The neighborhood was developed in three phases, which have different architectural character.
The South Slope was developed in the 1790's by the Mount Vernon Proprietors. This section is mostly Federal and Greek Revival brick rowhouses and freestanding mansions. It includes one of Boston's most prestigious addresses, Louisburg Square. The streets of the South Slope are spacious and laid out on an orderly grid, while the North Slope has a different charm from its narrow, winding streets.
When the South Slope was planned, the North End
was still the address for most of the wealthy and powerful residents of Boston, and the Back Bay
was still a submerged part of Boston Harbor.
The North Slope
developed more gradually and organically than the South Slope's planned development. While the South Slope remained largely rural until after the Revolutionary War, the North Slope was an active waterfront, with taverns and brothels serving the merchants and sailors. Today, the narrow, winding streets, alleys, and cul-de-sacs are charming, and offer a vivid sense of how Boston might have felt two centuries ago. The homes on the North Slope were mostly wooden buildings or small brick houses, very different from those on the South Slope. Some original buildings in this area were carriage houses for the affluent residents on the South Slope. The area has since become equally as expensive as the South Slope.
In the 1950s, many historic buildings in the area were demolished for the 'urban renewal' of the West End and Government Center. The original dwellings, so important to the history of the region, were replaced by bland, high-rise apartments, spurring efforts among Beacon Hill residents to preserve those that remained. The North Slope was finally declared a historic district in 1963.
The Flat of the Hill
originally was originally the mud flats of the Charles River, one of many Boston neighborhoods built on reclaimed land
. This was the last section of Beacon Hill to be developed, and construction began in the early 1800s as the waterfront and marshes were gradually infilled to create more buildable land. This is why many of the 19th century waterfront landmarks, such as the Charles Street Meeting House, are far from the current shoreline. The buildings on Charles Street (named for the river on which it is built) contained street-level retail that became home to blacksmiths, shoemakers, stables and later, garages serving the affluent residents of the South Slope – today, these serve as destination restaurants, retail, and garages serving the affluent residents of the South Slope. Some things don't change.
Best blocks and notable buildings
The Beacon Hill Historic District
). In 1955, the Beacon Hill Historic District became the first of its kind in Massachusetts, created to protect historic neighborhoods from misguided 'urban renewal' programs that advocated demolition. The South Slope received its protection in 1955, the Flat of the Hill in 1958, and North Slope in 1963. Several groups support these objectives, including the Beacon Hill Civic Association
, the Boston Preservation Alliance
, and the Beacon Hill Architectural Commission
The single-block Acorn Street
is thought to be the most photographed street in the United States. Historically, it was not a prestigious address – it was home to the coachmen and servants working in the nearby mansions. While parts of Boston have brick sidewalks and cobblestone streets, there are very few surviving "cob" streets. We're gonna get technical for a moment: while cobblestones are evenly-cut granite blocks, a 'cob' is the Old English word for a rounded stone. Boston's soil was full of rocky cobs that were used in building stone walls, building foundations, and paving early roads. However, the uneven surfaces damaged wooden wheels, and were largely replaced by cobblestones in the 1800s. On Beacon Hill, 'cob streets' can be found on Acorn Street, Louisberg Square, and Mount Vernon Street.
Before the Civil War, Holmes Alley
was used as a path by runaway slaves to the safety of the African Meeting House.
African Meeting House
(46 Joy St.)
Peter Faneuil School
(60 Joy St.) was built in 1910 and named for merchant Peter Faneuil (1700-1743), who built and donated Faneuil Hall to the city of Boston. There is a certain irony that Faneuil Hall, a building known as the 'Cradle of Liberty' was paid for by profits from the slave trade
20 Garden St.
former residence of physician Rebecca Lee Crumpler
(1831-1895), the first African-American woman to receive a medical degree in the United States. In 1883, she published A Book of Medical Discourses
, one of the first medical publications in the United States written by an African American.
28 Grove Street
(North Slope) was the former residence of Resident Rev. Leonard A. Grimes
(1815-1873), prominent black clergyman. Born of free African-American parents in Leesburg, Virginia, he initially worked as a driver, owning several carriages and horses – and using his business as cover to transport runaway slaves to Washington, DC. He served two years in prison for helping a woman and her six children escape slavery; after prison, he became a minister and moved to Boston where he continued his abolitionist work with the Underground Railroad. He also successfully petitioned the governor of Massachusetts to allow black men to bear arms during the Civil War, and enlist on behalf of the Union. Grimes is also one of the men who bought the freedom of Anthony Burns
after his arrest – the last person to be prosecuted in Massachusetts under the Fugitive Slave Act.
39 Hancock St.
(North Slope) is the former residence of author Lois Lowry (b.1937) who has written over 30 children's books which have thoughtfully explored issues including the Holocaust, racism, and terminal illness. She has won two Newbery Medals, and is regarded as having written the first young adult dystopian novel, The Giver
58 Irving Street
was the birthplace of abolitionist and senator Charles Sumner (1811-1874). On May 22, 1856, following a fiery speech against slavery, Sumner was assaulted
on the Senate floor by Rep. Preston Brooks, a Democrat from South Carolina.
67 Joy St.
, former residence of physician Rebecca Lee Crumpler
(1831-1895), the first African-American woman to receive a medical degree in the United States.
81 Joy St.
former residence of abolitionists Maria Stewart
(1803-1879) and David Walker
(1796-1830). Stewart's speeches were the first public talks by an American woman on politics and women's rights. In 1829, Walker published an abolitionist essay, "Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World."
109 Myrtle St.
, former residence of abolitionist and author Lysander Spooner (1808-1887).
2 Phillips St.
Designed by noted architect Asher Benjamin
for housewright, merchant, and abolitionist John Coburn
(1811-1873) c.1843. As a member of the Boston Vigilance Committee, he was arrested, tried, and acquitted for the 1851 rescue of the fugitive slave Shadrach Minkins
(c.1814-1875). Later in the 1850s, Coburn was co-founder and captain of the Massasoit Guards, a black military company.
Lewis and Harriet Hayden House
(66 Phillips St.). Among the most visible and militant abolitionists on Beacon Hill, both Lewis
(1811-1889) and Harriet Hayden (c.1820-1893) escaped slavery through the Underground Railroad. They purchased this building and operated it as a boarding house and as a stop on the Underground Railroad from 1850-1860. John Brown
(1800-1859) was a guest here, and Harriet Beecher Stowe
(1811-1896), author of Uncle Tom's Cabin
, was taken in to see how slaves on the run felt. Lewis recruited for the 54th regiment, the all-black regiment led by Robert Gould Shaw, and served a term in the Massachusetts House of Representatives. The couple left money to Harvard Medical School to establish a scholarship for African-American students.
83 Phillips St.
, former residence of John Swett Rock
(1825-1866), who was both one of the first African-American men to earn a medical degree, and the first black man to be admitted to the bar of the Supreme Court. The abolitionist senator Charles Sumner
introduced the motion for this to occur, and Rock was the first African-American to be received on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives in 1865. He was a passionate abolitionist and civil rights leader, and his speeches were printed in William Lloyd Garrison's The Liberator
. When his doctors advised him to cut back on his workload as a doctor, he studied law and within a year, was admitted to the Massachusetts bar.
91 Revere St.
former residence of Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Robert Lowell
(1917-1977). As Max Liu notes in the Guardian
, Lowell used his tremendous privilege to speak out on behalf of those who did not have the same advantages: "Lowell was consistently at odds with the US government, serving jail time as a conscientious objector during the second world war, rejecting an invitation to the White House in 1965 to protest Lyndon Johnson’s foreign policy, speaking at the March on the Pentagon in 1967."
3 Smith Court
is the former residence of abolitionist and author William Cooper Nell
(1816-1874). Nell’s activism had its greatest impact in ending segregation in Boston’s public education system. This campaign began in 1840, and culminated with the Brown v. Board of Education (1954-55) decision. Nell also co-founded the Massasoit Guards, a black military company (1854), and successfully petitioned Boston to acknowledge African-American Revolutionary War hero Crispus Attucks.
There are a few North Slope houses closely associated with the Mount Vernon Proprietors, including several by pioneering architect Charles Bulfinch, himself a Proprietor. These include:
29A Chestnut St.
was built by the Mount Vernon Proprietors in 1799.
16 Chestnut St.
was built by Hepzibah Swan
(1757-1825) in 1804-1805. Mrs. Swan bought out two of the original investors in the largest and most real estate venture in postwar Boston, becoming the only woman among the Proprietors. This house, as well as the three for her daughters at 13, 15, and 17 Chestnut Street, were all designed by Charles Bulfinch.
13, 15, 17 Chestnut St.
were built by Hepzibah Swan (1757-1825) in 1804-1805 for her daughters. Designed by Charles Bulfinch.
Separately from these, this section of the neighborhood contains many notable residences:
Chester Harding House
(16 Beacon St.), was home to the celebrated self-taught portrait painter Chester Harding
(1792-1866) from 1826-1830. He painted the only portrait of frontiersman Daniel Boone
(1734-1820) during his life, and during the sitting asked him if he had ever been lost. Boone replied, "No, I can't say as ever I was lost, but I was bewildered once for three days." This anecdote is often used in biographies of Daniel Boone. The building is now the Boston Bar Association.
21 Beacon St.
In 1946, John Fitzgerald Kennedy (1917-1963) maintained a residence at 21 Beacon St. when he was running for Congress.
Site of Hancock Manor
. The former estate of John Hancock
(1737-1793) was located at 30 Beacon Street. Its land is now part of the grounds of the Massachusetts State House. While the building was demolished in 1864 for the State House expansion, the original red sandstone steps were bought the philanthropic Perkins family of Jamaica Plain
and installed off of Moraine Street, by Jamaica Pond.
George Parkman House
(33 Beacon St.). Designed by architect (and former privateer and smuggler) Guy Mannering. It became the basis for the Woodbourne
122 Bowdoin St.
. In 1946, John Fitzgerald Kennedy (1917-1963) lived at apartment #36, and the headquarters for his congressional run. It remained his voting address for the rest of his life, even when he resided at the White House. He also maintained a residence at 21 Beacon Street.
18 Chestnut St.
former residence of Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Robert Lowell
(1917-1977), whose work is considered to have changed the course of modern poetry.
43 Chestnut St.
was the former residence of poet, critic, and occasional lawyer Richard Henry Dana, Sr.
(1787-1879). Despite having graduated Harvard, Dana felt the college smothered genius, and believed that the minds of poets were more insightful than the general community. He seldom practiced law.
50 Chestnut St.
was designed by architect (and former privateer and smuggler) Cornelius Coolidge. Former residence of historian Francis Parkman
(1823-1893), who also served as a professor of horticulture at Harvard. As a boy, his poor health led his parents to send him to live with his maternal grandfather, who owned 3,000-acres of wilderness in nearby Medford. They hoped a more rustic lifestyle would strengthen him. It did, and Parkman developed a love for nature that would inform his later research and writing. Indeed, he described his books as "the history of the American forest."
pronounced "Lewisburg") is regarded as one of the most prestigious addresses within Beacon Hill and indeed in all of Boston. Greek Revival townhouses from the 1840s surround a private park, analogous to Gramercy Park
in New York City. The park and square are maintained by the Louisburg Square Proprietors. Notable residents of the square have included author Louisa May Alcott, architect Charles Bulfinch, painter John Singleton Copley, and Atlantic
editor William Dean Howells. It is said to be built on the site of the residence of the 1600s recluse William Blackstone (or Blaxton, back when spelling was optional). He left Boston after the Puritans arrived, and co-founded a place called Rhode Island.
4 Louisburg Sq.
, former residence of William Dean Howells (1837-1920) while editor of the Atlantic Monthly
. In 1860 Howells wrote Lincoln's campaign biography, Life Of Abraham Lincoln
, and subsequently gained a consulship in Venice. In 1862, he married Elinor Mead, sister of sculptor Larkin Goldsmith Mead and architect William Rutherford Mead of the firm McKim, Mead, and White.
10 Louisburg Sq.
, former residence of educator Bronson Alcott, author Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888) and family. The Alcott residence in Concord, Mass., Orchard House
(399 Lexington Rd.) is a house museum.
19 Louisburg Sq.
, residence of John Kerry and Teresa Heinz Kerry.
20 Louisburg Sq.
is where opera singer and philanthropist Jenny Lind
married pianist Otto Goldschmidt (1829-1907). Lind was the most celebrated singer of her day, known as "The Swedish Nightingale," and part of her story was told in the 2017 film, The Greatest Showman
. She was concluding her tour of the United States, organized by consummate showman P.T. Barnum, and her banker, Samuel Howe (the brother of Julia Ward Howe) offered his house for the discreet wedding
8 Mount Vernon St.
Former residence of paper manufacturer Fiske Warren
and his wife Gretchen Osgood Warren
, a noted actress, poet, and singer whose ancestors included Anne Hutchinson
and John Quincy Adams. The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston has a hauntingly beautiful 1903 portrait
by John Singer Sargent, Mrs. Fiske Warren and Her Daughter Rachel
32 Mount Vernon St.
was the former residence of Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe and his wife, abolitionist, suffragist, and author Julia Ward Howe
(1819-1910). In 1862, she gained renown with "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," (for which she was paid four dollars by The Atlantic), and President Lincoln reportedly cried when he read it. She was the first woman elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters, in 1908.
41 Mount Vernon St.
housed the Beacon Press, a department of the Unitarian Universalist Association, that published the Senator Mike Gravel edition of the Pentagon Papers
in 1971. Rather ironically, it was formerly home to the Watch and Ward Society
, which focused on censoring books and performances, and popularized the term "Banned in Boston."
45–47 Mount Vernon St.
was the site of Portia School of Law, founded in 1908 to provide legal education exclusively to women at a time when most institutions would not accept them as students. The school has expanded into the New England School of Law
51 & 53 Mount Vernon St.
was designed by architect Charles Bulfinch.
55 Mount Vernon St.
Designed by Charles Bulfinch, home of Rose Standish Nichols
(1872-1960), the noted landscape designer, author, and suffragist. She was encouraged to take up landscape design by her uncle, the celebrated sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens
. The house is now the Nichols House Museum
57 Mount Vernon St.
Designed by Charles Bulfinch, and notable residents have included Daniel Webster and later Charles Francis Adams.
76 Mount Vernon St.
, former residence of writer Margaret Deland
77 Mount Vernon St.
was the former residence of noted artist Sarah Wyman Whitman
(1842-1904), who also designed book covers for Houghton Mifflin. Harvard
magazine described her: "The notes she wrote with a quill pen, her style of dress—ostrich feathers, beaver bonnets, exuberant shades of silk and satin, unusual gems—even her exalted manner of speaking (to hide a slight impediment) reflected the ways she had joined her art and her life." Her house was the site of an annual competition dinner between Houghton Mifflin and The Atlantic Monthly Press, to see who had sold the most books each year. It now serves as the home of the bibliophile Club of Odd Volumes
, whose members have included Franklin Delano Roosevelt; Winston Churchill visited in 1949.
Second Harrison Gray Otis House
(85 Mount Vernon St.) designed by architect Charles Bulfinch and built 1800-1802, is the only freestanding mansion
on Beacon Hill. Naturally, this belonged to Harrison Gray Otis, the lead partner of the Mount Vernon Proprietors which developed Beacon Hill.
87 Mount Vernon St.
was designed by Charles Bulfinch.
88 Mount Vernon St.
was the former residence of one of the most celebrated of American poets, Robert Frost
102 Mount Vernon St.
was the former residence of author Henry James
(1843-1916). The Guardian
had a moving description of his final days.
108 Mount Vernon St.
Former residence of writer and artist Kahlil Gibran (1883-1931), who is the third best-selling poet of all time, behind Shakespeare and Laozi. He is best known for his 1923 book, The Prophet
7-8 Park St.
, formerly the residences of John Amory Lowell
and Abbott Lawrence
– whose families established the industrial cities of Lowell and Lawrence, respectively. It is now home to the Union Club of Boston
9 Park St.
Former residence of Harvard professor George Ticknor
4 Pinckney St.
is the childhood residence of author and abolitionist Henry David Thoreau
(1817-1862), author of Walden
and the essay "Civil Disobedience."
15 Pinckney St.
was the site of Elizabeth Peabody's Kindergarten, the first public kindergarten in the United States. Elizabeth Peabody
(1804-1894) was one of the most prominent and influential women in Boston, and the United States, during her life. She had deep literary connections: she had studied Greek with the young Ralph Waldo Emerson, and her sister Sophia married Nathaniel Hawthorne, while her other sister married Horace Mann. She ran a bookstore on West Street until 1850, and was one of the first woman publishers in the United States.
16 Pinckney St.
is the former residence of poet and essayist Louise Imogen Guiney
(1861-1920). Her father was a Union Army general in the Civil War, and historians note her father's role in inspiring the ideal of chivalric heroism often found in her poetry.
20 Pinckney St.
is the former residence of author Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888), who lived here when she was about 20 years old.
54 Pinckney St.
is the former residence of author Nathaniel Hawthorne
(1804-1864), who later married Sophia Peabody
(1809-1871), one of the three prominent and influential Peabody sisters.
86 Pinckney St.
former residence of abolitionist and state representative John J. Smith
(1820-1906) from 1878-1893. His barbershop on the North Slope of Beacon Hill was part of the Underground Railroad, and during the Civil War, he recruited soldiers for the black regiments of Massachusetts. While in office, he hired Boston's first black police officer.
87 Pinckney St.
is the former residence of literary critic and Harvard professor Francis Otto Matthiessen
(1902-1950). Matthiessen's best-known book, American Renaissance: Art and Expression in the Age of Emerson and Whitman
(1941), discusses the flowering of literary culture in the middle of the American 19th century, with Emerson, Hawthorne, Melville, Thoreau, and Whitman.
105 Pinckney St.
former residence of P.P.F. Degrand (1787-1855), a merchant who also published the Boston Weekly Report in the 1820s, employing Edgar Allan Poe as a reporter.
36 West Cedar St.
is the former residence of Susan Paul
(1809–1841) was an African-American abolitionist, a primary school teacher, and member of the Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society. In 1835, she wrote the first biography of an African American published in the United States, the Memoir of James Jackson
. James Jackson was one of Paul's students, who died at just six years of age.
43 West Cedar St.
is the former residence of Pulitzer Prize-winning writer John Phillips Marquand
(1893-1960), who satirized
the New England upper class and their traditions. He spent adulthood trying to regain his place among the deeply rooted and financially comfortable that he felt he lost early in his life. The Harvard Crimson rejected him "because he does not know how to write,” and he was also rejected from all finals clubs. His misery there drove him to finish college in three years. Many of his novels featured characters based on himself or relatives from Newburyport, including Wickford Point
, H.M Pullham, Esquire
, and The Late George Apley
. In 1941, he wrote about Boston: “Its past and its present make a more perfect unity, I believe, than has been achieved by any other city in America.”
Flat of the Hill
70-75 Beacon Street
, a cluster of houses with a continuous granite facade, built for in 1828 opposite the Boston Public Garden. They were designed by Asher Benjamin (1773–1845), an influential architect whose Practical House Carpenter
was the pattern book used for many of the federal and Greek Revival houses throughout the United States. According to a Harvard text on Beacon Hill architecture, #72's facade is unchanged and #73 retains its original brass-work on the front door.
bar (84 Beacon Street) was the prototype for the television show of the the same name.
44 Brimmer St.
is the former residence of naval and maritime historian Samuel Eliot Morison
(1887-1976). Morison's books have won two Pulitzer Prizes and are notable for being not just meticulously researched but eminently accessible to a popular audience. According to Smithsonian magazine, the mantelpiece here came from the living room of Daniel Webster.
Eleanor Raymond House
(112 Charles St.) This historic townhouse was purchased and renovated by Eleanor Raymond
(1887-1989), a Wellesley alum and one of the first women architects in the United States. Through the suffragist movement, she met her life partner, Ethel B. Power, who became a longtime editor for House Beautiful
magazine. Raymond renovated this townhouse for herself, Power, and a group of other women.
90 Chestnut St.
was designed by the Henry Davis Sleeper
as one of the first interior designers in the United States. His own residence, Beauport
, is now a house museum.
(130 Mt Vernon St.) was built in 1840. In the 1860s, it was home to interior designer and artist Frank Hill Smith
(1842-1904), who painted the ceiling frescoes in the Massachusetts State House. In 1878, Charles Luce renovated the house in the Queen Anne style, which drew inspiration from Elizabeth and Jacobean English buildings. In 1904, artist Gertrude Beals Bourne
(1868-1962) and her husband moved here. Her work has been shown at the Corcoran Gallery of Art and the National Gallery in Washington, DC. Her husband, Frank Bourne, raised funds to save Asher Benjamin's Charles Street Meeting House from demolition, enabling it to be moved when Charles Street was widened.
Commercial and retail
is the primary retail corridor for the Flat of the Hill, known for restaurants, boutiques, and antique shops.