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Travel: Boston's red-brick path through American history

by christian murdock christian.murdock@gazette.com - Updated: April 20, 2014 at 11:51 am

Boston is not lacking when it comes to history. It's home to Fenway Park, the oldest stadium in Major League Baseball; Harvard University, the oldest college in the U.S.; and Union Oyster House, one of the nation's older continually operated restaurants.

It also was the stage for the American Revolution, and visitors can relive that history on a 2.5-mile, red-bricked path dubbed the Freedom Trail.

Last fall, I spent the better part of two days along the trail as part of a self-guided tour. Amazingly, I was elected tour guide by my Boston-born friend, who knew less about navigating Boston than I did. Thankfully, all I had to do was follow the red brick road.

First, we explored the Boston Common, a former military training field that was home to a celebration at the end of the Revolutionary War. Martin Luther King Jr. led a civil rights rally there in the 1960s, and Pope John Paul II celebrated Mass there in 1979.

Travel: 5 free things to do in historic Boston

The path then led us by the Massachusetts State House and to the 1809 Park Street Church. Next to the church is the Old Granary Burying Ground. I love old cemeteries, and this graveyard instantly became one of my favorites. Paul Revere, Samuel Adams and John Hancock are a few of the names engraved on the moss-blackened tombstones, some dating to the 1660s.

More stops along the way included the King's Chapel and Burying Ground, the site of the first public school, the Old Corner Bookstore and the Old South Meeting House, which played host to many historic gatherings, including one where Samuel Adams sparked the Boston Tea Party.

Amid all of the history, we soon found ourselves in the heart of downtown, surrounded by skyscrapers. Almost lost in the shadows is the oldest public building in Boston. From the balcony of the Old State House, which was constructed in 1713, the Declaration of Independence was read for the first time in Boston in July 1776. Outside marks the site of the Boston Massacre of 1770.

Our first day on the Freedom Trail wrapped up at Faneuil Hall, where in 1764 Americans first protested the Sugar Act and Stamp Act, inspiring the words "no taxation without representation." A couple of blocks down Union Street is Blackstone Block, the oldest extant city block in the country dating to the 1700s. Among the beautiful Victorian buildings is Union Oyster House, where we enjoyed a Shipyard Pumpkinhead seasonal beer served in a cinnamon sugar-rimmed glass with a shot of vanilla.

The next morning we began our walk through history at the North End, stopping first at the Paul Revere House. Revere lived there from 1770 to 1800, and visitors can tour the oldest home in Boston.

A short distance from the home is Paul Revere Mall and the Old North Church, the oldest standing church in Boston, built in 1723. On April 18, 1775, the church played a dramatic role in the war against Britain. Two lanterns were hung from its 191-foot steeple, signaling the Red Coats' departure by sea for Lexington and Concord. It was the night of Revere's famous ride and the start of the American Revolution.

The path continues to Boston's second-oldest cemetery - Copp's Hill Burying Ground - where Edmund Hartt, the builder of the USS Constitution, is buried. From Copp's Hill, the trail leads across the Charlestown Bridge over the Charles River to Charlestown and the Bunker Hill Monument, site of the first major battle of the Revolutionary War on June 17, 1775. The cornerstone of the monument was laid in 1825 on the 50th anniversary of the war and finished in 1842. The Bunker Hill Museum is across the street from the monument.

The final stop on the Freedom Trail is the Charlestown Navy Yard, home of the USS Constitution, the oldest commissioned warship afloat in the world. The ship set sail in 1798 and earned the name Old Ironsides during the War of 1812.

Another day of history behind us, we visited Warren Tavern, one of the older taverns in Boston. The establishment is named after Gen. Joseph Warren, a fallen hero of the Battle of Bunker Hill, and has served pints of beer to thirsty patrons since the days of Revere and George Washington. I can drink to that.

is not lacking when it comes to history. It's home to Fenway

Park, the oldest stadium in Major League Baseball; Harvard University, the oldest college in the U.S.; and Union Oyster House, one of the nation's older continually operated restaurants.

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