A Good Day At The Boston Athanaeum And A Bad Cup Of Coffee

A really old book bound in human skin AND a wheelchair-accessible venue near the Freedom Trail and the Boston Common in downtown Boston.  What more could you want for a day’s outing?

DSC03627The Boston Athanaeum, 10 1/2 Beacon Street in Boston, was packed to the gills today, at the first open house they’ve had in years.  Five-plus floors of books, art and reading and writing space comprise this National Historic Landmark building.  The library, founded in 1807, is private, although anyone can join by paying an annual membership fee  (individual or family, varies from $200 to $320).  The Athanaeum is accessible by ramp from Beacon Street, and every floor available to members is accessible by elevator.


Park Street station is about a five-minute walk from the Boston Atheneum.

There are a couple of ADA-parking spaces around the corner on Park Street (outside the Paulist Center), although I imagine you are more likely to win the lottery than land one of these downtown parking spaces.  The Park Street MBTA station is wheelchair-accessible, and the short walk or roll up Park Street and around the corner to the library is accessible.  Beware, though, you’re in for a bumpy ride on these Beacon Street sidewalks:  DSC03639

Old Pat The Independent BeggarThe library offers regular guided tours on Tuesdays and Thursdays; reservations are required.  You might see us tucked into a cozy nook called the Deborah Burnheimer Room….along with two, inviting red leather arm chairs, an enchanting view onto the Granary Burying Ground, and “Old Pat The Independent Beggar” gazing mournfully upon us from his gold-embossed frame on the wall.



Just don’t try to begin or end your day with a coffee from the Thinking Cup, serving Stumptown coffee, on Tremont Street.  Technically the cafe is wheelchair accessible – you can roll in from the street entrance – but once inside you’re trapped in a narrow path that ends in a logjam for wheelchairs at the register and take-out counter.  And yes, there’s a hip vibe, but the coffee is unreliable.  I’ve had one great latte there and then today, one terrible one (that found its way into the trash at the Park Street T station).  I am thinking that at their prices, every cup of coffee at the Thinking Cup should be a superb one AND that the owners need to re-think their accessible traffic flow.

Read This, Skip That: Adams National Historical Park, MA


copy of Ben Franklin’s woodcut representing the American colonies cut into 8 pieces

John Adams left quite a legacy.  Our second president devoted his working life to the ideals of democracy, and his descendants (including their wives and daughters) carried on his work as diplomats, politicians, writers, and historians.

The birthplace of John Adams and John Quincy Adams (6th president) are the first stops on the Adams National Historical Park tour, which leaves by trolley from the national park visitor center on 1250 Hancock Street – but beware, it’s surprisingly hard to find the entrance.DSC03335The visitor center has one accessible entrance from Hancock Street and although small, has an informative 30-minute documentary (and an accessible bathroom).   The trolley is not wheelchair- accessible (despite the fact that it says it is in the National Park Service (NPS) brochure);  arrangements can be made in advance with the park rangers to follow in your car.  The two birthplace homes were built in the late 1600’s and are not accessible to power wheelchairs.  Rangers can make accommodations by ramp for small (really, really small) manual chairs or walkers.DSC03341

DSC03357“Peace field” is the third house on the tour;  John and Abigail Adams purchased this farm, not far from their old homesteads, and retired here to farm their 75 acres.  Six acres, a brightly-flowering garden (with original box hedge!) and a genteel home remain; but only the barn is power-chair accessible.  It might be worth taking in some programs at the barn just to soak in the ambiance of the estate;  even now, with the city of Quincy growing, bustling and motoring on all sides, there is a sense of escape once you enter through the gates.DSC03346

Marianne took a pass on this tour, and I would encourage other power-wheeclhair users to do the same. The homes are doorways to another time, and the Revolutionary War era comes to life within their walls but the late 1600’s were not a wheelchair-friendly time in architecture.  I’d suggest watching the HBO documentary “John Adams” (starring Laura Linney) or reading David McCullough’s historical novel, John Adams for a dose of the Adams family in the comfort of your own home.


The NPS does much that it can to accommodate the needs of wheelchair-users. I do not expect the government to retrofit these antique saltbox houses – an amendment which would substantially change the nature of the historic places – to accommodate power chairs.  To see the cramped nature of the few rooms, the low and dark doorway lintels, the utter simplicity of furnishings, and the cracks through the uninsulated walls is to begin to imagine what it was like to raise a family, carve out a life, and imagine a revolution.

I do expect the City of Boston to create ADA-conforming ramps and curb cuts to sidewalks, even in historic neighborhoods of Boston.  (See Laura McTaggart’s Cognoscenti article here on challenges by historic committees to pedestrian accessibility.)  It is the 21st century, and bicycles, skateboards, baby carriages, wheelchairs, walkers and canes all travel these streets now on their normal course of daily life.  To take a page from the revolutionaries:  don’t tread on our rights!