There is something about Boston’s Beacon Hill. This historic 19th century neighborhood is filled with brick houses, polished door knockers, gas lamps and cobblestone streets. When the weather is warm, meticulous flower boxes are in bloom and around Christmas, simple wreaths adorn the doors. Antique shops and creative boutiques line Charles Street, Beacon Hill’s main shopping area.
Unfortunately, houses in this neighborhood are tough to visit as most residences are private. Few options exist for tourists to see the insides of these homes.
Nichols House Museum
One year-round option for visitors to explore a Beacon Hill townhouse is the Nichols House Museum. For an $8.00 admission fee, guests can take an hourly guided tour, which lasts roughly thirty minutes. During the off-season in March, groups are small and I was the only tourist for the enthusiastic 2:00 tour.
Built in 1804, the Nichols House Museum was originally part of four connected row houses, originally owned by Jonathan Mason, with architecture attributed to Charles Bulfinch (who also designed the Massachusetts State House). Only two families have ever lived in this particular house, being the Masons and the Nichols families. From 1885 to 1960, this was the home of Rose Standish Nichols, one of three daughters in a doctor’s family. Born in 1872, Rose Nichols was not a standard woman of her time. She never saw the need to marry, learned skills in woodworking and embroidery, helped found the Women’s International League of Peace and Freedom in 1915 and supported herself by working as a landscape architect (including publishing several books!). The house reflects many of Miss Nichols’ tastes.
On the ground floor, visitors will see a study which was originally a doctor’s waiting room and patients’ room used by Miss Nichols’ father. Guests today will see several carved chairs, impressively detailed, crafted by Rose herself. Although flash photography is prohibited, I had to sneak a photo as I was amazed by the talent involved.
Other rooms in the tour include the parlor, with delicate tapestries, a dining room covered in the original Victorian wallpaper, Rose’s bedroom, her parents’ room and a butler’s pantry, which was added later. Be sure to peek out the butler pantry curtains as Beacon Hill homes have hidden gardens where the privy was originally located.
The bedrooms and parlor are painted to Miss Nichols’ tastes, in pinks and greens, in a similar format to the gardens she designed. Interestingly, the parlor windows are the same heights as windows on the other floors as generally, houses in Beacon Hill will have taller windows on the parlor floor.
The embroidery on the fire screen in Rose’s bedroom is her work. There is a possible myth that fire screens were put in front of fireplaces as women had wax in their makeup (so they didn’t want their makeup to melt!) but more likely the fire screens were used to keep women cooler and to avoid flushed complexions, which were considered unattractive at that time.
Stairs in this house are steep and I was surprised to hear that Miss Nichols used the stairs until her death in 1960.
The Nichols House reflects a period in the 19th century and lets visitors step back into the elegance of Beacon Hill’s homes in another time and era.
Nichols House Museum
55 Mount Vernon Street
Boston, Massachusetts 02108
Beacon Hill Chocolates
After visiting the Nichols House Museum and exploring Beacon Hill, visitors should walk down Mount Vernon Street, turning on Charles Street, to experience some of the best chocolates I’ve ever tasted.
For seven years, Beacon Hill Chocolates has been enticing Bostonians with chocolates from New England and around the world. For a “chocoholic” like me, this shop is irresistible.
The store’s owner describes herself as a “chocolate ambassador” and with knowledgeable staff, along with a colorful antique interior, guests to this shop will want to linger. The most popular flavor currently is salted caramels but I’m a big fan of the lemon chocolates. With a store filled with choices (including even gelato), it will be hard to decide.
Beacon Hill Chocolates is also filled with souvenir boxes covered with both antique replicas and scenes of Boston. All boxes are handmade by one artist and requests can even be made to include names and dates. These boxes, filled with chocolates, make unusual gifts.
While this shop can be expensive, these are seriously good chocolates worth a special treat. Beacon Hill Chocolates is typically named a “Best of Boston” Chocolatier and this store easily rivals chocolate stores I’ve visited elsewhere. This shop is a love letter to the art of fine chocolates.
Beacon Hill Chocolates
91 Charles Street (Upstairs)
Boston, Massachusetts 02114