“The Freedom Trail [a registered trademark!] is a one-of-a-kind American experience”, according to the 2015 Official Brochure produced by the Freedom Trail Foundation. “Close to 60 years ago the CIty of Boston recognized that a cluster of buildings and locations in the downtown area were so historically significant that they had to preserve them for generations to come. These 16 sites are The Freedom Trail — the backbone of the American Revolutionary story. ” [Additional information may be found at: http://www.TheFreedomTrail.org]
The first stop on the Freedom Trail is Boston Common, adjacent to Boston’s Public Garden (see our previous blog post). The Boston Common is America’s oldest public park, having begun as a “common” grazing ground for sheep and cattle. The local citizenry was assessed for the purchase of 44 acres of open land, held in common by the people and used as a pasture, dating back to the City’s founding in 1630.
The photograph below is the Massachusetts State House, designed by Charles Bulfinch (a famous colonial architect). This “new” State House was completed on January 11, 1798. The original wooden dome was later overlaid with copper by Paul Revere; not until 1874 was it covered with 23-karat gold leaf (as shown).
The land for the State House was originally used as John Hancock’s cow pasture (he later was president of Congress and the first signer in 1776, in large flamboyant characters, of the United States Declaration of Independence — a large signature so that England’s King George could read it without his spectacles). Note that it is under the golden dome that the senators, state representatives and the governor conduct the daily business of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
The 217-foot steeple of the Park Street Church was once the first landmark that travelers saw when approaching Boston. Its lofty architecture, designed by Peter Banner, reflects the lofty mission of human rights and social justice. Prison reform began in this church, women’s suffrage was strongly supported here, and some of the first and most impassioned protests against slavery were delivered inside. The church was founded in 1809. The site of the Park Street Church is known as “Brimstone Corner”, perhaps because the church building once housed brimstone (a component of gun powder) in its basement during the War of 1812. Or maybe it’s because old-school ministers delivered many a “hell-fire and brimstone” sermons here.
“America (My Country ‘Tis of Thee)”, by Samuel Francis Smith, was first sung at Park Street Church on July 4, 1831.
Many important organizations were founded here, including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Animal Rescue League of Boston.
Some of America’s most notable citizens rest in the Granary Burying Ground. An elaborately embellished obelisk marks the site of john Hancock’s tomb. Benjamin Franklin’s parents, along with Revolutionary heroes such as Paul Revere (see below), Samuel Adams, James Otis, all five of the Boston Massacre victims, and Peter Faneuil are also buried here.
King’s Chapel, founded in 1688, was the first non-Puritan church in the colonies and became the first Unitarian Church in America. It houses the oldest American pulpit in continuous use. By 1749 the congregation outgrew its original wooden building and hired Peter Harrison, America’s first architect, to build the current structure. Construction began that year and was completed in 1754. It was the first dressed stone building constructed in the colonies, made of granite quarried in Quincy, MA.
The magnificent interior is considered the finest example of Georgian church architecture in North America. Paul Revere crafted the King’s Chapel’s 2,347 pound (1,065 kilograms) bell in 1816, and he proclaimed it the “sweetest sounding” he had ever created.
Today, King’s Chapel looks very much as it did when it opened over 260 years ago.
Adjacent to the Chapel, King’s Chapel Burying Ground was Boston proper’s only burying place for nearly 30 years. John Winthrop, Massachusetts’ first governor, and Mary Chilton, the first woman to step off the Mayflower, are buried here.
Our walk along The Freedom Trail will be continued in our next two blog posts.