John T. Hilton House (1826)

The house at 73 Joy Street in Beacon Hill in Boston was built in 1825-1826 for black hairdresser and musician John B. Holmes. The house is named for John Telemachus Hilton (1801-1864) (pdf), also a hairdresser, who was a Grand Master of the Prince Hall Masonic Lodge, a founder of the Massachusetts General Colored Association, a member of the Boston Vigilance Committee and on the Board of Managers of the Anti-Slavery Society. Hilton only briefly lived in the house, which is also associated with the brothers, Anthony F. Clark (who lived there) and Jonas W. Clark (who used it as a rental property). The house is also one of several boardinghouses owned by John R. Taylor, who is known to have assisted fugitive slaves. [For more info, see this Document]

3 Smith Court, Boston (1799)

Smith Court, on Boston’s Beacon Hill, was the center of the city’s African American community in the nineteenth century. The house at 3 Smith Court, a double house with a common entryway, was built in 1799 by two white bricklayers. Just the year before, a ropewalk had been demolished on the property leading to the construction of residences. By 1830, black families were renting the house at 3 Smith Court. The longest resident of the house was was James Scott, an African American clothier, who became a tenant in 1839 and bought the property in 1865. Originally from Virginia, Scott was an abolitionist who was arrested in 1851 for his role in freeing fugitive slave Shadrach Minkins. From 1851-1856, part of the house was rented by William C. Nell, a journalist and abolitionist, who led the campaign to integrate Boston’s public schools. He became the first published African American historian when he wrote Services of Colored Americans in the Wars of 1776 and 1812 (1851) and Colored Patriots of the American Revolution (1855).

74 Joy Street, Boston (1862)

At 74 Joy Street in Boston’s Beacon Hill is a mansard-roofed building, built in 1861-1862. Designed by Gridley J.F. Bryant, it was built as Boston’s Police Station Number 3. In 1962, it ceased being used as a police station and in 1966 it was bought by the Beacon Hill Civic Association (it also houses the Beacon Hill Business Association and Beacon Hill Village).

John Coburn House (1844)

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.

The Lewis Hayden House (1833)

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.

Abiel Smith School (1835)

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.

Vilna Shul (1919)

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