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A Mount Vernon Street Walking Tour

Bulfinch's Best Street

Beacon Hill is a National Historic District, filled with working gas lamps, ancient elms, brick sidewalks and 19th-century row houses protected by architectural restrictions that govern such details as the color of the doors.

To see Beacon Hill at its finest, follow our tour down just one street, Mount Vernon. Charles Bulfinch, Boston's federal period architect and one of the developers of Beacon Hill, designed several buildings on this street, including the State House. Notice details. Ironwork hangs at the main floor level of many houses. Brass knockers of every imaginable design decorate doors. Carved lintels sit above doors and windows. Foot scrapers on doorsteps take interesting forms.

Begin at the . . .

  • Massachusetts State House. Paul Revere installed the first dome, which was made of copper. Take a free tour of this elegant building weekdays from 10 to 3:30 and on Saturday from 10:30 to 2. Do not miss the 'Sacred Cod and the Holy Mackerel'. Meet guides on the second floor, Doric Hall. Leave by a back door and turn left, walking down to . . .

  • 55 Mount Vernon St., which is the Nichols House Museum, an 1804 Bulfinch-designed home open to the public. The furnishings and decor are what one would expect to find in an aging upper-crust Bostonian's house: good carpets, furniture and paintings, all worn or faded.$5.00 Noon to 4 pm. Open Tues. - Sat. from until October 31. Open Thurs. - Sat. during Nov., Dec., Feb., and March. Closed January.

  • Continue down Mt. Vernon St., which Henry James called the most beautiful in America, passing under old elm trees kept alive by dedicated doctoring. Take note of the one-story houses at 50, 56 and 60 Mt. Vernon. These once were stables, serving Bulfinch-designed houses built by Hepzibah Swan for her three daughters, who lived at 13, 15 and 17 Chestnut St.

  • The cobblestone driveway of 85 Mt. Vernon St., built in 1802 and designed by Charles Bulfinch, was featured in the original movie entitled The Thomas Crowne Affair. This house and its neighbors at 87 and 89 are the only free-standing houses on the hill.

  • Louisburg Sq. (pronounced "Lewisburg"), a few houses farther down, is probably the address most associated with Boston wealth and privilege. Moguls still live here, as does Senator John Kerry. The large Greek revival houses were built in the 1830s and many are still single-family homes. Some of New England's intellectuals lived here: William Dean Howells at No.16 and Louisa May Alcott at No. 10.

  • From Louisburg Sq., take a short walk down Willow St. to charming Acorn St., a one-block long, cobble-stoned passageway that runs from Willow St. to West Cedar St. Some say it is the most photographed street in America. Most of the rather plain, small brick houses here are only one room deep and were originally inhabited by working families who served the rich in the big houses. Turn right up West Cedar and left down Mount Vernon to Charles St.

  • Across the street on the right hand side is the Charles St. Meeting House, moved 10 feet toward the river in the 1920s when Charles St. was widened. This 1804 former church was an important location in the abolitionist movement, with William Lloyd Garrison, Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass speaking from its pulpit. The upper part of the church is now offices, but you can visit the cafe and antique shops on the street level.

  • While you are at the corner of Charles and Mount Vernon, notice the early arts-and-crafts style Sunflower House at 130 Mount Vernon.

Finish your walking tour by investigating Charles Street, Beacon Hill's main shopping street. You'll find small, one-of-a-kind shops offering antiques, art, clothing, gifts and home furnishings. To cap off your Bulfinch architectural tour, visit the original Cheers bar at the Hampshire House at 84 Beacon St. This Cheers was the model for the television show. It was originally called the Bull and Finch Pub, after Charles Bulfinch, of course.

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