.
The symbol of the Republican party in 1974 was born in the imagination of a cartoonist, Thomas Nast, in Harper’s Weekly. Soon other cartoonists used the elephant to symbolize Republicans, and eventually, Republicans adopted the elephant as their official symbol.
Shaped like a hopscotch grid, this mosaic marks the original site of the Boston Latin School (1635), the first public school in the US. The school educated many influential politicians and writers, including Benjamin Franklin and Ralph Waldo Emerson.
A circle of cobblestones commemorates the Boston Massacre. At this site, tensions between the colonists and British soldiers erupted into violence on March 5, 1770. A minor dispute between a wigmaker’s young apprentice and a British sentry turned into a riot. The relief soldiers that came to the aid of the British were met by an angry crowd of colonists who hurled snowballs, rocks, clubs, and insults. The soldiers fired into the crowd and killed five colonists. Samuel Adams and other patriots called the event a massacre.
Faneuil Hall Marketplace is actually four great places in one location – Faneuil Hall, Quincy Market, North Market and South Market, all set around a cobblestone promenade where jugglers, magicians and musicians entertain the passers-by. Faneuil Hall has served as a marketplace and a meeting hall since 1742. Funding was provided by a wealthy merchant, Peter Faneuil, for the construction and local artisan to create the grasshopper weather vane that still perches on the building’s cupola. Inspirational speeches by Samuel Adams and other patriots were given at Faneuil Hall. These oratories became the footstool for America’s desire to obtain independence from the British.
Faneuil Hall was expanded in 1806 by Charles Bulfinch. When Boston became a city the use of Faneuil Hall as a government meeting place came to an end, but it was still regularly used. Today, the first floor is still used as a lively marketplace and the second floor is a meeting hall where many Boston City debates are held. The fourth floor is maintained by the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company. We stopped here for a bite of clam chowder and to watch the Changing of the Guards which occurs twice daily on Saturdays, Sundays, and Mondays.
The Charlestown Navy Yard was built on what was once Mouton’s or Morton’s Point, the landing place of the British army prior to the Battle of Bunker Hill. It was one of the first shipyards built in the United States. During its 174 year history, hundreds of ships were built, repaired and modernized, including the World War II destroyer USS Cassin Young. Today, thirty acres of the Navy Yard are preserved by the National Park Service as part of Boston National Historical Park.
USS Constitution is the oldest commissioned warship afloat in the world. It was first launched in 1797. Constitution is one of six ships ordered for construction by George Washington to protect America’s growing maritime interests. The ships greatest glory came during the war of 1812 when she defeated four British frigates which earned her the nickname “Old Ironsides,” because cannon balls glanced off her thick hull. The ship was restored in 1927 with contributions from the nation’s school children.
Although we didn’t get to visit all 16 sites, we enjoyed the walk and the ones we managed to see.