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Our stay at XV Beacon gave me the chance to revisit one of the most beautiful urban enclaves in the country: Beacon Hill. Built on land that was the original seat of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Beacon Hill was part of Trimountain (a name which morphed into “Tremont”), so named for the rises of Pemberton Hill, Mount Vernon and Beacon Hill. In the early 1800s, the first two were leveled to allow development. Prominent citizens quickly viewed Beacon Hill as a highly desirable place to live, though some migrated to the newly fashionable neighborhood of Back Bay when it emerged in the 1850s. During Beacon Hill’s 19th-century heyday, leading residents included Daniel Webster, Wendell Phillips and Henry Thoreau.
Exiting XV Beacon, you will see the stately Boston Athenæum. One of the earliest libraries in America, the Athenæum’s current location opened in 1849 and has a noteworthy collection of paintings, books and busts that includes George Washington’s personal library from Mount Vernon and a first-edition copy of John James Audubon’s Birds of America.
Continuing west, you pass the Massachusetts State House, topped by a gleaming golden dome. At Walnut Street, turn right and then left on Chestnut Street. There you will find yourself surrounded by enviable Federal-style brick townhouses, which persist today because of determination from residents to save them in the 1940s. Now protected by law, they remain under the watchful eyes of the Beacon Hill Civic Association and the Beacon Hill Architectural Commission. The original residents of these opulent homes were dubbed the “Boston Brahmins” and an “untitled aristocracy” by the polymath Oliver Wendell Holmes. One of the principal architects in the area was Charles Bulfinch, and it was for him that a famous pub took its name, the Bull & Finch at 84 Beacon Street. It is now known as Cheers, having provided exterior shots for the famous sitcom.
At Willow Street, turn right and then left onto Acorn Street, an atmospheric cobblestone reminder of Boston’s heritage. Then head to the incomparable Louisburg Square, an oasis of green surrounded by a wrought-iron fence and lined with exquisite townhouses. Its famous residents have included Louisa May Alcott and painter John Singleton Copley. Today the square is home to Secretary of State John Kerry.