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Take a Tour of the Massachusetts State House

Discover the history, art, and architecture of one of the country’s most famous buildings

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Perched atop Beacon Hill on land where John Hancock’s cows once grazed, the Massachusetts State House is one of Boston’s oldest—and most iconic—buildings. Home to both the state legislature and the governor’s office, it has been the commonwealth’s seat of government since it was completed in 1798. The building was designed by Charles Bulfinch, the architect of the US Capitol, and is considered a masterpiece of Federal-style architecture. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1960.

You can learn all about the building’s art, architecture, and rich history on a free guided tour conducted by State House Tours Division staff or by knowledgeable volunteers. The 45-minute tours are held year-round on weekdays from 10 am to 3:30 pm. But you must call in advance to make a reservation (see details below).

Tour takers visit the House and Senate chambers, where some of the most important government work occurs, and learn about the Massachusetts state insect (the ladybug) and the “Sacred Cod,” the large wooden sculpture given by a local merchant in 1784 to commemorate the salt cod industry’s importance to the Bay State’s early economy. It hangs in the House chamber.

Another highlight: the two murals painted by Edward Simmons in the Hall of Flags. The first, The Return of the Colors, commemorates the return on December 22, 1865, of the battered regimental flags of the commonwealth units that fought in the Civil War to Massachusetts Governor John Andrew. In a tradition dating back to the Revolutionary War, the governor presents each regiment with its own flag as it leaves for battle. Since that 1865 ceremony, every Massachusetts regiment has presented its flag to the governor when it returns. The second mural, Battle at Concord Bridge, commemorates one of the most famous Revolutionary War scenes.

The Hall of Flags, illuminated by a stained glass skylight depicting the original 13 colonies, contains more than 100 flags, a memorial to all of the Massachusetts men and women who have served in the military.

The tour’s star attraction is the building’s massive dome, its crowning glory. Originally made of wood, it was later covered in copper by silversmith and Revolutionary War patriot Paul Revere. It was first covered in gold leaf in 1874, and was regilded in 1997 at a cost of more than $300,000. Visitors learn about the significance of the gilded wooden pinecone atop the dome as well.

Beneath that golden dome is a wealth of fascinating history brought to life by the knowledgeable guides. So put the State House on your must-do list before the summer’s over.

Free tours of the Massachusetts State House, 24 Beacon St., Boston, are given weekdays year-round from 10 am to 3:30 pm. Reservations must be made by calling 617-727-3676. Take an MBTA Green Line trolley to Park Street. Enter at the General Hooker entrance to the right of the main gate. Find more directions here.

Carina Imbornone can be reached at carinami@bu.edu

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