Old State House. Public Building in Boston, United States

Old State House

Public Building in Boston, United States

Old State House, State St, Boston (493558) Photo © Robert Linsdell

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Old State House

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	State House - Old State House
Old State House - Old State House. Photo by Robert Linsdell
Known today as the Old State House, this building used to be the center of civic life in Boston in the 18th century. It stands at the intersection of State Street and Washington Street and is now dwarfed by the surrounding skyscrapers. The building has an incredibly rich history, as it was the setting for some of the most dramatic events leading up to the American Revolution. The first casualties of the battle for independence fell right outside the building. This event is now known as the Boston Massacre.

Since the new Massachusetts State House, located near the Boston Common on Beacon Hill, was officially opened in 1798, it has been used for a wide range of purposes. It has been a shopping mall, post office, city hall, offices, and a merchant’s exchange. Run by the Bostonian Society, it now is a wonderful museum that consists of two floors of exhibitions on the history of the colony, state, and country.


The brick Old State House was constructed in 1713 after the previous wooden building had been destroyed in the fire of 1711. One of the most interesting features of that building was a pair of large statues, a lion, and a unicorn, which were the symbols of the British monarchy. At the time, the state house was used as merchant’s exchange, warehouse, and government spaces. It housed the Courts of Suffolk County, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, the Council Chambers of the Royal Governor, and the chambers for the elected Massachusetts Assembly. The Massachusetts Assembly had a visitor’s gallery where people could see and listen to debates, the first place where that was possible in the English-speaking world. The Old State House was the center of politics and thoughts in the American colonies.

Boston Old State
	House - Old State House
Boston Old State House - Old State House. Photo by Madeleine Holland
It was there that, in 1761, James Otis gave a fiery speech against the Writs of Assistance (Wikipedia Article), which was a British policy that allowed the issuing of search warrants without charges, in the Royal Council. Although he lost his case, his speech is regarded as one of the major events leading to the American Revolution. In 1768, the House of Representatives of Massachusetts defied the Royal Governor and refused to oppose the united resistance to British taxes, a courageous move that was supported by patriots everywhere. The Brits replied with sending two regiments to Boston, who set up camp in the Boston Common.
The area beneath the balcony was where on March 5, 1770, a few hugely outnumbered British soldiers fired shots at an angry mob and killed five people. This event became – a little exaggerated – known as the Boston Massacre. It was from that balcony that Lieutenant Governor Thomas Hutchinson spoke to the mass and ordered them to go home.

Six years later, on July 18, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was proclaimed to a euphoric crowd from the same balcony by Colonel Thomas Crafts. The lion and unicorn statues were taken down and burned in a fire on King Street.

After the Revolutionary War, the building was home to the government of the new Commonwealth of Massachusetts until 1798, when the Massachusetts State House was finished. The building was Boston’s City Hall from 1830 until 1841. At the same time, it also served as the post office and office space. After the City Hall was moved to School Street, the building was rented out and used by several occupants, including clothing merchants, insurance agents and railroad officers.

In 1881, the Bostonian Society was created to prevent this historic building from demolition. Replicas of the lion and unicorn were added again to the building in 1882, as well as a statue of an eagle, the symbol of the United States. Queen Elizabeth II visited the Old State House on July 11, 1976, (the bicentenary of American independence) and addressed a huge crowd of Bostonians from that historic balcony.

Old State House - Old
	State House
Old State House - Old State House. Photo by Robert Linsdell

Visiting the Old State House

Nowadays, the Old State House is home to an excellent history museum and visitor center. It is surrounded by modern towering skyscrapers, a contrast that only adds to the feel of historic significance of the building. It stands above a subway station and can be entered from the basement or from ground level. The museum is open all year-round, except on major public holidays.

Similar Landmarks

The Old State House is located on Boston’s wonderful 2.5-mile Freedom Trail, a marked walking trail that runs through the heart of the historic city center and past several historic sites. Visitors can pick up a map at the visitor center inside the building.

Boston’s major historic sites include the Massachusetts State House, Boston Common; Granary Burying Ground (Wikipedia Article), Beacon Hill; the site of the Boston Massacre, Paul Revere House; the Old Corner Bookstore, and the Old South Meeting House, among several others.

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Author: bramreusen. Last updated: Jan 05, 2015

Pictures of Old State House

Old State House - Old State House
Old State House - Photo by Robert Linsdell


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