My previous post described my visit to Historic New England’s archives. However, Historic New England does more than maintain documents. It also offers tours of historic buildings and holds a variety of events throughout New England. Our visit to Boston just happened to coincide with its walking tour of Beacon Hill so I naturally jumped at the chance.
Historic New England’s Otis House Museum and Beacon Hill Tour
Location: 141 Cambridge Street in Boston, Massachusetts.
Resource Type: Museum and guided tour
Taking pictures and learning more about:
- furniture and architecture
- Boston’s historic neighborhoods
Unexpected Find: Learning about the Charles River Museum of Industry.
What to expect:
The tour began at the Otis House, whose original owner Harrison Gray Otis was instrumental in developing Beacon Hill. The Beacon Hill neighborhood tour fee included a separate tour of the Otis House, so of course we took the opportunity to see the Otis House interior.
The Otis House like many other mansions of its time, began as a home for a wealthy family but, as the neighborhood changed, was converted for other uses, including a medical clinic and boarding house. However, in 1916, the predecessor to Historic New England purchased the property. The basement currently houses the Historic New England library and archives, but the remainder of the home has been restored to its glory when the Otises occupied it.
By the way, restoration also means keeping the house’s character as close as possible to the original. That means no air conditioning. And in July, it was sweltering in there. Yet despite the heat, the guide for the house tour kept up a lively narrative about the house’s first occupants and readily answered our questions about the various objects and furnishings from the turn of the 19th century.
The Beacon Hill tour was also hot and, on top of that, a bit of a hike. Beacon Hill is an actual hill, albeit an artificially raised one, and we went up and all around it, going from the Otis House to the Massachusetts State House to the Athenaeum and Congregational House to Boston Commons. However, it was definitely worth it as our guide, who’d studied art and historical architecture, was a trove of information. In addition to showing us how building styles changed as the Beacon Hill neighborhood developed, he pointed out the houses where historical figures such as Louisa May Alcott and John F. Kennedy once lived. He also answered our questions about objects like boot scrapers and cobblestone roads and took us down a bunch of tiny alleys that most passersby don’t even notice.
Apparently, Beacon Hill has gone full circle from the ritzy neighborhood to the slums and back to pricey again with the added charm of being a historical neighborhood. I guess people will pay top dollar for old fashioned houses on brick streets with gas lamps (which burn 24/7) even if those houses only come with street parking. By the way, according to our guide, those iconic red brick houses with black shutters were originally red brick houses with green shutters. Apparently, when Queen Victoria died, people were moved to paint their shutters black as a form of collective mourning. And then it stuck. However, folks have determined to revert to the true original scheme so you’ll see some green shutters among the black at Beacon Hill.
As for this resource’s “unexpected find,” that popped up after the tour ended. As our guide led us back to the Otis House, he asked why we were visiting the area. I explained I was researching a certain historical figure for a novel, and he knew who I was talking about! As such, he recommended I go to the Charles River Museum of Industry and Innovation because it has exhibits that are very pertinent to this person’s life.
It all just goes to show how help can show up in unexpected ways.
Next up: The Charles River Museum of Industry and Innovation