History of the Old State House

The Old State House, the oldest surviving public building in Boston, was built in 1713 to house the government offices of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. It stands on the site of Boston's first Town House of 1657-8, which was destroyed by fire in 1711. As the center of civic, political, and business life, the Old State House was a natural meeting place for the exchange of economic and local news. A merchant's exchange occupied the first floor, and John Hancock and others rented warehouse space in the basement. The National Historic Sites Commission has called the Old State House one of the most important public buildings in Colonial America.

Old State House Preservation

The Old State House is over 300 years old, and is in need of constant care. In 2005, the Bostonian Society assumed sole responsibility for capital repairs and maintenance of the Old State House. To address the multi-faceted needs of this local and National Historic Landmark, the Society is currently creating an updated master plan for the stabilization, restoration, and re-interpretation of the building.

Preservation efforts led by the Society at the Old State House have garnered a number of awards on the national and local level. In 2006, the American Association for State and Local History presented the Society an award for its preservation project on the northeast corner, a project which was also featured on an episode of the History Channel’s series Save Our History. In 2008, the Boston Preservation Alliance awarded the Society its Preservation Achievement award for restoring the tower on the Old State House.  In 2015, the Society was again honored with a BPA Preservation Achievement award for the restoration of the iconic lion and unicorn statues atop the east parapets of the Old State House.

Recent Restoration and Repairs

In 2014, work was completed on the restoration and repair of the west façade of the Old State House, which faces court street. All mortar joints along the entire façade were repointed. Loose bricks were reset or replaced, and windows were restored.

The iconic Old State House balcony, from which the Declaration of Independence was read for the first time to Bostonians in July 1776, was in dire need of repairs and restoration in 2014. The decay of wood elements in the easy balcony was typical of preservation struggles faced by historic sites that also function as museums, as they must maintain stable interior environments for their artifacts, as well as for visitors and staff members. Dramatic seasonal differences between interior and exterior levels of temperature and humidity create stressful conditions in the areas like the easy balcony, where the two environments meet. An analysis of the balcony conducted in 2011 concluded that the balcony remained structurally sound, but that its wooden and metal elements required major restoration and refurbishment, particularly where they join the building's masonry. The Society raised the necessary funds and executed the work in 2014-15.

In the fall of 2014 the Society repaired and restored the two iconic statues on the east façade. The two statues were carefully lowered into specially constructed crates and transported to Skylight Studios where they were cleaned, patched, and reguilded with layers of gold and platinum leaf. Unveiled during a festive ceremony outside the building in the fall of 2014, they were hoisted back onto their perches atop the east façade.


Storeygard Associates Architects
Preservation Technology Associates, LLC
Commodore Builders
Skylight Studios

The Old State House is owned by the City of Boston and operated on behalf of its citizens by the Bostonian Society. The Bostonian Society is pleased to partner with the City of Boston and the National Park Service in the ongoing restoration and preservation of the Old State House.

For information on ways in which you can help preserve this national treasure, please call (617) 720-1713 ext. 16, or send an email.