Boston Common: A user's guide
If you want to catch the Boston vibe, head to this bustling 50-acre city park that started out as a popular grazing spot for dairy cows.
Fri, Jul 08 2011 at 8:16 AM
A PARK OF MANY STATUES: A statue of George Washington in Boston Common, with the Government Center skyscrapers looming in the background. (Photo: timrawle/Flickr)
Created in 1634, Boston Common is the nation’s oldest park and the green heart of the city. A 50-acre oasis of lawns and shade trees bounded by Tremont, Beacon, Charles, Park and Boylston streets, Boston Common is bustling with activity: softball games, Ultimate Frisbee pick-up games, splashing in Frog Pond during the summer and skating on Frog Pond during the winter. It’s a site for concerts and political demonstrations.
If you want to get a feel for Boston, spend a lazy afternoon here.
Boston Common began as a common grazing area for nearby homeowners of the new city. Grazing was limited to 70 dairy cows. The park was also used for public hangings, as the Puritans took advantage of some of the large oaks on the grounds. Gallows were built in 1769 to replace the use of trees — a somewhat macabre evolution of the park. The gallows were removed in 1817.
In the early years, Boston Common was also used as a dump. City fathers in 1652 made it a crime to dump garbage in the park, thus enacting the nation’s first littering law.
British troops camped on Boston Common starting in 1768 prior to the Revolution and marched from here to battle Minutemen at Lexington and Concord in April 1775.
Historic figures such as Charles Lindberg, President Franklin Roosevelt and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. have spoken at massive rallies held here. Pope John Paul II drew 400,000 people when celebrating his first Mass in North America here in 1979.
Things to do
The spray pool at Frog Pond is a swell spot to splash about and cool off. When winter returns this is also the spot to come ice skating (at right.) The kids will also get a kick out of the 20-seat carousel that features a tea cup, horses and, of course, a frog.
Take a stroll across Charles Street to the Public Garden, established in 1837 as the first public botanical garden in the United States. Adults will enjoy the formal plantings in the 24-acre garden and kids will enjoy a cruise on a Swan Boat. Operating on the garden lagoon since 1877, a paddleboat captain does all the work and takes passengers on a 15-minute cruise.
Why you’ll want to come back
The Boston Common is as much a stage for street theater as it is a park. The show changes every day.
Flora and fauna
Bird commonly seen in Boston Common include blue jays, robins, rock doves, black capped chickadees, tufted titmouse and even red tail hawks.
Elms, linden, oaks, ash trees, cherry trees and crabapple trees shade the landscape.
By the numbers:
- Website: Boston Common
- Park size: 50 acres
- Funky fact: The grounds have been reshaped many times since 1634. Just one of three original ponds and one of four original hills remains.
This is part of Explore America's Parks, a series of user's guides to national, state and local park systems across the United States. We'll be adding new parks all summer, so check back for more.
Inset photo of ice skaters on Frog Pond: EandJsFilmCrew/Flickr