Your hometown Fourth of July festivities may boast the longest parade, the brassiest bands, the tastiest ice cream, or the brightest fireworks for miles around. But few places can match the color or spectacle that surround the annual Independence Day march to the Old State House in Boston, a building brimming with colonial charm and historical import.
A Centuries-Old Tradition
This year continues a tradition that has extended almost uninterrupted since 1776. The Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts, with bagpipes wailing and the thunder of musket fire crashing against the walls of neighboring buildings, makes its way to the Old State House. As the crowd of spectators gathers below the buildings east-facing balcony, the companys Captain Commanding – this year CPT. Paul J. Covell – will solemnly read the Declaration of Independence.
That same balcony served as the spot, on July 18, 1776, when Col. Thomas Crafts read that same historic document for the first time publically in Boston. Six years earlier, the Boston Massacre had taken place just a few feet away. Five colonists died of gunshot wounds there at the hands of jittery British sentries, and the course of this countrys history was forever changed.
In the years leading up to that signal event, the Old State House served as a forum for colonial indignation against the British oppressors. James Otis denounced the Writs of Assistance there in 1761. Samuel Adams and John Hancock both spoke out in the Old State House against the unjust taxation levied against the colonists by the crown. Years later, President George Washington reviewed a parade there, held in his honor.
A Narrow Escape
But history and its accompanying sentiments ebb and flow. By the 1880s, after of decades of decline and neglect, the Old State House came to be seen as expendable, an eyesore. Some local leaders favored razing the structure to make room for more modern development.
Getting wind of those discussions, a young and growing city to the west by the name of Chicago offered to dismantle the building, have it shipped there brick by brick, and reconstructed on the shore of Lake Michigan.
Chicagos bid embarrassed Boston city officials. Soon, the Boston Antiquarian Club (later the Bostonian Society) was formed to restore and preserve structures to historical value, Today, the Freedom Trail connects the Old State House with numeous other structures that figured prominently in the birth of our nation.
The Old State House currently houses colonial momentoes and museum pieces. Its exterior has been handsomely restored, and its profile stands in striking contrast to the steel and glass architecture of its high-rise neighbors. The subway rumbles directly below, and passengers enter and exit at ground level.
The monuments original builders might have found the frantic pace of those commuters a far cry from the rhythms of their colonial existence. But one can imagine that they would have developed an instant fondness for the accompanying photo of the Old State House as a suitable representation of their their own aspirations – both of them being royalty-free.