The wooden Town House of 1657 stood here, its ground floor open to merchants, until the Great Fire of 1711. Two years later, the first bricks were laid for new offices for the Massachusetts colonial government.
The Old State House, the oldest public building in Boston, bears on its gables a gilded unicorn and lion. These symbols of English dominion were removed after the Revolution and later replaced by replicas. The building occupied Boston’s most prominent intersection. King (now State) Street led from the Old State House to Long Wharf. Washington Street, the only street connecting Boston to the mainland, crossed King Street here.
Settlement and commerce grew around the building. Colonial governors looked down to Long Wharf from the balcony of the State House. Famous scenes of the American Revolution unfolded at its doorstep.
In 1798, Charles Bulfinch’s gold-domed State House opened atop Beacon Hill to begin a proud new era for Boston. The colonial State House passed on to other uses and, in 1881, to the protection of The Bostonian Society.
The Old State House appears as the backdrop in Paul Revere’s engraving of the Boston Massacre. When it was built, the Old State House overlooked bustling wharves. Ships were the source of Boston’s wealth. They also connected Boston politically and commercially to England and other countries and colonies. A different pulse now hums beneath the Old State House. Every day, thousands of commuters emerge from beneath the venerable building, where two of Boston’s busy subway lines intersect in the city’s large financial district.
Crowded Boston planned its subway system in the Victorian era, when human and horsedrawn traffic overwhelmed its main streets. Boston was the first American city to build a subway, and the fourth city in the world, after London, Glasgow, and Budapest. The first segment of the subway system, now part of Boston’s Green Line, opened just uphill from here in 1897.