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Boston, Massachusetts, The Common (Hayward)

Gazetteer/Almanac

John Hayward, Gazetteer of the United States… (Philadelphia: James L. Gihon, 1854), 287-300.

The want of ample room upon the peninsula for the growth of the city, especially before the relief afforded by the railroads, led to such a crowded occupancy of the limited area, that the streets are in many parts narrower than would have been preferred, and, with one noble exception,— that of the Common.—very little space has been afforded in the older sections of the city for public squares and pleasure grounds. In the newer portions, which are building up on the Neck, some spacious squares have been reserved for public grounds, which are handsomely enclosed with iron fences, ornamented with trees, and with beautiful fountains in the centre….

"Prior to 1640," says Snow in his History of Boston, " mention is frequently made of Tower Fields, in the Boston records: and they seem to have been enclosed by a general fence." The following vote was passed on the 30th of March, 1640: "Henceforth, there shall be no land granted either for house-plot or garden, out of the open lot or common field which is left between the Sentry Hill and Mr. Colburn's end, except three or four lots to make up the street," &c. This was the origin of the Boston Common; which, scanty as their precincts were, the fathers of the city, with a wise and disinterested care for the public welfare, secured to the enjoyment of all future generations of its inhabitants. This Common, extending over about forty-eight acres of ground, with its splendid malls surrounding the whole border, shaded with majestic elms, some of which are over a hundred years old, and its numerous cross paths beautifully graded, bevelled, and adorned with variegated trees, is considered- as one of the most delightful promenades in the world. One of its greatest charms is in the diversified natural surface which it presents; and one of the most gratifying proofs of the good taste of the Bostonians is seen in the care which has been taken to obliterate as little as possible, by any artificial embellishments, those lineaments of nature which are universally pleasing. This beautiful ground is enclosed by a costly iron fence one mile and two hundred and seventeen yards in length, with elegant granite gateways at two of the opposite angles. Near the centre is a beautiful little pond, out of the midst of which a fountain, supplied from the Boston Water Works, sends up its massive and graceful jet d’eau from 80 to 90 feet into the air. The fountain also displays, at will, many other pleasing forms, having an affluent supply of water, and a head which presses upon it like one of nature's illimitable forces. This extensive and beautiful public ground is an inestimable boon to the citizens of Boston. Its position, partly on the north-western declivity of Beacon Hill, with a public garden of about 25 acres lying still beyond it, keeping its whole western margin open to Charles River and to the distant landscape as far as the eye can reach, secures the free ingress of the most exhilarating and healthful influences of the climate to the very centre of the city. As a field for military parades, civic processions, and grand commemorative banquets, the Common has been honorably distinguished. On the annual gala day of the republic, it presents, in pleasant weather, a most joyous and sublime spectacle. The people of the city, and of the country for many miles around, the native born and the adopted citizen, young men and maidens, old men and children, here meet as in a grand levee, under the mutual restraints of self-respect, courtesy, and decorum, and in the conscious enjoyment of a dignity and happiness which fall to the lot of the populace of no other country on the globe. It is seldom that any unseemly rudeness or vulgarity offends the eye or ear on these public occasions; especially since intoxicating liquors have been excluded from the refreshment stands upon the streets. It is estimated that not less than 100,000 persons have been present at the usual display of fireworks in the evening; and yet, within a half hour after the entertainment is over, this vast multitude will have retired, without disorder, leaving the Common and its vicinity to its accustomed silence and repose.

Some of the most elegant streets in Boston are those which front upon the Common; viz., Beacon, Park, Tremont, and Boylston Streets. Beacon Street, especially, for grandeur of elevation, extent and beauty of prospect, and the splendor of its long line of palace residences, culminating with the State House on the summit of the hill, will compare to advantage with the most celebrated streets and terraces in the European cities.

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How to Cite This Page: "Boston, Massachusetts, The Common (Hayward)," House Divided: The Civil War Research Engine at Dickinson College, http://hd.housedivided.dickinson.edu/node/18322.