Established in the early 17th century, Boston is a city rich in history. Visiting its many historic sites is a great way to experience the history of Boston firsthand. Since Boston is a relatively small city, these sites are easy to find and most of them are close together.
You can see many of the sites on list by simply following the Freedom Trail through the downtown area or by taking a Boston history tour.
The following is a list of Boston’s Historic Sites:
Address: 139 Tremont Street, Boston, Massachusetts
Established in 1634, the Boston Common is the oldest park in America. It was purchased by the Massachusetts Bay colonists from a lone settler from the failed Gorges expedition, named William Blackstone, to be used as common land for the colonists and was first used for cattle grazing.
A large Elm tree on the common, known as “the Great Elm,” was used for public hangings of witches, Quakers, pirates and murderers. Criminals were also punished at the common using whipping posts and stocks.
In 1756, part of the common became a cemetery called the Central Burying Ground.
During the American Revolution, the local militia was mustered on the common and crowds gathered here to hang effigies in protest, to celebrate the repeal of the Stamp Act and to celebrate the end of the Revolutionary War.
Starting in 1768, the common served as an encampment for British soldiers for eight years.
During the Civil War, the common was the site of anti-slavery rallies, army recruitment rallies and the mustering of department regiments.
In the 20th century, protestors gathered in the park to protest the Vietnam war, to attend civil rights rallies lead by leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr.
Site of the first Boston Latin Schoolhouse:
Address: 45 School Street, Boston, Massachusetts
Founded in 1635, the Boston Latin School is the oldest public school in America. It was established to offer free education to young boys in the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
Classes were originally held in the home of the first headmaster, Philemon Pormort, until the first schoolhouse was built in 1645 on School Street in Boston.
A statue of one of the Boston Latin School’s former students, Benjamin Franklin, is now located at the site of the original schoolhouse. Other notable students who attended the school were Samuel Adams, John Hancock, Robert Treat Paine and William Hooper.
The original wooden schoolhouse was torn down in 1745 when King’s Chapel was expanded and the school moved to a variety of different locations over the years, including to the corner of School Street and Chapman Place, where the historic Omni Parker House Hotel now stands, from 1748-1844. The school is currently located in the Fenway neighborhood.
Address: Castle Island, Boston, Massachusetts
Fort Independence is a historic fort on Castle Island in Boston harbor. The current fort was originally built sometime between 1834 and 1851 but a series of earlier forts have existed on the island since 1643.
The British occupied the fort during the American Revolution. At the time, the fort was known as Castle William and Mary. When the Siege of Boston ended in 1776 and the British left Boston, they destroyed the fort to prevent the colonists from using it.
After the British fled Boston, General George Washington appointed Colonel Richard Gridley to refortify the fort and appointed Colonel Paul Revere to command the forces stationed there.
In 1785, the Commonwealth used the fort as a state prison. In 1798, the federal government took over the fort and began reconstructing it in 1801, renaming it Fort Independence in the process.
In 1827, Edgar Allen Poe was stationed at the fort during his brief stint in the military and it is believed that the notorious stories about the fort’s use as a prison may have inspired his story The Cask of Amontillado.
During the Civil War, the fort served as a secondary seacoast defense, a recruiting and training camp for the military, an ordnance-testing site and a prison for POWs.
The fort is now a public park owned and operated by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation and is a National Historic Landmark.
King’s Chapel & King’s Chapel Burying Ground:
Address: 58 Tremont Street, Boston, Massachusetts
Founded in 1686, the chapel was the first Anglican church in the Puritan-run Massachusetts Bay Colony. The King’s Chapel congregation was founded by Sir Edmund Andros, who served as the Governor of the Dominion of New England from 1686 until the Dominion was overthrown in 1689.
In 1688, when the puritans refused to sell land to the congregation to build a church on, Andros ordered the church to be built on public land in the corner of an old puritan burying ground on Tremont Street.
In 1748, the small wooden church that had been built there was replaced with the large granite church that still stands today. The building was designed by notable colonial architect Peter Harrison and the Corinthian columns in the building’s interior were carved by William Burbeck.
In 1814, the chapel’s bell cracked and was recast by Paul Revere and re-installed in 1816. It was the largest bell cast by the Revere foundry and the last bell Revere cast himself.
King’s Chapel has had many notable members and attendees over the years:
Oliver Wendell Holmes
Established in 1630, the old puritan burying ground that the chapel was built in, now known as King’s Chapel Burying Ground, is the oldest graveyard in Boston. The burying ground contains the graves of Governor John Winthrop and his son John the Younger, Reverend John Cotton, William Dawes, Jr., and Mayflower pilgrim Mary Chilton.
The chapel was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1960 and offers daily tours of its crypt and bell tower.
Copp’s Hill Burying Ground:
Address: 45 Hull Street, Boston, Massachusetts
Established in 1659, Copp’s Hill Burying Ground is the second oldest cemetery in Boston.
Originally named the North Burying Ground, the cemetery is located on a hill in the North End where a windmill once stood. The cemetery was later renamed Copp’s Hill Burying Ground in honor of local shoemaker William Copp.
Due to the height of the hill the cemetery is located on, British soldiers occupied the cemetery during the American Revolution and fortified it with cannons aimed at Charlestown and the harbor. The gravestone of Captain Daniel Malcolm at Copp’s Hill is riddled with what appears to be bullet holes reportedly created by British soldiers who used it for target practice.
The cemetery contains the graves of merchants, artisans and craft people who lived in the North End. Many notable Boston citizens are buried here including famed Puritan ministers Increase Mather and Cotton Mather, Edmund Hartt, the builder of the USS Constitution, as well as Robert Newman, the Old North Church sexton who hung the lantern in the steeple by order of Paul Revere on the night of his Midnight Ride in 1775. (The lantern that Newman hung in the steeple, now known as the “Paul Revere Lantern,” is on display at the Concord Museum in Concord, Mass.)
A potter’s field is located on the Charter Street side of the cemetery where freed African-Americans were buried, including Prince Hall, an African-American Boston citizen who founded the first black Masonic lodge.
Granary Burying Ground:
Address: Tremont Street
Established in 1660, the cemetery was established when King’s Chapel Burying Ground became overcrowded. The cemetery used to be a part of the Boston Common and was named after the grain storage building that once stood next door.
In the 19th century, the headstones were reorganized to create straight rows but the graves remained in their original locations. It is estimated that around 5,000 people are buried in this cemetery although there are only about 2,300 headstones.
The cemetery contains the graves of many notable Boston citizens such as Paul Revere, the Boston Massacre victims, Samuel Adams, John Hancock, Robert Treat Paine, Peter Faneuil and James Otis.
Paul Revere House:
Address: 19 N Square, Boston, Mass
Built around 1680, this three-story colonial house is the oldest house in downtown Boston and later became the home of Paul Revere during the American Revolution.
Revere was living in the home at the time he made his famous Midnight Ride in April of 1775. Revere bought the home in 1770 and lived there with his family until he sold it in 1800.
In the 19th century the building was occupied by a variety of business such as a bank, candy shop, cigar factory, produce store and later became a tenement building.
By the turn of the century, the house was run down and dilapidated. In 1901, a kerosene lamp caused a small fire in the basement, which raised concerns about the future of the house and the potential for further accidents.
That same year, developers made plans to demolish the house to make way for a tenement building when Revere’s great-grandson, John P. Reynolds, purchased the home for $12,000.
In 1906, a group of concerned citizens, city officials and historical associations banded together to buy the home from Reynolds. They then sold it to the Paul Revere Memorial Association in 1907, who restored it to its original colonial-era appearance and opened it to the public as a historical house museum in 1908.
The house was designated a National Historical Landmark in 1961.
Old Corner Bookstore:
Address: Corner of Washington and School Street, Boston, Mass
Built in 1718, the Old Corner Bookstore is housed in the oldest commercial building in Boston. The site was once the home of notorious religious leader, Anne Hutchinson during in the 1630s. Hutchinson held religious meetings in her home before being charged with heresy and exiled from the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1638.
In 1718, the current building was constructed and housed an apothecary shop.
In 1828, the building became a bookstore and later served as the home of Tickner and Fields publishing company, the publisher of Henry David Thoreau and Nathaniel Hawthorne, from 1832 to 1865.
During this time the building became a meeting place for authors such as Thoreau, Hawthorne, Charles Dickens, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and etc. The building later housed a number of other publishing companies and booksellers.
In 1960, the building was almost demolished but was purchased by Historic Boston, Inc and was later designated a National Historic Landmark. The building has continued to be used for commercial purposes.
Central Burying Ground:
Address: Boylston Street, Boston, Massachusetts
Established in 1754, the cemetery is located on Boston Common along Boylston Street and was established to alleviate overcrowding at the King’s Chapel, Copp’s Hill and Granary Burying Grounds. The cemetery was considered the least desirable place to be buried in Boston.
In 1836, a number of graves were dug up when Boylston street was extended and connected to Tremont street and the bodies were reinterred along the west end of the cemetery.
In 1895, many graves and human remains were found under Boylston street during construction of the Boston subway. The remains were reinterred in a large grave in the north west section of the cemetery.
The cemetery contains the graves of British soldiers who died of disease or injuries during the Revolutionary War, foreigners who died while in Boston, American patriots from the Battle of Bunker Hill and the Boston Tea Party, painter Gilbert Stuart and composer William Billings.
Boston Tea Party Historical Marker:
Address: Corner of Purchase Street and Congress Street, Boston, Massachusetts
This was the location of Griffin’s Wharf where the Boston Tea Party took place on December 16, 1773. The Boston Tea Party was a protest against a recent tax placed on imported British tea. During the event, several hundred participants rowed out to a merchant ship in the harbor and threw its cargo of British tea into the harbor.
The wharf continued to be used a commercial shipping wharf until the 19th century when newly built railroads made maritime shipping obsolete and the city filled in the wharf and surrounding area in a massive land making project.
The exact location of Griffin’s Wharf is not known because it was buried in the land making project but a historical marker located on a building on the Corner of Congress and Purchase streets is believed to be close to the original spot.
Old South Meetinghouse:
Address: 320 Washington Street, Boston, Mass
Built in 1729, this historic church is where the Boston Tea Party began on the night of December 16, 1773 after a group of protestors attended a meeting here to debate the recent British tax on tea and the shipment of British tea that was sitting on cargo ships in the harbor.
When it was revealed at the meeting that the governor refused to send the shipment back to England to avoid paying the controversial tax on the tea, several hundred members of the audience promptly left the meetinghouse and headed for the harbor where they boarded one of the ships and threw the tea overboard.
The church was also the site of annual anniversary meetings commemorating the Boston Massacre, which continued until the Siege of Boston in 1775. The meetings featured speakers such as John Hancock and Dr. Joseph Warren.
During the Siege of Boston from 1775-1776, British soldiers occupied the building, gutted the interior, covered the floor in dirt and used it as a practice space for horse riding. At the time, a small library of historic documents and manuscripts were being stored in the building.
One such document housed in the library was William Bradford’s manuscript, Of Plymouth Plantation, which went missing around this time, possibly being stolen by the British soldiers. The manuscript was later found in the Bishop of London’s library at Fullham in 1855 and was returned to the United States a few years later after much negotiation.
The building was almost destroyed in the Great Boston Fire of 1872 but was saved by the arrival of a fire engine from Portsmouth, NH. The building was added to the list of National Historic Landmarks in Boston in October of 1960.
Old State House:
Address: 206 Washington Street, Boston, Massachusetts
Built in 1713, the Old State House was the seat of the colony government in Massachusetts prior to the Revolutionary War and was also the seat of the Massachusetts General Court until 1798 and served as Boston City Hall from 1830-1841, making it one of the oldest public buildings in the United States and the oldest surviving public building in Boston.
The building is most known for being the site of the Boston Massacre which occurred in front of the building on the night of March 5, 1770. Immediately after the massacre took place, Lieutenant Governor Thomas Hutchinson stood on the balcony of the building and ordered the crowd to return home.
On July 18, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was read from the east balcony to a large crowd below. After the reading, the lion and unicorn on top of the building were removed and burned in a bonfire on King street.
The site contains a marker which was intended to commemorate the exact spot where one of the victims, Crispus Attucks, fell dead on the street after being shot by officers. The marker has been moved many times over the years due to construction and currently resides on a sidewalk nearby.
From 1841 to 1881, the building was rented out for commercial use and housed tailors, clothing merchants, insurance agents, railroad line offices and housed as many as fifty business at once.
In 1881, the building was almost demolished due to real estate development plans. The Bostonian Society was formed, which saved the building and returned it to its colonial-era appearance.
In 1882, replicas of the lion and unicorn statues were placed on top of the building again and a bald eagle statue was placed on the west side of the building.
The building was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1960 and a Boston Landmark in 1994. It is now a history museum dedicated to the American Revolution in Boston and contains items such as John Hancock’s velvet jacket as well as tea salvaged from the Boston Tea Party.
Old North Church:
Address: 193 Salem Street, Boston, Mass
Built in 1723, the Old North Church is a historic church that became famous for its role in The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere when a lantern was placed in the steeple of the church to warn the countryside about the approaching British forces.
The original steeple of the church was destroyed by the Storm of October of 1804. A replacement steeple, designed by Charles Bulfinch, was destroyed by Hurricane Carol in August of 1954.
The church is the oldest surviving church building in Boston and still operates as a religious venue. The building was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1961.
Address: 4 South Market Street, Boston, Massachusetts
Built in 1742, the building was a marketplace built by Peter Faneuil, a wealthy merchant and slave trader. The first floor consisted of shops for merchants to sell their goods and the second floor housed a meeting room. In 1761, a fire gutted the interior of the building but it was promptly rebuilt.
Faneuil Hall later earned the nickname “the Cradle of Liberty” after a number of meetings were held here during the American Revolution. Colonists gathered here to discuss legislation such as the Sugar Act, the Stamp Act, Townshend Acts, and the Tea Act.
In 1806, the building was enlarged by notable Boston architect Charles Bulfinch, who doubled its width and added a third floor.
In the mid-19th century, citizens gathered in the meeting room to discuss issues such as abolitionism, the Civil War, as well as major public works projects during this time such as the construction of the Boston Subway and the landfill project that created the back bay.
The building used to be waterfront property but when the bay was filled in during the Boston Landfill Project in the 19th century, it pushed the waterline farther back.
Bunker Hill Monument:
Address: Monument Square, Charlestown, Massachusetts
Built in 1842, the monument is dedicated to the Battle of Bunker Hill, which was fought on June 17, 1775, during the Siege of Boston. Located inside the lodge behind the monument is a marble statue of Dr. Joseph Warren, a notable patriot who was killed during the battle.
The Battle of Bunker Hill was the first major battle of the American Revolution and of the Siege of Boston. Although the colonists lost the battle, they inflicted such devastating losses on the British troops that it boosted the patriot’s morale and resulted in a shakeup of British military leadership with General Gage being replaced by General Howe.
The first monument located at the site was a 18-foot wooden pillar with a gilt urn that was built in 1794 to honor Warren. In 1823, the Bunker Hill Monument Association was formed to build a more permanent monument.
Many fairs, events, and fundraising drives were held to help raise money for the monument and much of the land surrounding the current monument was sold off as housing lots to help raise funds.
The monument was finally completed in 1842 and dedicated on June 17, 1843. The statue of Warren was built in the 1850s and was originally housed in a temporary structure before being moved to its current granite lodge around 1901.
Union Oyster House:
Address: 41 Union Street, Boston, Massachusetts
Built around 1704, the building has housed numerous businesses over the centuries and is currently the home of the oldest restaurant in Boston and in America, the Union Oyster House.
In 1742, the building was the home of Hopestill Capen’s imported dress shop, known as At the Sign of the Cornfields.
From 1771 to 1775, the second floor housed Isaiah Thomas’s print ship where he printed the Massachusetts Spy, which was the most widely read and influential colonial newspaper of the day.
In 1796, the exiled King of France, Louis Philippe, lived in the second floor rooms for several months while he tutored local young women in French.
The building became a restaurant in 1826 and in 1913, the owners sold it to the Fitzgerald family who changed the name to the Union Oyster House.
The building was designated a National Historical Landmark in 2003.
Address: Charlestown Naval Yard #22, Charlestown, Massachusetts
Built in 1797, the USS Constitution is a historic war ship located at the Charlestown Naval Yard. The ship was commissioned by George Washington in 1794 to fight French privateers.
Its copper bolts and fittings were forged by Paul Revere and the ship was officially launched by John Adams at a special launching party in September of 1797.
The USS Constitution became famous for its exploits during the War of 1812 when it defeated several British warships, most notably the HMS Guerriere.
During the battle with the Guerriere, several cannonballs hit the Constitution but simply bounced off the hull, prompting the sailors to declare that its hulls were made of iron, thus earning the nickname “Old Ironsides.”
In the 1840s, the ship was almost scrapped until a strong public reaction to a newly published poem by Oliver Wendell Holmes, titled “Old Ironsides,” saved her from being dismantled.
The ship was added to the list of National Historic Landmarks in 1960 and is open to the public for tours at the Charlestown Naval Yard.
Address: 46 Joy Street, Boston, Massachusetts
Built in 1806, the meetinghouse was the center of the free black community in Boston. The building is the oldest black church edifice still standing in the U.S.
The New England Anti-Slavery Society was founded here by William Lloyd Garrison in 1832. In 1862, after a riot broke out at the Tremont Temple during Frederick Douglass’ speech commemorating the anniversary of John Brown’s death, Douglass moved the speech to the meetinghouse. Anti-slavery meetings were often held at the meetinghouse and as a result, the building was sometimes referred to as the black Faneuil Hall.
Towards the end of the 19th century, the building was sold to a Jewish congregation after the black community had migrated out of the area. The building served as a synagogue until it was purchased by the Museum of African American History in 1972.
The museum spent $9 million dollars to restore the building to how it appeared in 1855. The meetinghouse was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1974.
Long Island in Boston Harbor:
Address: Long Island, Boston, Massachusetts
Long Island is an abandoned island in Boston harbor that is home to a historic fort, missile facilities, laboratories, a morgue, the historic Long Island Head lighthouse, a Civil War monument and cemetery, a hospital cemetery, an unmarked cemetery, as well as many other types of buildings.
In 1819, the Long Island Lighthouse was built on the island. The lighthouse was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1964 and still serves as an active lighthouse today.
During the Civil War, the island was home to a Union training camp. Later, a resort was built on the island and a Portuguese fishing community sprouted up along the shore of the island.
In 1882, the city of Boston built an almshouse on the island and later, a home for unwed mothers, a chronic disease hospital, a nursing school and institutional farm and other social service programs.
In 1899, Fort Strong, originally known as the Long Island Military Reservation, was built on the island and was in use up to WWII, after which it was decommissioned.
Just after WWII ended, Operation Paperclip took place on the island, during which Nazi scientists were smuggled onto the island to help aid the U.S. in the Cold War. The scientists lived in the old barracks of Fort Strong and worked in laboratories on the island.
The island also served as a Nike missile site until the 1960s. It later served as a children’s summer camp from 2005-2009 and later as a homeless shelter.
The fort and many of the remaining buildings, except for the lighthouse, are now in ruins and the island is off limits to visitors.
Massachusetts General Hospital’s Bulfinch Building:
Address: Fruit Street, Boston, Mass
Built between 1818 and 1823, this Greek-Revival building was designed by famed Boston architect Charles Bulfinch and was the first general hospital in Massachusetts and one of only three in the entire country.
The hospital’s operating theater was later dubbed “The Ether Dome” after it hosted the first public demonstration of ether as an anesthetic in 1846.
The building was considered state-of-the-art when it was first built and featured flush toilets, central heating and plenty of ventilation for fresh air. As a result, the hospital changed the perception of what a hospital should be.
The building was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1970. It is no longer used as a hospital and how houses offices for the hospital staff.
Address: Georges Island, Boston, Massachusetts
Built sometime between 1833 and 1861, Fort Warren is a historic fort on Georges Island in Boston Harbor. During the Civil War, the fort first served as a recruiting and training camp for Massachusetts regiments of the Union army and later, in 1861, as a prison for Confederate POWs.
The fort remained active until WWI and was reactivated in WWII before being decommissioned in 1947 and given to the state of Massachusetts in 1958. The fort is now a public park owned and operated by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation.
The fort was designated a national historic landmark in 1970.
Address: 206 Clarendon St, Boston, Massachusetts
Built in 1873, the building is a parish of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts. The congregation was founded in 1734. The current building is the congregation’s third church and was built after its previous church was destroyed in the Great Boston Fire of 1872.
Due to the fact that the church was built in the back bay on land that was originally a mud flat, the church is built on 4,500 wooden piles driven through 30 feet of gravel, silt and clay.
The church was designated a National Historical Landmark in 1970.
Address: 301 Massachusetts Ave, Boston, Massachusetts
Built in 1900, Symphony Hall is home to the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Boston Pops. Architects McKim, Mead and White worked with Wallace Celement Sabine, an assistant professor of physics at Harvard University, to create the auditorium, which was one of the first designed with scientifically-based acoustic principles. It is considered one of the top three concert halls in the world. Symphony Hall was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1999.
If you’d like to learn about more historic sites in the state, check out this article on Massachusetts historic sites.
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“African Meeting House.” Museum of African-American History, maah.org/site14.htm
“Boston Common.” The Freedom Trail Foundation, www.thefreedomtrail.org/freedom-trail/boston-common.shtml
“Massachusetts Historic Sites.” Mass.gov, 24 Oct. 2017, www.mass.gov/portal/visiting-recreation/tourism/massachusetts-historic-sites.html