Old North Church

He said to his friend, “If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch
Of the North Church tower as a signal light,–
One if by land, and two if by sea;

– excerpt from “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

So is the claim to fame of Boston’s Old North Church as the starting point for Paul Revere‘s ride.

The enduring legend of the Old North Old Church began on April 18, 1775. Robert Newman, the church’s sexton, climbed the steeple. Having seen the British and held high two lanterns as a signal from Paul Revere that the British were marching to Lexington and Concord by sea and not by land.

Actually “sea” is only sort of right, although more poetic. The British could have marched down the long peninsula or crossed the Charles River to start their march toward Lexington and Concord. The two lights alerted the militia that the British troops were taking the boat route to land in Charlestown.

Revere rode out through present-day Somerville, Medford, and Arlington, warning towns along the way. William Dawes rode the land route to get out the warning.

The church was built in 1723 and survives as the oldest standing church building in Boston.

With its history and its legend, the Old North Church is an obvious choice for inclusion on the list of the 1,000 Great Places in Massachusetts.

Gravestone Peeping at Mount Auburn Cemetery

Mount Auburn Cemetery is America’s first landscaped cemetery. Apparently that distinction entitled it to two entries on the list of 1,000 Great Places in Massachusetts. Most of the cemetery is located in Watertown, though the entrance lies in Cambridge. That must be why only Cambridge claimed it.

Aside from the list-makers’ failures, Mount Auburn Cemetery is a magnificent place to visit. The cemetery is credited as the beginning of the American public parks and gardens movement. It was the first large-scale designed landscape open to the public in the United States.

I’m not sure I understand why they allow cars to drive on the cemetery’s road, but prohibit bicycles and motorcycles.

Given its stature, there are many prominent residents:

I had never visited before and did so just to put another checkmark on my list. Even The Boy said the place was “pretty cool.” He wants go back there again and see more.

Hiking up to the Blue Hills Observatory

Eliot Observation Tower

The 38th stop our quest to visit the 1,000 Great Places in Massachusetts was 635 feet up in the air. The Blue Hills Observatory sits on top of Great Blue Hill, the highest of the 22 hills in the Blue Hills chain.

The most popular route to the top is the red dot trail. That trail also happens to be one of the rockiest and steepest trails in the Blue Hills Reservation. It goes straight up from the Trailside Museum.

I recommend that you pick up a copy of the “Great Blue Hill Self-Guided Trail Brochure” at the the Trailside Museum before you head up. At nine spots along the red dot trail the dots will be marked with numbers corresponding to the text in the brochure. Stopping at the numbers will also give you a breather on the hike.

(Not that you need it. I’m talking about someone else, not in the excellent physical condition that you are in.)

I was carrying an extra 30+ pounds since I had The Daughter strapped into a carrier slung on my back. The Son was relatively self-sufficient. He was big enough to be burdened with a CamelBak, filled with his water for the day.

He had orders to follow the red dots denoting the trail. He and The Daughter decided to touch each red dot as we passed it on the trail. Of course, all I could think of was Pac-Man eating the dots as he rolled through his maze. I was soon letting out a “wocka-wocka” as the kids touched each red dot. They soon joined in. We were the Pac-Man family wocka-wocka-ing our way up the hill.

At the summit we were torn as to which tower is the “Blue Hill Observatory” listed as one of the 1,000 Great Places in Massachusetts. There are two to chose between.

The most prominent observation post is the Eliot Observation Tower. Charles Eliot was a visionary landscape architect who was a major proponent of the original establishment of the Blue Hills Reservation in 1893. The stone tower and pavilion prominently sited at the top of the red dot trail is named after him. It was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s.

Weather Observatory

The other observatory is the famed Blue Hills Weather Station. It’s sitting on the biggest hill around and near the ocean. It experiences the most extreme weather in Metro Boston. Of course, it’s Metro Boston so the weather is not that extreme.

The Blue Hill Meteorological Observatory was founded in 1885 by Abbott Lawrence Rotch as a private scientific center for the study and measurement of the atmosphere. It was the site of many pioneering weather experiments, especially kite soundings of the atmosphere in North America in the 1890s.

In 1989, the Blue Hill Meteorological Observatory was designated as a National Historic Landmark recognizing its leading role in the early years of meteorology becoming a science.

We decided to visit both. The Eliot Tower offers spectacular views. As you can see from the picture at the top, there is a great view of the Boston skyline. Off to the east is Boston Harbor and the Harbor Islands. Off to the west, you can see Mt. Wachusett on a clear day. It was not that clear on this day.

The view was still very impressive. Even The Son was impressed by the view of the Boston skyline.

The Weather tower offers some interesting information on weather science. Also be warned that they have a gift shop. Anything you buy will need to be lugged back down the hill.

I managed to deflect their interest in a new toy and got The Son to scramble back to the Red Dot trail for the hike back down. (They had already spotted the gift shop at the Trailside Museum back down at the base.)

Wocka-wocka we went, all the way to the bottom. It was a great day of hiking.

Boston’s Athenaeum

The Boston Athenæum is a private library on Beacon Hill that first opened its doors in 1807.

For those of you (like me) who wondered what “athenaeum” means, the Oxford English Dictionary defines it as:

  1. An association of persons interested in scientific and literary pursuits, meeting for the purpose of mutual improvement; a literary or scientific club;
  2. A building or institution in which books, periodicals, and newspapers are provided for use; a literary club-room, reading-room, library.

The word athenaeum is derived from Athena, the goddess of wisdom who inspires intellectual pursuits.

The Athenæum is located at 10½ Beacon Street in a building designed by Edward Clarke Cabot.

I joined a few year ago because it seemed like a Boston thing to do. I have to admit that I have taken little advantage of the membership. The one thing I have done a few times is bring the kids in for story time. There is a great children’s reading room, with lots of nooks for kids to curl up with a book. It also has a great out the window that overlooks the Old Granary Burying Ground.

The Boston Athenæum was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1966.

It has enough credentials to get listed on the 1,000 Great Places in Massachusetts. These are the places I have written about so far:

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Old South Meeting House

The Old South Meeting House sits in the Downtown Crossing area of Boston. It’s a Revolutionary War vintage building. Construction ended in 1729. It was the largest building in Boston at the time.

The Meeting House’s claim to fame is that it was the organizing point for the Boston Tea Party on December 16, 1773. 5,000 colonists gathered at the Meeting House. The group met in the Meeting House to debate British taxation. Apparently, the discussion did not go well because after the meeting a group raided a nearby tea ship in what became known as the Boston Tea Party.

With all that history, it’s no surprise that it is one of the stops on the Freedom Trail.

Cost: $8.00

Learn more at the Old South Meeting House website.

Another place visited on the list of 1,000 Great Places in Massachusetts.

Old State House Museum

The exterior of Boston’s Old Stat House is widely seen and photographed. By adding the Old State Museum to the 1,000 Great Places in Massachusetts, they want you to go inside.

The Old State House has been under the care of The Bostonian Society since 1881. They rescued the building from a downward spiral of disrepair. (I’ve seen some startling pictures of the building plastered with advertising and awnings in the 1800s.)

They did lose a battle with the MBTA and the building has a subway station in its basement. They have a great exhibit in the museum showing the effects of the subway vibrations on the building.

The Old State Museum’s exhibitions include information on the Boston Massacre, preservation of the building structure and Boston history

Cost: $7.50

Disclosure: When I was a private practice lawyer, I represented The Bostonian Society.

Ye Olde Union Oyster House

I was getting hungry on my quest to write about each of the 1,000 Great Places in Massachusetts, so I stopped by ye olde Union Oyster House in Boston.

It serves a great clam chowder and has a fabulous raw bar.

The Union Oyster House holds the claim as America’s oldest restaurant, having been in continuous service since 1826. In 2003 it was registered as a National Historic Landmark.

The building site dates as far back as 1742 when is was a dry good store. At that time, before all of the land reclamation, Boston harbor was at the back door of this location.

In 1826 it was opened as a restaurant called Atwood & Bacon.

Faneuil Hall

It’s no surprise that Faneuil Hall is on the list of the 1,000 Great Places in Massachusetts. This is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the city of Boston.

You have to wonder if Great Places commission made an out-of-town misstep and meant to include Faneuil Hall or Faneuil Hall Marketplace.

Faneuil Hall is the brick building at the end of the marketplace that few people enter. It was built in 1740 with an open ground floor. Peter Faneuil gave it to the City of Boston in 1740. Charles Bullfinch expanded it in 1806, adding a third floor.

The building is a National Historic Landmark, having been added in 1960.

The Architectural Heritage Foundation manages the market hall, on the ground floor.

The Great Hall is on the second and third floors.

The Headquarters of the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts is located on the 4th floor.

Faneuil Hall is just one component of the larger Faneuil Hall Marketplace. This also includes three long granite buildings called North Market, Quincy Market, and South Market, and operates as an outdoor–indoor mall and food eatery. It was redeveloped by The Rouse Company in the 1970s.

Cost: $0

The list of 1,000 Great Places is now down to 997 Great Places. In my continuing quest to map the places on the list, I discovered another duplicate entry:The Boston Center for the Arts and Boston Center for the Arts.