Tag Archives: history

The National Parks of … Boston?

Written by Ruaidhri Crofton, History & Museum Studies M.A. 2020

What better way to learn and have fun exploring the outdoors than with a visit to a national park? The dizzying depths of the Grand Canyon, the majestic ocean vistas of Acadia, the stunning views of … Boston? That’s right! Even though an urban center like Boston may not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of a national park, the greater Boston area is home to over ten sites administered by the U.S. National Park Service. Though the majority of these sites are focused on preserving and interpreting sites of historic interest, the national parks of Boston also contain a number of opportunities for hiking, fishing, and even camping.

As both a history enthusiast and an avid national park visitor, I have been thrilled to have so many national park sites to explore in such close proximity to the Tufts campuses. However, with all these places to visit, deciding where to go and what to do first can be overwhelming. Having now visited each of these special sites, I have attempted to narrow down five of my favorite parks in the Boston area and provide some tips to make the most out of your visit. And the best part? Almost all national park sites in Massachusetts are free! Hopefully this will give you some inspiration and ideas for your next off-campus adventure.

Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area, Boston, MA

Just beyond the hustle and bustle of downtown Boston is what feels like an entirely different world of peace and calm. Made up of 34 islands in Boston Harbor, the aptly named Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area offers opportunities for hiking, fishing, swimming, camping, picnicking, boating, and more! Catch a ferry from Long Wharf in Boston and sail out to one of the islands in as little as 30 minutes (don’t forget to show your Tufts ID for the student rate). Spend the day exploring Historic Fort Warren on Georges Island, hiking around a city dump turned nature preserve on Spectacle Island, or seeing the oldest lighthouse in the United States on Little Brewster Island.

Boston National Historical Park, Boston, MA

Yes, even the famous Freedom Trail in downtown Boston is a national park site! Walk the 2.5 mile trail to see historic burying grounds, view the site of the Boston Massacre, see the meeting house where the Boston Tea Party began, tour Paul Revere’s House, and climb the 294 steps to the top of the Bunker Hill Monument. Though all sites run by the National Park Service are free, some of the affiliated museums charge entrance fees (though all offer student rates with a valid Tufts ID).

Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic SiteBrookline, MA

Just down the road from JFK’s birthplace is the home and studio of another notable Bostonian: Frederick Law Olmsted. Though many people are likely unfamiliar with this American landscape architect, almost everyone is familiar with his work, including Central Park in New York City and the Emerald Necklace in Boston. Tour the studio where many of the firm’s designs were drawn up and explore the beautiful grounds of Olmstead’s suburban home.

John F. Kennedy National Historic Site, Brookline, MA

Did you ever wonder what life was like for a president before they became the commander in chief? One of three presidential birthplaces preserved by the National Park Service in Boston, John F. Kennedy National Historic Site preserves the childhood home of the nation’s 35th president. Take a ranger guided tour to learn more about the family, see the bed where “Jack” was born, and learn about the Kennedy children’s dinnertime political debates.

Saugus Iron Works National Historic Site, Saugus, MA

Perhaps my all-time favorite Boston-area park, Saugus Iron Works National Historic Site, is a faithful reconstruction of the wooden factory buildings used by European Iron Makers who came to Massachusetts in the 1600s. Explore the buildings to learn the origin of the term “pig iron,” view a blacksmithing demonstration, and hike the short nature trail along the Saugus River.

For more information on all of the national park sites in the Boston area and Massachusetts generally, please visit www.nps.gov/state/ma .

In Search of Boston’s Most Underrated Museums

Written by Ruaidhri Crofton, History & Museum Studies M.A. 2020

It is no secret that Boston is home to a wide array of museums and historic sites that play an important role in both entertaining and educating hundreds of visitors annually, while simultaneously preserving some of the most important aspects of local history and culture. Some, like the Museum of Fine Arts, the Old North Church, and the USS Constitution, are so iconic that you can hardly say you have been to Boston without visiting them. However, the greater Boston area is also home to a number of “underrated” museums that play just as important a role in the communities they serve, despite their relative lack of widespread fame.

As someone who is (perhaps overly) enthusiastic about museums and the stories they tell, I am always looking for new places to visit and have thus had the opportunity to explore many of these often-overlooked sites. Not only have they proven to be incredibly informative and engaging, I have often found many of them to be even more impressive than some of their larger counterparts. Though difficult, I have picked out a few of my favorites to highlight just how varied and impressive some of these “underrated” museums can be. I hope that they will help to provide some inspiration for your own future adventures around Tufts and prove to be just as enjoyable for you as they were for me!

Harvard Semitic Museum

Situated just across the street from the popular Harvard Museum of Natural History and the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, the Harvard Semitic Museum’s collection contains more than 40,000 objects from the Near East, including Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Syria, and Tunisia. Visitors can view Egyptian canopic jars, mummies, Mesopotamian art, reconstructions of ancient Israeli homes, and much more for free!

The Mary Baker Eddy Library

Located within the Christian Science Center in the Back Bay, the Mary Baker Eddy Library is a research library, museum, and repository for the papers of the founder of The Church of Christ, Scientist. However, perhaps the most iconic exhibit housed within the museum is the stunning “Mapparium,” a three-story stained glass globe. Visitors can walk through the center of the globe on a 30-foot long bridge and view the world as it appeared in 1935.

Paul S. Russell, MD Museum of Medical History and Innovation

Want to learn more about the history of medicine in the United States? What better place to do it than at the Russell Museum located on the Boston campus of Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH)! In addition to viewing historic surgical instruments and engaging with interactive displays, make sure to check out the Ether Dome located within the hospital itself where the first successful public surgery using ether as an anesthetic was performed.

Museum of African American History & The Black Heritage Trail

Nearly everyone who visits Boston spends at least part of their visit walking the Freedom Trail. But did you know there’s a second historic walking trail downtown focusing on a different aspect of the “fight for freedom” in the United States? Boston’s Black Heritage Trail takes visitors through the streets of Beacon Hill to view the homes of prominent abolitionists, stops on the Underground Railway, and more. At the end of the trail is the African Meeting House, the oldest black church in the United States, and the Museum of African American History featuring rotating exhibits on the African American community in Boston.

Armenian Museum of America

Home to the third-largest Armenian population in the United States, the Boston suburb of Watertown is also home to perhaps one of my favorite museums, the Armenian Museum of America. Featuring exhibits on the rich history and culture of Armenia and Armenian-Americans, visitors can learn about everything from ancient metalwork and textiles to the 1916 Armenian genocide. The museum is also actively engaged in programming for the community by featuring regular concerts, art programs, and lectures.

USS Cassin Young

Berthed in the shadow of the famous USS Constitution, the oldest actively commissioned naval vessel in the world, the USS Cassin Young (DD-793) is a unique museum tasked with preserving a different era of United States naval history. Named for Captain Cassin Young, a Medal of Honor recipient for his actions during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the USS Cassin Young was commissioned in 1943 and served in both World War II and the Korean War before it was decommissioned in 1960. Today, the museum is run by the National Park Service and allows visitors to catch a glimpse of life onboard a more modern naval vessel.

 Vilna Shul

Originally a synagogue built in 1919 by Jewish immigrants from Lithuania who settled on Beacon Hill, the Vilna Shul has been an important center for Jewish culture for nearly a century. Today, it is the oldest Jewish building in Boston and continues to serve in its role as a cultural and community center, in addition to being a museum featuring exhibits focused on the history of the Jewish community in Boston and a historic building itself.