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Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway: 11 hidden gems along the famed linear park

Including the Mill Pond Retaining Wall, the Abstract Sculpture, and Eastern Prickly Pear

Telvin Benjamin/Shutterstock

The 17-acre Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway is one of the nation’s most prized linear parks.

Born of the Big Dig that sank major highways beneath the city and named for the matriarch of the Kennedy political dynasty, the Greenway snakes 1.5 miles through downtown Boston.

Along the way are well-known highlights such as the carousel and the Rings Fountain. Then there are the Greenway’s easier-to-miss points of interest. With a lot of help from the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway Conservancy, the nonprofit that manages and cares for the park, here are those 11 hidden gems.


Mill Pond Retaining Wall

On the Greenway’s northernmost edge, there is an angled concrete line running through a planting bed and lawn. This line marks the edge of Mill Pond, which until the early 1800s was used to power grist mills and sawmills in Boston.

To check out what the area looked like in the days of the Mill Pond, look at the map on the pavement at the corner of Surface Road and Hanover Street.

Zipporah Potter Atkins House Marker

In 1670, Zipporah Potter Atkins became the first African-American landowner in Boston.

This important achievement was discovered earlier this decade using historical records, and cemented Atkins’ place in history.

There is a marker where Hanover Street crosses the Greenway identifying the North End lot where her home once stood. It’s also alongside the modern Freedom Trail.

Swinging Benches

An example of innovative and interactive seating on the Greenway, the swinging benches are located under the pergolas along Cross Street.

Abstract Sculpture

The Abstract Sculpture at Armenian Heritage Park on the Greenway commemorates the immigrant experience.

The split rhomboid dodecahedron is symbolic of those who left their countries of origin and came to Massachusetts, establishing themselves in new and different ways. Moreover, the Abstract Sculpture is dedicated to victims of the Armenian genocide of 1915 to 1923, and to those of all succeeding genocides.

Every early spring, a crane lifts and pulls apart the two halves of the steel-and-aluminum work to create a new sculptural shape.

Birch Islands

Looking for a spot of shade downtown? Relax under the Greenway’s grove of birches at the corner of Surface Road and India Street.

River birches are known for their light, curling bark; and are just one of the more than 800 species of trees on the Greenway.

Eastern Prickly Pear

The Eastern Prickly Pear is one of the Greenway’s more unusual plants, an example of the only species of cactus native to New England.

You can find this seven-year-old specimen in the Greenway’s Wharf District area, between the New England Aquarium and the Boston Harbor Hotel.

Feel free to examine its unique flat shape and spikes, but be careful: As the name suggests, it is very prickly.

Harbor Fog

Photo via Don Kinsvatter Photography

This interactive installation in the Greenway’s Wharf District area, between the New England Aquarium and the Boston Harbor Hotel, is both a cooling fountain and a contemporary art piece.

Harbor Fog emits a refreshing motion-activated mist and includes colorful LED lights as well as sounds of nearby Boston Harbor.

Elevated Highway Pillar

Before the Big Dig, of course, an elevated highway occupied the space where the Greenway now rests (click here for the greatest before-and-after transformation of all time).

Though it was demolished more than 10 years ago, a piece of the elevated highway still stands. The artifact, a metal support pillar, is located behind the Dewey Square mural.

Dewey Demonstration Garden

The Dewey Demonstration Garden, in the Greenway’s Dewey Square area between Congress and Summer streets, is actually several garden areas intended to serve as inspiration for visitors planning their own gardens.

It features pollinator plants to attract beneficial insects, raised beds full of edible plants, and a rain garden comprised mostly of plants native to the Northeast.

Lincoln Street Triangle

The Lincoln Street Triangle, tucked away in the portion of the Greenway running through the Leather District, was added to the conservancy’s care in 2015.

It is home to one of the Greenway’s eight contemporary art installations, the mesmer-eye-zing mural We the People II.

Essex Street Gate

The Essex Street Gate serves as the Greenway’s modern, contemporary counterpoint to the more traditional gate at Beach Street.

The sampan sail sculpture represents the passage of Chinese immigrants to Boston, while the bold red gateway symbolizes good fortune.

All photos courtesy of the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway Conservancy unless otherwise credited.