It was a cold January day when I set out to follow the Freedom Trail in Boston. Beginning at Boston Common, the oldest public park in America, and running clear across the River Charles to Bunker Hill, the walk takes you through Boston’s historic streets, past many historically significant sites.
Along the way I see cemeteries that date back to the days America’s founding fathers walked these same streets. Paul Revere, John Hancock, Benjamin Franklin – they all lived and worked in Boston. Today they rest in the Granary Burying Ground, as do the five victims of the Boston Massacre.
As I walked, I followed a brick line embedded in the sidewalk. which marks the entire trail – no map needed. Just across from the Granary Burying Ground is the King’s Chapel, built in 1754, but originally founded in 1686. I learned it contains the oldest pulpit in continuous use in the United States. Behind King’s Chapel is the site of the Boston Latin School, the oldest school in the US. Some of its alumni include the same men buried not a half block away. Today a statue of Ben Franklin stands vigil over the site where his old school once stood. That’s a lot of firsts and oldests in less than a one block radius.
A bit further stands the Old South Meeting House, the spot were over five thousand Bostonians gathered in 1773 to protest the tax on tea. It began its life as a Puritan church and became the largest building in colonial Boston. It was the epicenter of colonial protest against British rule. I step across its famous threshold and sit in the same pews as colonists once did – still in working order despite the British using it as a stable and riding school for cavalry during the Revolution.
All along the historic trail I witness the sights and sounds of life in modern-day Boston mixing with history. Modern traffic sounds blend seamlessly with church bells. Skyscrapers dwarf the Old State House, site of the Boston Massacre. Men in business suits share the sidewalk with Ben Franklin and a Continental soldier.
I stop for a drink at a tavern that harkens back to the intrigue of colonists during the Revolution. Nearby is a restaurant frequented by John F. Kennedy, one of Boston’s most favorite sons. I see my friend the Continental soldier supping with another man dressed as a general. Just another afternoon at the Green Dragon I suppose.
I continue on to the North End and find evidence of Boston’s more recent immigrants alongside the still standing 17th century home of Paul Revere. Italian gelato shops and corner markets now stand in the area once occupied by Major Pitcairn and Governor Hutchinson in the days leading up to the Revolution. The same narrow streets laid out as they have been for centuries.
Somehow it all just works together. Modern day Boston is a quirky blend of old and new, but it is a perfect representation of two hundred years of cultural evolution. Its streets tell the story of how a powerful nation developed from a small group of British colonies. How the few defeated the mighty.
As I walked through the darkening streets, I could smell the spices of Italy waft through the air in the North End. Although electric street lights have replaced the oil lanterns of old, they still cause a dim, slightly eerie atmosphere in the old streets. Waving in the evening breeze is an American flag. It marks this time and this place as uniquely …American.
All photos by the author.