J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Thursday, July 15, 2010

Enjoying Boston’s Outdoor Spaces, Then and Now

This is a picture of the Boston Common in 1768, based on a watercolor by Christian Remick. At the rear is Beacon Hill, with John Hancock’s mansion and estate on the right and a trio of houses that John Singleton Copley soon bought at the left. The tall pole on the far right is the beacon that gave the hill its name.

In the middle ground is the Common. I believe the small building at the left is the town’s gunpowder storage house. At the right are tents and a military unit drilling—presumably representing the British army regiments that arrived that October. Meanwhile, other figures are strolling and riding in arcadian comfort. There should also be some livestock grazing.

In the foreground is a feature that the British immigrants who set aside the Common probably didn’t foresee: a line of trees producing a shady mall for walking. Those trees represented the beginning of the Common’s shift from functional agricultural land to public park, preserving a quasi-natural landscape for urban citizens to enjoy.

Boston’s outdoor parks and resources are the focus of several free public talks in the next few weeks. I’m hoping that kinder weather will make it comfortable to enjoy those places, but even if the heat returns we can enjoy these talks in air-conditioned comfort.

On Thursday, 15 July (that’s tonight) at 7:00, Todd Forman will present “Legacies in Stone,” an illustrated talk on Boston’s public statuary at the main library in Newton. Local sculptor Nancy Schön, who produced the ducklings in the Public Garden and gets to reproduce one every ten years or so, will also be on hand.

On Thursday, 22 July from 6:30 to 8:30, Christopher Klein will talk about his book Discovering the Boston Harbor Islands: A Guide to the City’s Hidden Shores at the Community Boating Boathouse on the Esplanade. Chris wrote about the fight over the Boston Light as a Boston 1775 guest blogger back in 2008.

On Thursday, 29 July at 7:00, Meg Muckenhoupt will will present a slideshow and talk based on her new book Boston’s Gardens and Green Spaces at the Westborough Public Library.

Finally, on Thursday, 12 August at 7:00, Christopher Klein will be at the Westborough library to discuss Discovering the Boston Harbor Islands once again.

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