Boston’s Faneuil Hall is still called The Cradle of Liberty, but the name could be changed to Cradle of Tourism. Behind it is Quincy Market. Returning there after several years, I asked myself this question, “What’s the difference between a historic marketplace and a mall food court?” Answer: there is none.
There are only 2 things still somewhat authentic about Quincy Market, the grasshopper weathervane and Durgin Park. The latter is a restaurant that has been around since 1827. When there was an 18th century warehouse here, there was a restaurant in it by 1742. This, however, wasn’t Durgin Park, where people have been sitting at communal tables enduring cheeky service since John Durgin became involved in the 19th century. Things have slightly changed since then. Durgin Park has a basement beer garden now and serves soup and sandwiches at Logan Airport. The stores surrounding it and the ones in the companion South Market are mall-like with some familiar names. If you travel to shop, you might be delighted. I was delighted in only one store, which was very touristy but fun–Newbury Comics. It was the only “different” store in the faux historic Quincy Markets, which promise more than 40 unique shops, 35 foot stalls, pubs, etc. Newbury sells practically everything trendy–vinyl, cheap body jewelry, bots, etc. I was most amused by its Die Hard Coloring Book.
I paused there and wondered what Peter Faneuil, colonial merchant, would think of what happened to his marketplace. Before he founded Faneuil Hall, he traded fish, molasses, and slaves with his uncles. One rich uncle said he would disinherit Peter and his brother if they married. His brother defied this edict, so Peter inherited a bundle and became a wealthy colonial entrepreneur. When he died, his will left 5 slaves and 195 bottles of wine to his surviving, uncle-defying brother and a sister.
Peter Faneuil’s hall has remained a bit more historically authentic than the markets, but only a bit. Faneuil was the first man to successfully establish a central food market in Boston. The building known as Faneuil Hall today was constructed in 1742. Back then, its lower level contained stalls selling vegetables, meat, and dairy products. A large meeting hall on the 2nd floor became Boston’s town hall and a history-making space. British taxation policies were hotly debated here as violent occurrences erupted in Boston streets, all leading to the Revolutionary War. In 1805 noted architect Charles Bulfinch was hired to redo the building and the three granite structures were built behind Faneuil Hall that would expand the market-idea. The malling of these markets occurred in the 1970s. Faneuil Hall itself is now run by the National Park Service but is owned by the city of Boston. Level one now has a visitor information desk, a gift shop, etc. Upstairs is a museum and armory.
A lot of tourists see Faneuil Hall and the markets as part of the famous Freedom Trail that begins at the Boston Common and ends at Bunker Hill.