At only 10.4 feet wide, the Skinny House is the narrowest home in Boston. Nonetheless, it recently sold in September 2021 for $1.25 million. People actually live here! It is located across the street from Copp’s Hill Burying Ground. Learn more about this, Boston’s North End, and much more with the Knockabout Boston Audio Tour.
Introduction & History of Boston’s North End
Boston’s North End is well known for its Italian-American heritage. This is primarily experienced through the many excellent Italian restaurants and pizzerias lining the narrow streets in this section of town. You should absolutely put on your eating pants and spend some time enjoying authentic Italian cuisine with a glass or two of wine. But for now, we are getting a bit ahead of ourselves.
The North End is located on the original Shawmut Peninsula, the landmass that existed prior to the massive fill projects of the 19th century that more than doubled the size of Boston. It is Boston’s oldest neighborhood, and as a result, is rich with history dating back to colonial days. Paul Revere lived in this neighborhood and on April 18, 1775, saw two lanterns in the steeple of the Old North Church that started his legendary “midnight ride” to Lexington, announcing that “The British Are Coming…” Revere’s home still stands and has been converted to a museum that you can visit during your stay.
Beginning in the 1820s, substantial numbers of Irish immigrants began to arrive, taking up residence in Boston. The immigration accelerated in 1845 when Ireland experienced a widespread blight on the potato crop, causing mass starvation and disease in the country. Causing over 1 million deaths, the Great Famine caused waves of Irish to emigrate from their homeland to other parts of Great Britain, Canada, and the young United States. One of the cities the refugees inhabited was Boston and the North End, along with South Boston, became home to the immigrants while the more established and wealthier residents moved into newer neighborhoods such as Beacon Hill. This was Boston’s first large-scale experience with immigration, and there was friction almost immediately. The Puritan lineage of Boston did not mix well with the religious practices of the Irish Catholics, leading to widespread discrimination. Boston’s North End became a slum, with immigrants living in packed quarters under unsanitary living conditions, many of who were already ill from the famine and disease that was contracted in Ireland or on the long sea journey to America.
It took about a generation, but the Boston Irish steadily increased in numbers and climbed out of mass poverty. By 1870, nearly 25% of Boston’s citizens were Irish, and in 1884, Boston elected its first Irish mayor, Hugh O’Brien. Like those that came before them, the Irish began to leave the North End as a new wave of immigrants began to arrive – this time the Italians.
The mid-1800s was an unstable period in Italy, characterized by insurrection and war that eventually led to the unification of Italy, but left the new nation unstable, with unbearable tax rates, long durations of conscripted military service, and little available land to produce sustainable agriculture. As a result, Italy saw a mass emigration of 4 million of its citizens to the United States, beginning around 1880 and lasting until 1920. Many of these immigrants settled in the North End. Like the Jewish and the Irish before them, they also were relegated to low-paying jobs and unsanitary living conditions and dealt with the discrimination typical of any large-scale immigration. Men generally were laborers in the construction field, while women worked the textile mills that were prominent during the industrial revolution. With limits placed on European immigration in 1921 by the Emergency Quota Act, the Italian population in Boston and elsewhere around the eastern US stabilized and assimilated over the next generation.
The Italian culture persists to this day and truly it is why visitors flock to the North End in droves. Just take a look at the line outside Mike’s Pastry or Regina Pizzeria. This neighborhood is simply delicious. But don’t just grab a bite and move on. There’s a lot to see and do in Boston’s oldest section of town.
Old North Church
It happened right here. The colonial spies that signaled the Minutemen to action worked from this church. It is not flashy, but it is not to be missed. The church still functions as a house of worship, offering Episcopal services on Sunday mornings. If you are visiting during that time, you can attend and say that you attended services at the site where the American Revolution began.
Basic admission includes access to the church sanctuary. Visitors can self-pace themselves through the poster presentations and take photos. There is someone on staff in the church to answer questions. Visitors may also choose to book a guided tour, of which there are a couple of themes available including a tour of the church’s crypt.
Old North usually takes a winter hiatus from New Year’s Day until March, or at least since the onset of COVID. Be sure to check the website for current operating hours.
Copp’s Hill Burying Ground
Also buried here are Robert Newman, the caretaker of the Old North Church who hung the lanterns to signal Paul Revere and his team of riders at the onset of the American Revolution. Another Patriot and smuggler, Daniel Malcolm, requested prior to his death in 1769 that he be buried a full 10 feet below ground to prevent the British authorities from digging up his remains. The British, being the civilized folk that they are, left his body undisturbed but instead riddled his tombstone with musket balls. The pockmarks can still be seen during a visit today.
As a stop on the Freedom Trail, it is also worth noting that Prince Hall, a free African American and early abolitionist is also buried here. He is the founder of Prince Hall Freemasonry, or “Black Freemasonry” as it was known at the time. He fought in the Revolution and encouraged other free black men to do so as well, hoping that it would encourage racial equality after the war. Sadly, he was about 90 years ahead of his time.
Allow yourself 30 minutes to visit the burying ground on your walk to or from Beacon Hill or North Station.
Paul Revere House
The Paul Revere House is a museum dedicated to the legacy of this early Patriot, and also a stop on the Freedom Trail. The home itself was built around 1680, and Revere owned the home from 1770-1800. After he sold it, the house had several incarnations including a boarding house, immigrant tenement, and had several businesses located on the ground floor over the years. In 1902, the home was purchased by Revere’s great-grandson and extensive renovations began to restore the home to its original look and feel. Despite the major overhauls that have been done over the generations, the home claims to be 90% original construction.
A visit to the Paul Revere House is a must-see for your Boston itinerary. Tours are self-guided, and allowing one hour is enough to see it in its entirety and read the accompanying panels.
Paul Revere Mall
Pro Tip: Grab a couple of pizza slices at Ernesto’s, or Italian pastry at Mike’s Pastry and bring it to the mall for an open-air lunch.
Food & Drink
Locale also serves Italian-style specialty sandwiches for those not in the mood for pizza (crazy, right?!?).
Most people would consider dining at this restaurant a special night out and will dress accordingly. While enforced dress codes are a thing of the past, a pair of nice jeans and non-gym shoes with a collared shirt for men would be the minimum. Slacks and a sport coat are common. Ladies would feel comfortable wearing a dress or other nice attire without feeling overdressed.
The food is good, to be sure, but it can get loud in here. The music volume can get high, giving off a club-like atmosphere, which in turn makes increases the volume of the patrons. It’s a good venue to grab some drinks and dinner with a group before heading over to the Improv Asylum, but if you want a romantic dinner, there are better options.
La Famiglia Giorgio’s
Neptune Oyster Bar
Now, dessert may typically be an afternoon or evening after-dinner treat, but when you are in Boston’s North End, it’s always time for Italian pastries. Mike’s is open all day, every day from 8am to 10pm (11pm on Fri & Sat), so enjoy one for breakfast.
Despite the large number of restaurants lining the streets of Boston’s North End, there are relatively few nightlife or entertainment venues to keep folks here past dessert. However, there is one notable exception that is sure to keep you entertained for a couple of hours.
Improv Asylum Main Stage shows are performed every weekend, with the funniest talent on stage Thursday – Saturday. They also show Boston’s up-and-coming comedians on Wednesdays and Sundays There is a full bar available so you can properly warm-up for a hilarious comedy show. I have been several times and have never been disappointed. They are also located right on Hanover Street, the North End’s main artery, so it’s close to everything.
Christopher Columbus Park
Rose Kennedy Greenway
Between the Haymarket “T” stop and Hanover Street is the North End’s section of the Greenway. If you are commuting to the North End by subway, then you will pass right through it on your walk. The Freedom Trail, marked by its red, brick path also passes through this particular section. Features include an interactive map of Boston, a fountain that blasts jets of water in the warmer months, benches, and of course plenty of open, green space for lounging.
The Rose Kennedy Greenway actually has a lot going on for a city park. Food trucks are on a regular schedule, and beer & wine gardens are available in the summer along with a schedule of special events. Be sure. to check out their website and calendar for the time you are visiting.
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