Climb to the top of Bunker Hill Monument
At the end of the Freedom Trail sits The Bunker Hill Monument, a 221 feet tall granite obelisk marking the site of the first major battle of the American Revolution. The battle was fought on June 17, 1775 and proved to the British military that the young country had guts! The battle itself wasn’t a victory for the colonist (British troops took the hill after three bloody charges), but was a huge moral victory for the Colonist as it proved that the colonist could inflect major casualties on their adversaries and showed that they were able to stand tall against the mighty British Empire. The site is called Bunker Hill, even-though most of the fighting actually took place at Breed’s Hill, which is where the monument actually stands. Bunker Hill is actually further north.
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During the battle, one of the deadliest single battles of the American Revolution, the British suffered 226 killed and over 900 injured with many of the casualties being officers. The Colonist took a casualty count of 139 killed and over 250 wounded. Coming out of the Battle was one of the most famous battle cries of the American Revolutions, “don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes” which was shouted that day as the colonist were running low on ammunition. It is debatable which American Officer yelled this, but depending on which version you encounter, some sources credit Gen. Israel Putnam or Col. William Prescott.
Things to know when you visit the Bunker Hill Monument
It’s a little work-out getting up there, as there is no elevator to the top, though climbing the 294 steps to the top is well worth it when you see the view! Bring your own bottle of water, there won’t be any on sale on the top.
The Monument is open daily from 9:00 am – 4:30 pm and the exhibit at the bottom of the Monument from 9 am – 5 pm. Admission is free of charge, but because of high visitation and for safety requirements, all visitors who wish to climb the monument must obtain a climbing pass from the Bunker Hill Museum located at the base of the hill at 43 Monument Square. The passes are free, but are offered on a first come, first served bases. Group reservations (any group larger than 10 people) must be made two weeks prior to your visit and can made by calling 617-242-5689 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information call the Bunker Hill museum at 617-242-7275.
Park Rangers are often on hand to give short lectures on the history of the area, the battle and the monument. Be sure to stick around for that if you can!
How to get to Bunker Hill Monument
The Bunker Hill Monument is located at the end of the Freedom Trail (it’s the last site on the 16-stop Freedom Trail) (map). It is about a 15 minute walk from the Copp’s Hill Burial Ground (if you follow the Freedom Trail stating at Boston Common Copp’s Hill Burial Ground is the 14th site). The best way to get there is using the MBTA Water Shuttle. You can walk to the monument easily by following the Freedom Trail, but the water shuttle is a bargain at $3.25 and if you have a MBTA Subway Pass the ride is free. It is a short boat ride over to Charlestown, and you can enjoy a short scenic harbor cruise. Here is the link to the MBTA Water Shuttle schedule.
The water shuttle departs from Boston’s Long Wharf at the New England Aquarium and will whisk you over to Charlestown in 10 minutes. The Bunker Hill Monument is about a 5 minute walk from where the shuttle docks.
How to walk to Bunker Hill monument – A little tour
If you do decide to walk to The Bunker Hill Monument there are a few sites which are not considered Freedom Trail Sites, but still worth checking out.
Starting at Old North Church (A), follow the Freedom Trail up Hull St. to 44 Hull Street (B). There, you will see Boston’s skinniest house. It was built shortly after the civil war as a spite house by a man named Joseph Euestus. He was a boat-builder, and built on land left to the family by their dad. While one Joe was away, the other family members built a few large houses on the inherited property leaving the returning brother Joe only a sliver of land, where he built the skinny house. The house was built not only to block the sunlight, but to ruin the other family members’ view of the Boston Harbor (therefore it’s called a spite house). The Skinny House can be rented by guests visiting Boston. For more information on renting the Skinny House go to: www.vrbo.com/247506?_escaped_fragment_
The best way to view the Skinny House is from the stairs of Copps’ Hill Burial Ground (C) (dated 1632) – Boston’s second oldest burial ground. There, you can visit the graves of the famous Puritan Ministers Cotton and Increase Mather, Shem Drowne (who made the grasshopper weather-vain on top of Faneuil Hall and the Old North Church), Robert Newman, or Prince Hall to name just a few. Copp’s Hill is a Freedom Trail Site.
Still standing on the stairs of Coop’s Hill Burial Ground look to right of the Skinny House and you will see a parking garage. This garage sits on the site of the former Brinks Bank (D). On January 17, 1950, nine crooks dressed in Navy Pea Coats, chauffeur hats and Halloween Masks entered the building and forced the employees at gunpoint to lay on the floor while the gang dragged bags of loot onto Prince Street and loaded them into a 1949 Ford Truck and sped away with $2.7 million in cash, checks and money orders. It was the biggest robbery in America history at the time and was made into a 1970s film starring Peter Faulk called the Brinks Job.
At the bottom of Hull and Commercial Street, about a block down on the right at 529 Commercial Street, stood a 50 feet tall and 90 feet round vat that stored molasses (E). On January 15, 1919, the tank creaked, rumbled and exploded causing 2 million gallons molasses to rumble down Commercial Street in a 25 foot wave travelling at an estimated speed of 30 miles-per-hour and destroying everything in its path. Sounds funny, however 21 people were killed and 150 people were wounded. There were actually victims stuck like flies on fly paper waiting to be rescued from the sticky liquid. It took two weeks to clean the streets of the dark goo. High powered hoses using salt water from the Boston Harbor were used for the clean-up. Much of the liquid flowed down into the basements of the buildings that were not knocked down by the sugary tsunami. To this day, on a hot day, Bostonians say you can still smell the molasses. There is a wonderful book about this event titled Dark Tide by Stephen Puleo if you are interested.
As you are following the Trail over the Charlestown Bridge (F) that crosses the Boston Harbor, look down and you can see the historic Boston Harbor through the metal grates bridge. Look to the left and you will see the TD North Garden, or the “Gahdn” as it is called in Boston where the Celtics and Bruins call home. Follow the trail for another five minutes and you will be at the USS Constitution (G).
The USS Constitution, was one of six ships constructed in accordance with the Naval Act 1794, which called for the building of a navy to protect US Merchant Ships which were being raided by pirates and whose crews were kidnapped for ransom in the Mediterranean. The USS Constitution was made famous during its success in battle during the War of 1812, where it never lost an engagement and received the nickname “Old Ironsides” for the way British cannonballs fired at it would bounce harmlessly off the ship’s thick wooden sides.
The USS Constitution was marked for scrapping, but a poem written by Oliver Wendell Holmes in 1830 called “Old Ironsides” saved her from being dismantled and funds were raised for the ship’s repair. Today the ship is in dry-dock under-going repairs but can still be viewed, and depending on the day, it can still be boarded. Repairs are forecasted to be completed in 2018. Here is the schedule for the USS Constitution during its reconstruction: Thursday and Friday: 2:30 p.m. – 4 p.m., Saturday & Sunday: 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Closed: Monday through Wednesday.
From the USS Constitution, you can see the Bunker Hill Monument (H). Follow the Freedom Trail about for about five minutes and you will be at the base of the hill and at 43 Monument Square, The Bunker Hill Museum (I). Enter the museum, go up the set of stairs and get your passes to climb. Enjoy.