What Makes Boston Like No Place Else

These unique attractions and landmarks embody Boston's history and herita
By: Kimberly Blanton
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Freedom Trail in Boston, Massachusetts

Freedom Trail in Boston, Massachusetts

Bronze marker on the Freedom Trail

New England states are small, offering Bostonians a wide variety of weekend trips. None is more than three hours away. Quick trips include hiking Mount Washington in New Hampshire, taking the train to Manhattan, swimming in Lake Champlain in northwestern Vermont or at the Maine coastline, renting a house on Cape Cod and enjoying the Tanglewood summer concerts in western Massachusetts.

Boston Harbor Islands 
Thirty islands are sprinkled about Boston Harbor. On summer days, Bostonians cool down by taking boats docked near the Aquarium to popular Georges Island, which has a 19th-century granite fort. Boaters also head to Spectacle Island, which has a new 105-acre park with a beach, restrooms, hiking trails, a cafe, and a hill with panoramic views of the harbor and city. Spectacle is getting high marks from locals once skeptical about putting a park on a former landfill.

Historic Sites and the Freedom Trail 
Boston and its suburbs are replete with historical sites, from the Old North Church where Paul Revere started his ride to a marker in Somerville where a second, lesser-known rider, Williams Dawes, passed on a different route north carrying the same message as Revere's.

Boston’s premier historical sites are along the Freedom Trail. The 2.5-mile, red brick trail directs tourists around the city to 16 historical sites, including the gold-domed State House designed by architect Charles Bulfinch, the Colonial-era USS Constitution — "Old Ironsides" — and the Old Granary Burial Ground where Massachusetts governors and mayors and three signers of the Declaration are buried. But a trail highlight is Old South Meeting House where revolutionaries fomented the Boston Tea Party to protest British taxation; first-timers are advised to listen to the recording, which must be requested of staff, of a mock meeting in which colonists heard the tea would be dumped in the harbor.

That’s a more satisfying experience than the commercial Boston Tea Party ship. Similarly, Faneuil Hall Marketplace is commercial; it has an Ann Taylor, Crate & Barrel and other chains.

The Old John Hancock Tower 
Built in 1947, the building is topped by a weather beacon with red and blue lights that predict the weather. True Bostonians have committed the poem to heart: "Solid blue, clear view; flashing blue, clouds are due; solid red, rain ahead; flashing red, snow instead."

Kendall Square 
This Cambridge square became the hub of Boston's high-tech industry during the late-1990s Internet boom and spawned companies like Akamai Technologies. But Boston constantly reinvents itself, and biotechnology giants such as Biogen Idec and Genzyme have moved into the area.

Fenway Park 
Sports-crazy Boston loves baseball. One of the last remaining baseball parks built during the golden era of the sport, Fenway Park opened in 1912. Players who have competed there include Cy Young, Babe Ruth (before he left for the New York Yankees), Ted Williams, Carlton Fisk and Carl Yastrzemski. Smack in the center of a downtown neighborhood, the park survived a fire in 1926 and an 86-year drought in which the Red Sox failed to win a World Series. The Sox "reversed the curse" in 2004 when they won and repeated in 2007.

Boston Public Library 
The Boston Public Library was the first library that was free to the public. Opened in 1854, it houses a trove of architectural plans for historic buildings, including the brownstones in Back Bay, an immense collection of writing from Revolutionary and Colonial Massachusetts and a wealth of anti-slavery documents. Few know that it is also John Adams' presidential library.

African Meeting House 
Built in 1906, it was the first black Baptist church built north of the Mason-Dixon Line and remains the oldest standing black church in America. The history of Boston's black population is rich. As Civil War raged in the South, Boston was a center of activity for abolitionists. Twenty years after the end of the Civil War, W.E.B. DuBois entered Harvard College and devoted his life to studying the African-American population.

Education and Research

The Boston metropolitan area has some 60 colleges and universities and an astounding variety. Some are world-famous: Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Some are highly specialized: Babson College for entrepreneurship and Berklee College of Music for musical training. Many are obscure to those outside the city limits: Mount Ida College and Wheelock College. Boston is also distinguished for having a total of eight research universities and world-class research institutions such as Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

Harvard, founded in 1636 by the Massachusetts Bay Colony, was the first college in the American colonies. With that came "firsts" too numerous to count, but they include:

  • In 1817, one of the world’s first law schools.
  • In 1867, the nation's first school of dentistry.
  • In 1875, the world's first experimental psychology laboratory.
  • In 1990, the nation's first college to offer landscape architecture courses.
  • In 1908, the nation's first business program limited to college graduates.
  • In 1937, the nation's first graduate program in American Studies.
  • In 1954, researchers performed the first human kidney transplant.
  • In 1967, the nation's first college to offer an undergraduate degree in folklore and mythology.
  • In 1989, the Divinity School offers the nation's first doctoral program in religion, gender and culture.

The higher educational and research institutions that have sprouted in Harvard's wake have also achieved many firsts:

  • In 1846, the first surgery performed with an anesthesia (ether) was performed at Massachusetts General Hospital. The removal of the patient’s mouth tumor was a success and painless.
  • In 1848, Boston University’s New England Female Medical College was one of the nation’s first medical schools for women.
  • In 1865, MIT was the first to offer an architecture curriculum.
  • In 1877, Boston University was first in awarding a Ph.D. to a woman, the classical scholar Helen Magill.
  • In 1879, Dr. Solomon Carter Fuller became the first black psychiatrist as a graduate of the (renamed) College of Medicine at Boston University.
  • In 1966, Babson offered the nation’s first course in entrepreneurship.
  • In 1973, two MIT professors were involved in research confirming the existence of quarks.

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