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The Steeple that Started the Revolution
In April, 1775, it was the sight of the hanging lanterns that notified Patriots in Charlestown that the British were leaving “two if by sea” prior to Paul Revere’s Midnight Ride and the Battles of Lexington and Concord.
Free (donation requested, includes self-guided tour) The worthwhile Behind-the-Scenes Tour visits the crypt and bell tower: $5, adult; $3 senior; $4 youth
Open: January–February: 10–4pm, Tues–Sunday; March–May: 9-5 daily; June–October: 9–6 daily; November–December: 10–5 daily
Sunday services 9 and 11 AM
Handicap access – there is a 1/2″ step at entrance to church; gift shop limited.
Public transportation: Green or Orange line to Haymarket Station.
Plan about 15 minutes to walk through.
Old North Church, officially known as Christ Church, was begun in 1723 and took twenty-two years to complete. It is the oldest church remaining in Boston. On April 18, 1775 its place in history was cemented when Sexton Robert Newman climbed the steeple and hung the two lanterns that signaled to Patriots watching from Charlestown that the British were marching on Lexington and Concord “by sea”.
Old North was the second Anglican Church in Boston, after King’s Chapel. As an Anglican Church, the majority of its congregation was loyal to the British King and the membership included the Royal Governor. The King gave Old North its silver and a bible.
The fact that this is an Anglican Church makes its place in American history even more extraordinary as it made the use of the Church by Revere and Newman extremely risky. After hanging the lanterns, Newman had to escape out a window. (The original window through which he left the church was bricked up in 1815. It was rediscovered during restoration work in 1989.) Paul Revere was never a church member as he was a Congregationalist. He did, however, work here as a bell ringer.
Old North was modeled after the work of Sir Christopher Wren in London, perhaps using St. Andrews-by-the-Wardrobe in Blackfriars, London as the model. St. Andrews-by-the-Wardrobe was destroyed by German bombs during World War II, but has since been rebuilt.
The original steeple was destroyed in a storm in 1804 and Charles Bulfinch designed the replacement, which stood until Hurricane Carol in 1954. The current steeple uses design elements from both the original and the Bulfinch version. The church steeple now stands 175 feet (53 m) tall, some sixteen feet lower than the original. At its tip, however, is the original weather vane.
The church bells, the oldest in America, came from England and date from 1744. They were restored in 1894 and again in 1975. They ring regularly, and are beautiful – check the website for the bell ringing schedule.
Many of the church details are original. The high box pews were purchased by congregation members in a manner similar to the way season tickets to sporting events are purchased today – buy first in the back and trade up when a better seat opens up. The pews high walls are designed to retain the warmth of hot coals or bricks placed on the floor. The chandeliers are from England.
The organ, built in 1759, still has some original components and is used. The clock was built by some of the parishioners in 1726. To the left of the pulpit there is a lifelike bust of George Washington that dates from 1815. During his visit in 1824, the Marquis de Lafayette, a key aid of Washington, commented on the extremely lifelike nature of the bust.
Old North’s basement holds some 1,100 bodies buried in 37 in crypts. It was used between 1732 and 1853, and each tomb is sealed with a wooden or slate door, with many doors still covered by the plaster ordered by the city in the 1850s (see in the Behind-the-Scenes tour).
The founding rector of the church, Timothy Cutler, was buried right under the altar. Also buried under the church is British Marine Major John Pitcairn, who was mortally wounded at the Battle of Bunker Hill and entombed with many others killed in that battle.