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The exterior of three-story, thin, brick building ending in a thinner steeple. Shutterstock

Boston’s most iconic federal buildings, mapped

Check out these fine examples of the city’s best-known architectural style include the Massachusetts State House and Faneuil Hall

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No doubt federal is the one architectural style synonymous with Boston (though the city is no slouch in other forms as well).

The style enjoyed its heyday in the decades before and after the turn of the 18th century, with two figures in particular pioneering it locally: Charles Bulfinch and Asher Benjamin. Simple facades with ornate doors; pilasters; and Palladian windows—these are a few of the key features of federal architecture.

Federal was the first style to really germinate in America—which probably explains its prevalence in one of the nation’s oldest cities. Here are eight Boston buildings that epitomize it. Additions welcome via tom@curbed.com.

(And, it should be noted, if you do want to peruse any of these from the outside, do keep appropriate social distance and wear a face mask.)

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1. William Hickling Prescott House/Headquarters House

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55 Beacon St
Boston, MA 02108
(617) 742-3190
Visit Website

Built in 1808 and named after the historian who lived there in the mid-1800s, this mansion is not a Charles Bulfinch creation, but rather one from the hand of Asher Benjamin, who would end his career working in the Greek Revival style.

This is the federal work everyone remembers Benjamin for, however, though through the pilasters and the Doric columns you can almost see a more vigorous approach yearning to show itself.

It's now a museum that the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America runs. (Bonus federal: Benjamin also designed 54 Beacon.)

The exterior of a four-story, wavy, and wide townhouse. Wikipedia

2. African Meeting House

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(617) 725-0022
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Asher Benjamin designed this building, which went up in 1806 and remains the oldest African-American church building in the U.S.

Not surprisingly, the building served as a hotbed of abolitionism in the early 1800s, and became a synagogue in the 20th century.

The Museum of African American History purchased it in the 1970s, and it remains a part of that institution.

A two-story brick building with a triangular roof. Wikipedia

3. Otis House Museum

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141 Cambridge St
Boston, MA
(617) 227-3956
Visit Website

Charles Bulfinch designed this mansion at 141 Cambridge Street for Harrison Gray Otis, a congressman, senator and Boston mayor (whose political affiliation was—what else?—Federalist).

It was completed in 1796, and its flat facade positively drips of the architecture.

It was later used as a clinic and a middle-class boarding house; and is now a museum.

The exterior of a three-story, squarish, brick building. Flickr

4. Old West Church

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131 Cambridge St
Boston, MA
(617) 227-5088   
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Another Asher Benjamin creation and also erected in 1806, the Old West Church was originally for a Congregational parish whose church the British destroyed during the Revolutionary War. (The redcoats thought that colonial troops were using the steeple to signal their compatriots in Cambridge.)

After a century and half, it became a branch of the Boston Public Library and has been a Methodist parish since the early 1960s.

A tall, kind of wedding-cake-like brick building ending in a thin steeple on top. Shutterstock

5. Massachusetts State House

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1 Ashburton Pl
Boston, MA
(617) 722-2000
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The State House was finished in early 1798 and built on a cow pasture John Hancock once owned. Charles Bulfinch designed this building as well.

Its construction signified Boston's permanence as the capital of the commonwealth.

The exterior of the Massachusetts State House. The building is red brick and there is a gold dome. There are white columns on the facade. Glenn Leblanc/Getty Images

6. Boston Bar Association/Chester Harding House

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16 Beacon St
Boston, MA
(617) 742-0615
Visit Website

A builder named Thomas Fletcher constructed this four-story rowhouse in 1808. Various owners renovated it throughout the 19th century, including painter Chester Harding, who lived there in the late 1820s.

The Unitarian Church Association acquired 16 Beacon Street in the 1920s, and adapted the house for use as an office. In 1963, the Boston Bar Association moved in, and renovated it some more (the group still owns the property).

Yet its facade especially retains the trappings of that federal style.

A four-story brick building kind of trapped between two much taller buildings on either side. Wikipedia

7. Faneuil Hall

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1 Faneuil Hall Sq
Boston, MA
(617) 635-3105
Visit Website

Originally Georgian in design, the market and assembly hall went up in the early 1740s and had to be rebuilt 20 years later after a fire destroyed most of it. (Money from the slave trade underwrote Faneuil’s construction both times.)

Charles Bulfinch designed the federal-style expansion of Faneuil Hall at the start of the 19th century.

The front of a squat, triangular-roofed building with a bronze statue of man with folded arms outside. Shutterstock

8. St. Stephen's Church

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Hanover Street
Boston, MA
(617) 523-1230

This is the last remaining church in Boston that federal pioneer Charles Bulfinch designed. It was completed in 1804, and originally housed a Congregational outfit.

The church's interior belies what Bulfinch was going for: a severely functional squarish space. The pilasters are a dead giveaway regarding the federal style.

The church is currently the headquarters of the Missionary Society of St. James the Apostle.

The exterior of three-story, thin, brick building ending in a thinner steeple. Shutterstock

1. William Hickling Prescott House/Headquarters House

55 Beacon St, Boston, MA 02108
The exterior of a four-story, wavy, and wide townhouse. Wikipedia

Built in 1808 and named after the historian who lived there in the mid-1800s, this mansion is not a Charles Bulfinch creation, but rather one from the hand of Asher Benjamin, who would end his career working in the Greek Revival style.

This is the federal work everyone remembers Benjamin for, however, though through the pilasters and the Doric columns you can almost see a more vigorous approach yearning to show itself.

It's now a museum that the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America runs. (Bonus federal: Benjamin also designed 54 Beacon.)

55 Beacon St
Boston, MA 02108

2. African Meeting House

Boston, MA
A two-story brick building with a triangular roof. Wikipedia

Asher Benjamin designed this building, which went up in 1806 and remains the oldest African-American church building in the U.S.

Not surprisingly, the building served as a hotbed of abolitionism in the early 1800s, and became a synagogue in the 20th century.

The Museum of African American History purchased it in the 1970s, and it remains a part of that institution.

3. Otis House Museum

141 Cambridge St, Boston, MA
The exterior of a three-story, squarish, brick building. Flickr

Charles Bulfinch designed this mansion at 141 Cambridge Street for Harrison Gray Otis, a congressman, senator and Boston mayor (whose political affiliation was—what else?—Federalist).

It was completed in 1796, and its flat facade positively drips of the architecture.

It was later used as a clinic and a middle-class boarding house; and is now a museum.

141 Cambridge St
Boston, MA

4. Old West Church

131 Cambridge St, Boston, MA
A tall, kind of wedding-cake-like brick building ending in a thin steeple on top. Shutterstock

Another Asher Benjamin creation and also erected in 1806, the Old West Church was originally for a Congregational parish whose church the British destroyed during the Revolutionary War. (The redcoats thought that colonial troops were using the steeple to signal their compatriots in Cambridge.)

After a century and half, it became a branch of the Boston Public Library and has been a Methodist parish since the early 1960s.

131 Cambridge St
Boston, MA

5. Massachusetts State House

1 Ashburton Pl, Boston, MA
The exterior of the Massachusetts State House. The building is red brick and there is a gold dome. There are white columns on the facade. Glenn Leblanc/Getty Images

The State House was finished in early 1798 and built on a cow pasture John Hancock once owned. Charles Bulfinch designed this building as well.

Its construction signified Boston's permanence as the capital of the commonwealth.

1 Ashburton Pl
Boston, MA

6. Boston Bar Association/Chester Harding House

16 Beacon St, Boston, MA
A four-story brick building kind of trapped between two much taller buildings on either side. Wikipedia

A builder named Thomas Fletcher constructed this four-story rowhouse in 1808. Various owners renovated it throughout the 19th century, including painter Chester Harding, who lived there in the late 1820s.

The Unitarian Church Association acquired 16 Beacon Street in the 1920s, and adapted the house for use as an office. In 1963, the Boston Bar Association moved in, and renovated it some more (the group still owns the property).

Yet its facade especially retains the trappings of that federal style.

16 Beacon St
Boston, MA

7. Faneuil Hall

1 Faneuil Hall Sq, Boston, MA
The front of a squat, triangular-roofed building with a bronze statue of man with folded arms outside. Shutterstock

Originally Georgian in design, the market and assembly hall went up in the early 1740s and had to be rebuilt 20 years later after a fire destroyed most of it. (Money from the slave trade underwrote Faneuil’s construction both times.)

Charles Bulfinch designed the federal-style expansion of Faneuil Hall at the start of the 19th century.

1 Faneuil Hall Sq
Boston, MA

8. St. Stephen's Church

Hanover Street, Boston, MA
The exterior of three-story, thin, brick building ending in a thinner steeple. Shutterstock

This is the last remaining church in Boston that federal pioneer Charles Bulfinch designed. It was completed in 1804, and originally housed a Congregational outfit.

The church's interior belies what Bulfinch was going for: a severely functional squarish space. The pilasters are a dead giveaway regarding the federal style.

The church is currently the headquarters of the Missionary Society of St. James the Apostle.

Hanover Street
Boston, MA