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Adams National Historical Park

John Adams birthplace
John Adams birthplace
Betty Agati for the
National Park Service

Adams National Historical Park was the home of John Adams, the second president of the United States, and his son John Quincy Adams, the sixth president. Distinguished in public service and in literary pursuits, four generations of the Adams family left its stamp on the history of the United States and on this site.  Set on 13 acres in Quincy, Massachusetts, the park includes the birthplaces of both President Adams. Built in the 17th century and only about 75 feet apart, these two New England "saltbox” houses are the oldest intact presidential birthplaces in the United States.  In 1788, John Adams moved his family and law office a short distance to a working farm that he called “Peacefield.”  Here he retired in 1801, at the end of his term as president, and here he died on July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.  John Quincy Adams spent most of his adult life abroad or in Washington, but returned to the family home whenever he could.  The Adams family called “Peacefield,” or “Old House,” home for 139 years.

John Adams Birthplace
John Adams’ father purchased this 17th-century frame house and seven acres of land in 1720.  The house probably consisted of two rooms on each floor, arranged on either side of a massive central chimney.  A lean-to addition on the back gave it its characteristic “saltbox” form.  John Adams was born in the east bedchamber in 1735.  He lived here until 1764, when he married Abigail Smith and moved 75 feet away to the house where his son, John Quincy, would be born three years later. The house was a rental property after 1780, when John Adams’ mother died.

John Quincy Adams Birthplace
John Adams inherited this 17th-century saltbox house, which is remarkably similar to his own birthplace next door, in 1761. Here he and his young wife started their family and the future second president launched his career in politics and law. John Adams maintained his law office in the house and he, Samuel Adams, and James Bowdoin wrote the Massachusetts Constitution here. This document, still in use today, influenced the United States Constitution. John Quincy Adams was born in an upstairs bedchamber in 1767 and spent his childhood here.  John Adams spent most of the period between 1767 and 1788 away from home, but his family continued to live in this house.  In 1803, John Quincy Adams purchased his birthplace from his father and lived there from 1805 until 1807, when he moved to Boston. Both houses contain authentic 18th and 19th-century furnishings, although except for a few pieces they are not original items.

John Quincy Adams birthplace
John Quincy Adams birthplace
Betty Agati for
National Park Service

“Peacefield” or Old House
John Adams bought a farm outside Quincy in 1788.  He named the farm “Peacefield” and moved his family to the original house on the property the following year.  The family soon began referring to the house as “Old House,” for the country villa the original owner built in 1731. Adams immediately began to expand the house.  He hoped to settle down here as a farmer, but his many public duties kept him from carrying out that plan until the end of his presidential term of office.  During that time, his wife continued to enlarge the house and managed the farm.  John Adams lived here year-round from 1801 until his death in 1826.

John Quincy Adams, who spent most of his life either abroad or in Washington,DC, used “Old House” as his summer retreat.  Like his father, he continued to expand and modernize the building.  Adams’ son, Civil War minister to Great Britain Charles Francis Adams, and grandsons, writers and historians Brooks and Henry Adams, lived in the house until 1927.

The house that John Adams bought consisted of a seven bay, two-story building facing the street with a kitchen ell in the back.  In 1800, he almost doubled the size of the house by building a two and one-half story, L-shaped addition on the east end.  The style of the wing is Georgian, to harmonize with the original building.  It contains a large reception room, the “Long Room,” on the first floor.  John Quincy Adams renovated the house and added a wing connecting the addition to the kitchen ell.  The present house also incorporates additions and renovations made by Charles Francis Adams.

Furnished with a remarkable collection of furniture and decorative items, the house remains as it did when the family departed in 1927. Much of the china, pottery, glassware, paintings, and some pieces of furniture reflect the diplomatic background of John, John Quincy, and Charles Francis Adams who each returned with prized possessions from their various European missions. The property includes a woodshed, duck pond, orchard, and 18th-century garden dating from the days of John Adams.

Stone Library
John Quincy Adams requested in his will a fireproof building, separate from the house, for his books and papers.  In 1870, Charles Francis Adams, his son, built the Stone Library with the help of Boston architect Edward Cabot.

Located just to the northwest of the Old House at the edge of a formal garden, the stone library holds over 14,000 volumes.  The granite and brick library is a single one-story room with a slated gable roof. The Medieval style, a departure from the Colonial style of the first two generations, reflects the elegant tastes of the third generation and the first of many alterations to the surrounding grounds.  Floor to ceiling oak bookcases line the interior walls.  Natural light comes from a skylight and French doors on the south, west, and north walls.

Interior of the Stone Library
National Park Service

A giant among the Founding Fathers, John Adams was one of the leaders of the movement for independence.  He was on the committee responsible for drafting the Declaration of Independence and steered it through the Continental Congress.  During the Revolution, he served the nation as a diplomat, helping to negotiate the peace treaty that ended the war.  Elected vice president in 1788, he found the position frustrating.  He won the vote to succeed Washington as president by only a narrow margin and soon had to deal with the international tensions created by the French Revolution, tensions which soon split his Federalist Party.  One of his greatest achievements was keeping the young United States out of a declared war with France while protecting American shipping rights on the high seas.

John Quincy Adams was one of America’s great secretaries of state.  His accomplishments include obtaining Florida from Spain and working with his president James Monroe to formulate the Monroe Doctrine.  During his single term as president, John Quincy Adams sought to bolster domestic business by proposing federally funded roads and canals and protective tariffs.  He was an abolitionist and defender of Indian rights, and frequently opposed States rights.  Adams realized few of his initiatives, because most Americans favored minimal government at that time. Defeated by Andrew Jackson in 1828, Adams went home to Massachusetts, but a year later, his district elected him to the House of Representatives, where he served for 18 years.  He was an outspoken opponent of the expansion of slavery and supporter of the constitutional right of the people to petition the government on that question.  “Old Man Eloquent” collapsed while addressing the House in February 1848 and died two days later at the age of 81.

Plan your visit

The Visitor Center for the Adams National Historical Park, a unit of the National Park System, is located at 1250 Hancock St., Quincy, MA.  John Adams Birthplace and John Quincy Adams Birthplace have both been designated as National Historic Landmarks.  Click on the following links for The National Register of Historic Places files for Adams National Historic Site: text and photos, John Adams Birthplace: text and photos, and John Quincy Adams Birthplace: text and photos.

The park is open from April 19th to November 10th. During this time, the park is open daily from 9:00am to 5:00pm. An entrance fee includes guided tours of the Presidential Birthplaces unit and the Old House unit, and travel between them and the Visitor Center by trolley bus.  Tours last approximately two hours and depart regularly from the Visitor Center. The last tour leaves at 3:15pm daily.  The Visitor Center is open during the Winter Season, Tuesday through Friday from 10:00am to 4:00pm.  For more information, visit the National Park Service Adams National Historical Park website or call 617-770-1175.

Many components of the Adams National Historical Park have been documented by the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey including the  Old House, John Adams Birthplace, John Quincy Adams Birthplace, the Stone Library, the Doghouse, and the Flower Garden.

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