Copley Square

Overview of Copley Square, looking down Boylston Street, 2009
Trinity Church, Boston, 2005
The Boston Public Library defines the western side of the square, 2007. Walking in front of the library is the Fairmont Copley Plaza's Chef Concierge Jim Carey with the hotel's canine ambassador Catie Copley.

Copley Square is a public square located in the Back Bay neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts, named for the donor of the land on which it was developed. The square is named for John Singleton Copley, a famous portrait painter of the late 18th century and native of Boston. A bronze statue of Copley, by sculptor Lewis Cohen, is located on the northern side of the square. The name Copley Square is frequently applied to the larger area extending approximately two blocks east and west along Boylston Street, Huntington Avenue, and St. James Avenue. The square is adjacent to the finish line of the Boston Marathon, which is commemorated by a monument in the park.


Boundaries and history

Detail of 1888 map of Boston, showing Art Square and vicinity
The former building of the Museum of Fine Arts was located in Copley Square along St. James Avenue, 19th c. (on the present site of the Fairmont Hotel).
Copley Square fountain, 2010

Historian Douglas Shand-Tucci argues that Victorian Copley Square was developed by Boston's Brahmin caste in the 1865-1915 period as a great New World agora of arts and sciences, faith and learning.[1] Its cornerstone was the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), founded in the square (including the first American school of architecture), within a block of which would be built the crown jewel of modern Harvard, its medical school; Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, The New England Museum of Natural History (today the Museum of Science), Trinity Church, the New Old South Church, the Boston Public Library, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Massachusetts Normal Art School (today's Massachusetts College of Art), the Horace Mann School for the Deaf. In later years there first flourished there Boston University, Emerson College and Northeastern University. The square was the cradle of the great galaxy of educational institutions which made Boston the American intellectual capital in the 20th century. Shand-Tucci asserts the square presided over what he calls "the dawn of the modern American experience."

The square is bounded by Boylston Street on the north, Clarendon Street on the east, St. James Street on the south, and Dartmouth Street on the west. The square was created following the 1858 filling of most of the Back Bay Fens. Originally Huntington Avenue diagonally bisected the square, running from the southwest corner to the northeast corner at Clarendon Street. The Museum of Fine Arts was originally located on the southern side of the square, at the site of the present Fairmont Copley Plaza hotel. The founding buildings of MIT were located in the northeast corner of the square until the institution moved to a new campus in Cambridge in 1916.

In 1966 Huntington Avenue was terminated at the corner of Dartmouth Street and St. James Avenue, and the shape of the present square emerged. The 1966 site plan, designed by Sasaki, Dawson & DeMay, lowered the grade of the square almost 12 feet (3.7 m) below sidewalk level, added a pyramid-shaped fountain sculpture, and was mostly paved.

In 1983, to address public dissatisfaction with the lack of greenery and sightlines, the Copley Square Centennial Committee was formed. A series of public meetings and seminars established design criteria for a new park. A national design competition was held in 1989 and the current design was selected. In 1991 the new Copley Square Park was dedicated. In 1992 the Copley Square Centennial Committee was reconstituted as the Friends of Copley Square, a private, non-profit citizens' organization that raises funds to care for the square's plantings, fountain, monuments, and statuary.

Architecture of Copley Square

Copley Square may be unique in boasting of three masterpieces of world stature in the medieval, classical and modern traditions. Indeed, Trinity Church and the Boston Public Library constitute perhaps the most famous confrontation in the history of American architecture. The various landmarks are listed below in the order in which they were constructed:

  • Old South Church, completed in 1873, was designed by Charles Amos Cummings and Willard T. Sears and built in the Venetian Gothic Revival style. The style follows the precepts of the British cultural theorist and architectural critic John Ruskin (1819 – 1900) as outlined in his treatise The Stones of Venice.National Historic Landmark
  • Chauncy Hall School, built circa 1874, was a High Victorian brick school building with tall gables that stood on Boylston Street near Dartmouth St. until 1908. Founded in 1828 by Gideon Thayer, this preparatory boys' school merged with the Chapel Hill girls' school in 1971 to become Chapel Hill - Chauncy Hall School, which is now located in Waltham.
  • Museum of Fine Arts, completed in 1876, was designed by John Hubbard Sturgis and Charles Brigham and built in the Gothic Revival style. The building was located on the southern side of the square and was torn down in 1910, after moving to the Fenway neighborhood, to make way for the Copley Plaza hotel. The Copley Square museum was the first purpose-built public art museum in the world.
  • Trinity Church, completed in 1877, was designed by H. H. Richardson and built in the Romanesque Revival style. It is located on the eastern side of the square. Considered Richardson's tour de force, the 1893 Baedeker's United States pronounced it "deservedly regarded as one of the finest buildings in America." National Historic Landmark
  • S.S. Pierce Building, built in 1887, was designed by S. Edwin Tobey in a Richardsonian Romanesque style as the headquarters of the S.S. Pierce & Co. grocery business, which Samuel Stillman Pierce had founded in Boston in 1831. Architecture critic Robert Campbell has observed of the building: "It's no masterpiece of architecture, but it's great urban design. A heap of dark Romanesque masonry, it anchored a corner of Copley Square as solidly as a mountain."[2] The building was demolished in 1958 for a parking lot. The Copley Place retail/hotel/office complex now occupies the site.
  • Boston Public Library, completed in 1895, was designed by Charles Follen McKim in a revival of Italian Renaissance style. It is located on the Western side of the square. In the history of 19th century American architecture it is rivaled in importance only by the Capitol in Washington, and incorporates important art by John Singer Sargent, Edwin Austin Abbey, Puvis de Chavanne, Augustus Saint-Gaudens and Daniel Chester French. National Historic Landmark
  • Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel, completed in 1912, was designed by Henry Janeway Hardenbergh in the Beaux-Arts style and erected on the site of the original Museum of Fine Arts. Hardenbergh was the architect of New York's Plaza Hotel and Dakota Apartments.
  • John Hancock Tower, completed in 1976 as the headquarters of John Hancock Insurance, was designed by Henry N. Cobb of I.M. Pei & Partners (now Pei Cobb Freed & Partners). Modeled on a 1922 proposal by Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe for a glass skyscraper in Berlin, Germany, this sixty-story tower is a minimalist example of late Modernism clad in reflective deep blue glass. It has an elongated parallelogram footprint and presents its narrowest profile to the square so as not to overshadow Trinity Church or the square itself. At 790 feet (241 m), it is New England's tallest building.
  • The postmodernist Bostix Kiosk, (1992, NW corner of Dartmouth and Boylsont streets) was designed Graham Gund with inspiration from Parisian park pavilions.[citation needed]

Farmers' market

Copley Square Farmer's Market, 2010

From mid-May until the Tuesday before Thanksgiving a farmers' market is open in Copley Square every Tuesday and Friday from 11 a.m. until 6 p.m. Farmers and other local food producers sell locally grown and produced vegetables, fruits, herbs, honey, baked goods, cheese, locally raised meats, annual and perennial garden plants, and cut flowers. The farmers' market is organized by the Federation of Massachusetts Farmers Markets , and is located along the south, west, and north edges of the square.


These are some examples of high-end boutiques found in or near Copley Square:


Copley is a stop on the MBTA Green Line subway; the Orange Line and commuter rail trains stop at nearby Back Bay Station. The southern side of the square facing the Copley Square Hotel is an MBTA bus stop for the 9, 10, 39, 55, 503, and 502.

Image gallery


  1. ^ Douglass Shand-Tucci, The Gods of Copley Square, lecture series, 2009, sponsored by Back Bay Historical/Boston-centric Global Studies and the New England Historical Genealogical Society
  2. ^ Robert Campbell and Peter Vanderwarker. Coming into Copley. Boston Globe.Mar 26, 2006. p.BGM.16.
  • Aldrich, Megan. Gothic Revival. Phaidon Press Ltd: 1994. ISBN 0-7148-2886-6.
  • Bunting, Bainbridge. Houses of Boston's Back Bay: An Architectural History, 1840-1917. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press: 1967. ISBN 0-674-40901-9.
  • Forbes, Esther, and Arthur Griffin. The Boston Book. Houghton Mifflin Company: 1947.
  • Holtz Kay, Jane. Lost Boston. Houghton Mifflin: 1999. ISBN 0-3959-6610-8.
  • Shand-Tucci, Douglass. "The Gods of Copley Square: Dawn of the Modern American Experience, 1865-1915",, 2009.
  • Shand-Tucci, Douglass. "Built in Boston, City and Suburb, 18800-2000". Little, Brown. (Third edition) 1999.
  • Shand-Tucci, Douglass. "Renaissance Rome and Emersonian Boston: Michelangelo and Sargent, between Triumph and Doubt", Anglican Theological Review, Fall 2002, 995-1008.

External links

Coordinates: 42°20′59.19″N 71°4′35.68″W / 42.349775°N 71.0765778°W / 42.349775; -71.0765778 (Copley Square, Boston)

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