Boston brims with world-class cultural sites, but the gold-domed State House towers (literally) over everything in the Back Bay. The State House was designed by architect Charles Bulfinch and completed in 1798 on land was once by John Hancock; its dome was first covered in copper by Paul Revere and then gilded in gold in 1874. Here are 5 things to do near the State House.
Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Massachusetts Regiment Memorial
This bronze relief by famed sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, located across the street from the State House, shows the moment that Robert Gould Shaw and his African American regiment —the first documented one in American history—left Boston to head South to fight in the Civil War on May 28, 1863. Sergeant William H. Carney held the regiment aloft during the treacherous battle of Fort Wagner despite being wounded and was the first African-American to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. The memorial was originally made to sit inside the State House, but proved to be too large to fit through the doors and was moved just outside Boston Common.
The Boston Common Frog Pond
You won’t see any green amphibians at this watering hole as it now serves as an ice skating rink in winter and wading pool in summer, but a body of water has always existed in this spot. It was originally a spring-fed pond for early Bostonians’ cattle in the 1630s and urban myth has it that witches were tried for their crimes in the pond. It was turned into a fountain in the 1850s to celebrate the city’s new system of delivering water through pipes.
Museum of African American History
Tucked away behind the State House in Beacon Hill, the comprehensive Museum of African American History chronicles and preserves the story of African Americans in New England from the dawn of the country through the 19th century. The museum’s exhibits are groundbreaking and thought-provoking, including one of the many photographs of Frederick Douglass. The museum includes the African Meeting House and the Abiel Smith School, both instrumental in the African American story in Boston.
Granary Burying Grounds
A cemetery might not be the most natural stop on your sightseeing tour but this isn’t any old cemetery. Well, actually it is quite old, which makes it interesting. The Granary Burying Grounds are the final resting place of some of the founders of this country including Paul Revere, John Hancock and Sam Adams. It’s an official stop on the Freedom Trail and makes for a quick and reflective walk.
Located just a few steps from the State House, the Athenaeum is one of the oldest private libraries in the country. While it’s members-only, visitors can quietly peek in and wander around the first floor, past stacks of neat books and oil paintings of Boston’s founders. Call two weeks to a month before your visit to reserve an hour-long, docent-led tour of the Athenaeum. President John F. Kennedy, Louisa May Alcott, and Ralph Waldo Emerson were members.