Charles River Basin Walking Tour


I promote a lot of tours on this blog, but if there’s one tour you must take this summer it’s the Exploring the Charles River Basin tour offered by Boston By Foot guides (including myself).  The tour steps off at 2 pm on Sunday, July 26th from Nashua Street Park just opposite the exit from the Science Park MBTA station (exit away from the way to the Museum of Science.  Admission for this tour is $15/person and $5 for card-carrying members of Boston By Foot.  A great excuse for getting a membership now!

Not to frighten anyone off but this tour covers about two-miles of some-times rough ground with little protection from the elements.  So come prepared with appropriate clothing and fresh liquids.  The tour lasts approximately 2 hours but you can duck out pretty easily at the 90-minute mark.

While Exploring the Charles River Basin,  you will:

  • discover three brand-new parks that most people don’t know exist.
  • history of the Charles River and its ever-encroaching banks
  • hear mellifluous words like bascule, freshet, and sluiceway and find out what they mean too
  • cross not one but two dams
  • see the only city jail with a waterfront view and a park across the street
  • ponder our litigious society
  • find what remains of Miller’s River
  • get a new perspective on the world’s widest cable-stayed bridge
  • and without fail you’ll see all manner of transportation, roads, railways, bridges, and waterways

Come join us by the banks of the Charles River!
Come join us by the banks of the Charles River and find the Lost Half Mile!

Boston By Foot Waterfront Tour


Celebrate Sail Boston ’09 with a Boston By Foot walking tour of the Boston Waterfront.  Meet at the Sam Adams statue in Dock Square by Faneuil Hall on Friday, July 10th 2009.  The ninety-minute tour steps off at 6 pm and will cover much of the made land that once was the waterfront in colonial days and then reach the modern waterfront with a great view of the tall ships.  I will be one of the guides for this fantastic, scenic and historic walk.  Admission is a mere $15 per person, $5 for members of Boston By Foot.

The beautiful Boston waterfront
The beautiful Boston waterfront

Official description:

The Boston Waterfront was the epicenter of the maritime economy in the New World. From Dock Square to Rowes Wharf, this walk through Boston’s mercantile history features tales of the colonial shoreline, the lore of clipper ships, and the vibrant commerce of today’s shops and restaurants.

On this tour you will walk along four centuries of Boston’s ever-changing coastline. From John Smibert’s 1742 Faneuil Hall to the modern day Rowes Wharf, this tour of discovery is filled with artifacts and clues of New England’s great seafaring heritage.

In its heyday, the Boston waterfront was a maze of docks, warehouses and wharves serving Alexander Parris’ Quincy Market and Boston’s growing Financial District. Today, tourists flock to the waterfront to experience this maritime history walking among architectural treasures such as the Custom House and the Grain Exchange Building.

The once 1,743 foot Long Wharf is a popular destination for the New England Aquarium and sightseeing among Boston’s 34 islands encompassing nearly 4,000 acres of sheltered anchorages. Long Wharf, although quite a bit smaller today, remains the oldest continuously operating wharf in the United States.

You will also see the surviving wharf buildings designed by some of the finest mid-19th century architects including Gridley J.F. Bryant and Isaiah Rogers. Newly created green spaces in Columbus Park and the Rose Kennedy Greenway provide further connections with the Boston Harbor on land once occupied by Mercantile Wharf, City Wharf, T Wharf, India Wharf and Griffin’s Wharf (where some rebels once steeped a large quantity of tea).

Take in the incredible architecture and relive Boston’s past while getting a glimpse at her future on this guided tour of Boston’s waterfront.

Let me show you the Boston watefront (I cant promise Ill be this well-dressed though).
Let me show you the Boston watefront (I can't promise I'll be this well-dressed though).

Benjamin Franklin in Boston


Does the name “Benjamin Franklin” bring to mind an elderly man with a bald pate and a pot belly? Well, Ben Franklin was a boy once too and his boyhood was spent right here in the city of Boston.  Come learn about Benjamin Franklin’s early days and influences on the Boston By Foot walking tour Ben Franklin: Son of Boston.  Your guide (one of whom is your blogger) will lead you to sites in Boston related to Franklin as well as talk about his later life as a printer, politician, scientist, inventor, and founding father.  This tour is offered as part of Boston Harborfest, one of the best events on the Boston calendar.

Son of Boston will be offered on two dates stepping off from the corner of Washington and School Streets near the Irish Famine Memorial and Borders Book Store:

Friday, July 3rd: 4 pm – 5:30 pm

Sunday, July 5th: 4 pm – 5:30 pm

Admission is $12/person.  $5 for members.  If you’re not already a member, sign up now or sign up with a Boston By Foot docent before the tour.

Benjamin Franklin statue at Old City Hall
Benjamin Franklin statue at Old City Hall

More photos of what you will see on this tour online.

Official tour description:

Celebrate and learn the life of Benjamin Franklin by walking among the sites of his homes and haunts in Colonial Boston. In his day, Benjamin Franklin was America’s greatest scientist, inventor, diplomat, humorist, statesman, and entrepreneur. Ben was born in Boston, came of age in Philadelphia, and was the darling of Paris. From his many inventions, creation of civic, philanthropic, and educational institutions, to his his roles in the founding of America, his legacy is immeasurable.

If you have the chance, bone up be reading The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin.

Previously: Son of Boston: A Salute to Benjamin Franklin

The Flat is Where It’s At!


If a Jamaica Pond tour isn’t enough for one weekend, head to Charles/MGH station on Sunday June 28th as Boston By Foot presents the Tour of the Month, The Flat of Beacon Hill.  This special tour will focus on the lesser known and once unfashionable area built on made land along the Charles River.  Stepping off at 2 pm, tour admission is $15 per person, but only $5 for Boston By Foot members (one of the many reasons to become a member!).  This tour is also an event for the Boston By Foot Meetup Group, another great way to get involved, meet people, and learn about our fair city.  I will not be leading this tour myself, but I can assure you that some of the finest and knowledgeable guides will be.

A view of Brimmer Street in the Flat of Beacon Hill
A view of Brimmer Street in the Flat of Beacon Hill

Click here for many more photos of the December offering of this tour.

Official description of this tour:

On this walk you will discover one of Boston’s least known and most delightful neighborhoods. The Flat of Beacon Hill is built on 19th century made-land along the Charles River. The Flat is geologically part of Back Bay and culturally park of Beacon Hill, with the architecture of both. This intimate patch of real estate soon acquired carriage houses and horse stables owned by the wealthy families living on Beacon Hill. Today, many of these edifices have been converted into charming residences and seamlessly blend among the notable landmarks such as the Charles Street Meeting House, the Church of the Advent, and the Sunflower Castle. What do Sam Mayday Malone, a private-eye named Spenser, a Fox Terrier named Igloo, and seven strangers have in common? They all know the Flat is where it’s at!

See you on Sunday!

FREE Tour of Jamaica Pond on Saturday!


The Jamaica Plain Historical Society debuts its newest neighborhood tour of Jamaica Pond this Saturday, June 27th at 11 am.  The 90-minute walking tour will discuss the residential, industrial, and recreational history of this scenic gem.  The tour departs from the bandstand near the intersection of Pond Street and Jamaicaway, and yours truly will be one of the guides.

Jamaica Pond Panorama, copyright Steve Garfield.  From Flickr under Creative Commons license.
Jamaica Pond Panorama, copyright Steve Garfield. From Flickr under Creative Commons license.

Official description from the JPHS website:

Once a gathering point for Boston’s elite, the Pond had previously been put to industrial use as tons of ice were harvested there each winter. Learn about the movers and shakers such as Francis Parkman who made their homes on the Pond’s shores. Discover how the Pond was transformed from private estates and warehouses into the parkland we know today.

Come one come all and get some fresh air after being cooped up inside all these days.  Don’t forget that the price of this tour is FREE, although you may want to sign up for a JPHS membership starting at $15.

Boston Walking Tours 2009


Last year I posted a list of walking tours in the Boston area in hopes of encouraging people to get out and explore the history, architecture, culture, topography, and nature of the area.  I’ve updated the list and links for 2009, once again giving primacy of place to the two organizations in which I volunteer to lead tours.

Boston By Foot – Boston’s premier walking tour organization is well worth becoming a member to take advantage of free tours, discounted special tours, and members-only events.  Check out the Boston By Foot Meetup Group as well for unique tour announcements.  I’ve highlighted the tours that I guide in bold below, although many other wonderful guides also lead these tours.

Seven classic tours take you around historic Boston:

  • Beacon Hill
  • Boston By Little Feet
  • Boston Underfoot
  • Heart of the Freedom Trail
  • Literary Landmarks
  • North End
  • Victorian Back Bay

Make sure to check out special Boston Harborfest tours offered June 30-July 5:

And don’t miss the special Tours of the Month offered on the last Sunday of each month at 2 pm:

Jamaica Plain Historical Society – 1 hour tours every Saturday morning at 11 am (Jamaica Pond tour is 90 minutes).  Again, the tours in bold will be led by yours truly.

Tour Date Location Tour Date Location
June 20 Woodbourne August 22 Jamaica Pond
June 27 Jamaica Pond August 29 Monument Sq
July 11 Monument Sq Sept 12 Sumner Hill
July 18 Sumner Hill Sept 19 Stony Brook
July 25 Stony Brook Sept 26 Hyde Square
August 1 Hyde Square October 3 Green Street
August 8 Green Street October 17 Woodbourne
August 15 Woodbourne October 24 Jamaica Pond


In alphabetical order below are a number of other walking tours I’ve heard about by word of mouth or web search.  I only have personal experience with a few of these organizations so don’t consider making the list an endorsement. If you know of any good walking tours in Boston not listed below, I’d love to add them to the list, so please post in the comments.

Appalachian Mountain Club – The Boston Chapter has a Local Walks Committee offering hikes to condition oneself for the mountains, nature walks, and social walks.
Arnold Arboretum – Boston’s tree museum offers regular highlight tours and special theme tours. Come back again because the tour changes depending on the season.
Audissey Guides – Download a tour narrated by local personalities for your mp3 player.
Black Heritage Trail – A tour of African-American history in Boston led by National Park Service guides, or you can take a self-guided tour.
Evening Walkers – A Meetup.com group for people who like walking. No narration, just scenery and a chance to meet people.
Friends of the Blue Hills – Group hikes and nature walks in the Blue Hills Reservation.
Brookline Food Tour – The way to Brookline’s heart is through your stomach.
Boston Athenæum – Art and architecture tours of this respected independent library. They also offer tours for members should you be so fortunate.
Boston Harborfest – Walking tours are among the many events of Boston’s Independence Day celebration, including special Boston By Foot offerings.
Boston Harborwalk – A self-guided walk along Boston’s waterfront. Check the calendar for tours and  special events in the spring and summer.
Boston Movie Tours – Tinseltown comes to the Hub in this tour of film locations.
Boston National Historical Park – Tours of the Freedom Trail and Charlestown Navy Yard led by National Park Service Rangers.
Boston Nature Center – Birding tours, nature walks, and hikes in the heart of the city.
Boston Public Library – Regular art and architecture tours of the oldest municipal library in the US.
The Boston Spirits Walking Tour – A spooky walking tour focusing on Boston’s ghost stories.
Boston Town Crier – Freedom Trail tours led by character interpreters of James Otis and Benjamin Franklin.
Boston Women’s Heritage Trail – Nine self-guided walks exploring women’s history in Boston.
Boston Your Way – Hire a private guide for a customizable tour (I wonder if they’re hiring).
Cambridge Historical Society – The CHS events calendar currently includes a garden tour and historic house tours.
Discover Roxbury – Tours and events highlight the diversity of this historic neighborhood.
Fenway Park – Go behind the scenes at the home of the Boston Red Sox, the oldest and smallest ballpark in Major League Baseball.
Forest Hills Cemetery – Boston’s hidden gem is full of history, art, and architecture, all of which is illuminated by a good tour guide (read about a great tour we took in 2007).
Franklin Park Coalition – A self-guided tour, trails, and special events throughout the year in the “gem” of the Emerald Necklace.
Freedom Trail Tours – You can follow the red line on your own or let a costumed guide show you the way with 3 different 90-minute tours provided by the Freedom Trail Foundation.
Gibson House Museum – If you’re admiring the Victorian architecture of Back Bay and want to see a house interior, stop in here for a tour.
Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway Society – Explore the new public space replacing the elevated Central Artery with special tours supported by Boston By Foot and other special events.
Harvard Campus Tour – Free student-led tours of the Harvard University campus.
Haunted Boston – 90 minute ghost tours of Boston.  Ask for Gretchen.
Historic New England – The HNE calendar offers neighborhood and historic property tours in Boston and throughout New England.
Irish Heritage Trail – A self-guided walk with guided tours in the works.
Learn English in Boston – Art and architecture tours of Boston for ESL students.
Lessons on Liberty – Costumed historical interpreters teach about Revolutionary Boston history along the Freedom Trail
Mass Bay Railroad Enthusiasts – Quarry to wharf tours of the remains of the granite railway in Quincy and Milton (part van, part walking tour).
MIT Campus Tour – Learn about the innovative architecture by world-renown architects that speckle the MIT campus.
Middlesex Fells – Check the calendar for special hikes or join the regular Babes in the Woods walks for parents and children.
Museum of Fine Arts – Regular free guided tours of the galleries (with museum admission) plus art & architecture tours outside of the museum.
The Nichols House Museum – If you’re admiring the Federal architecture of Beacon Hill and want to see a house interior, stop in here for a tour.
North End Secret Tour – Tours of Boston’s oldest neighborhood lead by a local resident.
The Path to Independence – Character interpreters offer a first-person historical perspective of the Freedom Trail.
Phantoms of Olde Cambridge -The ghosties of Harvard Square get their own tour.
Photowalks – Walking tours combined with instruction in photography on four different routes.
Paul Revere’s North End Walking Tour – An experienced guide from the Paul Revere House leads tours of the North End in early July.
South End Historical Society – An Annual House Tour is offered in October.
Unofficial Tours Present Harvard University – Fun tours of America’s first college.

Urban Adventours – Okay not a walking tour, but still cool environmentally-friendly and exciting bicycle tours of Boston.
Victorian Society in America/New England Chapter – Tours and talks of the Victorian heritage in Boston and its suburbs
WalkBoston – Boston’s walking advocacy group offers regular walks around the city.
Walking Tours of Historic Boston – Families and groups can book tours of Boston’s historic center lead by a children’s book author.
Watson Adventures Scavenger Hunts – A unique spin on the walking tour where participants gather together in teams to solve questions and puzzles.

Book Review: Traffic by Tom Vanderbilt


I expected Traffic (2008) by Tom Vanderbilt to be an interesting but it proved to be a fascinating and provocative book about driving.  There’s a lot of stuff here about the assumptions and practices of driving that amazed even me someone who hates driving and obsesses over how dangerous it is.  Vanderbilt surveys the world, history, and numerous studies to evaluate the way humans operate machines at high speeds in a changing environment. Some things learned:

  • every driver has an optimistic bias – thinking they’re above average – and in the worst cases this leads to narcissism and aggressive driving
  • driving is the most dangerous thing most people do on a daily basis
  • sober speeders and cell phone users (even hands free variety) can be as dangerous as drunken drivers but are not restricted, stigmatized or punished in the same way
  • incorrect to refer to auto collisions as “accidents” as if they were out of the driver’s power to prevent.  This is seen in media portrayal of celebrity “accidents” like baseball pitcher Josh Hancock and politician Bill Janklow who were obviously at fault
  • unintentional blindness to things the driver is not looking for, as proved by the famous attention test with the basketball players:
  • there is safety in numbers for pedestrians
  • SUV & pick up truck drivers speed more
  • the Leibowitz Hypothesis that says that human beings are very bad at judging the speed of oncoming objects
  • remote traffic engineers adjust traffic signals and road use on Oscar Night so that 100’s of celebrity-laden limousines arrive on time (I think some gutsy celeb should take the Metro to Hollywood & Highland next time)
  • some Jewish neighborhoods in Los Angeles have “Sabbath Crossing” lights that change automatically for observant pedestrians who cannot push a button
  • roundabouts are safer than traditional intersections, although their perceived danger encourages the more vigilant driving that contributes to their safety
  • on Dagen H in Sweden in 1967, drivers moved from driving on the left to driving on the right: video
  • the more divisions between the “traffic space” and the “social space” in a city the more dangerous it is for everyone
  • there is a linkage between low GDP and traffic fatalities throughout the world although greater corruption also affects traffic safety
  • safety devices on cars have not made in significant impact in reducing traffic fatalities over the past 50 years.  It seems that the greater the sense of “safety” leads to more risky or inattentive driving behaviors although the issues are complex

I highly recommend that everyone who drives, bikes and/or walks to read or listen to this illuminating book.  It might make you as paranoid about driving as I am, but it also may make you safer.  This book challenges the assumptions we make about driving in the same way The Death and Life of Great American Cities challenges the assumptions of urban planning.

Author Vanderbilt, Tom. Title Traffic [sound recording] : [why we drive the way we do (and what it says about us)] / by Tom Vanderbilt. Publication Info. Westminster, Md. : Books on Tape, p2008. Edition Unabridged. Description 11 sound discs (ca. 74 min. each) : digital ; 4 3/4 in.

Walk for Hunger 2009


It’s time again for one of my favorite events of the year, Project Bread’s Walk for Hunger. I’ll be walking with my wife Susan and son Peter.  At least one of us has participated every year since 2004.  This year will be the first time all three of us will walk together as family.  It is important to us to remember the many people who are suffering from the lack of food including families like our own with young children.

Having a child makes us realize how
important good nutrition is for the development of children like Peter. With the cost of food rising, it is getting harder and harder for low-income parents to buy good food for the kids.  Hunger affects children’s physical and mental development and perpetuates the cycle of poverty.  We believe that no child or adult deserves to go hungry.

As a result of the global economic crisis more and more people are unable to make ends meet. They are forced to go without food in order to pay their rent, utility, and medical bills. The demand for emergency food has never been greater with pantries and meal programs supported by Project Bread serving 43.4 million meals last year alone.

Here are the ways you can help:

  • Go to the Project Bread Walk for Hunger website and sponsor us for the Walk.  Donations in any amount small or large are welcome.  Together we can make a difference.
  • If you live in the Boston area, register to walk or volunteer.  If you’re already signed up, let us know as we’d love to see you on May 3rd.
  • We always welcome good thoughts, prayers, and moral support in addition to or in lieu of donations.

Project Bread helps by using the funds raised in the Walk for Hunger to support 400 emergency food programs across the state.  These include some of favorite places to volunteer like:

  • Haley House which provides meals daily to homeless men and the elderly as well as a bakery training program to promote self-sufficiency for underemployed people with barriers to employment.
  • Wednesday Night Supper Club where a hot and nutritious meal is served once a week to guests with respect anddignity.
  • Greater Boston Food Bank where food discarded by supermarkets is salvaged for stocking food pantries.

We hope you can support our fund raising and walking efforts in any way you can.
Previously:

Boston By Foot Special Tour: Literary Landmarks, Continued


An entire week has passed, and I’ve yet to write about Boston By Foot’s special tour of 20th Century writers who lived and worked on Beacon Hill held on March 8th entitled Literary Landmarks, Continued.   This is a sequel of sorts to the regular Literary Landmarks tour which focuses on the 19th Century writers in the same area and is offered every Saturday at 10 am during the regular tour season from May to October.

The Robert Gould Shaw and Massachusetts 54th Regiment Memorial subject of Robert Lowell's most famous poem "For the Union Dead"
The Robert Gould Shaw and Massachusetts 54th Regiment Memorial subject of Robert Lowell's most famous poem "For the Union Dead"

The tour covered a number of sites including:

  • Site of Houghton-Mifflin publishing on Park Street
  • The Boston Athenaeum
  • The Massachusetts State House
  • Site of Little, Brown publishing on Beacon Street
  • Joy Street
  • The Beacon Press
  • Mt. Vernon Street
  • Louisburg Square
  • Cedar Street
  • Savenor’s Market
  • Charles Circle
Shadow of the Little, Brown name on a Beacon Street building
Shadow of the Little, Brown name on a Beacon Street building

More important than the sites are the stories of the writers and the literature they produced.  Sadly, the words “depression,” “alchoholism,” “failed marriages,” and “suicide” were repeated throughout the tour, so being a Boston writer was not an easy job.

Writer’s included on this tour include:

  • Esther Forbes, author of Johnny Tremain
  • poet Amy Lowell
  • Samuel Eliot Morrison, author of One Boy’s Boston
  • historian David McCullough who researches his work at the Athenaeum
  • poet Robert Lowell
  • Frances Parkinson Keynes, author of novel called Joy Street
  • Atlantic editor Thomas Bailey Aldrich
  • William Stanley Braithwaite, poet who joined black and white poets together in an anthology for the first time
  • Frances Minturn Howard, who wrote Beacon Hill: Hub of the Universe
  • David MCord, children’s poet
  • Sylvia Plath, poet born in Jamaica Plain who lived on Beacon Hill with Ted Hughes
  • Robert Frost, probably the most famous poet of New England
  • Robin Cook, physician and author of medical thrillers
  • Archibald MacLeish, lawyer, poet and Librarian of Congress
  • John Marquand, author of The Late George Apley and the “Mr. Moto” series
  • W.S. Merwin, poet and playwright-in-residence at Poet’s Theatre
  • Annie Fields, writer, publisher, and host of literary salons
  • Sarah Orne Jewett, novelist and story writer
  • Willa Cather, novelist of My Antonia and other stories of the Great Plains
  • Julia Child, cookbook writer
A plaque commemorates Robert Frost residency as one of the many great writers who lived on Beacon Hill
A plaque commemorates Robert Frost residency as one of the many great writers who lived on Beacon Hill

If you’re kicking yourself for missing this terrific tour, make sure to sign up at Meetup.com so you will get reminders of Boston By Foot special tours. Better yet, become a member of Boston By Foot and take free regular tours, discounted special tours, and tours only available for members.  You can even become a guide yourself by signing up online and attending the Annual Spring Lecture Series which begins on April 11th.

Upcoming tours include:

  • Sunday March 29th, 2 pm – Great Women of Boston (meet at the flagpoles at City Hall Plaza)
  • Sunday April 25th, 2 pm – Revisiting the Waterfront, lead by yours truly (meet at McKinley Sq., by the entrance to Marriott Custom House)

See you on the streets of Boston!

Boston By Foot Special Tour: Bells, Bridges & Locks


On a sunny but breezy Sunday afternoon, a couple of dozen brave souls ventured out to explore the connections across the Charles between North Station and the Charlestown Navy Yard.  The occassion was a Boston By Foot tour for the Boston By Foot Meetup Group called Bells, Bridges, & Locks.  If you feel bad about missing this tour, fear not as it will be offered again on July 1st & July 3rd during Harborfest.  For more in-depth exploration of this area, you will also want to take the Tour of the Month called Exploring the Charles River Basin on July 26 (yours truly will be one of the guides).  Save money on all these great tours and more by becoming a Boston By Foot Member.

Until the summer comes, check out my online album of photos from the tour.

Peak up at the worlds widest cable-stay bridge
Peak up at the world's widest cable-stay bridge

Highlights of the tour:

  • The Zakim Bridge from below.
  • Crossing the Gridley Locks on the Charles River Dam.
  • Discovering how a fish-ladder works.
  • Learning that two of Boston’s bridges fought one another all the way to the Supreme Court.
  • Saying the words “bascule bridge.”
A charming bridge with a litigious ancestor
A charming bridge with a litigious ancestor