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Boston Common (also known as "the Common") is a central public park in Boston, Massachusetts. It is sometimes erroneously referred to as the "Boston Commons". Dating from 1634, it is the oldest city park in the United States. The Boston Common consists of 50 acre of land bounded by Tremont Street, Park Street, Beacon Street, Charles Street, and Boylston Street. The Common is part of the Emerald Necklace of parks and parkways that extend from the Common south to Franklin Park in Roxbury. A visitors' center for all of Boston is located on the Tremont Street side of the park.

The Central Burying Ground is found on the Boylston Street side of Boston Common. There, one can find the burial sites of the artist Gilbert Stuart and the composer William Billings. Also buried there are Samuel Sprague and his son, Charles Sprague, one of America's earliest poets. Samuel Sprague was a participant in the Boston Tea Party and fought in the Revolutionary War.


The Common's purpose has changed over the years. It was once owned by William Blaxton (often given the modernized spelling "Blackstone"), the first European settler of Boston, until it was bought from him by the Puritan founders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. During the 1630s, it was used by many families as a cow pasture. However, this only lasted for a few years, as affluent families bought additional cows, which led to overgrazing, a real-life example of the Tragedy of the commons.

The Common was used as a camp by the British before the American Revolutionary War, from which they left for the Battle of Lexington and Concord. It was used for public hangings up until 1817, most of which were from a large oak which was replaced with gallows in 1769. In 1660 Mary Dyer was hanged there by the Puritans for preaching Quakerism.

On May 19, 1713, two hundred citizens rioted on the Common in reaction to a food shortage in the city. They later attacked the ships and warehouses of wealthy merchant Andrew Belcher, who was exporting grain to the Caribbean for higher profits. The lieutenant governor was shot during the riot.

True park status seems to have emerged no later than 1830, when the grazing of cows was ended and renaming the Common as Washington Park was proposed (renaming the bordering Sentry Street to Park Street in 1808 already acknowledged the reality). By 1836 an ornamental iron fence fully enclosed the Common and its five perimeter malls or recreational promenades, the first of which, Tremont Mall, had been in place since 1728, in imitation of St. James's Park in London. Given these improvements dating back to 1728, a case could be made that Boston Common is in fact the world's first public urban park, since these developments precede the establishment of the earliest public urban parks in England—Derby Arboretum (1840), Peel Park, Salford (1846), and Birkenhead Park (1847)—which are often considered the first.

A hundred people gathered on the Common in early 1965 to protest the Vietnam War. A second protest happened on October 15, 1969, this time with 100,000 people protesting.

Today the Common serves as a public park for all to use for formal or informal gatherings. Events such as concerts, protests, softball games, and ice skating (on Frog Pond) often take place in the park. Famous individuals such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Pope John Paul II have made speeches there. Judy Garland gave her largest concert ever (100,000+) on the Common, on August 31, 1967.

It was declared a U.S. National Historic Landmark in 1987.

Notable features of the Common

  • The Massachusetts State House stands across Beacon Street from the northern edge of the Common.
  • The Common forms the southern foot of Beacon Hill.
  • Plaque to the Great Elm tree, which had been adorned with lanterns to represent liberty, used as a point of fortification and been used for hangings.
  • The monument to Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry stands at Beacon and Park Streets, the northeast corner of the Common, opposite the State House.
  • The Soldiers and Sailors Monument is a victory column on Flag Staff Hill in the Common
  • The Boston Public Garden, a more formal landscaped park, lies to the west of the Common across Charles Street (and was originally considered an extension of the Common).
  • Frog Pond, a public ice-skating rink in winter months, is situated in the northern portion.
  • Brewer Fountain, standing near the corner of Park and Tremont Streets, by Park Street Station. The 22 ft, 15000 lb bronze fountain, cast in Paris, was a gift to the city by Gardner Brewer; it began to function for the first time on June 3, 1868. It is the only known surviving copy of the original, featured at the 1855 Paris World Fair, designed by French artist Liénard.[1] The fountain is decorated with the figures of Neptune, Amphitrite (Neptune’s wife), and Acis and Galatea, a couple from Greek mythology.[2] It fell into disrepair and finally stopped functioning entirely in 2003. A major repair project began in 2009.[3] After a year-long, $640,000, complete off-site restoration, led by sculpture conservator Joshua Craine of Daedalus Inc., it was once again fully functional, and was re-dedicated on May 26, 2010.[4][5]
  • Park Street Station, the first subway station in America, stands at the eastern corner of the park.
  • Boylston Station at the southern corner is America's second subway station. Originally a horse-pulled underground rail line was used between Park Street Station and Boylston Station.
  • Boston Common is the southern end of Boston's Freedom Trail; the starting point is near Park Street Station.
  • Parkman Bandstand, in the eastern part of the park, is commonly used in musical and theatrical productions.
  • The softball fields lie in the southwest corner of the Common.
  • A grassy area forms the west part of the park, and is most commonly used for the park's largest events. A parking garage underlies this part of the Common. A granite slab there commemorates Pope John Paul II's October 1979 visit to Boston.
  • Since 1971 the Province of Nova Scotia has donated the annual Christmas Tree to the City of Boston as an enduring thank-you for the relief efforts of the Boston Red Cross and the Massachusetts Public Safety Committee following the Halifax Explosion of 1917. In recent years the tree has been located on the Common.
  • The Masonic Grand Lodge of Massachusetts headquarters sits across from the southern corner of the Common, at the intersection of Boylston and Tremont Streets.
  • Also across from the southern corner of the Common, along Boylston and Tremont Streets, lies the campus of Emerson College.
  • In 1913 and 1986 prehistoric sites were discovered on the Common indicating Native American presence in the area as far back as 8,500 years ago.
  • A monumental inscription at the corner of Park Street and Tremont Street reads:
"In or about
the year of our Lord
One Thousand Six Hundred
thirty and four
the then present inhabitants
of the Town of Boston of whom
the Hon John Winthrop Esq
Gov of the Colony was Chiefe
did treat and agree with
Mr William Blackstone
for the purchase of his
Estate and any
Lands living within said
neck of Land called
after which purchase the
Town laid out a plan for
a trayning field for which ever
since and now is used for
that purpose and for
the feeding of cattell"
  • Sometime in late 2011, or early 2012, Florida-based Earl of Sandwich is going to open a takeout sandwich shop in an old restroom on Boston Common. The restroom hasn't been used in 20 years.

Notable recurring events on the Common

  • Commonwealth Shakespeare Company's Shakespeare on the Common.
  • Boston Lyric Opera's Outdoor Opera Series.
  • Ancient Fishweir Project Installation Event.
  • Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition's Freedom Rally.
  • Boston Pride.

See also

  • Boston martyrs
  • Granary Burying Ground
  • King's Chapel burying ground
  • Boston Public Garden

Further reading

  • The public rights in Boston Common: Being the report of a committee of citizens. Boston: Press of Rockwell and Churchill, 1877 Google books
  • Samuel Barber. Boston Common: a diary of notable events, incidents, and neighboring occurrences, 2nd ed. Boston: Christopher Publishing House, 1916. Google books

External links