To travel back to Revolutionary Boston—to understand the people, the events, and the ideals of the 1700s—is a great leap for us today. But the sites along the Freedom Trail speak eloquently of that time. Bostonians and other colonists shared a notion of liberty as something precious and worth fighting for. The Freedom Trail sites include the scenes of critical events in Boston's and the nation's struggle for freedom. Some visitors choose to trek the entire 2.5 mile route or select an individual site to visit at length, while others experience the Freedom Trail as a cohesive story built around four chapters, organized along geographic and thematic lines.
- See also: Early United States history
In the 1870s, imbued with the spirit of the nation's centennial, Bostonians began saving colonial and Revolutionary era buildings that were critical in the struggle against British rule. A century later, in 1974, Congress ensured the continuity of this effort—and the preservation of important parts of America's heritage—by creating Boston National Historic Park.
Today the park is an association of sites ranging from steepled churches, grand meeting halls, and battlegrounds to America's oldest commissioned warship. The park is distinctive, mixing historic buildings and landscapes owned by the city, the state, the federal government, and private organizations. The Freedom Trail is a 2.5 mile walking trail of 16 colonial, Revolutionary, and federal sites in downtown Boston and Charlestown that tells the story in four principle chapters of the people, places, and events that sparked the American Revolution against England and highlights Boston's role in laying the foundation for a new nation.
Chapter 1—Revolution of Minds and Hearts For more than a century before the first musket was fired in America's War for Independence, Puritan-bred Bostonians embraced a strong heritage of community and a culture of freedom that was remarkable among colonial settlements. The sites here include places where townsfolk assembled to proclaim their rights, drill their militias, bury their dead, educate their young, govern their own church congregations, and protect their lands from British meddling. "The Revolution was effected before the war commenced," observed John Adams. "The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people." Sites in this chapter include Boston Common, Massachusetts State House, Park Street Church and Granary Burying Ground, King's Chapel and Burying Ground, and the site of the first public school.
Chapter 2—The People Revolt In 1760 breaking away from Great Britain was unimaginable to most Bostonians. Between 1761 and 1775, however, differing views of the rights of the colonies under British rule led to actions, reactions, and tumultuous encounters between Britian and the Boston colonists that snowballed toward war. The sites here feature places where liberty-loving men and women began to take collective action, culminating in events like the Boston Massacre and the Boston Tea Party. They include Old South Meeting House, Old Corner Bookstore, Old State House, Boston Massacre Site, and Faneuil Hall.
Chapter 3—Neighborhood of Revolution In the course of two pivotal days—April 18 and 19, 1775—years of growing unrest burst into insurrection. Among the families of the North End, downtown Boston's oldest surviving residential neighborhood, were artisan Paul Revere, his second wife Rachel, and seven of his children. It was patriot Revere who planned the hanging of warning lanterns in the steeple of the Old North Church on April 18 before his famous ride. By morning, colonial militia had assembled in Lexington and Concord for what became the first military encounters of the Revolution. The North End sites in this chapter include Paul Revere House, Old North Church, and Copp's Hill Burying Ground.
Chapter 4—Boston Goes to War Less than two months after Lexington and Concord, patriots and British troops engaged in one of the bloodiest encounters of the War for Independence—the Battle of Bunker Hill. Though the British won the battle, their losses were immense, inspiring patriots to continued resistance. By 1783, the United States had won its independence. To defend the young nation against pirates, the British, or any other would-be challenger, the newly formed US Navy built the seemingly invincible frigate USS Constitution. The Charlestown sites in this chapter include Bunker Hill Monument and USS Constitution, berthed in the Charlestown Navy Yard.
The Freedom Trail originated in 1951 when Old North Church sexton Bob Winn proposed to reporter Bill Schofield the creation of a trail to help visitors find Boston's historic sites and to boost tourism. Schofield promoted the idea in his newspaper columns. In June 1951, with the support of Mayor John B. Hynes and the Chamber of Commerce, the city placed signs painted with a colonial rider directing visitors to 12 historic sites from the State House to Copp's Hill Burying Ground.
Over the years the Freedom Trail has expanded and evolved. Today it extends from Boston Common to the Charlestown Navy yard and is marked by a line of contrasting bricks, red paint, and distinctive signage. More than 1.5 million people walk the trail every year, discovering the Revolutionary past embedded in a major modern urban environment.
The National Park Service maintains two visitor centers here, as many of Boston's historic sites are considered part of the NPS. Swing by to get up to date information about the status of Freedom Trail, its buildings and events. If you have a mobile phone, try out their Freedom Trail app. It's filled with historical anecdotes and helpful information.
National Park Service Rangers lead a free 90 minute walking tour along the heart of Boston's Freedom Trail. Discover Boston's role in the American Revolution. For more information call +1 617 242-5642. Tours are offered weather permitting. Each tour is limited to 30 people: first come, first served. On day of tour, rangers will distribute free stickers 30 minutes before tour time. Reservations are not accepted. Tours fill up quickly in summer months. Tour times for 2008: Jun 21 - Aug 31: Daily at 10AM, 11AM and 2PM. Apr 19 - Jun 20; Sep 1 - Nov 30: Weekdays at 2PM only, Weekends at 10AM, 11AM and 2PM. Last day for Freedom Trail tours is Sunday, November 30.
- 1 Downtown Visitors Center (1st floor, Faneuil Hall), 1 Faneuil Hall Sq (T: State Street & Government Center). 9AM-6PM daily, closed New Year's Day, Thanksgiving Day, & Christmas Day. Free.
- 2 , Building 5 (T: Community College). Jan-May 4: W-Su 10AM-5PM; May 5-Jun 23: 9AM-5PM daily; Jun 24-Sep 29: 9AM-6PM daily; Sep 30-Dec 1: 10AM-5PM daily. Free.
The visitor center at the Freedom Trail also offers GPS enabled self-guided audio tour guide app for both iPhone and Android. It works offline; the password to access the Tour/App can be purchased at the visitor center or online via Viator. Each point of interest along the tour has a narrated story, narrated directions, and helpful images. As you walk along the path and approach a pin, its story automatically pops-up and starts playing professionally narrated stories (prepared by local guides). The self-guided tour eliminates the need to follow any scheduled tour timings, one can skip crowded groups.
By public transit
If you are starting in the park like everyone else, your best bet is to take the Red Line or Green Line to Park Street. If you're going in reverse, try Community College on the Orange Line. The roads are so small and congested down here even busses often find themselves stuck in traffic.
In short: Do not drive a car through downtown Boston if you value your sanity. It will not be a fun proposition and you won't get there faster than by public transit anyway.
Sites in Beacon Hill
- 1 Boston Common (T: Park Street or Boylston). 24 hours daily. The Freedom Trail begins at Boston Common where cattle once grazed and British soldiers camped. Puritan settlers established the Common in 1634, making it the nation's oldest public park. Over the years, many large gatherings have been held here, from British encampments in the revolutionary period to anti-war protests in the 1960s. A nice spot for walking around and people-watching at all times of year. The Frog Pond in the center of the Common has wading in the summer and ice skating in the winter. Free.
- 2 Massachusetts State House, Beacon & Park Streets (T: Park Street), ☏ , fax: . M-F 10AM-4PM. Charles Bulfinch designed the Massachusetts State House, which overlooks the Common. Samuel Adams and Paul Revere laid the cornerstone in 1795, while the land was provided by John Hancock. The dome of the State House was refurbished with glittering gold leaf in 1997, and makes for a spectacular view at sunset from the Massachusetts Avenue bridge. The original Bulfinch building finished its first major expansion in 1895, while east and west wings were added in 1917. Free.
- 3 Park Street Church, 1 Park St (T: Park Street), ☏ . Tu-Sa 9:30AM-3PM. The elegant spire of the church and its carillon, which sounds twice daily from its steeple, have long been landmarks for downtown shoppers. Founded in 1809, and still an active house of worship, this church is known for a number of historical firsts. Among other things, William Lloyd Garrison delivered his first anti-slavery address here, and "My Country Tis of Thee" was first sung on the front steps. Free.
- 4 Granary Burying Ground, Tremont St. between Park and Beacon Streets (T: Park Street or Government Center). 10AM-5PM daily. Patriots John Hancock, Paul Revere, James Otis, Samuel Adams, Robert Treat Paine; Crispus Attucks and other victims of the Boston Massacre; and whole families of settlers ravaged by fire and plague are interred in this cemetery next to Park Street Church. Free.
- 5 King's Chapel, 58 Tremont Street (T: Park Street or Government Center), ☏ . 10AM-5PM summer, 10AM-4PM winter (call ahead). King's Chapel, designed by Peter Harrison in 1749 for the first Anglican congregation in Boston, possesses one of the most elegant Georgian church interiors of the colonial era. The congregation was a stronghold of Loyalist opposition, and most of its members left for England and Nova Scotia in 1776. In 1787 those who remained organized the nation's first Unitarian congregation. The bell in the bell tower here was hung in 1772. When it cracked in 1814, it was recast by Paul Revere in 1816 and remains in use today. Free.
- 6 King's Chapel Burying Ground, 50 Tremont Street (T: Park Street or Government Center). 10AM-5PM daily. Predating King's Chapel by over a century, this burying ground was founded in 1630, and is the oldest in Boston. Notable figures buried here include the colony's first governor John Winthrop and patriot William Dawes. One of the gravestones here inspired Nathaniel Hawthorne to pen The Scarlet Letter. Free.
- 7 Franklin Statue & First School Site (Old City Hall), 45 School Street (T: Government Center or State). 24 hours daily. This statue of Benjamin Franklin overlooks the first site of the Latin School, the oldest public school in America, established by Puritan settlers in 1635. Franklin, Samuel Adams, and John Hancock all attended. While the first schoolhouse was built right here, it has long since decamped to the Longwood section of Fenway. Boston Latin remains one of the most competitive and highest ranked secondary schools in the nation today. Free.
- 8 Old Corner Bookstore, 283 Washington Street (State). 10:45AM-10PM daily. Typical of the kinds of shops that lined the streets of colonial Boston, this gambrel-roof building was saved from destruction in the 1960s and restored by Historic Boston in 1970. Built as an apothecary for druggist Thomas Crease in 1718, it became a literary center in the mid-1800s. Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Louisa May Alcott, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and many others brought their scripts here to be published by Ticknor and Fields Co. Today it houses a Chipotle, no joke. Free.
- 9 Old South Meeting House, 310 Washington St. (T: Downtown Crossing or State), ☏ . 9:30AM-5PM (Apr-Oct), 10AM-4PM (Nov-Mar). Built in 1729 as a Puritan house of worship, the Old South Meeting House was the largest building in colonial Boston. In the days leading up to the American Revolution, citizens gathered here to challenge British rule, protesting the Boston Massacre and the tea tax. Here, at an overflow meeting on December 16, 1773, patriot Samuel Adams launched the Boston Tea Party. He lead a group of colonists to nearby docks, raiding three tea ships and "throwing the tea into the sea". Saved from destruction in 1876, in the first successful historic preservation effort in New England, the building is now an active meeting place, a haven for free speech, and a museum exhibit, "Voices of Protest". $6 for adults, $5 age 62+, $5 students with ID, $1 age 5-17.
- 10 Old State House, 206 Washington St. (T: State or Government Center), ☏ . 9AM-5PM daily. Built in 1713, this historic landmark was the seat of colonial and state governments as well as a merchants' exchange. In 1761 patriot James Otis opposed the Writs of Assistance here, inspiring John Adams to state, "than and there the child of independence was born." A cobblestone circle under its balcony marks the site of the 1770 Boston Massacre when British soldiers fired into a crowd of Bostonians. Fugitive slave Crispus Attucks was among the five victims who died that day. In 1776 the Declaration of Independence was first read to Bostonians from its balcony, an act repeated to this day every 4th of July. Today the Bostonian Society maintains the building as a museum of Boston history. Adults $10; seniors/students $8.50; under 18 free.
- 11 Site of the Boston Massacre (Old State House), 206 Washington Street (T: State). 24 hours daily. Marked by an array of stones set in the ground directly in front of the Old State House. But the true site of the Massacre is maybe 800-1000 feet east of here down State Street towards Long Wharf. The present location became a nice compromise, because the last thing the city wants is hundreds of tourists running out into traffic, focusing more on their cameras than their personal safety. Free.
- 12 Faneuil Hall (The Cradle of Liberty) (T: Government Center, State, or Aquarium). 9AM-5PM. First built in 1742 as an old market building at the town dock. Town meetings, held here between 1764 and 1774, heard Samuel Adams and others lead cries of protest against the imposition of taxes on the colonies. The building was enlarged in 1806. Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, and Lucy Stone brought their struggles for freedom here in the 19th century. Market stalls on the first floor service shoppers much as they did in Paul Revere's day. Free.
- 13 Paul Revere House, 19 North Sq (T: Haymarket), ☏ . Apr 15-Oct 31 9:30AM-5:15PM; Nov 1-Apr 14 9:30AM-4:15PM. Boston's oldest residential neighborhood, the North End, includes the Paul Revere House, downtown Boston's oldest residence, built about 1680. Paul Revere and his family owned and occupied it most of the time from 1770-1800. The Paul Revere Memorial Association now operates it, along with the neighboring Pierce-Hichborn House, as a house museum. The association restored the dwelling in 1908 after it had been used as a cigar factory and bank, and for other purposes. $5 adults, $4.50 seniors/students, $1 children 5-17.
- 14 Old North Church (Christ Church in the City of Boston), 193 Salem St (T: Haymarket), ☏ . Nov 16-Mar 31: 10AM-4PM daily; Apr 1-Nov 15: 9AM-6PM daily. Built in 1723, Christ Church is better known as Old North. Boston's oldest church building, it remains an active Episcopal Church. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow memorialized Old North's role at the start of the Revolutionary War in his poem, "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere." On the night of April 18, 1775, sexton Robert Newman hung two lanterns in the steeple to warn Charlestown patriots of advancing British soldiers. The Georgian style church houses the nation's first maiden peal of bells and the first bust of George Washington. Access to the church's bell tower and crypt are only available on a behind-the-scenes tour. $5 adult admission, free for children under 5; behind-the-scenes tours are $6 adults, $5 students/seniors/military, $4 children under 12.
- 15 Copp's Hill Burying Ground, Hull Street (T: Haymarket). 10AM-5PM daily. From this spot British soldiers bombarded Breed's Hill with cannon fire on June 17, 1775. Robert Newman, black educator Prince Hall, and blacks and mulattos who worked in North End shipyards are buried in these grounds dating to 1660. Free.
Sites in Charlestown
- 16 Bunker Hill Monument (Breed's Hill), Monument Square (T: Community College). Sep 30-Apr 1: 10AM-5PM daily; Apr 2-Jun 23: 9:30AM-5PM daily; Jun 24-Sep 29: 10AM-6PM daily. Dedicated in 1843, this 221-foot obelisk commemorates the Revolution's first major battle. Visitors may climb the monument's 294 steps. A museum across the street has exhibits about the community, monument, and battle. During busy summer months, you'll need a pass to climb the monument. Passes are available at the museum and are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Free.
- 17 USS Constitution (Charlestown Navy Yard), Building 22 (T: North Station), ☏ . Apr-Oct: 9AM-6PM daily; Nov-Mar 10AM-5PM daily. After the Revolution, citizens proved their willingness to defend their newfound freedom and economic independence by developing and supporting a navy. From 1800 to 1974, Charlestown Navy Yard built, repaired, and outfitted US naval vessels. Today the yard is home to the USS Constitution, the oldest commissioned warship afloat in the world, and the USS Cassin Young, refitted and modernized in the yard's drydock, represents the type of ship built here during World War II. Free.
This is a heavily trafficked and touristed area, so take normal big city precautions securing your valuables. Some historic sections of side walk are over 200 years old and may be uneven, or more slippery than you are used to if it has rained recently. Keep an eye out for crazy drivers swerving around the construction that is no doubt occurring. Remember to stay hydrated!
See also Boston Black Heritage Trail.