Twice Told Tales
Legends of the Province-House
One afternoon last summer, while walking along Washington street, my eye was attracted
by a sign-board protruding over a narrow archway nearly opposite the Old South Church.
The sign represented the front of a stately edifice which was designated as the "OLD
PROVINCE HOUSE, kept by Thomas Waite." I was glad to be thus reminded of a
purpose, long entertained, of visiting and rambling over the mansion of the old royal
governors of Massachusetts, and, entering the arched passage which penetrated through
the middle of a brick row of shops, a few steps transported me from the busy heart of
modern Boston into a small and secluded court-yard. One side of this space was occupied
by the square front of the Province House, three stories high and surmounted by a cupola,
on the top of which a gilded Indian was discernible, with his bow bent and his arrow on
the string, as if aiming at the weathercock on the spire of the Old South. The figure has
kept this attitude for seventy years or more, ever since good Deacon Drowne, a cunning
carver of wood, first stationed him on his long sentinel's watch over the city.
The Province House is constructed of brick, which seems recently to have been overlaid
with a coat of light-colored paint. A flight of red freestone steps fenced in by a balustrade
of curiously wrought iron ascends from the court-yard to the spacious porch, over which
is a balcony with an iron balustrade of similar pattern and workmanship to that beneath.
These letters and figures—"16 P.S. 79"—are wrought into the ironwork of the balcony,
and probably express the date of the edifice, with the initials of its founder's name.
A wide door with double leaves admitted me into the hall or entry, on the right of which
is the entrance to the bar-room. It was in this apartment, I presume, that the ancient
governors held their levees with vice-regal pomp, surrounded by the military men, the
counsellors, the judges, and other officers of the Crown, while all the loyalty of the
province thronged to do them honor. But the room in its present condition cannot boast
even of faded magnificence. The panelled wainscot is covered with dingy paint and
acquires a duskier hue from the deep shadow into which the Province House is thrown by
the brick block that shuts it in from Washington street. A ray of sunshine never visits this
apartment any more than the glare of the festal torches which have been extinguished
from the era of the Revolution. The most venerable and ornamental object is a chimney-
piece set round with Dutch tiles of blue-figured china, representing scenes from
Scripture, and, for aught I know, the lady of Pownall or Bernard may have sat beside this
fireplace and told her children the story of each blue tile. A bar in modern style, well
replenished with decanters, bottles, cigar-boxes and network bags of lemons, and
provided with a beer-pump and a soda-fount, extends along one side of the room.
At my entrance an elderly person was smacking his lips with a zest which satisfied me
that the cellars of the Province House still hold good liquor, though doubtless of other