This free walking tour will primarily take place in the Seaport area which is a part of Boston that was reclaimed from the harbor. In the mid to late 1800s seawalls were built and the land was filled in but much of it used for the railroads. At the close of the 20th century the area had deteriorated but since then a great deal of new building has breathed life into this part of Boston.
We start our tour on an observation deck which will provide a great view of the area and then move on to the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum, the Hood Milk Bottle, the Boston Children’s Museum, Martin’s Park, Fan Pier Park, the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) and the Boston Fire Museum.
If traveled directly from point to point the walk should take a little over 30 minutes over 1 1/2 miles.
Stop 1: Observation Deck at Independence Wharf
(470 Atlantic Ave, open daily 10am to 5pm)
Independence Wharf is an office building but it has a free but not well known public observation deck. Head to the guards at the front desk and tell them you wish to go to the Observation Deck. They require you to sign-in and show ID. Take the elevator to the 14th floor and then follow the signs. Has great views of Boston Harbor, Fort Point Channel, Moakley Courthouse, Boston Children’s Museum, etc.
Stop 2: Boston Tea Party Site
The office site is designated at this marker.
On the winter night of December 16, 1773 members of the Sons of Liberty disguised as Mohawk Indians boarded three ships carrying British East India Company tea moored at Griffin’s Wharf. In a short time 340 chests carrying 92,000 pounds of tea were smashed and dumped into Boston Harbor.
The tea party came about after the Townsend Act had been passed by Parliament restricting the colonies to only purchase tea from England which was taxed. This was part of a series of laws passed by the British Government which the Colonies were opposed to because they didn’t have representation in parliament which was leading to “taxation without representation”.
Parliament responded to the destruction of the tea in 1774 with the Intolerable Acts which ended local self-government in Massachusetts and closed Boston's ports. Colonists up and down the Thirteen Colonies in turn responded with additional acts of protest and eventually by convening the First Continental Congress, which petitioned the British monarch for repeal of the acts and coordinated colonial resistance to them. The crisis escalated, and the American Revolutionary War began near Boston in 1775.
Stop 3: Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum
(306 Congress St, https://www.bostonteapartyship.com/, hours 10am to 4pm)
A historical reenactment museum whose employees in character provide an overview of the events leading up to the tea party. The museum has full-scale replica 18th-century sailing vessels and provides visitors an opportunity to throw bales of tea overboard. There are also historic artifacts and various interactive exhibits. The vessel was a replica of the Beaver, one of the three British ships ransacked by the Sons of Liberty at the Boston Tea Party.
There is a café on location that offers the 5 types of tea that were thrown overboard. Both the café and the museum gift shop are open to the general public without a museum ticket.
Stop 4: Hood Milk Bottle
The Hood Milk Bottle is located on the Hood Milk Bottle Plaza in front of the Children's Museum where it has been since April 20, 1977. The 40 foot tall milk bottle is 18 feet in diameter and weighs 15,000 pounds. It offers a variety of basic food (e.g. hot dogs, chicken fingers), ice cream and lobster rolls.
In 1933 Arthur Gagner built the Milk Bottle on the banks of the Three Mile River in Taunton, Massachusetts, in order to sell homemade ice cream next to his store. It was one of the first fast-food drive-in restaurants in the United States. The bottle was abandoned in 1967 and stood vacant for 10 years until H.P. Hood and Sons purchased it and gave it to Children’s Museum.
Stop 5: Boston Children’s Museum
(308 Congress Street, https://www.bostonchildrensmuseum.org/)
Boston’s Children’s Museum is the 2nd oldest children’s museum in the USA. The museum officially opened in August 1913 at the Pinebank Mansion located along Jamaica Pond in Olmsted Park. In 1979 the Museum moved to its current location into half of an empty wool warehouse in order to gain more space and become more accessible to people in Boston.
The Museum is focused on hand’s on interaction and has a number of fun creative exhibits including: bubble making machinery, a 3-story climbing structure, a real 2-story townhouse from Kyoto Japan, etc. The museum also offers short 15-30 minute children’s performances throughout the day at their Kidstage. Friday night’s have a special admission of $1 per person.
Stop 6: Martin’s park
The park contains an outdoor children’s playground located on the pier next to the Children’s Museum and includes a ship, a climbing hill, a seasonal splash/spray area and a number of other play structures.
Stop 7: Fan Pier Park
A landscaped waterfront area with amazing views of downtown Boston. There are a variety of sitting areas including a fire pit.
The “fan” in fan pier comes from the piers distinctive curve which was at one time a rail yard with its railroad tracks radiating out like the prongs on a fan that terminated at the edge of the pier until the early 1900s.
Stop 8: Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA)
(25 Harbor Shore Drive, closed Mondays, icaboston.org)
The museum was founded in 1936 as a sister institution to New York City’s Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) and used space at Harvard University’s museums. It broke off its relationship to MOMA in 1939 and moved to new buildings every few years through the 40s, 50s and 60s until in 1973 it moved into a former police station at 955 Boylston St where it stayed for 33 years.
In 2006 the ICA moved to its new 65,000 square foot building, designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, on Fan Pier into a building with a shape similar to that of the cranes located along the waterfront. The building contains galleries and performance space and has considerable outdoor space including a grand staircase (great for sitting and watching the waterfront). Since moving in the ICA has began to build a permanent collection, supporting and displaying contemporary art in all media—visual arts, performance, film, video, and literature.
In 2018 the ICA transformed a condemned 15,000 square-foot building in East Boston’s Boston Harbor Shipyard and Marina into the ICA Watershed. This is a seasonal space, closed in the winter, and admission is free. The ICA offers ferry service from its main building but only with paid admission to the ICA (and it provides a fantastic view of downtown Boston).
The ICA is free on Thursday nights from 5-9pm and on certain holidays. The last Saturday of every month, except December, is free for up to 2 adults when accompanied by kids 12 and under. The ICA is always free to children ages 18 and under.
Stop 9: Boston Fire Museum
(344 Congress Street, http://www.bostonfiremuseum.com/)
The Romanesque style station was designed by Harrison H. Atwood, then the city architect, and constructed in 1891. The firehouse was retired in 1977 and in 1983 the building became the Boston Fire Museum.
The small museum houses various antique artifacts and exhibits of firefighting apparatus, equipment (some of which can be touched), clothing and photographs and fire alarm displays. These include a hand-drawn, hand-operated Ephraim Thayer pumper (1793) and a hand-drawn American LaFrance Ladder Truck (1860). And a replica of a horse stall with a harness suspended from the ceiling for quick hookup.
Admission is free but donations are suggested.
Other nearby stops:
(75 Northern Ave, districthallboston.org)
A Boston non-profit that provides free public workspace. Perfect if while on your tour you need to take a little time for work and need access to a place to sit, to plug into free electrical outlets and to access free wifi.
Leader Bank Pavilion
(290 Northern Ave, https://www.livenation.com/venue/KovZpZAEAdEA/leader-bank-pavilion-events)
The name has often changed but this is a large outdoor amphitheater that seats 5,200 and is located right on the harbor (giving it access to cool evening breezes in the summer but can be chilly in Spring and Fall). Events take place from May until September.
The Lawn On D
(420 D Street)
This is a 2.7 acre outdoor space for public use and at times closed for private events. Open from spring to fall it offers swings for adults, outdoor games and free wifi. Food and drinks are available on the weekends