Grand claims have been made of Massachusetts’ capital of Boston throughout its history. They are reflected in several of its nicknames: ‘Cradle of Modern America,’ ‘Hub of the Solar System’ and ‘Athens of America.’ However, in the beginning, when the settlement took root in 1624, it was simply called ‘Trimountain’, given its location beside three hills on the mouth of the Charles River. This was before being named after the small English town in Lincolnshire, the original home of several founding Puritan families.
The ‘Cradle of Modern America’ sums up its relationship to the country as a whole. As the capital of the original Massachusetts Bay Colony founded in 1630, it is the place where, with the incident of the Boston Tea Party in 1773, the Revolutionary War against British Colonial rule was ignited.
In the Cambridge district over the river, Harvard College was founded in 1638. Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809-1894), physician and writer born there, regarded Boston as the ‘Hub of the Solar System.’ At the same time and during its literary and cultural flourishing of the 1850s, others were calling it the ‘Athens of America.’ Today one out of every 10 Bostonian residents is a student at one of the city’s 57 university, college and research establishments. Such prestigious institutions as Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have attracted leading industries in electronics, engineering, finance and biotechnology – and given the city a strong future.
Of Boston’s many famous sons, the statesman, scientist and inventor Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) stands in the highest regard. His Boston can be rediscovered on foot – and, indeed, despite being in the acclaimed land of the auto, Boston today refers to itself as the ‘Walking City’. The Freedom Trail is a physical manifestation of the birth of the modern American Republic – around four kilometres (2.5 miles) of the city’s streets and sights. Also, Boston’s place in black American history can be discovered by following the 2.5km (1.6-mile) Black Heritage Trail – as the city was a goal of black slaves escaping the oppressive South on the ‘Underground Railway’.
Boston’s sharp Puritan roots have been softened over the centuries, yet it retains an ethic of commitment to life as a whole, be that sports, pastimes, work, cafés, bars or culture. But, after all, the city that imported an English pub (which later became the model for TV’s hugely successful Cheers), hosts the Boston Pops concerts and gave the rock music world Aerosmith is hardly going to let the weather dominate it.
Modern Boston is very much a microcosm of New England. It has the typical East Coast climate of hot, humid summers and freezing winters. In autumn, the white church steeples of the suburbs create a stunning contrast to the turning colours of the surrounding trees. The thousands of students returning to begin their new academic year add a human vibrancy to this striking setting. Perhaps, after all, the city deserves to be called the ‘Rome of Massachusetts’, since all New England roads, physical, cultural and historical, lead to it.