Adams park highlights lives of presidents

QUINCY, Mass. — Surrounded by noisy cars and modern homes, it is difficult to imagine that the tiny cottages sitting side by side on a small withered lawn were once birthplaces to two American presidents.

John Adams was born in 1735 in a natural wood colored “salt box” styled house on Franklin Street 10 miles south of Boston. Only 75 feet away, his son John Quincy Adams was born in the same house where his father drafted the Massachusetts Constitution; the oldest constitution in the world still in effect.

“Sometimes it’s hard to imagine there was so much land, but the stories are so amazing that you are able to suspend your disbelief for a minute,” Karen Yourell, supervisory park ranger of Adams National Historic Park, said of the homes which were once surrounded by 188 acres of farm land.

The Old Adams House in Quincy (Photo by Rachael Borher).

Yourell is one of eight seasonal guides who lead visitors through the birth houses of the second President of the United States John Adams, and son John Quincy Adams who gained presidency 24 years after his father.

The two-hour tour begins at the Visitor Center, 1250 Hancock St., in the Presidents Place Galleria, where a trolley picks up visitors and brings them to the Adams’ birth houses.

“It’s a very simple house,” said Yourell. “It’s not like you go to Vernon or Monticello, John Adams was born into a farmer’s life and all his life he still thought of himself as a farmer from Braintree.”

No original artifacts are kept in either birth house because of the location. However, there are similar items to those the Adams may have owned, which are known from meticulous letters and records kept by Abigail Adams.

The Adams Presidential Library (Photo by Rachael Borher).

Abigail lived in Boston for 20 years and wrote about 2,000 love letters to her husband who was in Philadelphia serving as delegate to the second Continental Congress.

One letter describes Charlestown burning; an event which she and her young son John Quincy watched from Penn’s Hill.

“When you are standing up there, you get a sense she climbed it and realized she and her husband were involved in something much bigger than them,” Yourell said. “There was no going back; she wrote ‘the decisive day has come’.”

The Adams’ Carriage House (Photo by Rachael Borher).

Although Penn’s Hill is not on the tour, Yourell said that there is information about it at the information center and people often visit on their own.

A short drive from the birth houses, the trolley stops at “The Old House” or “Peace Field” which John and Abigail Adams moved into in 1788. Four generations of Adams lived in this house up until the last descendent to live in the house died in 1927.

In 1940, the home was donated to the city of Quincy by the Quincy Historical Society, a group made of direct decedents of John Adams and his wife Abigail. Today, the National Park Service maintains the home.

Portraits of George and Martha Washington commissioned by John Adams (Photo by Rachael Borher).

Each of the 78,000 artifacts in the 21-room home is original, ranging from portraits of George and Martha Washington done from life to the green velvet chair where John Adams died on the 50 th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.

Another item of note is a grandfather clock from 1681, which was given to the Adams as a wedding gift.

“If [we] have a small group, we tell them to listen because they can hear the same tick tock that John and Abigail heard,” said Nancy Smith, assistant supervisor and park ranger at Adams Park.

The Presidents Room and the bed in which Abigail Adams died (Photo by Rachael Borher).

Adjacent to the house, is a fire-proof library built by John Quincy’s son Charles Francis Adams with Quincy granite and a slate roof.

“The whole park is wonderful, but if you have to pick anything this is the gem of the park,” Smith said.

Although the library doesn’t hold the papers of the president as do most presidential libraries, it does house 14,000 books in seven different languages. Also in the library, a 1521 Mendi Bible given to John Quincy by slaves on the ship Amistad after they won back their freedom. The desk which the constitution was written on is also available for visitors to see.

Guests can wander through gardens surrounding the house. They will find York and Lancaster roses and lilacs, which Abigail planted when she returned back from London where she joined her husband for several years.

Behind the house is an orchard that produces 11 different kinds of apples and a Carriage House, which was built in 1873 and is available for self guided tours.

The Formal Parlor Room (Photo by Rachael Borher).

If You Go 

  • Admission: $5 for adults, children under 16 years of age are free. Federal fee area, Golden Age, Golden Access and Golden Eagle passports are also honored.
  • Best Place to Start: Visitors Center, 1250 Hancock St., in the Presidents Place Galleria.
  • How to Get There: From Boston, take the Red Line south to Quincy Center. If you are driving, there is a parking garage. Parking will be validated.
  • Tour Times: The park is open seven days a week from April 19 through Nov. 10. The Visitor Center opens at 9 a.m. and the first bus trolley leaves the Visitor Center at 9:15. Additional trolleys leave every half hour after that. The last full tour leaves the Visitor Center at 3:15.
  • General Tips: These are antique houses and they do not have modern bathrooms available to visitors. Use the restrooms prior to departing the Visitor Center. Also, the tour does not include a visit to The United First Parish Church where John Adams, John Quincy Adams, and first ladies Abigail and Louisa Catherine Adams are buried. Tours of the church, located next to the Visitor Center, run throughout the day and are 20 minutes long.
  • Cameras: Visitors may take pictures of the outside of the homes, but in order not to damage items found in the houses, pictures are not permitted inside. Food and Drinks are also prohibited.
  • Reservations: Required for groups of eight or more. Call 617-770-1175 for information.
  • Web site:
First Lady Abigail Adams’ brush set (Photo by Rachael Borher).
The Formal Parlor (Photo by Rachael Borher).
The Memorial Wreath presented to John Quincy Adams‘ wife when John Adams died (Photo by Rachael Borher).

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