With its brick townhouses and narrow streets, lined by gas lights, Beacon Hill is a quiet neighborhood shielded from the noise of traffic. Walking these streets, you are apt to imagine that you are not in the center of Boston, but on some elaborate movie set of a period film. But you are in Boston. Though only steps from Boston's Public Garden and commercial streets, Beacon Hill maintains its dignity as an artifact of the city's nineteenth century past.
It's easy to get to know your neighbors here. Besides having a well-organized neighborhood association, Beacon Hill is small, approximately one square mile, and bound by Beacon Street, Bowdoin Street, Cambridge Street and Storrow Drive. It is known for its beautiful doors, brass door knockers, decorative iron work, brick sidewalks, perpetually-burning gas lights, flowering pear trees, window boxes, and hidden gardens. Its architecture, mostly brick row houses, includes the federal, Greek revival and Victorian periods, as well as early 20th-century colonial revival homes. The architecture is protected by restrictive regulations that allow no changes to any visible part of a structure without the approval of an architectural commission.
Beacon Hill contains a South Slope, a North Slope and a Flat of the Hill. Charles Street is the neighborhoods main street and is filled with antique shops and neighborhood services. Before the American Revolution, much of what is now Beacon Hill was pasture land. John Hancock's country estate was later used to build The Massachusetts State House which sits at the top of the Hill overlooking Boston Common. The South Slope was developed in the late 18th century to make homes for many of Boston's richest family, and since then, the neighborhood has enjoyed prestige from its many notable residents.
However, for much of its history, the North Slope had a more diverse population. Small structures and alleys in this section contained the homes and businesses of former slaves, artists and seamen. Later these tenements housed immigrants from Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean. Part of the Charles River was filled in to create the Flat of the Hill. This area was populated by blacksmiths and other tradesmen. Residents of the South Slope garaged their carriages here.
Today, Beacon Hill, with its village-like charm is largely residential. Besides some small shops on the side streets, most commercial activity is centered on Cambridge Street, at the base of the hill. There are gas stations, restaurants, and a supermarket along the street. Perhaps the most widely known business in
the neighborhood is the former Bullfinch Pub at 84 Beacon Street. Immortalized on television, it is now known as Cheers.