Visiting Boston’s Historical Sites

Unlike most states in the Union, the capitol of Massachusetts is also its largest city – Boston. (Most states chose capitol cities based on their geographical location, not how big the city was…or might become.)

Indeed, Boston is a huge city, with over 600,000 people in the city proper and over 4.5 million people if you count all the suburbs and environs of that comprise “Greater Boston.” It’s located at the innermost point of Massachusetts Bay, at the mouth of the Charles River.

Boston holds the distinction of being one of the oldest cities in the United States, founded in 1630. Revolutionary war enthusiasts know that the Boston Tea Party and the Boston Massacre took place here, as well as the Battle of Breed’s Hill. (Let this article be the first to stop calling it the Battle of Bunker Hill when everyone knows it took place on Breed’s Hill!)

But every visit to a state’s capitol city should start with that city’s government buildings.

The capitol building and seat of government in Boston is called the Massachusetts State House.  The gold gilded-domed building houses the state legislature – called the Massachusetts General Court, and the offices of the Governor of Massachusetts. The building is located at the top of Beacon Hill… the only one of three hills that used to be part of Boston, until two of them were dug up to serve as for landfill, in order to triple the size of the city. Indeed, Beacon Hill is only half its original size.

In any event, walk up Beacon Hill to visit the State House, a building which has been standing since 1798 (with a few additions and renovations since then, of course). Walk through the grounds to see statues of prominent Bostonians. Within the building itself are historic murals, by Edward Brodney. These murals are, according to the New York Times, “relatively rare examples of military art with women as their subjects.”

Massachusetts is one of a handful of states that does not provide a governor’s mansion to serve as the governor’s residence.

After you’ve visited the State House, walk around the Government Center. Here you’ll find Boston City Hall, two Suffolk County courthouses, two state office buildings, and two federal office buildings, and City Hall Plaza, a large open square used for outdoor community events such as free concerts in the summer.  There’s a large Santa’s-workshop display there in the winter. These buildings have been in existence only since the 1960s, when they were built on the site of what had been the historical Scollay Square (1838-1962).

Other historical spots in Boston are located within minutes walk of the Government Center, on the Freedom Trail.

You’ve heard of the Yellow Brick Road? The Freedom Trail is a red brick path, which leads pedestrians through downtown Boston and past 16 historic sites. Return to the State House to pick up the trail, and then follow along to see:

Park Street Church

Granary Burying Ground

King’s Chapel

King’s Chapel Burying Ground

Benjamin Franklin statue (and former site of Boston’s first public school)

Old Corner Bookstore

Old South Meeting House

Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market

Paul Revere House

Old North Church

Copp’s Hill Burying Ground

USS Constitution

Bunker Hill Monument

The Freedom Trail actually starts at Boston Common (site of the Boston Massacre) and then goes on to the State House. You can pick up the trail wherever you please, of course.

The Black Heritage Trail intersects with the Freedom Trail at the State House. Massachusetts was the first state in the Union to declare slavery illegal, and the famous 54th Regiment of the Civil War came from Massachusetts (their story is told in the movie Glory.) Other sites of interest in the Civil Rights movement are also on the trail.

Note that many of the buildings on the tour are private residences and are not open to the public.

1. Robert Gould Shaw and 54th Regiment Memorial

2. George Middleton House

3. The Phillips School

4. John J. Smith House

5. Charles Street Meeting House

6. Lewis and Harriet Hayden House

7. John Coburn House

8-12. Smith Court Residences

13. Abiel Smith School

14. The African Meeting House

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