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November 30, 2013

3

Old State House Museum – Boston Massachusetts

by Jason Dutton-Smith

You can’t help but feel a sense of great history when walking the charming streets of Boston. History is everywhere and it seems to hang in the air, oozing off the historic buildings and cityscapes like a warm mist after a summer rain. I always knew there was a deep, rich history in this incredible city, and then I stumbled upon Old State House Museum. I couldn’t believe what I had read on the entry plaque – was this true? I knew I was going to be in for a surprise.

‘Within these walls John Adams, John Hancock, Samuel Adams, and other patriots debated the future of American self-government and set in motion the American Revolution.’

Old State House entrance plaque

Old State House entrance plaque

Ironically just the month prior I had watched the HBO series entitled John Adams, a wonderful recounting of the life and times of patriot, diplomat and future president, John Adams of Boston. Adams helped rally the American people in the face of war and was instrumental in shaping the destiny of the new American nation, one with a peaceful future with liberty for all. I was completely intrigued by these moments in time and of these unassuming men who began a movement that changed history – and the Old State House is where much of this early American history took place.

Old State House - Downtown Boston

Old State House – Downtown Boston

Suddenly here I am – the same spot where Adams and other American forefathers had gathered and debated what the future of America should be. The very same spot where the American Constitution was read for the first time to Bostonians in the 1700’s from the small, unassuming balcony that still stands today. Now close allies, this is the same balcony where two hundred years later in 1976 Queen Elizabeth II stepped out onto to deliver a bi-centennial speech of friendship and goodwill. One can only imagine what these American forefathers would have thought if they had known that one day the British Monarch would be standing on that very same balcony making such a friendly speech.

Inside Old State House

Built in 1712 and situated in the heart of downtown Boston, Old State House exudes history and cultural significance.  As I walked up to the stately old structure and through the rather small entryway located on the side of the building, I was met with a large and ornate spiral staircase just a few steps inside. The staircase was added much later, in 1830, but its fascinating appearance made me even more curious about the history to be found here. Like a small boy I desperately wanted to run up that staircase, eager to explore the three levels of this three hundred year old site. Alas, I was merged to the right and into a large room that housed the museum entrance and a small gift shop where I met my tour guide. This though was just the beginning as history was about to unfold before my eyes.

Spiral staircase at entrance of Old State House

Spiral staircase at entrance of Old State House

Floor levels of the Old State House Boston

Floor levels of the Old State House Boston

Original writing desk from 1700's

Original writing desk from 1700’s

The building housed several rooms and chambers and accommodated more people then what first looks possible. The basement was used as a warehouse, while the other two floors included a Merchant Exchange, Council Chamber of the Royal Governor (the British influence was still very notable at this time), the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court and chambers for the Court of Suffolk County. The middle part of the building was reserved for the elected Massachusetts Assembly which interestingly was noted as the first of its kind to include public galleries.

John Hancock's suit, note book, satchel and chest

John Hancock’s suit, note book, satchel and chest

The Boston Massacre

Most notably however, Old State House was used as a place for debate among prominent Boston residents who were unhappy with British rule. By the 1760’s relations between the American colonists and Great Britain were severely frayed. The Old State House was a witness to history in many ways and it was just outside its doors on a cold and wintery night in 1770 where The Boston Massacre took place. British soldiers opened fire on a group of protesting colonists, killing five and wounding many others. Colonists were furious and the massacre became a battle-cry and just one more event that galvanised public support for the bloody revolution that was to come.

Old State House today

Long after independence, the building was used as Boston’s City Hall (1830-1841) followed by various commercial occupants such as tailors, insurance companies, railroad offices and many other businesses. In fact at one stage there were up to 50 different businesses that occupied the building.

It seems unimaginable today, but in 1881 the Old State House was slated for demolition to make way for city expansion. But at 169 years old, the building had become a fixture and thankfully many citizens recognised its historical significance. The Bostonian Society was formed to save the old building and it was instrumental in the sites preservation.

Old State House corner in historic downtown Boston

Old State House corner in historic downtown Boston

Original weather vain atop the Old State House Boston

Original weather vain atop the Old State House Boston

In 1904 a subway station was added near one corner of the building’s basement which today links the blue and orange lines. Ironically there is more damage to the building from the harsh Massachusetts winter weather then the constant shaking and rattling of the subway trains which surprised me.

Exploring this historic site I was overwhelmed at the sense of history that has soaked into every floor board and every brick of this incredible building. Thanks to the Bostonian Society, The Old State House remains open to the public. Today, surrounded by gleaming, towering skyscrapers, Old State House may be dwarfed in size, but it is filled with unmatched history, style and substance. This beautiful old colonial treasure will forever outshine those modern day buildings. She remains a wonderful reminder of the struggle for independence and of a time never to be forgotten.

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Mar 4 2014

    It’s such an interesting place to explore. I’m a big fan of local history and traditions! That would be definitely on my bucket list!

    Reply

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