Boston Common (also known as the Common) is a central public park in downtown Boston, Massachusetts. It is sometimes erroneously referred to as the "Boston Commons". Dating from 1634, it is the oldest city park in the United States. The Boston Common consists of 50 acres (20 ha) of land bounded by Tremont Street, Park Street, Beacon Street, Charles Street, and Boylston Street. The Common is part of the Emerald Necklace of parks and parkways that extend from the Common south to Franklin Park in Roxbury. A visitors' center for all of Boston is located on the Tremont Street side of the park.
The Central Burying Ground is located on the Boylston Street side of Boston Common and contains the burial sites of the artist Gilbert Stuart and the composer William Billings. Also buried there are Samuel Sprague and his son, Charles Sprague, one of America's earliest poets. Samuel Sprague was a participant in the Boston Tea Party and fought in the Revolutionary War.
The Common's purpose has changed over the years. It was once owned by William Blaxton (often given the modernized spelling "Blackstone"), the first European settler of Boston, until it was bought from him by the Puritan founders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. During the 1630s, it was used by many families as a cow pasture. However, this only lasted for a few years, as affluent families bought additional cows, which led to overgrazing, a real-life example of the Tragedy of the commons. After grazing was limited in 1646 to 70 cows at a time, the Boston Common continued to host cows until they were formally banned from it in 1830 by Mayor Harrison Gray Otis.
The Common was used as a camp by the British before the American Revolutionary War, from which they left for the Battle of Lexington and Concord. It was used for public hangings up until 1817, most of which were from a large oak which was replaced with gallows in 1769. On June 1, 1660, Quaker Mary Dyer was hanged there by the Puritans for repeatedly defying a law that banned Quakers from the Colony. Dyer was one of the four executed Quakers on the Common known as the Boston martyrs.
On May 19, 1713, two hundred citizens rioted on the Common in reaction to a food shortage in the city. They later attacked the ships and warehouses of wealthy merchant Andrew Belcher, who was exporting grain to the Caribbean for higher profits. The lieutenant governor was shot during the riot.
True park status seems to have emerged no later than 1830, when the grazing of cows was ended and renaming the Common as Washington Park was proposed. Renaming the bordering Sentry Street to Park Place (later to be called Park Street) in 1804 already acknowledged the reality. By 1836 an ornamental iron fence fully enclosed the Common and its five perimeter malls or recreational promenades, the first of which, Tremont Mall, had been in place since 1728, in imitation of St. James's Park in London. Given these improvements dating back to 1728, a case could be made that Boston Common is in fact the world's first public urban park, since these developments precede the establishment of the earliest public urban parks in England—Derby Arboretum (1840), Peel Park, Salford (1846), and Birkenhead Park (1847)—which are often considered the first.
A hundred people gathered on the Common in early 1965 to protest the Vietnam War. A second protest happened on October 15, 1969, this time with 100,000 people protesting.
Today, the Common serves as a public park for all to use for formal or informal gatherings. Events such as concerts, protests, softball games, and ice skating (on Frog Pond) often take place in the park. Famous individuals such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Pope John Paul II have made speeches there. Judy Garland gave her largest concert ever (100,000+) on the Common, on August 31, 1967.
It was declared a U.S. National Historic Landmark in 1987. The Boston Common is a public park managed by the Boston Park Department. A private advocacy group, the Friends of the Public Garden, provides additional funding for maintenance and special events.
On October 21, 2006, the Common became the site of a new world record, when 30,128 Jack-o'-lanterns were lit simultaneously around the park at the Life is good Pumpkin Festival. The previous record, held by Keene, New Hampshire since 2003, was 28,952.
On August 27, 2007, two teenagers were shot on the Common. One of the bullets fired during the shooting struck the Massachusetts State House. A strict curfew has since been enforced, which has been protested by the homeless population of Boston.
In or about the year of our Lord One Thousand Six Hundred thirty and four the then present inhabitants of the Town of Boston of whom the Hon John Winthrop Esq Gov of the Colony was Chiefe did treat and agree with Mr William Blackstone for the purchase of his Estate and any Lands living within said neck of Land called Boston after which purchase the Town laid out a plan for a trayning field for which ever since and now is used for that purpose and for the feeding of cattell.