Landscape Studies and the Freedom Trail: The Old State House and History in our Everyday Lives
By Benjamin Remillard, Graduate Student
One of our focuses early on in our Landscape and Memory course was the effect of studying subjects up close versus studying them from afar, taking in the surrounding area as a whole. Nowhere was this focus of observation more pertinent than during a recent class field exercise on the Freedom Trail. As the sight of the Boston Massacre, the Old State House is one of the most notable stop on the Freedom Trail. Up close, tourists are greeted by the oldest surviving public building in Boston. The structure’s brick exterior, colonial windows, and Greek columns serve as a visual reminder of the architecture styles so prominently used by the colonial elite three centuries earlier. The square around the building draws visitors' eyes to the antiquated building, until they notice the skyscrapers racing upward around them. It is then that focusing on structures in their wider context becomes particularly important.
One of the most common observations people must make when walking the Freedom Trail is the merging of eras, how buildings centuries old lay next to feats of modern architecture. In some cases the two are integrated into each other, such as in the case of the Old State House. To begin with, the placement of the building in the shadows of skyscrapers might be disorienting because of how out of time the building might seem. This is no different, however, than many of the other stops along the Trail, even if many of those stops do not have dozens of floors of steel and glass hovering over them.
One of the struggles historians face is figuring out how to bridge the gap between the past and present for people not normally interested in seeing how the past continues to affect their daily lives. The Old State House is of particular interest for both History and Landscape studies because of how it is now part not only of tourists’ experiences, but of native Bostonians' lives as well. Since 1904 and 1908 the MBTA has operated the Blue and Orange lines, respectively, out of the basement of the Statehouse. Between the Old State House, the surrounding buildings, the railroad beneath, and the museum operating out of the building, passersby witness a merging of technology, architecture, and history that group together 301 years of Boston heritage. With that type of cultural conglomeration in such a concentrated area it is hard to not be reminded of how the past continues to play a part in people’s everyday lives.
Regis undergraduate Kerry Pintabona enjoying both Boston’s past and present.