Boston Common is the oldest city park in the United States. The eccentric William Blaxton settled the land, all alone with his books, in the 1620s. In 1634 he sold the land to English Puritan colonists for use as a shared cow and sheep pasture. Each household contributed six shillings to the purchase. Eventually, the land was also used for military training, sometimes by colonists and sometimes by their British occupiers. Until 1817, the land was Boston’s site for public hangings. Livestock grazing was banned in 1830. In modern times, Boston Common serves mainly as a recreation center. It anchors Boston’s “Emerald Necklace”, a chain of parks that runs about seven miles through the city. The park itself measures about forty-four acres
As one of the nation’s oldest landmarks, Boston Common has become rich with items of historical interest. The park is home to the Central Burying Ground, one of Boston’s first graveyards. Among those buried there are choral composer William Billings, portrait artist Gilbert Stuart, and many casualties of the 1775 Battle of Bunker Hill. Unfortunately, the subway tunneling of 1894 disturbed more than 900 (perhaps 2,000) of the cemetery’s deceased residents! They were later reburied, and a tablet marks the location of the event.
Several monuments can be spotted throughout the Common. The Robert Gould Shaw Memorial, for example, is a Civil War monument honoring the first free black regiment in the Union Army. (Shaw commanded the all-volunteer regiment and is depicted in the Hollywood film “Glory”.) Another impressive Civil War sculpture is The Soldiers and Sailors Monument. Located atop the Common’s Flagstaff Hill, this neoclassical work of art rises an impressive 126 feet. Elsewhere, in the park’s Parkman Plaza, statues pay homage to the ideals of Industry, Learning, and Religion.
With so many acres of green space, the park has hosted many large public events. In 1713 a public riot broke out in response to a food shortage. Two hundred people were present, and the lieutenant governor was shot during the chaos. A century and half later, in 1969, a Vietnam protest drew 100,000 people. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Pope John Paul II also drew large crowds for their speeches. The park’s Parkman Bandstand holds smaller crowds for plays and concerts.
Boston Common is full of longstanding attractions for people of all ages. The Public Garden was established in 1837 as the nation’s oldest botanical garden. Prior to that time, the land had been a salty swamp. The 24-acre garden is especially famous for its fleet of swan-shaped boats. Weather permitting, visitors ride the boats from spring through autumn.
The Frog Pond is another popular destination within the park. The Frog Pond is a popular children’s wading pool in the summer. During the brisk Boston winters, it freezes into an ice skating rink. When the Frog Pond first opened in 1848, school was closed for a day just so children could play in the fountain! Today the Tadpole Playground is adjacent. Boston Common is flanked by other points of interest, such as: the Massachusetts State House, which stands to the north; Park Street Station – America’s first subway station – in the eastern corner; and Boylston Street Station – America’s second subway station – to the south. For those who prefer to walk, the Freedom Trail (a popular walking tour) also starts to the south of Boston Common at the Visitor Center.