03 December 2012

Beacon Hill

Beacon Hill has long been synonymous with wealth and prestige. It was the neighbourhood of the Boston Brahmins—the city's elite—who, beginning in the early 19th century, built homes on the south slope of the hill facing the Boston Common. Yet many people forget about the neighbours who populated the north slope—sailors, former slaves, and immigrants who lived in tenements and small flats. Their contribution to the history of Beacon Hill was just as important as those of the Cabots and Lodges. 

When I lived in Boston I used to take weekend walks about Beacon Hill, looking at all the beautiful houses and quaint antique shops, dreaming about living there one day. On my recent trip, I got up early one morning to wander the streets once more, focusing on the south slope and the flat of the hill.

Dominated by Federalist and Greek Revival-style buildings, Beacon Hill has managed to retain a strong sense of its past helped in part by its designation as a National Historic Landmark and strict laws pertaining to any renovations. So much seems unchanged that on certain streets if you were to remove the cars you might think you'd hear the clip clop of a horse-drawn carriage.

This is the neighbourhood where I learned to love brick and mansard roofs. The buildings' gorgeous details help to give each home an individual personality. Mt. Vernon Street is especially lovely with the only free standing houses on the hill (they even have front yards).

The homes' individuality begins with their doors. Some are plain while others have arches or columns. Most often painted black or red, they leave you wondering what lies within. 

And then there are those houses that stand out from their neighbours, whether they boast of balconies reminiscent of New Orleans or have colours and motifs that earn them the nickname the "Sunflower House" (I personally refer to it as the Hansel and Gretel house), that help make Beacon Hill such a unique place.

The signs of the past are everywhere from a vintage private way sign to a built-in boot scraper on some front steps (a very common item to find on Beacon Hill). Even the cars are vintage (OK, at least this one was).

And no address is posher that Louisburg Square. This private small patch of grass, enclosed by a black wrought iron fence, belongs to the owners of the surrounding townhouses that were built in the 1840s. Since that time, the square has had many illustrious residents including artist John Singleton Copley, architect Charles Bulfinch (designer of the nearby State House), and writers William Dean Howells and Louisa May Alcott.  

Yet with all of the square's grandeur, the most photographed place on Beacon Hill is Acorn Street. Here on this cobblestone side street that runs just one block in length, craftsmen in the 19th century built homes for their families that were scaled down versions of the nearby larger houses. With the row of houses on one side and high walls containing doors to hidden gardens on the other, Acorn Street is a perfect place to step back into time.

For such a tiny street of row houses, the homes on Acorn Street managed to stand out from each other with no two doors being alike. They were painted differently and displayed various door knockers, including an appropriate acorn at number eight.

Maybe one day I'll end up back in Boston and finally have a place of my own on Beacon Hill. Until then I will continue to visit each time I'm in town, enjoying this slice of the 19th century.

Photos by Michele.

No comments:

Post a Comment


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...