The first public building to be erected on the Common was a meeting house, which according to the early customs was used not only for religious, but also civic purposes. The location of the meeting house was about half way between Front and Franklin Streets, along the western border of the Common. This was built in 1719 and the first town meeting held in it in 1722. In 1763this structure was torn down and replaced by a larger and more modern building known as the Old South Meeting House, which, until 1825, served as the religious, civic and patriotic center of Worcester. From its porch on July 14, 1776 the Declaration of Independence was read for the first time in New England by Isaiah Thomas. This building faced north and dominated the Common until in 1824-1825 when the Town Hall was built. As the new structure faced west on Main Street, directly in front of the Meeting House, the result was that the heart of the city had a rather odd appearance for many years. In 1887 the city purchased the rights of the Old South Meeting House to the location on the Common and the old church was torn down.
From 1825 until Mechanics Hall was opened, the Town Hall, with its "upper" Town Hall which had the largest seating capacity of any room in Worcester, became the center of the civic as well as the political life of the town. Here was held concerts, lectures, and assemblies of all sorts. President John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay, Charles Sumner, Daniel Webster, Father Matthew, Henry Wilson, Kossuth, P.T. Barnum. Thackeray, Edward Everett, and in 1857 John Brown, spoke in behalf of themselves or some movement of the day. The first meeting of the Free Soil Party was held on June 18, 1848. Eli Thayer of Worcester, in 1854 made the first public announcement of his plan to protest against the Kansas-Nebraska Act which was the beginning of the movement that saved Kansas from being a Slave State. July 20, 1854 the Republican Party of Massachusetts was organized here. From 1857 Mechanics Hall with its much larger accommodations became the Forum of Worcester, and the use of Upper Town Hall declined so that in 1866 it was finally closed.
In 1730 about an acre of land on the easterly end of the Common was set apart for a burying ground and as such was the principal cemetery of Worcester until 1795. The lot, enclosed by a stone wall, extended to a point near the present Soldier's Monument, then to about where the Timothy Bigelow Monument stands.
For some reason it was not square but more like a keystone in shape. As a result of the neglect, the burial ground gradually became an eyesore and in 1854, the city had a plan made of the graves and the inscriptions copied from the headstones. The headstones were then laid flat on the graves and the whole plot covered with a foot of earth and leveled off.
A very necessary municipal structure in the early days was the Town Pound. Accordingly in 1723, there was built of stone on the eastern border of the Common a pen thirty-three feet square and seven feet high. So well was this constructed that for nearly a hundred years it took care of the stray animals of the town. In 1800, a school house was placed near the corner of Salem Square and Franklin Street. In 1840, a two story brick school house was built near the Soldier's Monument now stands. These buildings gave many years of service. Along the western boundary of the burying ground were the gun house, Hearse House and the Hook and Ladder House. Close by the Front Street boundary was a double row of cattle show sheds, for the Common was also a show ground. Cattle and other shows were given here from 1819, until 1854, when the city purchased the New Common, or what is now Elm Park.
As a training or muster field the Common has been the scene of preparation and departure of many military expeditions. In 1746, at the threat of a French invasion, a whole military company was formed, drilled and equipped ready to march from this field. In 1748, fifty-three men left here to help drive the Indians back into Canada. Three hundred departed from the training field in 1756, to help repel an expected attack from the north, but returned without having seen service. Again in 1757, the entire Militia force of Worcester was sent on a fruitless errand as far as Sheffield.
The revolutionary period was one of great activity at the training field. August 22, 1774, saw over three thousand men from all parts of the country gathered without arms on the Common. These "Sons of Liberty", as they were called, had important business with "Tory" Paine, selectman of Worcester and county clerk, who had recently received his commission from the King as Mandamus Councilor. A committee of five was chosen to confer with Paine and succeeded not only in persuading him to write out his resignation as Councilor, but also to read it in person to his fellow citizens. The meeting adjourned after treating the late Royal Councilor with great indignity, the climax being when his wig was knocked off.
In the same year six thousand men left the Common to aid the Boston Patriots when word came of the seizure of a quantity of ammunition in Somerville by the British. This expedition reached Shrewsbury before it was found that its services were not needed. However, from then on a company of Minute Men was organized under Captain Timothy Bigelow and, armed with muskets and cannon, drilled daily on the Common. Their call came April 19, 1775, and although they took no part in the battles of Lexington and Concord, they became a part of General Artemus Ward's forces at Cambridge.
Transportation enters into the story of the Common. In 1840 after the completion of the Norwich & Worcester and the Western Railroads, tracks were laid across the Common so that the new companies might use the terminal facilities of the Boston and Worcester Road, at the southeast corner of Foster and Norwich Streets.
For some time the city insisted that no engine attached to cars should cross the Common, but later the railroad was allowed to use its engines to the end of the line. For years the traffic moved as slowly and quietly as possible close to the rear door of City Hall. In 1875 on completion of the Union Station at Washington Square, the old right of way was abandoned and in 1877 the rails removed.