For our iteration of the Emerald Necklace Transect, we decided to focus on how Frederick Law Olmsted’s park system connects to the American Revolution in Boston. Due to the importance of the city of Boston in the United States when it comes to retelling the story of the founding of our country, it is necessary to reiterate such events during a time of current political and social divide. Boston is one of many New England locations that provide this deep history, and that is what our project revolves around. We have rearticulated the Emerald Necklace as a relational landscape connected to an array of social and ecological histories in how we have dissected key locations through Boston proper that both were in use during the American Revolution as well as shaped the natural environment around them. Due to wars that raged on through the 18th and early 19th centuries, the Boston scenery and landscape suffered as a result. Following the times of chaos, the city expanded and New England began to flourish and become more industrialized. This led to the increased rate of urbanism throughout Boston, further degrading the natural landscape. However, Frederick Law Olmsted sought to incorporate some of Boston’s natural character back into the city by returning large sections of land to its native state in the form of the Emerald Necklace. Furthermore, we are crafting different narratives about the Emerald Necklace by linking it to invisible stories that we as an American people should be more willing to see around us, especially those people that inhabit Boston. With the sudden directive and motivation by some to call for statues, monuments, and other historical structures to be ripped from their foundations, it shows us as a people that we have lost our way. To remember our history for what it is and how it should be remembered, these historical pieces that have been erected must be preserved and protected, with the stories that we share being retold again and again. To lose these monuments and statues is to lose our history and to make these stories more invisible than they already are. The Emerald Necklace does a good job of counteracting this. The snaking greens of the park system preserve a lot of the natural beauty of New England, but also grant us the ability to understand Revolution-era histories that took place in the parks and outside of them, deeming the parks a “museum” of sorts that frames Boston history.
Our walking tour brings the participant to twelve sites around the city, starting at the Bunker Hill Monument in nearby Charlestown. Just across the Charles River, the Monument lies on Boston’s Freedom Trail as a commemoration of the lives lost during the early battle of the American Revolution. Moving along, we enter Boston proper and visit Faneuil Hall and the Old South Meeting House. Both locations, just blocks from Boston Common, are sites of famous speeches by Sons of Liberty like Sam Adams. Faneuil Hall is also known as the “Cradle of Liberty;” the Old South Meeting House was a church where patriots met prior to partaking in the Boston Tea Party that same night.
Our next sites bring us to Boston Common, which cover a number of significant sites including the Granary Burying Ground, the Great Elm, the Boston Massacre Memorial, and the site of British camp on the Boston Common. The Granary Burying Ground is the final resting spot for a number of patriots including Sam Adams, Paul Revere, and John Hancock. The cemetery was once part of the Common but as the city developed it became its own entity and therefore never became part of the Emerald Necklace. Moving along to the modern Boston Common, we come to the plaque of the Great Elm. The Great Elm once dominated this landscape; standing over 70 feet, this tree was centered in Boston Common and was a place where Sons of Liberty would hang lanterns symbolizing liberty. While the tree was blown down in a 1876 storm, a plaque remains to celebrate its history. Not far away in the park is the Boston Massacre Memorial. This obelisk serves as a reminder of those who perished in the violent encounter outside the Old State House in 1770. The last site we come across in the Common is invisible and unmarked, as it was a British redcoat camp prior to the Battle of Lexington and Concord, but knowing that it was located on the Common can give you an impression of how the park has changed over its extensive history.
The last four sites bring us to South Boston. The Boston Tea Party Museum is a modern-day attraction where people can learn about one of the key events in instigating the Revolution. The original location was covered as a result of land reclamation, but the museum is not far from the original location. The Neck of Boston was another significant location as it is where William Dawes left Boston on the night of his and Paul Revere’s Midnight Ride; this strip of land was also important as the British cut off the city from the mainland during the Siege of Boston. Floating batteries were also strategically placed around the city, one place being alongside the Boston Neck. The Neck is no longer an actual site but would be located at the modern intersection of Washington and East Berkeley Streets. The final stop on our walking tour is Fort Independence. All the way out east on Castle Island, the fort was once occupied by British soldiers during the Revolutionary War. Olmsted originally intended for Castle Island to join the Emerald Necklace, thereby completing the “necklace,” but this vision was never realized.
Our tour of Boston and its relation to the American Revolution resonates with key readings like A People’s Guide to Greater Boston and Jane Hutton’s Reciprocal Landscapes. A People’s Guide outlines examples of communities such as African Americans, Latin Americans, and Irish Americans protesting in order to become free from oppressive powers. As for Reciprocal Landscapes, similar to Hutton’s discussion of New York City materials coming from around the world, there are materials and people that have been brought to Boston from West Africa, Great Britain, and China. These came in the form of African slaves from West Africa, tea from China transported by the British East India Company, and settlers from Great Britain and greater Europe who sought to escape religious persecution. These instances formed a strong bond between unique landscapes, creating invisible and permanent connections that permeated through society in Boston, Africa, and Europe. The sites that we discuss in this project encompass the American Revolution specifically in Boston well enough that a comprehensive story can be told of the pride, patriotism, and courage that existed amongst its inhabitants during the time. That courage and fortitude evolved into independence from a larger power and agreement on essential human rights, gifts that we continue to enjoy today due to the writing of the Constitution that resulted from the success of the American Revolution.