Walk to the Sea

Beacon Hill

William Blaxton, the first English settler in Boston, chose the south-facing slope of Beacon Hill as a building location. The Massachusett people already lived here, and the hill was a particularly desirable location due to its freshwater springs. After the American Revolution, Beacon Hill became central to Boston’s rapid growth.

Maginfy icon Water color illustration of Beacon Hill with soil being removed
Maginfy icon Photo of stone reservoir
Maginfy icon Aerial photograph of Beacon Hill neighborhood
Maginfy icon Alt tag here
Maginfy icon Lithograph of intact beacon hill
Maginfy icon State house seen from across the Common
Maginfy icon Monument to 54th Massachusetts All-black Infantry Regiment from State House Steps

The building of William Blaxton’s house, located near what is today the corner of Walnut and Beacon Streets, set off a dramatic era of change. By 1634, hundreds of Puritans had usurped most of Blaxton’s land, leaving him with only 50 acres. Meanwhile, English settlers pursued a destructive policy of warfare and enclosure that pushed Native people out of their ancestral homelands around Boston. Blaxton later sold most of his land to the growing English town, and it became the basis for the town’s commons. Here, residents pastured their livestock, punished transgressors, and attended public assemblies.

In 1634, John Winthrop, governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, ordered a beacon placed atop the tallest peak of the original Trimount, giving Beacon Hill its name. He intended the beacon to warn of hostile ships, particularly the ships of King Charles I of England, who wished to reclaim the colony from Puritan control.

After the American Revolution, Beacon Hill became central to Boston’s rapid growth. The hilltop was carted away for fill, smoothing the way for new development. An elegant new State House replaced John Hancock’s estate, and wealthy insiders bought up Beacon Hill to sell as house lots. Within a few decades, gracious townhouses lined the new streets of Beacon Hill, and Boston Common became a park.


  • African Meeting House

    The north side of Beacon Hill was the center of Boston's early eighteenth century Black community. In addition to serving as a spiritual and religious center for the community, the African Meeting House provided an integral gathering space for the cultural, educational, and political life for Black Bostonians. Today the site is managed by the Boston African American National Historic Site.

  • The Black Heritage Trail

    The Black Heritage Trail begins across from the State House at the memorial to the Massachusetts 54th Regiment, of Civil War fame. The trail leads to the west side of Beacon Hill, where Boston's vibrant nineteenth-century African-American community thrived. There, fugitive slaves found support and refuge on their way to freedom, and leaders of the black community, such as Lewis Hayden, worked to support the abolitionist cause.

  • State Library of Massachusetts

    The State Library, located in the State House, was established in 1826 to collect, deposit, and house the Commonwealth's collections of maps, statute books, and government documents in a single central location. Since that time, the State Library has grown into a multifaceted and reliable resource for legislators, executive personnel, state employees, historians, genealogists, and users from all over the world.

Map icon Open map
Walk to the Sea logo Normal V. Leventhal Map & Education Center logo

Designed by Ummo