On the last morning of my weekend in Boston, my friend and I had about 2.5 hours between finishing breakfast at our hotel and the time we needed to be back at the hotel to check out and head for Logan Airport to catch our 2pm flight home. Both of us love the Beacon Hill neighborhood, a section of the city we had yet to visit on this trip, so we decided that a walk through the neighborhood and adjacent Boston Common and Public Garden were in order.
Beacon Hill is one of Boston’s most prestigious neighborhoods, and from the 1790s through the development of Back Bay in the 1870s, Beacon Hill was the place to live in Boston if you were wealthy. After a period of decline through the 1870s to 1950s, Beacon Hill began to see a renaissance in the mid-20th century. Today, the neighborhood has regained its former status, and even the most modest homes are prohibitively expensive for the average Bostonian. The neighborhood remains home to thousands of historic Federal-style homes, many designed by famed Boston architect Charles Bulfinch; a number of beautiful churches; and some unique shops along Charles St.
Our Sunday morning walk through Beacon Hill started by crossing the Common and heading down Beacon Street from the Massachusetts Statehouse. The south slope of the hill facing the Common has always been one of the neighborhood’s premiere addresses, and the architecture reflects this. Beacon Street is lined on one side with a row of grand Federal mansions, and on the other, by the Common and Public Garden. Reaching Charles Street, the dividing street between the Common and Public Garden, we turned left and headed into the neighborhood.
Charles Street is primarily a commercial street, with some apartments on the upper levels of the historic buildings that house florists, produce markets, butchers, book shops, art galleries, and antique shops on the street level. Some of these shops are absolutely beautiful, with colorful displays of perfect fruits, vegetables, and flowers filling the store windows, enticing passers by to come inside to browse. The nearest supermarket is at Copley Square, so many residents in this part of town rely on the smaller markets on Charles Street for many of their groceries and other necessities. For a lover of urban living like myself, this type of neighborhood is almost divine; how nice it must be to just walk down the block to a nice neighborhood store owned by friendly people who have had the shop in their family for generations to buy a loaf of bread instead of getting in the car to drive to a nearby mega market like I must do at home in Houston! Walking by these shops, I wonder if the residents of Beacon Hill really appreciate what they have, or if they are as oblivious to it as I am about going to a huge supermarket surrounded by a giant parking lot.
Reaching Mt. Vernon Street., we turn left and cross in front of the historic Charles Street Meeting House, which dates to the early 1800s. Originally built to house a Baptist congregation, the building has more recently been converted to commercial use but still retains its classic architecture. Next door stands a site familiar to viewers of MTV’s reality show The Real World. The old fire station that housed the cast and crew of the 1997 season of the show is located at 127 Mt. Vernon on the corner of Mt. Vernon and River Streets, just off Charles Street. The building is now the home of Hill House, a nonprofit community center. Across the street at 130 Mt. Vernon is the whimsical Sunflower Castle, definitely the most unique and colorful home in the neighborhood. We continued down Mt. Vernon, then turned right and circled back toward Charles Street via Pickney Street, passing more unique and beautiful examples of Boston’s 19th-century residential architecture.
After reaching Charles Street again, I had to convince my friend, who is not a fan of hills, that it really was worth walking up Pickney to the summit of Beacon Hill. After a few protests, we crossed the street and started up the steep incline. Granted, Beacon Hill is nothing compared to the hills of San Francisco that I drug this same friend up and down for 3 days a year and a half earlier, but it’s still a bit of a climb. Going up the hill, it’s interesting to see how builders of these houses accommodated building the structures on the side of a steep incline. Many have half basements and half basements that are partly below street level and partly above it. Some houses are built with stairs leading up to the front door, while others have just a small step up from the sidewalk. Toward the top of the hill we reached Louisburg Square, still arguably the most prestigious address in all of Boston. This enclave of homes, which surrounds the city’s last private square, is perhaps the best example of the neighborhood’s architecture. In the center of the tree-filled square, which is surrounded by an iron fence to keep out nonresidents, stands a statue of Christopher Columbus, an 1850 gift of a wealthy Greek merchant. Louisburg Square is said to be the place where the Christmas traditions of Christmas Eve caroling and candlelit windows started.
Leaving Louisburg Square, we continued several more blocks before turning right and heading back toward Beacon Street. Sometime during this section of the walk, the air began to be filled with the bell peals of area churches calling their congregants for Sunday morning worship. The sound of the bells, resounding in all directions and echoing down the narrow streets, was a glorious celebration of a beautiful morning. It was the perfect compliment to an absolutely wonderful walk through one of Boston’s finest neighborhoods on a cold, clear late February Sunday morning. And it was the perfect way to end a short but fun visit to one of my favorite cities.