A late summer evening stroll in Boston’s Public Garden is one of life’s pleasures. Established in 1837 on a salt marsh in what is now the heart of Boston, the garden was one of America’s first public botanical gardens. Its Victorian design was created by architect George Meacham who won a public competition and $100 for his efforts. At the time, the mid-nineteenth century, new greenhouse techniques allowed for colorful displays and exotic plants, a look that some early critics found garish and against the normal colors of the natural world.
Many statues dot the Garden – from military figures like Colonel Tadeusz Kosciuszko, a Polish citizen who fought in the American Revolution, and Colonel Thomas Cass who fought during the Civil War, to abolitionist Wendell Phillips and Senator Charles Sumner. The famous equestrian statue of George Washington commands a prime spot at the Garden’s Arlington Street Gate and was dedicated in 1869. At the east gate on Charles Street, across from the Common, stands a statue of Edward Everett Hale, an author and historian. Perhaps the most beloved is the statue of the ducks from the children’s book Make Way for Ducklings.
Undoubtedly the most famous feature of the Garden today is the swan boats that grace the lagoon. The boats have a fascinating history – the city granted Robert Paget a license to operate a boat in the 1870s and by 1877 he came up with a foot-propelled catamaran boat with a paddlewheel. He devised a large swan figure, based on the opera Lohengrin, to hide the boat’s captain. The current fleet of six boats is still owned and operated by the Paget family and the oldest boat dates from 1918.
Surrounded by the bustle of one of America’s oldest cities, this sculpted oasis in the middle of Boston continues to provide solace and beauty for urban dwellers who must endure months of gray winter.