Back Streets of Boston’s Beacon Hill

Photo by Kim Grant

Atmospheric strolls, secret passageways and elegant architecture on Beacon Hill

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No place is more “Boston” than lovely Beacon Hill. Charming Charles Street is a delightful place to browse boutiques and shop for antiques. And the back streets of Boston’s Beacon Hill are lined with gracious red-brick townhouses, paved with cobblestones and lit with gas street lights.

Back Streets of Boston’s Beacon Hill: Historic Homes

Some of the stately homes have brass doorknockers and purple glass windows, still remaining from the 19th century, when most of these homes were built.  To see how the homes were furnished back in the day, visit the 1796 Otis House Museum or the 1804 Nichols House Museum, both representative of the era.

The neighborhood’s grandest street is Louisburg Square, where elegant Greek Revival townhouses surround a charming city park. Just one block away, you can see how the other half lived, on tiny (but equally photogenic) Acorn Street. The narrow alleyway (“two cows wide,” historically) was home to the artisans and servants who worked in the mansions nearby. Stroll around the back streets of Boston’s Beacon Hill to explore more of this quintessential neighborhood.

African American Heritage

The northern part of the neighborhood (aka the North Slope) was home to a thriving African-American population. As such, Beacon Hill was a center for abolitionism, as well as being an active stop on the Underground Railroad. The old African Meeting House now contains the small Museum of African American History. It’s also the end-point of the African Heritage Trail, which winds through the neighborhood.

From Smith Court, the hidden Holmes Alley cuts through the block to South Russell Street. The passageway is so small that you wouldn’t know it was there, if you didn’t know it was there. Nowadays, most such secret shortcuts have been gated off. But back in the day, these hidden alleys and back streets of Boston’s Beacon Hill allowed many a fugitive to escape capture.

Beacon Hill Landmarks

The neighborhood’s most prominent landmark is the gold-domed Massachusetts State House, proudly anchoring the southeast corner of the neighborhood. In addition to the dedicated lawmakers, the building is filled with art and history, as recounted by Doric docents on free tours. Across the street, the Boston Common is the country’s oldest public park. Once grazing land for cows, it’s now better for jogging, strolling, skating, picnicking or playing—or just sitting back and watching busy Boston go by.

At A Glance

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