In 1634, when their settlement was just 4 years old, the town fathers paid the Rev. William Blackstone £30 for this property. In 1640 it was set aside as common land. The 45 or so acres of the country’s oldest public park have served as a cow pasture, a military camp, and the site of hangings, protest marches, and visits by dignitaries. The Frog Pond makes a pleasant spot to splash around in the summer and skate in the winter. At the Boylston Street side of the Common is the Central Burying Ground, where you can see the grave of the famed portraitist Gilbert Stuart. There’s also a bandstand where you might take in a free concert or play, and many beautiful shade trees.
Although the city refurbished it recently, the Common still seems run-down (especially compared to the gorgeous Public Garden), but it buzzes with activity all day. You might see a demonstration, a musical performance, a picnic lunch—almost anything other than a cow. Cattle have been banned since 1830, which seems to be one of the few events related to the Common that isn’t commemorated with a plaque.
One of the loveliest markers is on this route; head up the hill inside the fence, walking parallel to Park Street. At Beacon Street is the Shaw Memorial ★★★, designed by Augustus Saint-Gaudens to celebrate the deeds (indeed, the very existence) of Col. Robert Gould Shaw and the Union Army’s 54th Massachusetts Colored Regiment, who fought in the Civil War. You might remember the story of this American army unit, the first one to be made up of free black soldiers, from the 1989 movie “Glory.”
To continue on the Freedom Trail: Cross Beacon Street.