If you’ve been reading my blog, you know I love history, and old buildings with history. The Colonial time period is one of my favorites, so I especially enjoyed writing this week about a building steeped in the activities (and maybe a little romance?) of that era.
On March 14, 1743, the first town meeting was held at Faneuil Hall in Boston. Why is this important? Because this was the first step toward Faneuil Hall becoming one of the most important buildings in U.S. history.
After Peter Fanueil inherited his uncle’s estate in 1738, he became perhaps the wealthiest merchant in Boston. As a merchant, he saw a need for a central marketplace in Boston, and he proposed to build a structure for the city. There was a surprising amount of resistance to his offer and the vote passed with a very narrow margin, 367-360. The original plan was a one-story covered arcade area for merchants. At the last minute, Peter added a second story with a meeting hall. The building was completed in 1742.
The second story started as an afterthought, but quickly became the most important part of the building. It was used for town meetings and also as a venue for public events such as concerts and banquets. The hall also became a primary meeting place for unhappy Bostonians who were becoming increasingly unhappy with the high taxes and dictatorial control imposed on the colonies by Britain. In fact, one could make a strong case for Faneuil Hall as the birthplace of the American Revolution.
Faneuil Hall was still widely used after the contentious meetings of the Revolution. So much so, that Boston decided to expand it in 1805. Four more bays were added to the original three bays on the first floor, and the entire formerly-open area was then enclosed. A third floor was also added, which was used to create galleries around the upper edge of the enlarged meeting hall on the second floor.
The hall is still used for speeches, other public events and major political events. But there is one other current use which I think would mean the most to the Founding Fathers who met and spoke here in the 1700s. Twenty-four times each year, anywhere from 300 to 500 hopeful people meet here, take the Oath of Allegiance, and become new citizens of the country which was born here nearly 250 years ago.
Faneuil Hall’s legacy was born with that first town hall meeting 274 years ago, but it came of age as a place where then-revolutionary ideas about fair representation and democracy were formed and molded into a new country. To me, that makes it a very important place indeed.
What do you think? What other buildings do you think are equally important? Sign up for my email list, and let me know if you have another contender we should talk about.
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