The Old State House
WELCOME to The Old State House
Old State House is a historic legislative building located at the
intersection of Washington and State Streets in Boston,
Built in 1713, it is the oldest surviving public building in
Boston, and the seat of the first elected legislature in the New
World. It is now operated by the Bostonian Society, Boston's
historical society. It is one of many historic landmarks that can be
visited along the Freedom Trail.
Seat of Colonial Government
The original building housed a Merchant's Exchange on the first
floor and warehouses in the basement. On the second floor, the east
side contained the Council Chamber of the Royal Governor while the
west end of the second floor contained chambers for the Courts of
Suffolk County and the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.
The central portion contained the chambers for the elected
Massachusetts Assembly. This chamber is notable for including public
galleries, the first known example of such a feature being included in
a chamber for elected officials.
In 1761, James Otis argued against the Writs of Assistance in the
Royal Council Chamber. hough losing the case, Otis's speech was one of
the events which led to the American Revolution. During this period, a
Stamp Act Congress was formed in the Massachusetts Assembly
On July 18, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was proclaimed
from the east side balcony to jubilant crowds by Col. Thomas Crafts
(one of the Sons of Liberty). At one o'clock Col. Crafts rose in the
Council Chamber and read it to the members. Then fellow patriot,
Sheriff William Greenleaf had attempted to read it from the balcony,
but he could only muster a whisper. Col. Crafts then stood next to the
sheriff and read it from the balcony in a stentorian tone.
After which, on a signal given, thirteen pieces of cannon were
fired from the fort on Fort-hill; the forts at Dorchester Neck, the
Castle, Nantasket, and Point Alderton likewise discharged their
cannon. Then the detachment of artillery fired their cannon thirteen
times, which was followed by the two regiments giving their fire from
the thirteen divisions in succession. These firings corresponded to
the number of the American states united.
The ceremony was closed with a proper collation to the gentlemen in
the Council Chamber; during which the following toasts were given by
the president of the council and heartily pledged by the company:
- 'Prosperity and perpetuity to the United States of America.'
- 'The American Congress.'
- 'General Washington, and success to the arms of the United
- 'The downfall of tyrants and tyranny.'
- 'The universal prevalence of civil and religious liberty.'
- 'The friends of the United States in all quarters of the globe.'
The bells in town were rung on the occasion, and festivity cheered
and brightened every face. On the same evening, the King's arms and
every sign with any resemblance of it, whether Lion and Crown, Pestle
and Mortar, and Crown, Heart and Crown, etc., together with every sign
that belonged to a Tory, were taken down, and the latter made a
general conflagration of in King street.
The Declaration of Independence was only read from the balcony
because the Continental Army had driven British troops from Boston,
and because Massachusetts delegates to the Continental Congress John
Adams, John Hancock, and Samuel Adams, along with the support from
their fellow New England colonies, had pressed independence upon the
other delegates to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia.
Seat of Municipal and State Government
After the American Revolution, the building served as the seat of
the Massachusetts state government before its move to the present
Massachusetts State House in 1798. From 1830 to 1841, the building was
Boston's city hall before being converted to commercial use. In 1881,
in response to plans for the possible demolition of the building due
to real estate potential, The Bostonian Society was formed to preserve
and steward the Old State House. It was then restored to its original
The Building Today
Today, tall buildings of Boston's financial district surround the
Old State House. An excellent view of the building can still be seen,
however, along State Street from a good distance away on the harbor
The Old State House has become a major public transportation
connection point, sitting atop the State Street station on the MBTA's
Blue and Orange subway lines. The building houses a museum and its
original upper level chambers are preserved for posterity by the The
The Old State House is a popular wedding venue. Ceremonies are
usually held in the Council Chamber, the room on the east side,
adjacent to the balcony. Couples may be photographed on the balcony
following their ceremony.
Also located on the Freedom Trail is a cobblestone ring on the
traffic island in front of the east side of the Old State House. This
ring marks the site where five colonists were killed by the British on
March 5, 1770, in the event that became known as The Boston Massacre.
The five colonists killed included Crispus Attucks, Samuel Gray, and
There are at least four replicas of the Old State House in
Massachusetts. One is the Weymouth Town Hall, located on Middle Street
in Weymouth, about a half mile from the birthplace of Abigail
Another is the State House residence hall on the campus of Curry
College in Milton, just outside Boston. A third is the former
"State Building" exhibition hall, a currently abandoned
facility at the Brockton Fairgrounds in Brockton, about 25 miles south
The fourth is found at the Eastern States Exposition grounds in
West Springfield, MA, alongside replicas of the other Colonial-era New
England state houses. A facade of Davenport College at Yale University
was inspired by the Old State House.
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