Originally built as a multipurpose building, Boston's Old State House continues that tradition to the present day.
In addition to being the city's oldest surviving public building and a museum dedicated to Revolutionary Boston, this Freedom Trail site also has the distinction of being the oldest historic building in the United States to house a subway station in its sub-basement.
After the Great Fire of 1711 destroyed an earlier 1658 building called the Town House, a new structure known as the New Town House arose from the ashes in 1713. Paul Revere worked in it during 1799-1800.
For much of the 18th century, however, the second floor of the Old State House contained offices for the British Royal Governors - and for the Massachusetts Assembly.
As you might imagine, this shared space became an explosive combination as tensions grew between England and the Colonials.
The status of the Old State House as a Freedom Trail site is explained by three critical events closely related to the Revolutionary War.
The first event occurred in 1761 when lawyer James Otis, Jr. spoke for 8 solid hours in opposition to the newly imposed Writs of Assistance, which gave British authorities the right to enter and search private homes and ships for smuggled goods.
John Adams called Otis's speech "the first scene of the first act of opposition to the arbitrary claims of Great Britain. Then and there the child Independence was born."
The second critical event occurred outside the Old State House under the east balcony on March 5, 1770, when British soldiers fired into a rowdy crowd of Colonials and killed 5 men. The Boston Massacre, as this terrible event came to be called, is considered the first bloodshed of the American Revolution.
Finally, on July 18, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was read for the first time in Boston from the East Balcony (shown in photo above) to a large crowd outside. Afterward, carved figures of a royal lion and unicorn, symbols of English rule, were ripped from the roof and burned in a huge bonfire.
The building had now officially become the Massachusetts State House . . . until 1798 when the government moved to the current State House.
The Old State House Museum has wonderful exhibits designed to make the events that shaped the making of the colony, state, and country come alive.
You'll find two floors of interactive, hands-on exhibitions about the role that the building played in the events leading up to the American Revolution - the Boston Tea Party, the Boston Massacre, and other events.
You can also see Paul Revere's famous engraving depicting the Boston Massacre. Although it appears in lots of elementary school history textbooks to illustrate the event, the museum points out that Revere deliberately misrepresented the actual event in order to use the picture as propaganda to incite anti-British feelings.
In other exhibits, you'll see real tea from the Boston Tea Party (recovered from a participant's boots!), John Hancock's coat, and other relics from the Revolutionary War period.
Open: Daily, except for major holidays. Call Museum for hours. The Museum is not wheelchair accessible because its status as a National Landmark makes adding an elevator problematic at this time.
Cost: $8.50 Adult admission (ages 18 and under are free) - or get free admission when you have a ticket to the Old Town Trolley tour, a GoBoston discount card, or Boston CityPASS.
Location: Corner of Washington and State Streets, Downtown Boston
Closest T station: Orange and Blue Lines/State Street (in the sub-basement of the building - look for signs on Washington Street)
For more information: 617-720-1713; website
Vintage (early 1900s) photo of the Old State House at above right: St. Botolph's Town, by Mary Caroline Crawford, published by the Colonial Press: C.H. Simonds & Co., Boston, 1908; reissued digitally by Kellscraft.com
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