Boston Common

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Boston Common
Boston common 1848.jpg
View of the water celebration on Boston Common on October 25, 1848
Boston Common is located in Boston
Boston Common
Boston Common is located in Massachusetts
Boston Common
Boston Common is located in the United States
Boston Common
LocationBoston, Massachusetts
Area50 acres (200,000 m2)[1]
ArchitectMultiple, including Augustus St. Gaudens
NRHP reference No.72000144 (original)
87000760 (new)
Significant dates
Added to NRHPJuly 12, 1972 (original, in NRHP also including Boston Public Garden)
February 27, 1987 (new, in NHL of Boston Common alone)[2]
Designated NHLDFebruary 27, 1987[3]

The Boston Common (also known as the Common) is a central public park in downtown Boston, Massachusetts. It is sometimes erroneously called the Boston Commons.[4][5] Dating from 1634, it is the oldest city park in the United States.[6] The Boston Common consists of 50 acres (20 ha) of land bounded by Tremont Street (139 Tremont St.), 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 Jamaica Plain, Roxbury, and Dorchester. A visitors' center for all of Boston is on the Tremont Street side of the park.

Aerial view in 2017

The Central Burying Ground is on the Boylston Street side of Boston Common and contains the graves 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 was designated as a Boston Landmark by the Boston Landmarks Commission in 1977.[7]


Granary Burying Ground
View of John Hancock's house from across the Common, 1768
Boston Street Scene (Boston Common), Edward Mitchell Bannister, a depiction of the street and Boston Common area in 1898–99.[8]
Boston Common aerial view

Boston Common originally included the entire block northeast of where Park Street is now, bounded by Beacon Street and Tremont Street. What is now called the Granary Burying Ground was established on this land in 1660, as part of the Common. In 1662, the land was separated from the Common; the southwest portion of the block was taken for public buildings including the Granary and a house of correction,[9] and the north portion of the block was used for an almshouse (probably the first in the Thirteen Colonies).[10][11]

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 in 1634 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".[12] After grazing was limited in 1646 to 70 cows at a time,[13] the Boston Common continued to host cows until they were formally banned from it in 1830 by Mayor Harrison Gray Otis.[14]

Execution of Ann Hibbins on Boston Common, on charges of witchcraft, June 19, 1656. Sketch by F.T. Merril, 1886

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 a gallows in 1769. On June 1, 1660, Quaker Mary Dyer was hanged there by the Puritans for repeatedly defying a law that banned Quakers from the Colony.[15] Dyer was one of the four Quakers executed on the Common and known as the Boston martyrs.[16][17]

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 British West Indies for higher profits. The lieutenant governor was shot during the riot.[18]

Central Burying Ground on Boston Common
1890 Map of Boston Common and the adjacent Public Garden

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 Place (later to be called Park Street) in 1804[19] 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.[citation needed] The park was originally "out of bounds" for Black and American Indian people, a restriction that was fought by the Black community in Boston until it was lifted on July 4, 1836.[20]

Originally, the Charles Street side of Boston Common, along with the adjacent portions of the Public Garden, were used as an unofficial dumping ground, due to being the lowest-lying portions of the two parks; this, along with the Garden's originally having been a salt marsh, resulted in the portions of the two parks being "a moist stew that reeked and that was a mess to walk over", driving visitors away from these areas. Although plans had long been in place to regrade the Charles Street-facing portions of Boston Common and the Public Garden, the cost of moving the amount of soil necessary (approximately 62,000 cu yd (47,000 m3), weighing 93,000 short tons (84,000,000 kg), for the Common, plus an additional 9,000 cu yd (6,900 m3), weighing 14,000 short tons (13,000,000 kg), for the adjoining portions of the Public Garden) prevented the work from being undertaken. This finally changed in the summer of 1895, when the required quantity of soil was made available as a result of the excavation of the Tremont Street subway, and was used to regrade the Charles Street sides of both Boston Common and the Public Garden.[21]

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 in the Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam.[22][23]

Ice skaters at Boston Common Frog Pond in downtown Boston, Massachusetts
Ice skaters at Boston Common Frog Pond in downtown Boston, Massachusetts

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.[1][3] The Boston Common is a public park managed by the Boston Park Department and cared for by Friends of the Public Garden, a private advocacy group, which also provides additional funding for maintenance and special events.[24]

Mikhail Gorbachev gave a speech in the Common on May 31, 1990, on his way to Washington D.C. to sign agreements with U.S. President George H.W. Bush.[citation needed]

On October 21, 2006, the Common became the site of a new world record, when 30,128 Jack-o'-lanterns were lit simultaneously around the park at the Life is good Pumpkin Festival.[25] The previous record, held by Keene, New Hampshire since 2003, was 28,952.[26]

On August 27, 2007, two teenagers were shot on the Common. One of the bullets fired during the shooting struck the Massachusetts State House.[27] A strict curfew has since been enforced, which has been protested by the homeless population of Boston.[28][29]

On January 21, 2017, approximately 175,000 people marched from the common to the Back Bay vicinity to profess resistance to the anti-female viewpoints held by president Donald Trump.[30]

On August 19, 2017, approximately 40,000 people marched from Roxbury Crossing to Boston Common to protest hate speech and white supremacy, in the wake of events in Charlottesville, VA the week before. A right-wing "Free Speech" rally had been planned on Boston Common, which some feared would draw members of the KKK, Neo Nazis and other hate groups. Boston Mayor Marty Walsh deemed the "Fight Supremacy" counter protest a great success.[31]

Notable features[edit]

Boston Common in the fall of 2016


Children celebrating the annual opening day of the Frog Pond Spray Pool.
Children celebrating the annual opening day of the Frog Pond Spray Pool

The Common forms the southern foot of Beacon Hill. Boston Common is the southern end of Boston's Freedom Trail.

The Boston Common Frog Pond sits at the heart of Boston Common. Managed by The Skating Club of Boston in partnership with the City of Boston,[32] Frog Pond is home to a winter ice skating rink and learn-to-skate school, a reflecting pool in the spring and fall, and a summer spray pool and children's carousel.

The softball fields lie in the southwest corner of the Common. A grassy area forms the western part of the park and is most commonly used for the park's largest events. A parking garage lies under this part of the Common. A granite slab there commemorates Pope John Paul II's October 1, 1979 visit to Boston. The Pope said mass that day to an estimated 400,000 people.[33]

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.[34]

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.[35]


Neighboring structures[edit]

The Massachusetts State House overlooks part of the Common
  • The Massachusetts State House stands across Beacon Street from the northern edge of 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).
  • The Masonic Grand Lodge of Massachusetts headquarters sits across from the southern corner of the Common at the intersection of Boylston and Tremont Streets.
  • Across from the southern corner of the Common, along Boylston and Tremont Streets, lies the campus of Emerson College.
  • Across from the Common, to the southeast, Suffolk University has a dormitory on Tremont Street.

Notable recurring events[edit]

Women's Pole Vaulting on the Boston Common during Boost Boston Games 2017

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b James H. Charleton (November 1985). "National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination: Boston Common" (PDF). National Park Service. Retrieved June 22, 2009. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help) and Accompanying photos: one aerial from 1972 and three from 1985 (1.43 MB)
  2. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. January 23, 2007.
  3. ^ a b "Boston Common". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. Retrieved April 16, 2008.
  4. ^ "Boston Common". City of Boston. Retrieved November 9, 2011.
  5. ^ "Place Names: Boston English". Adam Gaffin and by content posters. Retrieved November 9, 2011.
  6. ^ "Boston Common". 2006. Retrieved March 26, 2011.
  7. ^ City of Boston. "Boston Common Study Report, Boston Landmarks Commission" (PDF).
  8. ^ "Boston Street Scene (Boston Common)". The Walters Art Museum.
  9. ^ Shurtleff, Nathaniel Bradstreetl (1871). A Topographical and Historical Description of Boston. Boston: Boston City Council. pp. 211.
  10. ^ Vale, Lawrence J. (2000). From the Puritans to the Projects: Public Housing and Public Neighbors. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. p. 13. ISBN 978-0674025752.
  11. ^ Vale, Lawrence J. (2000). From the Puritans to the Projects: Public Housing and Public Neighbors. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. p. 28. ISBN 978-0674025752.
  12. ^ Loewen, James (1999). Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong. New York: The New Press. p. 414. ISBN 0-9650031-7-5.
  13. ^ Boston Common & Public Gardens - Great Public Spaces | Project for Public Spaces Archived November 8, 2011, at the Wayback Machine. PPS. Retrieved on August 21, 2013.
  14. ^ Lowen, James (1994) Planning the City Upon a Hill: Boston Since 1630University of Massachusetts Press (Boston) ISBN 0-87023-923-6, ISBN 978-0-87023-923-6, p. 53
  15. ^ Rogers, Horatio, 2009. Mary Dyer of Rhode Island: The Quaker Martyr That Was Hanged on Boston pp.1–2. BiblioBazaar, LLC
  16. ^ J. Besse, A Collection of the Sufferings of the People called Quakers, 1753, Vol. 2, pp. 203-05.
  17. ^ ODNB article by John C. Shields, 'Leddra, William (d. 1661)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, May 2007 [1], accessed August 16, 2009
  18. ^ Zinn, Howard. A People's History of the United States. New York: Perennial, 2003. p.51 ISBN 0-06-052837-0
  19. ^ "A Brief History of the Union Club". The Union Club of Boston. Archived from the original on April 1, 2012. Retrieved October 4, 2012.
  20. ^ Hayden, Robert C. (1991). African-Americans in Boston: More than 350 Years (2nd ed.). Boston, Massachusetts: Trustees of the Public Library of the City of Boston. p. 34. ISBN 0-89073-083-0.
  21. ^ Most, Doug (2014). The Race Underground: Boston, New York, and the Incredible Rivalry that Built America's First Subway. St. Martin's Press. pp. 233–234. ISBN 978-1-250-06135-5.
  22. ^ Zinn, Howard. p.486
  23. ^ Hastings, Max (2018). Vietnam: An Epic Tragedy, 1945-1975 (1 ed.). New York, NY. ISBN 978-0-06-240566-1. OCLC 1001744417.
  24. ^ "Friends of the Public Garden".
  25. ^ ""Life is good" site". Archived from the original on March 9, 2008.
  26. ^ Levenson, Michael; McCabe, Kathy (October 22, 2006). "A love in Common for pumpkins". The Boston Globe.
  27. ^ Drake, John C. (August 28, 2007). "Shots on Common strike teens, State House". The Boston Globe.
  28. ^ Abel, David (August 30, 2007). "Curfew targets crime on Common". The Boston Globe.
  29. ^ "Homeless Protest Boston Common Curfew: Park Closed After 11 P.M." TheBostonChannel.Com. August 30, 2007. Archived from the original on June 4, 2008. Retrieved April 16, 2008.
  30. ^ "Crowd Of Up To 175,000 Packs Boston Common For Women's March". January 21, 2017. Retrieved November 30, 2017.
  31. ^ LeBlanc, Steve (August 20, 2017). "Massive counter-protest upstages 'free speech' rally in Boston". The Boston Globe.
  32. ^ "The Boston Common Frog Pond | The Skating Club of Boston". Retrieved November 3, 2017.
  33. ^ "Boston marks 35 years since Pope St. John Paul II's visit".
  34. ^ Research at Boston University. (January 10, 2007). Retrieved on 2013-08-21.
  35. ^ "Boston Common tree arrives; Mayor will virtually light tree on December 3". November 19, 2020.
  36. ^ "Boston Common Great Elm".
  37. ^ Winthrop Saltonstall Scudder, An historical sketch of the Oneida football club of Boston, 1862-1865 (Boston, 1926)

Further reading[edit]

  • 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. Internet Archive

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 42°21′18″N 71°03′56″W / 42.35500°N 71.06556°W / 42.35500; -71.06556

Preceded by
First location – beginning of trail
Locations along Boston's Freedom Trail
Boston Common
Succeeded by