Park chronicles family's legacy

Posted: Sunday, September 30, 2001

QUINCY, Mass. -- The election of the second pair of father-son presidents, plus a new best-selling biography, are sparking renewed interest in a park dedicated to the first father and son to occupy the White House.

The Adams National Historic Park that focuses on the life and times of John Adams and his son, John Quincy Adams, and their first ladies is a sightseeing bargain for history-minded tourists.

For just $2 for adults (children under 17 get in free), visitors can take a 2 1/2-hour tour of the 14-acre park, a collection of buildings in and around downtown Quincy, about 20 miles south of Boston.

A free trolley leaving from a downtown visitor center in the ''City of Presidents'' takes patrons to the various sites.

The park includes the 17th-century saltbox houses where John Adams and John Quincy Adams were born; the ''Old House,'' where the family and heirs lived from 1788 to 1927, and the First United Parish Church, where both presidents and their first ladies are entombed.

Officials say the new biography of John Adams by David McCullough and the election of George W. Bush had generated renewed interest in the park. The numbers certainly back up that claim.

''Last year we had about 88,000 visitors,'' says park ranger Crystal Hallowell. ''This year, from April 19 through the present, we already have 70,000 visitors.''

Much of the park encompasses buildings and artifacts donated from the family. The family donated the Old House on two conditions: that it remain as the family left it, and that the public not be allowed to use the center staircase, except when the family is present. That staircase does open once a year, during an annual reunion.

The family left the Old House with a 78,000-item collection of original furnishings and heirlooms and well-sculpted grounds and gardens.

Among the artifacts are portraits by Gilbert Stuart and John Singleton Copley, the desk where John Adams wrote the Massachusetts Constitution and a 14,000-volume library, the first presidential library ever built.

The home was the summer White House for John Quincy and Louisa Catherine Adams, and received guests including President James Monroe and the Marquis de Lafayette. John Adams died there on July 4, 1826.

Sally and Bill Lee, longtime Cape Cod residents who moved to Quincy two years ago, were impressed with the park during a recent visit.

''I never knew this was a summer White House,'' Bill Lee said. ''Some of the artifacts in that house are absolutely priceless.''

A land gift from John Adams made the construction of United First Parish Church possible. The church, also known as Church of the Presidents, was designed by Alexander Parris and built in 1828. Its features include a huge dome high above the sanctuary, and busts of both John Adams and John Quincy Adams.

Less spectacular, but equally significant, are the saltbox houses, built in 1663 and 1681, where John Adams and John Quincy Adams were born. The simple, two-story homes once anchored a 140-acre farm.

John Adams was born in the newer of the two houses in 1735, in what was then part of Braintree. He moved into the older house in 1764, the day he and Abigail were married.

It was there that John Quincy Adams was born and John Adams, Samuel Adams and James Bowdoin drafted the Massachusetts Constitution, the oldest such document still in use.

It was also there that Abigail, a prolific writer, penned many of her 2,000 letters, kept up the family farm in her husband's frequent absences, and harbored refugees fleeing British-occupied Boston.

''Going into the houses and seeing how the second and sixth presidents lived was interesting,'' said Eugene Hom of New York, who was visiting with friend Jing Moy of Riverside, Calif. He was also interested in learning more about Abigail Adams, ''a strong woman in American history.''



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