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Hitting the Bricks of Boston's Freedom Trail

Even a Yankee fan would agree that Boston is a beautiful city.

Nearly surrounded by water, with streets going in all directions, every outlook is stunning. Those same factors can make finding one's way a bit of a challenge. As much as I enjoy wandering around getting lost, it is not an efficient way to see several attractions in a short amount of time.

Boston remedied this challenge by creating a marked walking trail in the 1950s. The Freedom Trail meanders the streets for 2.5 miles (4 km) linking 16 official sites. The trail begins at the Visitor's Center in Boston Common, the oldest city park in the United States dating from 1634.

In Oz they might follow the yellow brick road, but in Boston its easy to follow the red brick path. With such a clearly defined track there is no need for a map.

Before long, the gold-domed Massachusetts State House rises across the street. Even with a scrim over the façade, the building oozes magnificence. During World War II the dome was painted black to help prevent the building from potential bombing attacks. The gold leaf was not restored until 1997.

Just a few steps down the street lies Park Street Church, which held the title of the United States' tallest building for 18 years. It was also here that some of America's earliest Abolitionists made many of their public statements, including Harriet Beecher Stowes' brother, Edward Beecher, and William Lloyd Garrison.

Just behind the church lies the final resting place of many Revolutionary War-era figures. The Granary Burying Grounds contain five victims of the Boston Massacre, as well as Robert Treat Paine, Samuel Adams, and John Hancock, all of which signed The Declaration of Independence.

Benjamin Franklin's family are also buried here and Paul Revere's modest headstone.

After enjoying the atmospheric beauty of a multi-century old graveyard, its time to head back out onto the Boston streets to follow the red-bricked trail.

A few steps later, the King's Chapel stands supported by it's many columns. The current brick building was built around the older wooden structure that occupied the site. When the new building was completed, the wooden church was dismantled and sent to Nova Scotia to construct St. John's Anglican Church.

Directly behind this church lies the original location of Boston Latin School. America's first public school and it's oldest existing school of any kind. Although the school has since moved, a statue of Benjamin Franklin know occupies its site that lies in front of Boston's former City Hall.

The Old South Meeting House beckons as the next stop along the Freedom Trail. Well known as the spot where over 5,000 colonists gathered before dumping 92,000 pounds (41,730 kilograms) of tea into the sea, during what became known as the Boston Tea Party. Today you only need to fight the crowds to take a picture or buy a magnet.

Across the street the smell of carne asada emanates from Chipotle. Believe it or not, this building didn't always sell burritos. The site was originally the home of Anne Hutchison, before she was expelled from Massachusetts for heresy in 1638. After the Great Boston Fire, this brick building housed an apothecary. By 1828, it became a bookstore for which it is now acclaimed. It was used as a gathering space for famous authors such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and even Charles Dickens.

Within a few short minutes of walking the trail leads directly to the Old State House. It was from this balcony that the Declaration of Independence was first read in Massachusetts. Although, two-thirds of the city supported the revolution that did not stop loyalists from removing the lion and the unicorn from the top of the building and burning them in a bonfire. Today the building still promotes liberty for all.

Just below that balcony lies the Boston Massacre site. It was here, on March 5, 1770, that a tense confrontation between colonists and British soldiers turned deadly when five Bostonians were murdered. Reports of the incident spread across the Thirteen Colonies stoking the flames of revolution.

The next stop on the trail, Faneuil Hall, is a an imposing brick structure that cannot be missed. The area surrounding Faneuil Hall seems to be the epicenter of tourism in the city, complete with street performers, souvenir shops, and even a food hall. Originally completed in 1743, it was here that many speeches were made by prominent individuals such as Samuel Adams and James Otis encouraging independence from Britain. With this history it is still occasionally referred to as "the Cradle of Liberty."

After leaving Faneuil Hall the next official stop on the trail is a fair bit further away, but thats not to say there aren't any sights to see. The trail winds by the Union Oyster House, the United States' oldest continuously operating restaurant, and the Bell in Hand Tavern, the United State's oldest continuously operating bar.

Located across the street from these establishments is the somber yet beautiful New England Holocaust Memorial, a worthy place to stop before moving along to Boston's North End.

After crossing the Rose Kennedy Greenway, the end result of the Big Dig, you enter into the North End. The North End is Boston's version of Little Italy, chock full of cafe's, restaurants, and shops.

A must do in the neighborhood is to wait in line for a cannoli either at Mike's Pastry or Modern Pastry. They've been rival bakeries for decades but it seems like the competition between the two has only increased their fame. This sugar rush will power you through the rest of the trail.

After meandering through the historic neighborhood the next official stop is the Paul Revere House. Yes, that Paul Revere. Although he only owned the house from 1770 to 1800, the structure dates back to 1680. This makes the house the oldest in the Downtown Boston area. A small admission fee is required to tour the grounds.

In between the Paul Revere House and the next stop on the trail lies the Paul Revere Mall. A pleasant pedestrianized street complete with a statue depicting the man himself on the midnight ride.

"One if by land, two if by sea." It was here at the Old North church that the legendary signal is said to have been sent. Today it still holds services as a mission of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts. If you want to linger in the area a bit the church does host occasional tours of its crypt, housing and estimated 1100 bodies among its 37 tombs.

Just up the street is the Skinny House. One of the nation's most famous spite houses. The story goes that two brothers inherited a plot of land. While one brother was away serving in the military the other brother built a house occupying most of the property. The veteran was not just going to give his share away, so he built the Skinny House instead.

Across the street from the 10.4 foot (3.2 meter) wide house lies the second cemetery of the route. the Copp's Hill Burying Ground. The gorgeous grounds contain more than 1200 marked graves including that of Phyllis Wheatley, the first female published poet of African descent.

After leaving Copp's Hill Burying Ground it is time to cross the Charles River into Charlestown but not before taking in the views of the Leonard P. Zakim Memorial Bridge and TD Garden.

The next stop is sure to be a favorite of any naval history buff. The USS Constitution, commonly referred to as Old Ironsides, is the oldest ship of any type still afloat. First launched in 1797, its first duties were to assist with the First Barbary War. It was its crucial role in capturing British merchant boats during the War of 1812 that earned the public's adoration.

The final leg of the journey is up a bit of elevation to the Bunker Hill Monument. In 1775 American Revolutionaries discovered a plan by the British to fortify the Charlestown Peninsula. The patriots decided to fortify on the peninsula themselves. Although the colonists retreated with 450 wounded or killed, the British lost 1,150 soldiers. The colonists may have lost the battle, but it demonstrated that they were able to stand up to the British Forces.

Completed in 1843, the obelisk marks the site of the Battle of Bunker Hill. Today, it is also the last stop of the Freedom Trail.

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