There is no better way to see America than on foot. And there is no better way to appreciate what you are looking at than with a walking tour. Whether you are preparing for a road trip or just out to look at your own town in a new way, a downloadable walking tour from walkthetown.com is ready to explore when you are.
Each walking tour describes historical and architectural landmarks and provides pictures to help out when those pesky street addresses are missing. Every tour also includes a quick primer on identifying architectural styles seen on American streets.
Charlestown began as an independent community, founded by English colonists before they established Boston across the harbor on the Shawmut Peninsula. As the Massachusetts Bay Company prepared for its massive migration to New England, it dispatched engineer Thomas Graves from England in 1629 to lay out a town for the settlers. Graves was attracted by the narrow Mishawum Peninsula between the Charles and Mystic rivers, linked to the mainland at the present Sullivan Square. The area of earliest settlement, at Town Hill (now called City Square), still retains the elliptical street pattern that Thomas Graves laid out.
At the beginning of the Revolutionary War, Charlestown’s population had reached about 2,000, and the town contained as many as 400 buildings. Following the battles of Concord and Lexington on April 19, 1775, the British head toward Charlestown in retreat, and most townspeople fled when they heard the news. Two months later, on June 17, the Battle of Bunker Hill was fought in Charlestown. The American troops lost the battle, but the strength and determination they showed, together with the great British losses, gave an important boost to their cause. Following the battle, British troops burned the oldest section of Charlestown to the ground. Citizens cautiously began to return after the British fled Boston in March, 1776, but full-fledged reconstruction of the town did not occur until after the war ended in 1781.
During the decades following the Revolutionary War, the citizens of Charlestown seemed to be trying to make up for lost time, as new residential and industrial areas were built. Large landholders subdivided their land for development. Skilled local housewrights built handsome Federal-style houses. No other Boston neighborhood has such a fine group of frame houses from this period.
Charlestown’s residential building boom was fueled in part by post-Revolutionary developments in transportation and industry.
By 1785, 13 wharves lined Charlestown’s harbor, and soon new bridges increased trade. In 1800, the U.S. Navy opened a the Navy Yard at Moulton’s Point, attracting other maritime industry and becoming one of Charlestown’s major employers for more than 150 years. Between 1830 and 1870, Charlestown’s population tripled to more than 28,000. It was annexed to Boston in 1874.
Beginning in 1901, the elevated streetcar line transformed the appearance of City and Sullivan squares with its massive structure. The “El” made the neighborhood accessible to more people, stimulating industrial growth, but it also cast a visual blight over Charlestown. During World War II, the Navy Yard employed 47,000 workers, but peacetime brought severe unemployment and decline, heightened by the opening of the Tobin Bridge in the 1950s. More change has come in the last two decades, with the dismantling of the “El” and the closing and redevelopment of the Navy Yard revitalizing the old town.
This walking tour will begin on the site of that fateful battle...