This tour starts at the marketplaces of Faneuil Hall, Quincy Market, Boston Public Market and Haymarket and then heads into the North End. Many of the sites were historically significant in the Revolutionary War times.
After beginning at the Faneuil Hall Marketplace, which includes Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market, the tours continues on to the Boston Public Market, Haymarket, the Zipporah Potter Atkins House, Paul Revere’s House, the Lewis Wharf, the Paul Revere Statue and Mall, the Old North Church, the Skinny House, Copp’s Hill Burying Ground, the Great Molasses Flood Plaque and the location of the Great Brinks Robbery.
If only walking directly from location to location without stop, the walking tour would cover a little over 1 1/2 miles of ground while taking about 45 minutes.
Faneuil Hall Marketplace
The marketplace was created in 1976 when the city renovated the Faneuil Hall area and buildings to create what is now a major shopping and eating destination. The marketplace consists of 4 historic buildings: Faneuil Hall, Quincy Market and the North and South Marketing Buildings.
Stop 1. Faneuil Hall
(1 Faneuil Hall Sq., Boston)
Faneuil Hall has been a market and meeting place since it was built in 1743.
Peter Faneuil, a wealthy Boston merchant, built and gave the building to the city in order to provide a marketplace for peddlers to sell their wares instead of clogging up the streets with pushcarts. Ironically part of Faneuil’s wealth came from the slave trade thus the building known as “the cradle of liberty” was at least partially funded by slavery.
The building had an open ground floor to be used as a marketplace and an assembly room on the floor above. Leading up to the Revolutionary War it was the site of speeches by Sam Adams, James Otis and many others where citizens could proclaim their dissent against the British crown.
In 1742 the gilded grasshopper weather vane was added to the top of the building. In 1806 the building was greatly expanded by architect Charles Bulfinch and was entirely rebuilt out of non-combustible materials in 1898.
Currently the ground floor has retail stores in it, the 2nd and 3rd floors house the Great Hall which is an auditorium with 2 tiered seating and the 4th floor is a free military museum which houses a collection (including cannon balls from the Battle of Bunker Hill) from the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company (the oldest chartered military organization in the western hemisphere - since 1638).
Stop 2. Quincy Market
(4 South Market St, Boston, MA 02109. ,https://www.quincy-market.com/)
In May 1823 the newly elected Boston mayor, Josiah Quincy, helped to organize the building of a new marketplace for Boston to address the lack of space on the ground floor of Faneuil Hall. Part of the harbor, which reached right behind Faneuil Hall, was filled in to create space for the Quincy Market building and two other buildings built on either side which were named the North and South Market buildings. Architect and engineer Alexander Parris designed and completed the buildings in 1826 and the main building was named after Mayor Quincy.
Today the Quincy Market building houses eating stalls while the North and South Market buildings contain retail stores. There are free one hour tours of Quincy Market on Mondays and Saturdays in July and August.
The area between the Eastern end of the Hall and Congress Street is a part of the Boston National Historical Park and this includes a public art installation (a once and future shoreline) of an 850 foot etched flooring showing the approximate location of the Colonial shore line.
Stop 3. Boston Public Market
(100 Hanover St, Boston, MA 02108, https://bostonpublicmarket.org/)
Boston Public Market is a year-round indoor public market that houses around 35 vendor stalls offering fresh foods, prepared meals, crafts, and specialty items. Everything sold at the Market is produced or originates in Massachusetts or at least New England, as the seasons allow. The market opened in July 2015 and was the first in the United States with an all-local-food requirement. There is also a 3,200 square foot kitchen within the market that offers hands-on cooking demos, lectures, family activities, exercise classes, training and community events, etc..
An outdoor farmers' market is open on Sundays and Wednesdays from May to November on the plaza next to the building and a second seasonal outdoor farmers' market is available in Dewey Square, near the southern end of the Greenway.
Vendors at the Public Market can validate parking on the overhead parking garage providing attractively priced parking in downtown Boston.
Stop 4. Haymarket
Haymarket is a large open air produce market that is held every Friday and Saturday right near the Haymarket MBTA Station. About 50 vendors are selling fruit, vegetables and fish at low prices which they obtained from wholesale distributors who are making room for new produce that arrives over the weekend.
In 1952 this market was relocated from Haymarket Square, which is one block north, to provide space for the construction of the elevated Central Artery. The buildings around the market were demolished to make way for the highway and for the building of the Government Center.
Haymarket Square sits on land that was previously a pond – Mill Pond. This area was at first called Mill Cove until a causeway was built which closed off the cove from the Charles River creating Mill Pond. The city began reclaiming more land for Boston and started filling in Mill Pond in 1807. The name Haymarket Square first appeared on a map in 1844.
Stop 5. Zipporah Potter Atkins House
Near this location was the first house owned by an African-American woman in Boston. Zipporah Potter (taking the surname Atkins after marriage) was born in 1645 in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Her parents were slaves but at that time children born to slaves were free.
When she purchased the house in 1670 she was the first African-American to own land in Massachusetts and one of the first African-American landowners in what would be the United States.
Stop 6. Paul Revere House
(19 North Square Boston, MA 02113, 9:30am to 4:15pm (closed Mondays jan – mar), https://www.paulreverehouse.org/)
The Paul Revere House, built in 1860, is the oldest residential home in Boston.
Paul Revere purchased the house in 1770, when he was 35 years old, and he and his family were still living there when he made his famous ride to Lexington and Concord on the night of April 18 – 19, 1775. He sold the house in 1800 and the building became a tenement with a ground floor used for commercial business. In 1902 Revere’s great-grandson purchased the house and in 1908 it opened its doors as one of the first historical house museums in the United States.
The building is still a museum today and new visitor and education center opened and is connected to the house via an elevated walkway.
Admission is $5 per person, cash only
Stop 7. Lewis Wharf
Lewis Wharf was owned by various individuals through the 1700s including John Hancock. After the Revolutionary War Thomas Lewis, a successful merchant, purchased the property from the Hancock estate. Thomas, his son John and his cousin Samuel established the Lewis Wharf Company in 1834 and upgraded the property with the granite masonry structure (one of the first in Boston) and established stores on the ground floors.
The building became the equivalent of an early 19th-century shopping mall. This was in the era before railroads so water transport was the most efficient way to move merchandise to marketplaces. Old advertisements showed items for sale such as cocao, cod, "Guadeloupe cotton", "Jamaican fish", gin, rice, salt, white sugar, "brown Havana sugar", tar, and turpentine.
As railroads were built connecting Boston to inland cities markets developed away from the water closer to where people lived while the wharves became places to load/unload ocean going freight. Demand for warehouse space at the wharves also declined especially in the later 20th century as containerized freight and larger ships required more modern facilities.
After a time of disrepair as waterfront urban renewal took hold in Boston's historic North End, Lewis Wharf’s space was redeveloped for commercial use on the bottom floors with residential space on the top floors.
Stop 8. Paul Revere Statue and Mall
The famous statue of Paul Revere on his midnight ride (on the way to Lexington & Concord to warn that the British are coming) can be found in the middle of the mall with the Old North Church in the background. The statue was made by Cyrus Dallin and unveiled on September 22, 1940.
The Mall is a tree lined brick area with a line of benches providing a great space to sit in the North End. The park is bounded on one end by the Old North Church and at the other end by St Stephen’s Church.
Stop 9. Old North Church
(193 Salem St, Boston, MA 02113, 10am to 4pm, https://oldnorth.com/)
The Old North Church is Boston’s oldest church, built in 1723.
The church played a significant role at the beginning of the Revolutionary War when Paul Revere had a signal system setup so that the rebels could tell at a far distance which direction the British were taking on their march to Lexington and Concord to confiscate rebel weaponry and imprison the leaders. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem, “Paul Revere’s Ride” captured event by writing that lanterns were hung to signify “one if by land, two if by sea”.
The bells of the church have been restored and are cleaned and rung regularly. One of them has the inscription “We are the first ring of bells cast for the British Empire in North America, A.R. 1744.”
Today this location also includes Clough House (one of the oldest brick buildings in Boston built ca. 1712-1715), five gardens and the Old North gift shop, formally a St. Francis chapel, built in 1918. There is also a chocolate shop that shows how chocolate was made in the 18th century along with its connections to the Old North Church.
Admission is $8 per person.
Stop 10. Skinny House
(44 Hull Street, private residence – not open to the public)
This house on Hull Street, built in the 1870s, has the distinction of being the narrowest house in Boston. At its widest point the house is 10.4 feet (3.16m) wide, which is the side on Hull Street, and in the back the house narrows to 9.25 feet (2.82 m). In the interior from wall-to-wall the house is at most 9.2 feet (2.80 m) but it’s shortest point is 8.4 feet (2.56 m)
There isn’t a definitive history but the Skinny House is known as a spite house. One story is that two brothers inherited land and while the one was away the first brother built a large house taking up most of the property. When the second brother returned he built the skinny house on the small land that was left, blocking the sun and views from his brother’s larger house. An alternative story is that a builder built the Skinny House to block the light and limit the air of his hostile neighbor.
Stop 11. Copp’s Hill Burying Ground
(45 Hull St, Boston, MA 02113, 10am to 5pm)
Copp’s Hill Burying Ground, founded in 1659, is where many of the commercial residents of the north end – the merchants, artisans, and craftspeople - were buried. The area was originally owned by a local shoemaker with the last name of Copp.
Those buried include fire and brimstone preachers Cotton and Increase Mather who were closely related to the Salem Witch Trials, Robert Newman, the Old North Church sexton who hung the lanterns on the night of Paul Revere’s ride and Prince Hall, the father of black freemasonry. Many African Americans who lived in the “new guinea” community are buried on the snow hill street side.
Because of the cemetery’s height, the British used this vantage point to train their cannons on Charlestown during the Battle of Bunker Hill.
Stop 12. Great molasses flood plaque
On January 15th 1919 a two-story wave of molasses travelling at 35 mph destroyed buildings, killed 21 people and injured 150. At that time the North End was the industrial section of Boston. The Purity Distilling Company owned a five-story-tall cylindrical metal tank, 90 feet in diameter, which they used to store up to 2.3 million gallons molasses.
That day the structural integrity of the tank failed, bursting the metal sides with enough force that they were ripped into sharp projectiles and the tank’s metal bolts were shot from its sides like bullets. The wave of molasses and debris moved down Commercial Street smashing objects, picking up some buildings by their foundations and floating them away, pushing electric poles over and tipped a streetcar momentarily off its tracks.
It took over 87,000 man-hours to remove the molasses from the surrounding streets and houses, and the area was said to have remained sticky to the touch and sweet to the smell for years afterward.
The disaster was at first blamed on Italian anarchists but after many years of litigation, the Purity Distilling Company was eventually found culpable and was forced to pay a million-dollar settlement. The tragedy resulted in one of the state’s first class-action lawsuits, and set precedence for modern zoning laws.
Stop 13. Great Brinks Robbery
(600 Commercial Street)
On January 17, 1950, the Brink's Building (the security services company) at the east corner of Prince and Commercial St. was robbed of $2.775 million ($28.9 million in today’s dollars) becoming known as "the crime of the century". This was the largest robbery in the history of the USA and stayed so until 1984. An eleven person gang executed the robbery leaving very few clues at the scene – only the ropes that were used to tie-up five Brink’s employees and chauffer’s cap used as a disguise. The criminals had meticulously planned the crime over a 2 year period which included practice break-ins and temporarily removing five different lock’s cylinders in order to make copies of the keys.
After the theft, the gang split the money and agreed not to touch any of the money for six years after which the statute of limitations on this crime would expire. While the police and FBI investigated the crime thoroughly they were only able to solve the crime after one of the gang members was willing to give up after an attempted murder on his life by another of the gang. The FBI arrested the rest of the criminals only 5 days before the statute of limitations was reached. While all of the gang went to jail, in the end only $58,000 of the $2.7million was recovered.
Today the building is a parking garage located at 600 Commercial Street