Adams National Historical Park
Visited: July 31, 2006
NPS Site Visited: 324 of 353
WHAT IS IT?
Birthplace and final resting place of both the 2nd and 6th presidents, John Adams and his son John Quincy Adams. The Site also includes the Old House, home of both Adamses, fully furnished with artwork, books and furniture all owned by some generation of that venerable Quincy family.
The exteriors of presidents 2 and 6's homes lack the panache and grandeur of their Commander-in-Chief contemporaries'. The Old House is no ostentatious Southern neo-classical plantation mansion. Its gems are inside and not on public display for every horse-drawn (or horse-powered) passerby.
Inside are 78,000 original Adams artifacts arranged for display by John Quincy's grandsons. The tasteful and subdued colors, furniture and artwork speak of a quiet confidence and contained dignity. The house's mood is comfortable and liveable, seemingly unchanged for 200 years. The Old House does not feel like a museum; if John, John Quincy, Abigail, Louisa Catherine or Charles Francis were to magically appear they would not be existentially displaced.
HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (8/10)
The Adamses are America's most distinguished and most accomplished family. The gravity of the titles held by the Old House's residents would sink the Titanic. US President; US Vice President; US VP Candidate; US Senator; US Congressman; Secretary of State; Ambassador to Great Britain, France, Prussia and Russia; the list just goes on. Nearly every important incident in our country's first 75 years involved someone who lived here.
The home's artifacts are equally astounding. For example, tucked in an unassuming corner in the Old House's first floor is an original 1823 William Stone engraving of the Declaration of Independence. Stone's engraving is the basis for most modern reproductions because of the 1776 copies poor transfer. An 1823 Declaration is America's most treasured and valuable antique; less than forty of the 201 prints are known to be in existence.
Our Ranger assured us that the document on display was one of the prized remaining copies. And why shouldn't it be? As president, John Quincy Adams commissioned the engraving. His father and not Thomas Jefferson, some historian's argue, is the document's primary author. The desk where John Adams may have written the Declaration (and surely wrote his famed correspondences to Jefferson) is upstairs. The Old House lives and breathes the same rarefied American history air as Mount Vernon and Monticello.
The narrow corridors and low ceilings of all three Adams abodes felt cramped with just us and a Ranger. A crowded tour could be oppressively claustrophobic. The space limitations and lack of parking around the homes necessitates a Park trolley bus. The mandatory shuttle further constrains your time and enjoyment. We felt rushed during our whole visit.
EASE OF USE/ACCESS (2/5)
After our miserable showing direction-wise in Quincy, we have no business giving you directions. We could blame the streets which seldom meet a right angles or connect with other. We could blame the Adams NHP map which aligns the direction coordinates wrong (North faces leftward). Or we could blame the glut of Dunkin' Donuts which skewed our landmark references (the Dunk started here). Or we could blame ourselves, meaning Gab, the navigator.
Here's what worked. We exited from Interstate 93 onto Massachusetts Route 3 and went towards Quincy Center. Look closely for Adams NHP signs, follow them with care and may the force be with you. The Visitor Center (VC) is located on Hancock Street on the first floor of a commercial complex. There is validated parking in the adjunct garage. You could also take the Boston T (the subway) red line to the Quincy Center Station.
Luckily, a Park trolley takes visitors from the VC to two different stops: the Birthplace Houses and the Old House. Unluckily, the trolly's wheelchair lift was out of service and a fellow tourist and his family were left searching for transportation options. Much of the Old House, including the entire second floor, is wheelchair inaccessible; an unfortunate but unfixable shame.
The Adams NHP is closed for house tours during the long New England winter months of November, December, January, February, March and most of April. We missed its 2004 Patriot's Day opening and had to return in 2006 to visit the Site.
The Adams NHP bookstore contains a wealth of wonderful texts, not just David McCullough's recent Pulitzer Prize-winning bestseller, John Adams. An entire stack is dedicated to John-Abigail correspondences as well as the voluminous (and long out-of-print) Diary of Charles Francis Adams, on sale at amazon.com for $125 a pop. We wished we would have checked the Adams NHP prices.
The bookstore's gems don't stop with those Diaries. We arrived to the salesperson shelving the racks with two boxes of rare and out-of-print Adams sagas. “We'll go through all of these in a few days,” he assured us. We will quibble about the absence of the masterpiece, The Education of Henry Adams, the Modern Library's best non-fiction book of the 20th century (He lived here, too) but on the whole the standards and rarities sold here are too good and too numerous.
Park entry and shuttle service to the Adams home costs $5 per person but it free with the National Parks Pass. If you park in the Visitor Center's adjacent parking garage be sure to validate your parking. One Ranger-administered stamp and your parking is free.
RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (5/5)
While there, we had trouble keeping track of all the Rangers. Let's try and remember. We saw two at the VC, two at the Birthplace Tour and three at the Old House. No repeaters either.
The Adams NHP Tour's order and lesson arrangement are perfect. First come the John Adams and John Quincy Adams birthplaces. Inside a Ranger offers a refresher course on the presidents, speaks of their childhood, reintroduces day-to-day Colonial-era items and whisks you off onto the trolley for the main course, the Old House.
The Old House tour picks up where the Birthplace Tour started but continues wherever you wish to take it. The Guide gauged our level of interest and proceeded to share a wealth of in-depth Adams knowledge. There is so much to see in the Old House and what the Guide chooses to show is based on the visitors' interests. Our learning experience was overwhelming and much too short despite the two-hour length.
Like Thomas Jefferson's Monticello home, there is too much to see and too little time inside the Old House. We probably should have asked for a second tour; we are sure we would have seen completely different things.
The Adams NHP House Tours were wonderfully engaging and full of historic surprises. The original Adams artifacts alone were worth the price of admission. We were taken aback by the value and worth of what we were seeing; perhaps it was because we had just watched an Antiques Roadshow marathon. Regardless, our highlight of the tours was the 12,000+ volume library that Quincy's grandchildren built to store their ancestors' impressive collection.
Make sure that there is enough time between your Old House tour and trolley pick-up time to ensure a look inside the Library. This can be tricky. We unnecessarily rushed ourselves because of the waiting trolley. But had we missed that ride, it would have been at least 30 minutes until the next.
WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (8/10)
The blustery talkers and historical agents from Boston and Cambridge have staked their claim as the center of Massachusetts and, dare we say, American life and accomplishments. The facts show that the rural Adamses of Quincy were the lifeblood of Massachusetts politics. John Adams' diffident nature has unfairly kept him out of the founding fathers pantheon of Washington, Jefferson and Franklin. John Quincy's often icy and irrational behavior has kept him off nearly everybody's beloved-Presidents list.
Do not make the mistake of ignoring the Adamses. The Adams NHP offers one of New England's best and most historically significant house tours. You should visit this Site especially if your (Michael's sister) in-laws live just a few miles away in Holbrook, Mass.