Boston’s North End; The Freedom Trail, a Spite House, & a Sea Cruise

My friend Ed told me a story about this gigantic molasses storage tank that burst in the North End area of Boston back in 1919. Almost 2.5 million gallons of sticky molasses gushed out in waves, smothering everything it came into contact with.

The molasses waves spread at a speed of 35 miles per hour, resulting in unbelievable property damage, countless injuries, and the loss of more than 20 human lives by drowning or impact.

There is a plaque at Langone Park where you can pay your respects.


Molasses was being used by a local distilling company in a process that required heating it to reduce viscosity. The thought of being consumed alive by smoldering hot waves of molasses lava is quite terrifying, right?

It was powerful enough to topple trains and and displace streetcars from their tracks. Personal automobiles, animals, and anyone who happened to be outside when it happened did not stand a chance.



People still claim they can smell it from time to time, and there is a whole subcategory of Boston memes about it now.


Boston’s less obscure claim to fame is its abundance of early American historical sites, and many of them are in the highly walkable North End district. This is the roundish peninsula of land downtown that is situated northeast of Cross Street, or between Washington Street/US 93 and the Massachusetts Bay.

Boston played a huge role in American history from the moment pilgrims arrived in Plymouth Rock and settled surrounding towns, to becoming the birthplace of the American Revolution. The USA’s first church, cemetery, tavern, and college all reportedly began in Boston.

Most of these sites are found by following the Freedom Trail, which you can follow on a self-guided walking tour or by booking a professionally guided tour. The trail is a little over 2.5 miles long and includes 16 significant stops, but  look out for memorial plaques, signs, and inscriptions that provide details of other interesting places.


Freedom Trail sites include the Boston Common, Old South Meeting House, the Old State House, Boston Massacre Site, King’s Chapel and Burying Ground, Park Street Church, the Massachusetts State House, Faneuil Hall, and others.

It also encompasses many of Boston’s popular attractions that are not necessarily related to early American history.

The main walking route is marked with a broad painted red line so it is pretty easy to navigate. We did not really follow any particular route or set out to visit every single stop, but found most of them in the natural flow of wandering around.


Boston Common (Freedom Trail Site) is the oldest public park in the United States, circa 1634. The park was used until 1830 as a common space for the grazing of cattle and as  a social place to meet, relax, and enjoy a day in the park.


It is no longer open to agricultural exchanges, but serves as a lovely respite from the city grind for its visitors.


Old South Meeting House (Freedom Trail Site),  circa, 1729 is where the Sons of Liberty departed from a meeting on 16 December 1773 and dumped 242 chests of tea into the Boston Harbor.  This ordeal became known as the Boston Tea Party and its effects literally rippled around the world.

We made it a point to get some tea to-go and poured some out for our rebellious forefather homies.

The 1766 clock tower was restored in 2009 and is the oldest American-made clock in the US that is still operating in its original location. Paul Revere cast the bell himself in 1801 and it is one of only 46 surviving bells that he made.

It has been relocated to various places around Boston over the years but has been in the Old South Meeting House Bell Tower since 2011.

Old Corner Bookstore (Freedom Trail Site) is Boston’s oldest commercial building, circa 1712. This is where Nathanael Hawthorn, Charles Dickens, and Ralph Waldo Emerson used to chill, and where the Old City Hall mayors held court for over a century before the New City Hall was built.

It is currently functioning as a Chipotle restaurant and covered in signage, so I did not take a photo. I was more interested in the Boston Irish Famine Memorial in front of it, across the street from the Old South Meeting House.

The Boston Irish Famine Memorial has two opposing sculptures depicting Irish people starving to death during Ireland’s Great Famine in the 1840-50s versus those who immigrated and thrived in America.

It is part of Boston’s Irish Heritage Trail and has been on display since 1998.

Old State House (Freedom Trail Site), circa 1713, was the center of civic life in Colonial Boston. This was where icons like Sam Adams and James Otis argued against the British Crown.

In 1776, the Declaration of Independence was read for the first time on the balcony and it caused a mini riot. The Lion and Unicorn statues on top of the Old State House were angrily torn down and burned.

Both statues were returned to the top of the Old State House in 1883 when the building was remodeled, and every July 4th at 10 am the Declaration of Independence is read once again from the balcony.

Boston Massacre Site (Freedom Trail Site)
The five people who were murdered on the walkway in front of the Old State House in March of 1770 during the Boston Massacre are commemorated by a monument on State Street.

In the center of the monument is a five-pointed star signifying the 5 deaths enclosed by six cobblestones, signifying the six wounded that night, and stretching from the center are 13 cobblestone spokes representing the original 13 colonies.

Faneuil Hall (Freedom Trail Site) was built in 1742 and was gifted to the city of Boston by a rich merchant named Peter Faneuil.

It is a giant open space full of towering buildings, and each of them serve as food halls or shopping clusters, but Faneuil Hall is historically famous for the meetings and protests that led to the American Revolution.


Some of the most notorious events here include a celebration of independence led by Samuel Adams, another led by George Washington, many Sons of Liberty meetings, and the first rally against Taxation Without Representation.


Quincy Market and the other markets are packed full of restaurants, bars, cafés, boutiques, and gift shops. Street performers regularly set up outside of Quincy Market, and it is considered to be one of the top alternative entertainment venues in the USA. This spot is a mecca for street performers of all types, rivaling NYC and New Orleans.

My favourite thing about the whole mix is that there always at least are two places that service delicious lobster rolls and Boston chowder.


You can follow the Freedom Trail down Union Street past the famous Union Oyster House, and down Hanover Street into Little Italy neighborhood.  The trail winds down Richmond Street to North Square and the oldest structure in Boston, the Paul Revere House.

Paul Revere House (Freedom Trail Site) was built in 1680 and is where Revere lived from 1770 until 1880. It is now a museum and was particularly busy that day, so we opted to peruse the Paul Revere Prado instead.


The Paul Revere Statue is one of Boston’s most photographed statues and it sits in the shadow of the Old North Church where he became famous.


Cyrus Edwin Dallin created it in 1883 and spent 16 years working on it, though it was not displayed until 1940.


Old North Church (Freedom Trail Site)
is just across the Paul Revere Prado, and is the oldest church building in Boston. It is free to enter and there are guides inside who are more than happy to tell you about Paul’s Midnight Ride in April 1775, the event that kicked off the American Revolution.

Copp’s Hill Burial Ground (Freedom Trail Site) holds the remains of many important Boston figures of the 1650s including Ministers Cotton Mather and his father, Shem Drowne who created the grasshopper figure in Faneuil Hall and the Old North Church weather vane, as well as Robert Newman who hung the lanterns at Old North Church when Paul Revere set off for his ride.


Prince Hall, the first African American member of the Masons and founder of Prince Hall Masons is also laid to rest here.

Across Hull Street, facing Copp’s Hill, we spotted the Boston Skinny House, also known as a “spite house” from the Civil War era. Legend has it that two brothers were to divide their inherited land equally, but one took more than his share and built large homes that left the other brother very little space.

In turn, the slighted brother built this skinny house in a strategic location that blocked his jerk brother from taking in the beautiful views and sunlight that graces this street.


We fell in love with this tiny cottage on a small sliver of space between two adjoining sidewalks. Imagine living here!


Bunker Hill Monument (Freedom Trail Site) was our final destination of the Freedom Trail sites, and one that we saw from a ship. The monument was dedicated on June 17th, 1843, almost 70  years after the famous battle took place.  Statesman Daniel Webster was the keynote speaker that day.

The 221-foot monument took 16 years to construct and commemorates the Battle of Bunker Hill. It has 294 steps and a museum that is open to the public.

Our sea cruise started in Boston’s Long Wharf, an entertainment complex surrounding the ship docks.


While you wait for your cruise or anytime in general, visit the New England Aquarium and Legal Seafood, or any of the other nearby restaurants and taverns.


It was such a beautiful day, warm and windy, with lots of Sam Adams on deck. Nothing beats exploring on foot when you want the real deets about a place, but cruises are my favourite way to study a city’s landscape.


Places we did not make it to during this trip include the Massachusetts State House or the Park Street Church, where renowned abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison made his first anti-slavery speech in 1829, and the choir sang “My Country Tis of Thee” for the first time ever in public three years later.

We were not able to visit King’s Chapel, the Boston Latin School, or  the Granary Burial Ground where Paul Revere, Mary Goose, John Hancock, Samuel Adams, Robert Paine, Peter Faneuil, relatives of Ben Franklin, and victims of the Boston Massacre are buried.

It pained me that we could not visit the USS Constitution and Museum of  Old Ironsides. There was just so much to see!

On our next visit I plan to visit those remaining stops, as well as following the Black Heritage Trail that tells the story of Robert Gould Shaw and his all-volunteer African American/Black Army unit. They came together as the 54th Regiment during the American Civil War and was the first of its kind.


There are so many fun places in North End and its neighbouring districts that I really could not include them all in this blog, but make time to stroll through Boston’s vibrant Theatre District near Boston Common.


A specific part of North End is often called Little Italy, but not usually by the folks that actually live there. Following the Freedom Trail will take you right through the heart of Boston’s Italian district, where most of the storefronts are Italian restaurants and cafés owned by Italians who mostly speak Italian instead of English. You can read more about the North End’s Italian side in this blog.


And last but not least, make time to tour the Boston Harbor Walk, a 43-mile stretch across Boston’s shoreline, running from the Neponset River toward East Boston, and more importantly, the shoreline of North End.

In the area for a while? Check out Little Italy, some fun places in the downtown Financial District, or follow me to Chinatown!

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One thought on “Boston’s North End; The Freedom Trail, a Spite House, & a Sea Cruise

  1. Pingback: Spinning a Tale of Boston Bay Baes; Poe, Salt Bae, Bay Village, & Back Bay | Fernweh

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