Beacon Hill is a 19th-century downtown Boston residential neighborhood situated directly north of the Boston Common and the Boston Public Garden. Most people think of city living as anonymous and isolating. But this cozy enclave, filled with nearly 10,000 people, is more like a village than an anonymous city. It has a rich community life, with neighbors knowing neighbors and everyone meeting on the Hill's commercial streets and at its myriad activities.
Approximately one-half mile square, Beacon Hill is bounded by Beacon Street, Bowdoin Street, Cambridge Street and Storrow Drive. It is known for its beautiful doors and door surrounds, brass door knockers, decorative iron work, brick sidewalks, perpetually-burning gas lights, flowering pear trees, window boxes, and hidden gardens. Its architecture, mostly brick row houses, includes the Federal, Greek Revival and Victorian periods, as well as early 20th-century colonial revival homes and tenements. The architecture is protected by restrictive regulations that allow no changes to any visible part of a structure without the approval of an architectural commission.
Beacon Hill contains a South Slope, a North Slope and a Flat of the Hill. Charles Street is the neighborhood's main street and is filled with antique shops and neighborhood services. The Massachusetts State House is at the top of the Hill overlooking Boston Common.
History of Beacon Hill
Before the Revolution, Beacon Hill was pasture land with a few notable exceptions, including John Hancock's country estate, which was demolished to make room for the western addition to the Massachusetts State House.
The South Slope was developed in the 1790's by the Mt. Vernon Proprietors for Boston's richest families, who by the late 1800's were being called Brahmins. South Slope streets were spacious and carefully laid out.
One of the proprietors, who also designed several Beacon Hill houses, was Charles Bulfinch. For a time, he was immortalized at 84 Beacon Street in the Bull & Finch Pub, which was the prototype for the television show, Cheers. The bar is now just called Cheers.
The North Slope developed more organically than the South Slope did. It grew up and down alleys and into nooks and crannies. Its residents were former slaves, sailors, poets -- people who were, as one wag put it, the morally emancipated. In the late 19th century, the North Slope became home to immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe and many of the homes were remade into tenements.
The Flat of the Hill originally was part of the Charles River. After it was filled, it became home to blacksmiths, shoemakers, stables and later, garages of the homes on the South Slope. Now almost all these buildings have been renovated into living quarters.