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It is America's oldest park, a five-sided, 50-acre area filled with grass and trees and history. It is Boston Common.

Before there was a United States of America, there was a Boston Common. Before the Back Bay was filled in and the Public Garden planted, Bostonians swam and boated in the Common's waters - in fact, a young man named Benjamin Franklin fished there. And British troops embarked from the Common on an April morning in 1775, headed for encounters in Lexington and Concord that would begin the war that forged a nation. Some more uncommon information about Boston Common:- It was purchased in 1634 from Rev. William Blaxton, an early squatter, for town use as a cow pasture and militia drill ground. But public punishments and an occasional execution took place, too. Today, the Common contains 19 structures, 26 pieces of public art and statuary, five malls, 390 benches, 744 trees, 283 trash receptacles and one cemetery. The punishments and executions are gone, but the cows come back each year for the Dairy Festival.

- George Washington, John Adams and Gen. Lafayette all were honored there. In more modern times, hundreds of thousands of people greeted such luminaries as Charles Lindbergh, Franklin Roosevelt, Martin Luther King Jr. and Pope John Paul II.

- In 1895, America's first subway line was dug along the Tremont and Boylston streets sides of the Common, underneath the site of the new Boston Visitor Information Center. The remains of colonial Bostonians were removed from the Boylston/Tremont corner and reinterred within Central Burying Ground.

- The new Visitor Information Center is an 84-year-old building, transformed from a women's comfort station by $1.4 million in city capital funds and a year's work. The Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau assists m5,000 people a week at the visitors' booth there, and more than 150 different brochures are available. And, for the first time on the Common since 1966, there are public restrooms.

- The Visitor Information Center marks the beginning of Boston's Freedom Trail, walked by 5 million people a year.