Boston Common, nearly 50 acres of open space in the heart of one of America’s great cities, is the appropriate starting point for Boston’s famed “Freedom Trail” self-guided walking tour of the city’s historic sites. It is the oldest public park in America, founded in 1634. It is bounded by the Beacon Hill neighborhood, the Public Garden, and downtown Boston.
The land that is now Boston Common was once owned by a man named William Blaxton. It was purchased from him by the Puritan leaders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and opened as a park to be used as a common area for the grazing of cattle.
It also served during its early years as a place of public execution for the most serious of criminals, including witches and those, such as Quakers, who favored religions other than that of the Puritans. The British Redcoat army camped on the Common before setting off for Lexington and Concord in 1775, for what turned out to be the start of the Revolutionary War.
In modern times, the Common has seen a 100,000 strong public protest against the Vietnam War in 1969, the largest ever Judy Garland concert, and speeches by Martin Luther King, Jr., Gloria Steinem, and Pope John Paul II, among others. Recurring events on the Common include Shakespeare performances, opera, marijuana legalization rallies, and gay pride gatherings.
Among the sights to see if you visit the Common are:
* The Soldiers and Sailors Monument
Located on a rise called Flag Staff Hill, this Monument to the Bostonian soldiers and sailors of the Civil War is a 126 foot high victory column. It was designed by Martin Milmore and dedicated in 1877.
* The Robert Gould Shaw Memorial
Colonel Robert Gould Shaw was the commander of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, the first free black regiment in the Union Army in the Civil War. The high-relief bronze monument to Gould and the 54th took artist Augustus Saint-Gaudens nearly fourteen years to complete, and was unveiled in 1897.
* Plaque to the Great Elm Tree
The Great Elm Tree was a landmark on the Common until it was destroyed by a gale in 1876. It served as the Common’s hanging tree, until a gallows was built for that purpose.
* Central Burying Ground
One of Boston’s oldest cemeteries, here were buried soldiers on both sides of the Revolution’s Battle of Bunker Hill, as well as the artist Gilbert Stuart (famous for his portrait of George Washington that appears on the one dollar bill), and Boston Tea Party participant Samuel Sprague.
* Parkman Bandstand
Built in 1912 in honor of benefactor George F. Parkman, who (in keeping with his name) donated $5 million dollars for the maintenance of Boston parks, the Parkman Bandstand is often the site of speeches, rallies, and concerts.
* Brewer Fountain
This 22 foot tall, seven ton bronze fountain, donated to the city by Gardner Brewer, is an exact replica of the fountain designed by French artist Paul Liénard for the 1855 Paris World’s Fair. It is decorated with the mythological figures Acis and Galatea, and Neptune and Amphitrite (Mrs. Neptune).
* The Frog Pond
The Frog Pond at the north end of the Common is a wading pool during the summer, and a skating rink during the winter.
Boston Common is a public park open year round, but be aware that there have been crime issues after dark, and in fact a late night curfew has been enforced since a 2007 shooting incident.
“Boston Common.” A View on Cities.
“Boston Common.” CityofBoston.gov.
“The Boston Common.” The Freedom Trail.