On the morning of Saturday, July 18, 2015, we found ourselves in the Boston Common at the starting point for the historic Freedom Trail. Our adventure had started a day earlier with a pair of tickets to anywhere JetBlue flies, combined with a nearly spontaneous decision to spend the weekend in Boston hiking through history.
The Boston Common was established in 1634 and the 44 acre park is the oldest in United States. It serves as the anchor for the Emerald Necklace, a system of nine connected parks. Originally the southwest corner of the park was the shore of the Charles River. During the British occupation of Boston, over 1,000 Redcoats made camp on the Common. The troops embarked from there in April 1775 to face colonial resistance at Lexington and Concord.
The park was used for public hangings until 1817 and to graze local livestock until 1830. In more recent years, the park hosted a civil rights rally by Martin Luther King, Jr., anti-Vietnam rallies, and Pope John Paul II celebrated mass there. The park now hosts several citywide festivals and performances each year. During the weekend of our visit, Boston Common was home to the free Outside the Box music performing arts festival.
The National Park Service operates a Visitor’s Center for the Freedom Trail at the edge of Boston Common. The trail itself is marked with a line of red brick embedded in the sidewalk and winding for 2.2 miles through the center of Boston.
Our first stop on the Trail was the State House, located at the top of Beacon hill and just across the street from the Boston Common.
The State House was built in 1798 on land previously owned by the first elected governor of Massachusetts, John Hancock. The building was designed by Charles Bullfinch, considered the leading architect of the day.
The State House dome originally was constructed using wooden shingles. Today the dome is sheathed in copper and covered by 23 karat gold, which was added to prevent leaks. A wooden pinecone — symbolizing logging in Massachusetts during the 18th century — sits at the very top of the dome. In the chambers of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, a wooden codfish known as the “Sacred Codfish” hangs in recognition of the importance of the fishing industry to the Commonweath.
Thomas Crease built this structure as his apothecary and residence shortly after the great fire of 1711 destroyed Anne Hutchinson’s house on this site. Timothy Carter opened the Old Corner Bookstore here in 1829. Between 1845 and 1865, the booksellers Ticknor and Fields established the building’s lasting literary significance as the publishers of Hawthorne, Longfellow, Stowe, Emerson, Thoreau and other prominent American and British authors, who often gathered here.
In 1960, civic leaders raised money and established Historic Boston Incorporated to acquire and preserve this building. Historic Marker — The Bostonian Society
In a touch of historic resonance, we were at the Old State House exactly 139 years after the Declaration of Independence was read publicly for the first time in Boston. On July 18, 1776, citizens gathered in the street to hear the Declaration of Independence read from the building’s balcony, the first public reading in Massachusetts.