So, You Think You Know Everything About Faneuil Hall?

Staff Writer
Baystateparent Magazine
Faneuil Freedom Trail Faneuil Hall Marketplace

“The area is loved by Bostonians. They take great pride in Faneuil Hall. It has a lot of meaning for so many,” says Carol Troxell, President of the Faneuil Hall Marketplace Merchant’s Association. Do you call it Faneuil Hall or Quincy Market? Either way, you’re correct.  Today, the area known as Faneuil Hall Marketplace is actually made up of four places: Faneuil Hall, Quincy Market, North Market, and South Market.

Faneuil Hall:  Waterfront Property?

  Faneuil Hall, once situated on the waterfront where boats could easily dock to drop off goods, was a gift from Peter Faneuil, a wealthy merchant who donated the money for the construction of the marketplace in the mid-1700s. For years, the stalls inside the hall bustled with activity as farmers sold crops and livestock and was a hub of activity.

Most people may be surprised to learn that Faneuil Hall was originally waterfront property before the bay was filled in with gravel. The bay had been used as a dumping ground for trash and posed a threat to public health. It took 50 years and nine train cars per day to dump gravel into the ocean and create the landscape we’re all familiar with today.

In 1826, after the bay was filled in, the area expanded to include Quincy Market, named after Boston Mayor Josiah Quincy. The market was a popular place for merchants until the mid-1900s, but by the 1970s the buildings were so dilapidated that they had become slated for demolition. In 1976, Mayor Kevin White enlisted developer Jim Rouse and architect Benjamin Thompson to reimagine the market, and the face of Boston was changed forever.

Historic Block

  The area around Faneuil Hall, known as Blackstone Block, is one of Boston’s original settlements with its streets and boundaries still intact. The block was established around Faneuil Hall and housed butchers, leather traders, a carpentry shop, and restaurants. Today, the Union Oyster House, the oldest restaurant in Boston, not to mention the U.S., opened in 1826 and remains a popular place for Bostonians.

Also in the neighborhood is the Ebenezer Hancock House (10 Marshall Street) built in 1767, the site of important military rendezvous during the revolution. Once hidden in the house was $2 million dollars in French Crowns. “The money was a gift from the French to help finance the Revolutionary War,” explains Sam Jones, Creative Director of the Freedom Trail Foundation.

The house is the last remaining in Boston associated with John Hancock, who owned it. However, its resident was Hancock’s younger brother, Ebenezer, who was Deputy Paymaster General of the Continental Army. According to The Bostonian Society, the house “is one of the few downtown residences surviving from the late 18th century. From 1798 to 1963 the country’s oldest continuously run shoe store occupied the building’s first floor.”

Fun Facts to Impress Your Friends

  The next time you take your family to the Marketplace, impress them by pointing out the Golden Grasshopper weathervane that sits perched on top of Faneuil Hall’s cupola. It’s the only remaining artifact from the original 1742 structure. Peter Faneuil commissioned coppersmith Shem Drowne to create that copper gilded grasshopper; the weathervane was made to match that at the Royal Exchange in London.  Inside the grasshopper’s stomach is a time capsule put there by the blacksmith who refurbished it after the fire of 1763.

In Faneuil Hall Plaza  search for the original Boston Harbor Shoreline of 1630. There is a marker on the ground, engraved in granite, just past the Samuel Adams statue behind Faneuil Hall towards Congress Street. Notes Jones: “Keep an eye out for squiggly lines and outlines of fish skeletons on the cobblestones, as those represent where the water was.”

A real hidden gem at the Marketplace is The Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company museum and library located on Faneuil Hall’s 4th Floor. The company is the oldest chartered military organization in the Western Hemisphere. Its charter, granted in 1638, had the purpose of preparing members to serve as military officers. Today it serves to help preserve historic and patriotic traditions.  “Not many people know about the museum, but it’s full of artifacts from the Revolutionary and Civil Wars,” Jones says. On display are firearms, swords, artifacts, and other memorabilia. The museum is open 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Friday but is known to close without notice, so call before heading over (617.227.1638).

Meet Jason Escape, Street Performer at Faneuil Hall

Food and Shopping

  After you’ve done some sightseeing, stop in at the great food hall inside Faneuil Hall Marketplace, home to international food vendors that serve everything from chowder, sushi, cupcakes, smoothies, fresh fish, organic salads, and more. Quite literally, you can find something for everyone. “It’s truly a one-of-a-kind, world-famous, food hall,” Troxell says.  Some merchants have been doing business there for three generations, since the revitalization of the area, she notes, and many food chains such as Au Bon Pain and Colombo Yogurt got their start in the food hall.

Pizzeria Regina, now a chain, is one of the remaining original vendors and is still one of the most popular. This location was the chain’s second shop — the original is over in the nearby North End. Kilvert & Forbes Bakeshop, also an original vendor, was co-founded in 1976 by former U.S. Massachusetts Senator and current Secretary of State John Kerry. The shop, named after the mothers of Kerry and his business partner, sells giant cookies, whoopie pies, brownie and more.  Kerry sold the shop in the 1980s, but he is apt to stop in if he’s in town.

In addition to the food hall, there are many sit down restaurants including Cheers, Dick’s Last Resort, Ned Devine’s, and the oldest restaurant in Quincy Market, Durgin Park, which opened in the 1800s.  Quincy’s Place, located under the rotunda, is kid friendly, offering burgers, hot dogs, and more.

The North and South marketplaces offer a variety of stores with more than 100 merchants providing everything from apparel to housewares. One of the original merchants, located in the North Market, is the ever-popular Geoclassics, selling jewelry, meteorites, fossils, and other unique items. Also located in the North Market is one of the newest shops, Make Way for Ducklings, featuring books, toys, and gifts. Kids also love to browse the more than 50 pushcart vendors located in and around the marketplace.

Upcoming Events  

  Kids of all ages enjoy the free street performances. Musicians,  magicians, jugglers, and acrobats entertain visitors from spring until fall. “Our outdoor space comes alive in May with our world-renowned street performer program. Each year we bring on new talent to keep it fresh,” Troxell says.

Have a talent? Consider trying out to be a street performer at the marketplace. In May, the organization will hold its annual auditions. Similar to TV competition shows, the auditions are open to the public. Check for details. “There is a panel of judges, and the crowd reactions help determine which performers we bring on for the season,” Troxell explains.