Old State House, the 1713 edifice located on the corner of State and Washington streets, is the oldest of the public buildings that still exist in Boston.
The Old State House has served as a merchants exchange as well as the seat of colonial and state governments. It was the center of all political life and debate in Colonial Boston. Today, the Old State House is maintained as a museum of Boston History by The Bostonian Society.
Old State House was built on the site of Boston's first Town House of 1657-58 (burned in 1711), to house the government offices of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. At the time, the building was a natural meeting place of citizens for the exchange of local news.
In those days, the merchants exchange occupied the first floor while the ground floor was a rented warehouse. The east end of the edifice, overlooking the Long Wharf and the harbor, was the seat of the Council Chamber of the Royal Governor. It was this room that had witnessed numerous stirring speeches and debates by dedicated Patriots against the ruling British Crown in the mid-1700s.
The second floor was the meeting place of the Massachusetts Assembly, the first legislative body in the colonies to call for sectional unity, and the formation of the Stamp Act Congress.
Old State House’s west end housed the Courts of Suffolk County and the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court for many years. The Supreme Judicial Court is the longest seated court in the United States. The court was involved in the drafting of the Massachusetts Constitution, on which the present U.S. constitution is based.
The Old State House balcony, located on the east side of the building looking down State Street, was the site from which official proclamations were read to the public. The historic Declaration of Independence in 1776 was read from the balcony.
The area beneath the Old State House balcony is the site of the infamous Boston Massacre. Today, a circle of cobblestones mark the site.
Following the revolution, the Old State House continued to serve as the seat of Massachusetts’ government until all government functions were transferred to a new State House built on Beacon Hill in 1798. From 1830 to 1841, the building served as the Boston City Hall. It was brought back into commercial use again in 1941. In the mid 20th century, several alterations were made in the building to suit its tenants, which actually compromised its original grace.
Now, the Old State House is owned by the City of Boston. It is a site within the Boston National Historical Park and one of the museums on the Freedom Trail.