18 July 2013

The genealogy of Adams National Historical Park

133 Franklin Street, Quincy, Massachusetts
How does a house reflect a genealogy? When it's part of the Adams National Historical Park.

The National Park Service owns three homes associated with John Adams (1735-1826), the second president of the United States, in Quincy, Massachusetts. The park includes the country's oldest (two) presidential birthplaces and the first presidential library. (Built of stone in 1873 according to John Quincy Adams' will, the library was designed as a fireproof place to house 14,000 volumes of books. It is not an open research library and most of the presidential papers are not included in the archives.)

Begin Your Tour

Start early at the visitor center (1250 Hancock Street) in order to hop on the trolley for a two-hour tour of five generations of the Adams family. The future second president was born in a typical clapboarded saltbox house at 133 Franklin Street, with huge fireplaces and not-quite-level floors. His father was a farmer and deacon of the local Congregational church who also made shoes during the winter. At one point, the family owned many acres surrounding the house, and yet only 75 feet separates the birthplace from the older house where lawyer John Adams lived after marrying his third cousin, Abigail (Smith) Adams (1744-1818), in 1764.

It's in the second home where John and Abigail's children were born, including future diplomat and sixth president of the U.S., John Quincy Adams (1767-1848). Being embroiled in the causes of independence and freedom meant that John didn't spend all that much time in this house during the American Revolution, leaving Abigail to write her many famous letters while melting her spoons into musket balls. 

In 1788, John Adams returned from abroad and the family moved to the Old House at Peace Field at 135 Adams Street, a much more stately home than their farmhouse. Still, it wasn't big enough for their family and social lives, so they expanded the original 1731 foundation by nearly double.

Four generations called Peace Field home, from 1788 to 1927. The house reflects the different time periods, furniture styles, and family interests throughout—as well as the many visitors who were entertained. There are stories as to which portraits hung where, from George Washington's in a place of honor in the dining room to the portrait of John Quincy Adam's wife Louisa (1775-1852) being relegated to the back hallway due to her English birth (and maybe some mother-in-law issues). There's the spacious second-floor office with its celestial globe where the second president died on the 4th of July, hours after his friend and rival Thomas Jefferson died. Through a late-addition hallway, created for an early-rising Adams didn't want to walk through the guest room, and to the right are several famous pieces of art, near the modernized (to some extent!) bathroom and servants' quarters just over the kitchen.

All together, the three homes portray a family growing and widening its circle, from local farmers and lawyers to diplomats and presidents.

Final Resting Places

Along with many other local notables, the Adams were buried in Hancock cemetery, across the street from their local church. However, one descendant decided that wasn't quite good enough for two U.S. presidents and their ladies. Their bodies were removed and put into four huge stone tombs in the specially created crypt beneath the United First Parish Church at 1306 Hancock Street.