The Freedom Trail passes directly by Boston’s Old City Hall which opened in 1865 and served as City Hall until 1969 when it was renovated for use as an office building (including, presently, a Ruth’s Chris Steak House restaurant). At the time of the conversion — one of the first examples of adaptive use for an historic building — it heralded the beginning of this new concept. The granite exterior was designed in the French Second Empire style characterized by ornamented columns, a mansard roof and a projecting central bay. The murals at the building entrances illustrate the history of both the building and the site.
The site was the home of the Boston Latin School (1635), the nation’s first public school and the oldest educational institution in the country (originally for boys only…until 1972!). It is fabled that on 19 April 1775, word of shots fired in Lexington circulated rapidly throughout Boston with, “Close your books, School’s done, and war’s begun!” One of the school’s most famous student, Benjamin Franklin, is remembered on the site with a bronze statue.
As shown, below, the courtyard sculpture of Benjamin Franklin in front of the Old City Hall depicts Franklin dressed in the attire appropriate to his day; this is the first portrait statue in the United States depicting the subject as he would actually appear rather than draped in classical heroic attire.
On the base of Franklin’s portrait sculpture is a relief sculpture depicting the signing of the Declaration of American Independence on 4 July 1776,
The front courtyard of the Old City Hall has two sculptures and a plaque which answers a question that many Americans don’t know the answer to: what is the origin of the two mascots of the major American political parties — Democrats (Donkey) and Republicans (Elephant)?
“When, in 1828, Andrew Jackson established the Democratic party and ran for president using the popular slogan, “Let the people rule”, his opponents thought him silly and labeled him a “jackass”. Jackson, however, picked up on their name calling and turned it to his advantage by using the donkey on his campaign posters. Over the year this donkey has become the accepted symbol of the Democratic party.
“The symbol of the Republican party in 1874 was born in the imagination of cartoonist, Thomas Nash, in Harper’s Weekly. Soon other cartoonists used the elephant to symbolize Republicans, and eventually Republicans adopted the elephant as their official symbol.”
No tax on tea! This was the decision on 16 December 1773, when 5,000 angry colonists gathered at the Old South Meeting House to protest a tax… and started a revolution with the Boston Tea Party. Built in 1729 as a Puritan house of worship, the Old South Meeting House was the largest building in colonial Boston. From outraged protests over the Boston Massacre to the night when Samuel Adams gave the secret signal to throw 340 crates of tea into Boston Harbor, colonists assembled at Old South to challenge British rule.
The Old State House, Boston’s oldest public building, was built in 1713 as the seat of British colonial government. Here the Royal Governor and Massachusetts Assembly debated the Stamp Acts and the Writs of Assistance. The Declaration of Independence was first read to Bostonians from the east balcony on 18 July 1776. The building served as the State House until 1798, and was also Boston’s City Hall from 1830 to 1841.