This week Old South Meeting House opened it’s doors for an open house for people who work in the tourism industry to see behind the scenes in the historic church. As a Boston By Foot guide, the offer was extended to me and a I jumped at the chance especially since it meant I’d be able to stand on the pulpit, walk around the balconies, and climb up the steeple – all off-limits to regular visitors. That’s nirvana for the history geek. I should note too that I’ve long found Old South to be one of Boston’s best history museums.
Old South dates back to 1729 built on the site of a previous meetinghouse building and the congregation worshiped there until moving to Copley Square in 1872. In addition to religious services it served as a space for large public meetings, most famously the meeting that launched the Boston Tea Party in 1773. Old South survived abuse by British soldiers who stabled their horses inside during the Revolution and a close shave with the flames of the Great Fire of 1872. In 1876 it become the first building in New England (and fourth in the nation) saved by a historic preservation effort. In the past century it has continued to operate as a meeting space and a free speech zone where many dissenting opinions have been voiced over they years.
On Friday night I explored this building from bottom to top, starting with the unaffiliated bookstore in the basement. Inside the hall of the meetinghouse, OSMH staff gathered together my fellow tourism industry folks and I and delivered a short lecture on the history and architecture of the building. Then we were let loose to explore. I started by going to the balcony and joining a tour of the steeple. Inside the steeple it’s dark, dusty, and the stairways are crooked with low headway. We went up one level to the site of the most significant library in colonial America, where Reverend Thomas Prince collected thousands of books. Some were destroyed by the vindictive Redcoats but many still survive in the Rare Books collection at Boston Public Library. Up a few more levels and we’re in the belfry although the bell itself long ago moved to Copley Square’s Old South Church. Finally we reach the top. For safety reasons we couldn’t go on the balcony but were able to peek out the door for a unique perspective on Washington Street and the surrounding skyscrapers.
Down below, I explored both balcony levels and the many elegant stairwells of Old South. I also availed myself to the opportunity of taking the pulpit and pretending I am a Puritan minister preaching a 4 hour sermon from high above the congregation. All in all it was a great time and fulfilled all my history geek desires. Thanks to Robin DeBlosi and the rest of the Old South staff for letting us come in and play. Check out all of my pictures from last night’s event online.
If you haven’t been to Old South Meeting House or haven’t been in a long time, it’s worth checking out. The musuem is opened daily throughout the year from 9:30-5 (April-October) and 10-4 (November-March). Admission includes the history of the church and Tea Party, The Voices of Protest exhibit about free speech over the centuries, scavenger hunts and an audio program. The new Patriot’s Pass offers combined admission to Old South and The Paul Revere House for just $8 adults, $2 children.