(Jeremy C. Fox for Boston.com)
Friday marks a new era for Faneuil Hall, as the 270-year-old landmark becomes not just a tourist destination but the central location for any visitor interested in Boston’s history.
Faneuil Hall’s first-floor marketplace is now home to a National Park Service visitor center for both the Boston National Historical Park and the Boston African American National Historic Site.
The new center will replace the dark, subterranean visitor center at 15 State St., across the plaza south of the Old State House, and will encourage more visitors to explore not only the Freedom Trail, but the lesser-known Black Heritage Trail.
“This is a wonderful place where we can all find common ground,” Sean Hennessey, a spokesman for the park service, said of Faneuil Hall.
“Obviously it was quite prominent during the American Revolution — meetings were held here as the revolt against the British occupation was growing hotter and hotter. And then in the 19th century, the abolitionist movement, many meetings and speeches were given here by the likes of Frederick Douglass, Wendell Phillips, and other prominent abolitionists.”
Mayor Thomas M. Menino will celebrate the re-opening in a ceremony at 11:30 a.m. Friday. Also scheduled to attend are Cassius Cash, superintendent of both the Boston National Historical Park and the Boston African American National Historic Site; US Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar; US Senator Scott Brown; and US Congressman Michael Capuano.
The ceremony will also include a color guard of sailors from the USS Constitution and Marine re-enactors of the War of 1812 playing fife and drums. Their appearance, Hennessey said, heralds events upcoming this summer to commemorate the bicentennial of the War of 1812.
As part of the celebration, 60 third- and fourth-grade students from the Gardner Pilot Academy in Allston have been invited to be the first official guests of the new visitor center and receive tricorne hats and tours of the Freedom Trail.
Faneuil Hall is one of eight sites that constitute the Boston National Historical Park. Most are also stops on the Freedom Trail, including Faneuil Hall, the Old State House, Old South Meeting House, the Paul Revere House, and Old North Church. It is a “partnership park”: while some sites are owned by the park service, others belong to private institutions or to the City of Boston, which owns Faneuil Hall.
Tours of the Freedom Trail will depart from Faneuil Hall, as will tours of the Black Heritage Trail, which includes 10 sites on Beacon Hill, where a free black community lived in the 1800s and where the abolitionist movement was active.
The new visitor center arrives after a decade of effort to secure federal funding and plan the renovation. Construction began in late 2010.
The center will be the most technologically advanced of any in the park service — for a time, at least — with iPad stations for interactive learning and its own downloadable smartphone application for both iPhone and Android devices.
For a gallery of photos from the new visitor center, click here.