National Historic District
Note: a separate walking tour covers all of Beacon Hill, including a selection of the sites here.
Urban romantics fall in love with Beacon Hill. Walking up a cobblestone way or brick sidewalk, one enters the sepia-toned charm of a Henry James novel. Unlike Williamsburg or Disneyland, this is an authentic neighborhood where Boston’s first settler, the Rev. William Blaxton, made his home in 1625. The southern slopes of Trimountain, much steeper and higher then, had their summits cut down and leveled two centuries later.
Newly contoured as a gently sloping hill dominated by the gold-domed state capitol, Federal, Georgian, Greek revival, and Victorian houses followed. With rare exceptions, the houses are brick, hugging brick sidewalks in a monochromatic palette that focuses attention on ironwork balconies, railings, and window guards, as well as myriad architectural details. Many houses have low doors to one side of their stately entrances, suggesting basement apartments inhabited by hobbits. In reality they open on low tunnels only big enough for a boy with a basket on his head to lead a cow to the rear kitchen garden—a requirement of the 1830s building code.
The Hill was the fashionable place to live until the 1870s, when the Back Bay was developing on a grander scale. Families left Louisburg Square, Chestnut Street, and Mount Vernon Street houses for French-influenced boulevards and mansard-roofed houses that were larger, lighter, and airier than the denser Beacon Hill. The period of decline was reversed in the mid-twentieth century, and Beacon Hill was suddenly the place to be once more. Today, even during a boom in luxury high-rise condominiums, Beacon Hill remains a desirable neighborhood for Bostonians who enjoy genuine city living.
Cover Image: Acorn St., ©Yonward