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
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.
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