John P. Coburn (1811-1873), a free black resident of Beacon Hill in Boston, ran a clothing business and was a community activist. He was treasurer of the New England Freedom Association, which assisted fugitive slaves and, in 1852, he was a founder and captain of the Massasoit Guards, a black militia unit. In 1851, Coburn was arrested for his role in aiding Shadrach Minkins, a fugitive slave, in his escape from federal custody (he was later acquitted). John Coburn’s first house on Beacon Hill was located in a cul-de-sac off of Phillips Street at 3 Coburn Court. Dating to the 1830s, the house, now lost, was recognized in 2005 as one of Massachusetts’ most endangered historic resources. From 1844 until his death in 1873, Coburn lived in the house at 2 Phillips Street, which was designed for him by Asher Benjamin. The house is a site on the Black Heritage Trail.
In 1863, some former members of the Somerset Club in Boston who were strong supporters of the Union formed the Union Club. They acquired a house at 8 Park Street in Boston to be their clubhouse. It had been built in 1809 for John Gore and been completely remodeled in Greek Revival style (but with interesting cast iron balconies as well) in 1838 for Abbott Lawrence. The Union Club hired Gridley J. F. Bryant, who had overseen the earlier remodeling, and John Hubbard Sturgis to remodel the interior. Peabody and Stearns were hired in the 1880s to add a fifth floor and the Club was expanded into the adjoining house, at 7 Park Street, in 1896. That house (1809) had been the home, from 1854 to 1856, of Governor Henry Gardener of the “Know Nothing” party. In 1869 the house was sold to John Amory Lowell and the Club acquired the house from his estate.
Lewis Hayden escaped from slavery in Kentucky in 1844 on the Underground Railroad and later settled in Boston, where he owned a used clothing store and became a leading abolitionist. He moved into his house, built in 1833 at 66 Philips Street (then called Southac Street) on Boston’s Beacon Hill, in 1849. With the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, Hayden and his wife Harriet hid fugitive slaves in their home. In 1853, abolitionist Francis Jackson purchased the house, which Hayden occupied as a tenant, to help protect him from harassment for his Underground Railroad activities. Jackson’s estate sold the house to Hayden’s wife in 1865. This important house is a stop on the Black Heritage Trail.
In 1798, members of Boston’s black comunity organized a grammar school that met in in the home of Primus Hall, the son of Prince Hall, a community leader whose petitions to allow black children into the city’s school system had long been denied. The school moved to the African Meeting House on Beacon Hill in 1808 and received financial upport frm the city after 1812. In the 1820s, the city finally established two schools for black children. Abiel Smith was a white businessman who died in 1815 and left $4,000 for the education of African American children in Boston. Part of this bequest was used to build the Abiel Smith School, completed in 1834 and dedicated the following year on Belknap Street, now called Joy Street, near the African Meeting House. In 1849, most African-American parents in Boston withdraw their children from the Abiel Smith School to protest the segregation of schools in the city. In 1855, the Massachusetts legislature outlawed segregation and the Abiel Smith School was closed. The building was then used to store school furniture and after 1887 as the headquarters for black Civil War veterans. The restored building is now part of the Museum of African American History. The school is also on Boston’s Black Heritage Trail.
The original Old West Church in Boston was a wood-frame building, built in 1737. It was used as barracks by British soldiers during the occupation of Boston, but they soon razed the structure in 1775 due to concerns that supporters of the Revolution were sending signals to Cambridge from its steeple. The church was finally rebuilt in 1806. It was designed by Asher Benjamin and has similarities to his earlier Charles Street Meeting House of 1804. Originally a Congregationalist church, Old West Church was deeded to the City of Boston in 1894 to serve as the West End Library. The church remained a library until 1962, when a new library was built. Since 1964, Old West Church has been home to a Methodist congregation.
The Vilna Shul is an Orthodox synagogue on Phillips Street on Boston‘s Beacon Hill. It was built for a congregation of Eastern European immigrants, primarily from Vilnius, Lithuania. The Anshei Vilner Congregation was founded in 1893 in the West End and moved to the north slope of Beacon Hill in 1906. Vilna Shul, designed by Boston architect David Kalman, was built in 1919. The Jewish community had mostly left the neighborhood by the 1980s and there was a debate over the future use of the building. Vilna Shul, the last remaining purpose-built immigrant era synagogue in downtown Boston, was restored to become a Jewish cultural heritage center. Read More
At 20 Hancock Street on Beacon Hill in Boston is the home once occupied by Senator Charles Sumner. It was built in 1805 by Ebenezer Farley and was purchased by Sumner’s father in 1830. Charles Sumner was a fiery opponent of slavery and the victim of a famous caning, delivered by Representative Preston Brooks on the floor of the Senate on May 22, 1856. After the Civil War, Sumner was a leader of the Radical Republicans. He lived in the house until 1867 and was possibly the one who added the Greek Revival portico that links nos. 20 and 22 Beacon Hill.