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A modern building with stone exteriors and a lot of stone steps leading up to it. Getty Images

12 unsung Boston-area museums worth a visit

These repositories—all of them free or relatively inexpensive to visit—include the Boston Fire Museum and the Boston’s oldest house

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The Boston region is home to some of the world's most notable museums. But it also hosts some lesser-known institutions of collective preservation.

These include one of the oldest military museums on the continent and one of the nation's most prominent repositories of African-American history. This updated map pinpoints these and others, many of them free.

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1. Metropolitan Waterworks Museum

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2450 Beacon Street
Boston, MA
(617) 277-0065
Visit Website

This one’s for all the engineers out there or just the folks who like to know how a city really runs.

Located on the site of the original Chestnut Hill Reservoir and pumping station, the Waterworks Museum recounts the story of one of the nation’s earliest metropolitan water systems—and, in the process, tells much about the history of the development of the region.

The museums main attraction is the trio of coal-powered, steam-driven water pumps dating from the 1800s.

It’s all free, though donations are appreciated.

A multi-story building that kind of looks like a wedding cake. Metropolitan Waterworks Museum

2. Warren Anatomical Museum

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(617) 432.2136
Visit Website

The collection of the museum dates from the late 1840s, when the institution's namesake, a former Harvard medical professor, donated it.

The museum includes approximately 15,000 artifacts and cases, including the skull of Phineas Gage, through which an iron rod shot ... though it didn't kill Gage: He lived another dozen years.

Free to all.

Cutout models of human eyes on display in a glass case. Boston Globe via Getty Images

3. M.I.T. Museum

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265 Massachusetts Ave
Cambridge, MA 02139
(617) 253-5927
Visit Website

Got STEM? This Massachusetts Institute of Technology science museum includes displays on robotics, so it might be particularly popular with the kids.

4. Gibson House

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137 Beacon St
Boston, MA
(617) 267-6338
Visit Website

The nonprofit museum provides a deep dive into what life was like for affluent Back Bay residents in the 19th century and early 20th century.

Four floors of the capacious townhouse are open to the public year-round.

Tickets are $9, though there are discounts for seniors, students, and kids.

A shot of a 19th-century drawing room with a fireplace and plush furniture. Boston Globe via Getty Images

5. Nichols House Museum

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55 Mount Vernon St
Boston, MA
(617) 227-6993
Visit Website

Right near the State House and the 54th Massachusetts memorial is this museum housed in an 1804 Federal townhouse that Charles Bulfinch designed.

The museum, named for the townhouse's last owner, who died in 1960 and bequeathed it, depicts life in Beacon Hill in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Admission is $10 per adult. Kids under 13 get in free.

A closeup of a brick building with one window showing. Shutterstock

6. Museum of African American History

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46 Joy St
Boston, MA
(617) 725-0022
Visit Website

The museum charts the story of African-Americans in New England from colonial times through the 19th century.

The institution's infrastructure itself includes some pretty historic architecture: The African Meeting House dates from 1806, and remains the oldest standing black church edifice in the United States. Tons of abolitionist history passed through it as a result.

Free to all, but donations appreciated.

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

7. West End Museum

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150 Staniford St
Boston, MA

The West End Museum is just that: a museum dedicated to Boston's West End.

More specifically, it chronicles the forced transition of the enclave due to so-called urban renewal efforts in the 1950s and 1960s—essentially, it's a big cautionary tale to potentially overzealous city planners.

Plus, it's just got some cool stuff about Boston back in the day, including the roles of various immigrant groups in the mighty city's rise.

Free to all, though donations requested for larger groups.

A building front with windows and a door with an arched top. Wikipedia

8. The Battle Of Bunker Hill Museum

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Monument Square
Charlestown, MA
(617) 242-5601
Visit Website

The museum is just across the street from the Bunker Hill memorial and monument.

Not surprisingly, it chronicles that ferocious 1775 battle between colonial and British forces. There's also plenty of local history, too, with an emphasis on pre-20th century.

It's all free because the National Park Service runs it all.

9. James Blake House

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735 Columbia Rd
Boston, MA

The two-story structure dates from 1661, and is the oldest house in Boston.

It’s also one of the few examples in the entire United States of post-Medieval, West England country framing. In other words, pretty much an architectural museum in itself.

The house is open for tours the third Sunday of every month through the Dorchester Historical Society, which owns it.

A boxy, rectangular house with a triangular roof. Boston Globe via Getty Images

10. Ancient and Honorable Artillery Co.

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Faneuil Hall 4th Floor
Boston, MA

The organization behind this museum has roots stretching back to the 1630s, so it's little surprise that its collection of military memorabilia covers quite a few eras.

And it's not all military, either, with books, plates, tankards, and other objects part of the displays.

The space is directly across from the elevator to the fourth floor of Faneuil Hall and is free to the public on weekdays from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. Holidays might affect the hours though.

A building exterior with an arched doorway. Shutterstock

11. Boston Fire Museum

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344 Congress St
Boston, MA
(617) 338-9700
Visit Website

Not surprisingly, the museum dedicated to the Boston Fire Department resides in an old firehouse, this one dating from 1891.

There are all manner of firefighting equipment and vehicles on display as well as historical photos.

Visitors might invariably find a friendly dalmatian to pet and the museum is free (though donations via a boot out front are appreciated).

It might be particularly worth a visit if you’ve got kids in tow.

The exterior of a three-story firehouse with two big garage doors. Wikipedia

12. Massachusetts Archives and Commonwealth Museum

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220 William T Morrissey Blvd
Boston, MA
(617) 727-9268
Visit Website

The 31-year-old museum on the campus of UMass-Boston includes John Adams’ vice presidential papers and an original 1776 copy of the Declaration of Independence are among the Commonwealth Museum’s 20 million documents.

There are also artifacts such as Paul Revere’s copper-plate depiction of the Boston Massacre.

It’s all free to see.

A modern building with stone exteriors and a lot of stone steps leading up to it. Getty Images

1. Metropolitan Waterworks Museum

2450 Beacon Street, Boston, MA
A multi-story building that kind of looks like a wedding cake. Metropolitan Waterworks Museum

This one’s for all the engineers out there or just the folks who like to know how a city really runs.

Located on the site of the original Chestnut Hill Reservoir and pumping station, the Waterworks Museum recounts the story of one of the nation’s earliest metropolitan water systems—and, in the process, tells much about the history of the development of the region.

The museums main attraction is the trio of coal-powered, steam-driven water pumps dating from the 1800s.

It’s all free, though donations are appreciated.

2450 Beacon Street
Boston, MA

2. Warren Anatomical Museum

Boston, MA
Cutout models of human eyes on display in a glass case. Boston Globe via Getty Images

The collection of the museum dates from the late 1840s, when the institution's namesake, a former Harvard medical professor, donated it.

The museum includes approximately 15,000 artifacts and cases, including the skull of Phineas Gage, through which an iron rod shot ... though it didn't kill Gage: He lived another dozen years.

Free to all.

3. M.I.T. Museum

265 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, MA 02139

Got STEM? This Massachusetts Institute of Technology science museum includes displays on robotics, so it might be particularly popular with the kids.

265 Massachusetts Ave
Cambridge, MA 02139

4. Gibson House

137 Beacon St, Boston, MA
A shot of a 19th-century drawing room with a fireplace and plush furniture. Boston Globe via Getty Images

The nonprofit museum provides a deep dive into what life was like for affluent Back Bay residents in the 19th century and early 20th century.

Four floors of the capacious townhouse are open to the public year-round.

Tickets are $9, though there are discounts for seniors, students, and kids.

137 Beacon St
Boston, MA

5. Nichols House Museum

55 Mount Vernon St, Boston, MA
A closeup of a brick building with one window showing. Shutterstock

Right near the State House and the 54th Massachusetts memorial is this museum housed in an 1804 Federal townhouse that Charles Bulfinch designed.

The museum, named for the townhouse's last owner, who died in 1960 and bequeathed it, depicts life in Beacon Hill in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Admission is $10 per adult. Kids under 13 get in free.

55 Mount Vernon St
Boston, MA

6. Museum of African American History

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

The museum charts the story of African-Americans in New England from colonial times through the 19th century.

The institution's infrastructure itself includes some pretty historic architecture: The African Meeting House dates from 1806, and remains the oldest standing black church edifice in the United States. Tons of abolitionist history passed through it as a result.

Free to all, but donations appreciated.

46 Joy St
Boston, MA

7. West End Museum

150 Staniford St, Boston, MA
A building front with windows and a door with an arched top. Wikipedia

The West End Museum is just that: a museum dedicated to Boston's West End.

More specifically, it chronicles the forced transition of the enclave due to so-called urban renewal efforts in the 1950s and 1960s—essentially, it's a big cautionary tale to potentially overzealous city planners.

Plus, it's just got some cool stuff about Boston back in the day, including the roles of various immigrant groups in the mighty city's rise.

Free to all, though donations requested for larger groups.

150 Staniford St
Boston, MA

8. The Battle Of Bunker Hill Museum

Monument Square, Charlestown, MA

The museum is just across the street from the Bunker Hill memorial and monument.

Not surprisingly, it chronicles that ferocious 1775 battle between colonial and British forces. There's also plenty of local history, too, with an emphasis on pre-20th century.

It's all free because the National Park Service runs it all.

Monument Square
Charlestown, MA

9. James Blake House

735 Columbia Rd, Boston, MA
A boxy, rectangular house with a triangular roof. Boston Globe via Getty Images

The two-story structure dates from 1661, and is the oldest house in Boston.

It’s also one of the few examples in the entire United States of post-Medieval, West England country framing. In other words, pretty much an architectural museum in itself.

The house is open for tours the third Sunday of every month through the Dorchester Historical Society, which owns it.

735 Columbia Rd
Boston, MA

10. Ancient and Honorable Artillery Co.

Faneuil Hall 4th Floor, Boston, MA
A building exterior with an arched doorway. Shutterstock

The organization behind this museum has roots stretching back to the 1630s, so it's little surprise that its collection of military memorabilia covers quite a few eras.

And it's not all military, either, with books, plates, tankards, and other objects part of the displays.

The space is directly across from the elevator to the fourth floor of Faneuil Hall and is free to the public on weekdays from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. Holidays might affect the hours though.

Faneuil Hall 4th Floor
Boston, MA

11. Boston Fire Museum

344 Congress St, Boston, MA
The exterior of a three-story firehouse with two big garage doors. Wikipedia

Not surprisingly, the museum dedicated to the Boston Fire Department resides in an old firehouse, this one dating from 1891.

There are all manner of firefighting equipment and vehicles on display as well as historical photos.

Visitors might invariably find a friendly dalmatian to pet and the museum is free (though donations via a boot out front are appreciated).

It might be particularly worth a visit if you’ve got kids in tow.

344 Congress St
Boston, MA

12. Massachusetts Archives and Commonwealth Museum

220 William T Morrissey Blvd, Boston, MA
A modern building with stone exteriors and a lot of stone steps leading up to it. Getty Images

The 31-year-old museum on the campus of UMass-Boston includes John Adams’ vice presidential papers and an original 1776 copy of the Declaration of Independence are among the Commonwealth Museum’s 20 million documents.

There are also artifacts such as Paul Revere’s copper-plate depiction of the Boston Massacre.

It’s all free to see.

220 William T Morrissey Blvd
Boston, MA