The “Freedom Trail” includes both the old and new Massachusetts State House, though even the “new” one-which is the second stop on the Trail-dates back to 1798.
Shortly after the United States won its independence from Great Britain through revolution, with Massachusetts as one of its original 13 states, it was decided that the state government would move from its location at the corner of Washington and State Streets.
The land chosen for the new State House on Beacon Street on top of Beacon Hill had once been a cow pasture owned by John Hancock. Local Bostonian Charles Bulfinch was chosen to design the building. Samuel Adams and Paul Revere laid its cornerstone on July 4, 1795.
Though the building has been greatly expanded and renovated over the years, and its interior almost completely redone, some of its original features remain, including the red brick and Doric columns in front.
The State House’s most striking feature may be its golden dome. The dome was originally a gray wood, but in order to solve a problem of leaks, it was given a copper coating by Paul Revere’s company in 1802. The dome was later painted gray to resemble stone, and then yellow to resemble gold. In 1874, it was covered with 23 carat gold leaf. In World War II the gold was covered with dark gray paint out of fear that the shiny dome would be too visible a target for bombers. The paint was scraped off after the war. In 1997, the dome was regilded with gold leaf.
Two notable accouterments of the building are a wooden codfish (the “Sacred Cod”) hanging in the State House of Representatives chamber and a wooden pine cone atop the golden dome. These represent two of the state’s most significant industries historically-fishing and logging. (Not to be outdone, the State Senate later had a brass “Holy Mackerel” added to its chamber.)
The Massachusetts State House is not just an historical site; it continues to be the seat of government for Massachusetts today.
Guided or self-guided tours of the interior are available, and worth considering as there are many impressive sights inside. The Doric Room with its ten Greek columns contains busts of famous Americans, a large portrait of Abraham Lincoln, and cannons from the War of 1812. The Italian marble Hall of Flags Room contains 400 flags, colorful murals of famous moments in American history, the seals of each of the original 13 colonies, and a stained glass skylight.
The oldest surviving building on Beacon Hill, the Massachusetts State House is one of the most spectacular stops on Boston’s “Freedom Trail.”
“Massachusetts State House.” Boston Discovery Guide.
“Massachusetts State House.” City of Boston.
“The State House.” The Freedom Trail.