We’ve stood in front of the Samuel Adams statue in the Faneuil Hall Plaza many times. This was where Adams gave some of his fiery, defiant speeches against British rule. But …
“Do you know who carved the statue and the story behind it?” our guide Keith O’Sullivan (“please call me Sully”) asked. He pointed to the artist’s name carved on the base: Anne Whitney. Sully explained that Whitney submitted her design anonymously in a contest and won the commission — and then it was revealed that she was a woman. Apparently, sculpting was not an acceptable profession for women during the mid- to late-1800s, and the commissioners wanted to rescind their offer. It didn’t happen, and Whitney ended up creating two statues of Samuel Adams, one for the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., and the other for the City of Boston.
We were on the Boston Seafood Tour, offered by WeVenture. Sometimes it’s fun to be a tourist in your own town, and when we heard this tour included three stops for seafood, we were in.
The tour started at Independence Wharf, where we took the elevator up to the 14th floor observation deck. “Lots of Bostonians don’t even know about this deck,” Sully said. “And it’s free.” The views were expansive, stretching across Fort Point Channel and beyond. Sully talked about the Boston Tea Party, and how Samuel Adams and 90 or so people, dressed as Native Americans so as not to be recognized, dumped the tea “somewhere around here.” The exact location, he said, is still debated, but likely it occurred at Griffin’s Wharf, which no longer exists. But it’s close to the current (and worth a visit) Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum. Sully also pointed out the location of the Dorchester Memorial and told the story of how Henry Knox, a Continental Army officer, brought 59 cannons from Fort Ticonderoga to that spot to help fight the British. “It ended the battle,” Sully said. “George Washington stood on Dorchester Heights and watched the British troops leave the city, March 17, 1776. We celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, but it’s also Evacuation Day in Boston.”
It was time for food and our first stop was the nearby James Hook & Co., a virtual institution in Boston. This waterfront landmark has been around since 1925 and is still family owned by four siblings of the third generation of the Hook family. It’s one of our go-to places in the city for seafood (if we can find a seat). On this lovely spring day, we grabbed a table outside and enjoyed nicely seasoned, chunky stuffed scallops. We also took a peek at the lobster tanks, some filled with mega-size crustaceans, and learned that some 50,000 pounds of lobster are shipped out of here every day.
We walked along Boston Harbor while Sully talked about the Big Dig and pointed out the Chart House, where John Hancock once had his offices. From there we followed him to the Custom House Tower. “At one point, this street, all the way up to the Custom House, would have been lined with 50 ships,” said Sully, “The water went just past the tower.” We tried to imagine it.
Each of the massive granite columns of the Custom House “comes from one piece of granite and weighs 42 tons,” Sully said. The columns came from the nearby Quincy quarries, where Sully said he dangerously played as a kid, jumping off 90-foot-high ledges.
We crossed over the Rose Kennedy Greenway and entered Quincy Market. “You know the one thing you won’t find at Quincy Market?” Sully joked. “A Bostonian.” It’s true; the market is a popular tourist hotpot. Still, we were happy to see it busy again, and the food stalls open and thriving. We stopped at Boston Chowda for lobster rolls, served cold with a touch of mayo. Sometimes, Sully orders chowder here for the tour goers; he likes to mix it up. “New Englanders have been serving some kind of clam or fish chowder since the first settlers arrived in 1630,” he told us. Family-owned Boston Chowda has been serving their version for more than 25 years, a rich, creamy broth with a generous helping of fresh clams, which we’ve had on several occasions. But lobster rolls in lieu of chowder were just fine with us.
We paused in front of Faneuil Hall to learn more Boston history. “There’s often protesters here,” Sully said. “Peter Faneuil, who donated Faneuil Hall to Boston, was also a slave owner.”
Sully had told us at the beginning of the tour that he was a history buff, and he certainly loved to share facts and anecdotes about his beloved city and hometown. We learned quite a bit. Like the story of the theft of the grasshopper weathervane on top of Faneuil Hall: a steeple worker took it one night but later, feeling guilty, he confessed to the police, and struck a deal: He’d return the weathervane if he wasn’t arrested. The deal was made.
And the squiggly lines carded in the cement out in Samuel Adams Plaza? We’d never noticed them before. “They mark where the water at one time came up to,” Sully said. “This has all been filled in over the years.”
Our final stop was at the revered Union Oyster House, Boston’s oldest restaurant and a National Historic Landmark. We’ve been several times, but how could you do a Boston seafood tour without including this longstanding restaurant, where dignitaries and celebrities have dined since 1826? The rambling restaurant, housed in a building dating back to pre-Revolutionary times, is filled with antiques and memorabilia. We sampled raw Wellfleet and Patriot oysters, along with cups of their award-winning chowder.
At the end of the day, we had stuffed scallops, lobster rolls, oysters and clam chowder, with a heavy helping of history and entertaining stories — and a nice walk around Boston. It’s fun to be a tourist in your own town.
WeVenture offers a variety of group walking tours in Boston (www.we-venture.com/boston), featuring local guides. Tours are limited to 12 guests. The 2½-hour Boston Seafood Tour runs daily, and features four seafood tastings; though tastings vary the tour always includes lobster rolls and clam chowder, $94-$99.
Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org