Boston Common

The Boston Common or “The Commonage,” founded in 1634 for the people’s collective benefit as pastureland for all, is the oldest public park in America.

In Colonial times, the Common served as a meeting place, pasture, and military training field. Back then, the area was open pasture, with few trees, some undulating land, and small ponds. The Central Burying Ground located within the Common at Tremont and Arlington Streets is one of Boston’s 16 ancient burying grounds.

In the 1830s, cows were removed from the Common, ponds were filled, many higher areas were lowered. Avenues of trees defined tree-lined malls, and paths create a circulation network. In 1836, an ornamental fence was constructed around the perimeter. Gateways were introduced. During the Civil War, soldier recruitment efforts and anti-slavery meetings were held here.

In 1897, the nation’s first subway system opened here, built with tunnels constructed under the Common, resulting in the removal of the American Elm Avenue of Tremont Mall (later named Lafayette Mall). Also in 1897, a memorial was created for Colonel Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, the Union’s first free black regiment, by sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens and architect Charles McKim.  

By the end of the 19th century, the Common was transformed into the park we know today.  

A number of designers have worked on the Boston Common over the years, including: the Olmsted brothers, Arthur Asahel Shurtleff (Shurcliff), Shurcliff and Merrill, and Carol Johnson Associates. 

Learn more about the history of the Boston Common.
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