Sixteenth in our series to appear on the first Friday of each month: Boston Firsts Fridays. #BostonFirsts
First Realty Management Corp. was founded in Boston over 50 years ago. We are proud to call this wonderful city our home, and call focus to some of the events & innovations that happened FIRST in Boston.
BF#16 First Public Park (1634)
It’s a bit surprising that we haven’t chosen to focus on this Boston First before now, as it is quite literally right out our front door, as the First Realty Management Boston Office sits on Tremont Street, facing Boston Common. Our very first Boston First article focused on its neighbor, the Public Garden.
Perhaps it’s because the claim of Boston Common as the first public park in America (and arguably the first public urban park in the world) is a bit contested.
What we know for sure is that a minister named William (Blaxton) Blackstone, the first European settler of Boston, sold 44 acres of land for 30 pounds to the founders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1634. That land is what is now the Boston Common and the date of 1634 seems to qualify the Common as the first and oldest city park in the country.
The land wasn’t purchased with the express purpose of being a public park, however, leading to the dispute. It was established as a grazing pasture for cows and as training grounds (from which the British troops marched on Lexington and Concord). Informally, however, it became a gathering place fairly quickly, hosting a great number of public meetings, executions, whippings, duels and riots. A great elm tree, called understandably “The Great Elm”, was used in the hanging of pirates, murderers, suspected witches and Quakers, most famously Mary Dyer.
The Common’s perimeter was organized into five malls, starting with the Tremont Mall in 1728. This date is probably the best argument for the Common as the first public urban park.
Boston was settled and named a town in 1630; it was incorporated as a city in 1822. Cows were outlawed on the Common in 1830, at which point it seems to have become a public park. The City of Boston did not pass legislation formalizing the park’s status until 1859, which is why other parks can lay claim to being established for that sole purpose. (See: River Common in Wilkes-Barre, PA; Bushnell Park, Hartford, CT; Central Park, New York, NY; Elm Park, Worcester, MA)
What is absolutely clear is that Boston Common is the center of the city and enjoyed by all. It is home to the Central Burying Ground (final resting place of artist Gilbert Stuart), the Robert Gould Shaw memorial, the Boston Massacre memorial, has hosted America’s first football club, and the nation’s first two subway stations. The area is constantly bustling, and is one of the jewels of the city.
Fun fact: Both Judy Garland & Janis Joplin played their largest concerts on the Common, which has also hosted speeches from the likes of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Pope John Paul II.
Fun fact #2: Location of the annual Christmas tree donated by the government of Nova Scotia in thanks for the assistance provided by the Boston Red Cross and the Massachusetts Public Safety Committee immediately following the Halifax Explosion in 1917. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Halifax_Explosion