If you walk the famous “Freedom Trail” of historic sites in Boston, the ninth of the sixteen stops you will encounter is the Old State House at 206 Washington Street, at the corner of Washington and State Street.
Today the Old State House is a museum, maintained by the Bostonian Society. You can certainly admire the classic old building from the outside for free as you walk the “Trail,” but if you would like to see the interior of the building and its exhibits, this is one of only a few sites on the “Freedom Trail” that charges admission-$7.50 for adults, $6 for seniors and adult students, and $3 for ages 5-18. The building is open seven days a week year round, except for New Year’s, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and one week of annual maintenance in February. It opens at 9 AM each morning, and closes at 4 PM, 5 PM, or 6 PM depending on the time of year.
The Old State House is the oldest surviving public building in Boston, but it stands on the site of a much older building that it replaced. From 1658 until it burned down in 1711, this was the location of the Boston Town House, a wooden structure that included a large marketplace, and facilities for the Massachusetts Bay Colony legislature, the Boston town elders, the courts, and other official bodies to meet.
The Old State House, a brick structure, was built in 1713 to replace the destroyed Town House. It itself was severely damaged by fire in 1747, and subsequently largely rebuilt. It was during this rebuilding that the distinctive figures of a British lion and unicorn were added to the structure, as symbols of British authority.
As the center of Boston’s civic life, it’s not surprising that the Old State House was the site of many key events leading up to the American Revolution.
It was in the Old State House that Samuel Adams railed against taxation without representation, and James Otis protested against unwarranted search and seizure. In 1770, the Boston Massacre occurred in front of the building, resulting in the deaths of five men and further intensifying anti-British sentiment.
In 1776, the Declaration of Independence was read from the balcony of the Old State House. The aroused citizens tore down the British lion and unicorn, and burned them in a bonfire.
Under the new American government, the building served as the Massachusetts State House until 1798, when it was replaced by the new (and current) Massachusetts State House at Beacon and Park Streets.
After that, the building went through various physical changes, and usage changes. It has housed various commercial enterprises, including shops and restaurants, it has functioned as a Masonic lodge, and it was the site of Boston City Hall for approximately a decade. The conversion of the building to a museum, and its restoration to something closer to its 18th century appearance (including the addition of replicas of the lion and unicorn figures that had been destroyed) began in 1881.
Exhibits within the museum tell about the history of the building itself, the Boston Massacre, and Colonial and Revolutionary Boston. It is not a large museum; most visitors can comfortably see all there is to see in an hour or less, before resuming their walk on the “Freedom Trail.”
“Old State House.” The Freedom Trail.
“Old State House Museum.” The Bostonian Society.