Even before Charles Bulfinch's time, a trip to Boston was not complete without a visit to Faneuil Hall. Originally designed by artist John Smibert and completed in 1742, it served as the central meeting hall for the young city and is named for Peter Faneuil, a merchant and slave trader who financed it as a gift to Boston.
In 1802 Bulfinch expanded the building and enclosed the ground level which originally included open arcades. The pilasters (rectangular columns embedded in the facade) are not typical of Federal architecture and were part of the original building, but Bulfinch added the neoclassical capitals.
Faneuil Hall has been called the "Cradle of Liberty" for the key role it played in the movement for American independence. On March 6, 1770, just after the Boston Massacre, the hall was packed for an impassioned speech by Samuel Adams, which resulted in the formation of a committee to pressure the colonial government to remove British troops from Boston. At another meeting in 1773, the town's residents voted to resist a new tax on tea. When the British occupied Boston in 1774, they used Faneuil Hall as a theater (ignoring Masschusetts' Puritan era law against theatrical performances.)
The hall was also a key meeting place for the movements to abolish slavery and grant African Americans the right to vote. In 1890, Julius Caesar Chapelle, a Massachusetts legislator who had been born a slave in Alabama, gave a famous speech in favor of black voting rights that drew attention to the issue in national media.
The cupola features a weathervane with a gilded grasshopper, which was part of the original colonial building. Faneuil commissioned it from Shem Drowne, a Boston coppersmith who made several of the earliest weathervanes in the US. There are many legends about to origin of the grasshopper, but most likely it was intended as a symbol of commerce, mirroring the grasshopper atop the Royal Exchange in London... which begs the question, why is there a grasshopper atop the Royal Exchange in London? That one originated as a family symbol of Tudor era financier Sir Thomas Gresham, founder of the Exchange, to honor an ancestor who was purportedly abandoned at birth and found by a woman who was attracted by the sound of a grasshopper.
The grasshopper was damaged in an earthquake and repaired by Shem Downe's son Thomas. He hid a time capsule inside with a note that began "To my brethren and fellow grasshoppers, Fell in ye year 1753 Nov. 13, early in ye morning by a great earthquake by my old Master above." Since then the capsule has been periodically opened and refilled with new items that were added whenever the weathervane has been refurbished.
Faneuil Hall is now part of Faneuil Hall Marketplace, which includes neighboring Quincy Market and the North and South Market buildings. It's a favorite place for Bostonians to bring their out-of-town friends for uniquely Boston shopping and food. Be sure to grab a bite while you're here!
The Mayor's Office of Arts + Culture for Boston. We foster the growth of the cultural community in Boston and promote participation in the arts.