John Adams and John Quincy Adams Birthplaces, Quincy, Mass

The John Adams (right) and John Quincy Adams (left) birthplaces on Franklin Street in Quincy, around 1904. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2019:

As of 2020, only seven states have been the birthplace of two or more presidents. Massachusetts is among them, with four presidents, and two of these were born here, in this half-acre triangle of land between Franklin Street and Presidents Avenue. John Adams was born in 1735, in the house on the right side of this scene, and his son John Quincy Adams was born 32 years later, in the house on the left in the foreground. Standing only 75 feet apart, these are the two closest presidential birthplaces in the country, and they are also the two oldest surviving ones; no other presidents before William Henry Harrison were born in buildings that still exist.

The house on the right, where John Adams was later born, was built in 1722 by the future president’s father, Deacon John Adams. At the the time, this area was part of the town of Braintree, as the present-day city of Quincy would not be incorporated as a separate municipality until 1792. Deacon Adams had purchased the property, which included seven acres of farmland, in 1720, and he subsequently built the house, apparently reusing timbers from an earlier house that had stood here. Adams married his wife Susanna Boylston in 1734, and a year later their first son John was born here. John spent his childhood here, along with his younger brothers Peter and Elihu, although he left home in 1751 at the age of 16, in order to attend Harvard.

In sending his son to Harvard, Deacon Adams had hoped that John would become a minister, but after graduation he moved to Worcester, where he worked as a schoolteacher before deciding to study law. John ultimately returned here to his family home in 1758, and a year later he was admitted to the bar and began practicing law. Two years later, Deacon Adams died at the age of 70, and his son Peter inherited the old family home, with John receiving the house next door on the left side of the scene, which Deacon Adams had acquired in 1744.

John Adams married Abigail Smith in 1764, and the couple moved into the house here on the left side. Although John’s father had only owned it for 20 years at that point, it was actually even older than the other house. It was definitely built by 1717, but it apparently incorporated parts of an earlier house that had been built here on this site in 1663. In either case, the house was expanded at some point after it was built, possibly during Deacon Adams’s ownership, and in its current form it is architecturally very similar to the house on the right. Both are good examples of the traditional New England saltbox style, with three window bays on the front facade, a central chimney, two front rooms on both the first and second floors, and two additional rooms on the first floor of the lean-to.

Upon moving into the house on the left, John Adams converted the southeast room on the ground floor—at the corner closest to the foreground in this scene—into his law office. From the exterior, the only change was the door here at the corner, which allowed clients to come and go without using the main entrance. On the other side of the house, in the northeast corner, was the parlor, and the kitchen was located behind it in the lean-to section. There were two bedrooms upstairs, and future president John Quincy Adams was born in the northern bedroom, on the right side in this scene.

Aside from John Quincy Adams (1767-1848), John and Abigail Adams had five other children: Abigail “Nabby” (1765-1813), Susanna (1768-1770), Charles (1770-1800), Thomas (1772-1832), and Elizabeth (stillborn in 1777). This was their home throughout this time, although John was frequently away from here during and after the American Revolution. From 1774 to 1777, he was a delegate at the First and Second Continental Congresses in Philadelphia, and then from 1777 to 1779 he was overseas as an envoy in France. This was followed by an even longer stay in Europe during the 1780s, when he served as Minister to the Netherlands and Minister to Great Britain.

During John Adams’s long periods away from home, he and Abigail exchanged hundreds of letters, a substantial number of which have survived. Although she lacked formal education, the letters reveal Abigail’s role as an influential advisor and confidant to her husband, and these letters have become a part of the American literary canon. Abigail wrote many of the letters from here at their house, including her famous 1776 exhortation to John to “Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favourable to them than your ancestors” when creating a new government.

As it turned out, a few years later John Adams would almost singlehandedly create the Massachusetts state government here in his law office in this house. In 1779, during his brief return to America between diplomatic assignments, he found himself on the three-man drafting committee at the state constitutional convention. Like any group project, the other two members of the committee, in turn, assigned him the actual task of writing the text of the new constitution, much of which was done here.

This document was ratified a year later in 1780, and it remains in effect today, making it the world’s oldest written constitution. Its structure also served as a model for the United States Constitution, which was written seven years later. However, perhaps Adams’s single most famous contribution to the constitution was the seemingly-innocuous statement that “All men are born free and equal, and have certain natural, essential, and unalienable rights.” Although largely echoing Thomas Jefferson’s words from the Declaration of Independence, the “born free and equal” phrase became the legal basis for the abolition of slavery in Massachusetts in 1781, when the state Supreme Judicial Court ruled that slavery was incompatible with the words of the constitution.

John Adams returned to Europe in late 1779, shortly after he finished drafting the constitution. He and Abigail would be separated for the next five years, until she and their two oldest children joined him in Paris in 1784. They would remain overseas until 1788, and during this time they grew accustomed to the more lavish residences that they enjoyed in Europe, in contrast to their decidedly modest farmhouse back home. As a result, in 1787, while he was still in Europe, he purchased a mansion a little over a mile north of here, which was situated on 40 acres of land. Upon returning home a year later, he named it Peacefield, and set about expanding and renovating it.

John and Abigail would live at Peacefield for the rest of their lives, and the home would remain in the Adams family for several more generations. During this time, though, the family also retained these houses here on Franklin Street. These were generally used as rental properties throughout most of the 19th century, although John Quincy Adams did live here in his birthplace and childhood home from 1805 to 1807, during part of his single term as a United States senator.

By the late 19th century, both of these houses were occupied by local historical groups, with the Quincy Historical Society in the John Quincy Adams birthplace on the left, and the Adams Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution in the John Adams birthplace on the right. Around this same time the houses were also restored to their 18th century appearances, including uncovering the side door to John Adams’s law office, which had long been boarded over. The first photo was taken soon after, probably around 1904, with the colonial-era homes contrasting with the modern trolley tracks and overhead wires In the foreground.

The Adams family ultimately owned these properties for more than two centuries, until selling them to the city of Quincy in 1940. Both houses were designated as National Historic Landmarks in 1960, and in 1978 the city transferred them to the National Park Service. Today, remarkably little has changed in this scene since the first photo was taken, and both houses remain well-preserved. Along with the nearby Peacefield mansion, they now form the Adams National Historical Park, and they are open to the public for guided tours.

John Adams Birthplace, Quincy, Mass

The John Adams birthplace at 133 Franklin Street in Quincy, around 1904. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The house in 2019:

This house was built in 1722, although its structure incorporated timbers from an earlier 17th century house that may have stood on this same site. As such, it is one of the oldest surviving houses in Quincy, predating even the establishment of the town by 70 years. However, the house is best known as the birthplace and childhood home of President John Adams, who was born here on October 30, 1735.

The president’s father, Deacon John Adams, purchased this property in 1720, which consisted of seven acres of farmland in what was, at the time, part of the town of Braintree. He built the current house about two years later, although it would be another 12 years before he married his wife Susanna Boylston in 1734, when he was 43 and she was 26. Their son John Adams was born a year later, in the east bedroom on the second floor, at the corner of the house closest to the foreground in this scene. They went on to have two more sons, Peter and Elihu, and Deacon John lived here until his death in 1761 at the age of 70.

In the meantime, the future president and founding father spent his childhood here in this house, before leaving for Harvard in 1751 when he was 16. After graduation, Adams spent time in Worcester, where he studied law and worked as a teacher for a few years before returning to his hometown. After their father’s death, his brother Peter inherited this house, with John receiving the house next door, which his father had acquired in 1744. John apparently continued to live here in this house, though, until his marriage to Abigail Smith in 1764.

John and Abigail Adams then moved into the neighboring house, and three years later their son, John Quincy Adams, was born in that house in 1767. As a result, these two houses are the closest presidential birthplaces in the country, standing only 75 feet apart. John Adams eventually purchased his birthplace house from his brother in 1774, and rented it to other tenants. He and Abigail continued to live in the other house until 1788, although he spent much of this time away from home, including spending much of the American Revolution as a diplomat in Europe.

Upon returning from Europe in 1788, the Adamses moved to a much larger house elsewhere in town, which they named Peacefield. However, John continued to own both of these houses until 1803, when he sold them to John Quincy Adams. The properties would subsequently be owned by several more generations, and for much of the 19th century they were used as rental properties.

Both houses remained in the Adams family for many years, although by the turn of the 20th century they had become museums, with the Quincy Historical Society occupying the John Quincy Adams birthplace, and the Adams Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution here in the John Adams birthplace. The first photo was taken during this time, as indicated by the DAR sign on the side of the house.

The family finally sold both houses to the city of Quincy in 1940. In 1960, they were designated as National Historic Landmarks, and in 1978 they were transferred to the National Park Service. Along with the Peacefield mansion, the houses are now part of the Adams National Historical Park, and they are open to the public for guided tours.

Wilson Hotel, North Adams, Mass

The Wilson Hotel at the corner of Main and Holden Streets in North Adams, around 1901-1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2019:

The Wilson Hotel, also known as the Wilson House, opened here in 1866. At the time, North Adams was still part of the town of Adams, but this village was a growing manufacturing center. Between 1860 and 1870, the town as a whole grew from under 7,000 to over 12,000, and much of this increase was here in the northern section, which had a population of over 10,000 by 1880, several years after it was incorporated as the town of North Adams. During this time, the town’s prosperity was also aided by the ongoing construction of the Hoosac Tunnel nearby. Begin in 1851 and completed in 1875, the tunnel gave the town railroad connections to the east, and also put it on one of the major east-west routes through New England.

The hotel was owned by Allen B. Wilson, a former North Adams resident and inventor who made significant improvements to sewing machines. His company, the Wheeler & Wilson Manufacturing Company, was one of the leading American sewing machine producers of the second half of the 19th century, and Wilson used some of his profits to build a hotel here in his old hometown.

The building stood here at the northwest corner of Main and Holden Streets, in the midst of North Adams’s central business district. It stood four stories in height, with an ornate Italianate-style exterior comprised of brick and cast iron. In addition to about a hundred guest rooms in the hotel, it also included eight stores on the ground floor, plus a hall that could seat about 800 to 1,000 people. The hotel was intended to serve both travelers and long-term boarders, and it featured modern conveniences such as indoor plumbing, gas lighting, steam heat, and a telegraph office.

Around the mid-1870s, Foster E. Swift became the proprietor of the hotel. He and his wife Frances narrowly escaped death in the Ashtabula River railroad disaster of 1876, one of the deadliest train wrecks in American history, and he subsequently purchased the hotel in 1880. It appears to have been a foreclosure sale of some sort, because he acquired it from the Adams National Bank for just $65,000, barely half of the cost to build it 14 years earlier.

The 1880 census shows Foster and Frances Swift living here at the hotel. Most of the other staff apparently lived here too, with the census listing a clerk, a steward, two porters, two cooks, 12 waiters, and 11 other employees. About half were immigrants, with many coming from Ireland and a few from England and Germany. In addition, more than half of the staff members were female, most of whom were single and between 18 to 30 years old.

Also during the 1880 census, there were 40 residents living here as boarders. Some were families, but most were men in their 20s or 30s who lived here without any other family members. The majority of these were railroad employees, including nine conductors, two clerks, two agents, and a railroad contractor. Nearly all of these men were listed as being married, but they were evidently working and living away from home at the time when the census was taken.

Swift continued to operate the hotel for the next few decades, and during this time he was even elected to the state senate, representing the northern Berkshire district in 1883. He remained here until around the turn of the century, and the property was subsequently sold to John F. Sullivan, who was running the hotel when the first photo was taken around 1901 to 1910.

The first photo shows a busy scene in front of the hotel. Although around 40 years old by this point, it was still considered one of the finest hotels in western Massachusetts, and it housed a variety of other businesses on the ground floor. In the center, with the large awning, was the dry goods store of Tuttle & Bryant. To the right of it was a small postcard shop, and at the corner in the foreground was the Wilson House Drug Store, which advertised Coca Cola for 5 cents at its soda fountain.

However, the largest sign here on the front of the building was for the Empire Theater, a 1,400-seat theater that opened in 1901. It was located in the rear of the hotel, but the entrance was here on Main Street, just to the left of the drug store. The theater was ultimately in existence for just over a decade, but it hosted at least one distinguished visitor when Theodore Roosevelt made a brief campaign stop here on April 29, 1912, during his bid to capture the Republican nomination for president. He spoke for 15 minutes to an enthusiastic crowd of about 2,000 people. It was reportedly the largest audience for a political speech in the city’s history, and Roosevelt himself remarked that “It was a bully crowd, it was a fine gathering.”

This event proved to be something of a last hurrah for the old Wilson Hotel, though. Just over two months later, the entire building, along with the Empire Theater and several other adjacent buildings, was destroyed in a massive fire. The fire, which was suspected to have been the work of an arsonist, began around 2:30 a.m. on the morning of July 2, in either the kitchen or laundry of the hotel. There were about 30 guests in the hotel at the time, and all of them were able to escape safely, although most lost all of their belongings. In the end, the fire caused about a half million dollars in damage, equivalent to over $13 million today, and it completely gutted the old hotel, leaving only the burned-out brick shell still standing.

In the aftermath of the fire, the site here on Main Street was soon rebuilt, although on a much smaller scale. Instead of the grand four-story, 100-room hotel, its replacement was a far more modest two-story commercial block. This building has survived far longer than its predecessor, though, and it is still standing here, as shown in the present-day scene. It is one of a number of historic buildings that line the north side of Main Street in North Adams, and it is part of the Monument Square – Eagle Street Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

Main Street from Monument Square, North Adams, Mass

Looking west on Main Street from Monument Square in North Adams, around 1900. Image from Picturesque Berkshire County (1900).

The scene in 2019:

North Adams is one of the newest municipalities in Massachusetts, having been established in 1878, but this area was originally settled more than a century earlier, in the mid-1700s. It was incorporated as the town of Adams in 1778, and over the years it developed into two distinct villages, located about five miles apart along the Hoosac River. Both became important manufacturing centers, but the northern village, shown here in these photos, ultimately outgrew the southern one, and in 1878 it was partitioned off as the town of North Adams.

The first photo was taken around 1900, at the height of North Adams’s prosperity. Between 1880 and 1900 it more than doubled in population, growing from 10,000 to over 24,000 in just 20 years, and in 1895 it was incorporated as a city. This quarter-mile section of Main Street, between Eagle Street and the Hoosac River, became the city’s central business district, and many of the commercial buildings in the first photo were constructed during this time.

This scene would undergo further changes only a few years after the first photo was taken, most notably with the construction of the Dowlin Block and the New Kimbell Building, both of which were completed in 1902. Other buildings would be added over the next few decades, and today many of these buildings are still standing, as shown in the present-day scene.

Starting on the far right of the 2019 photo is the First Baptist Church, which was completed in 1880. At some point the tower on the corner of the building was removed, but otherwise the rest of the church survives with few exterior alterations. Past the church, on the other side of Eagle Street, the corner building in the first photo is either gone or heavily altered, and beyond it is the two-story Mohawk Theater, built in 1938.

From this perspective, the first of the major commercial buildings is the seven-story Dowlin Block, which features an ornate Renaissance Revival-style granite facade. To the left of it is the somewhat smaller Hoosac Savings Bank Building. This four-story block was built around 1884, and it appears in the first photo, where it was much more prominent before the construction of its taller neighbors. On the other side of the bank is the New Kimbell Building, which was built around the same time as the Dowlin Block in 1902. It has Renaissance Revival architecture that is similar to the Dowlin Block, and it stands six stories in height.

Barely visible further in the distance is the Gastlick Building, which was originally constructed in the late 19th century but altered in 1925. It stands next to the Second Blackinton Block, which is located at the corner of Holden Street. This four-story brick Romanesque-style building was completed in 1888, and it also appears in the first photo. Although not visible in either photo, this building is adjacent to the First Blackinton Block, a long Italianate-style commercial building that was built in 1873 and still stands today.

Perhaps the most significant building that no longer survives from the first photo is the Wilson Hotel, whose two towers are visible in the distant center of the scene. Built in 1866, this was the largest hotel in the city until the early 20th century, when it was destroyed by a fire on July 2, 1912. This site, at the northwest corner of Holden Street, is now occupied by the Empire Building, which was built later in 1912.

Overall, many of the buildings on the right side of the first photo are still standing today, alongside other historic building that were constructed within a few years afterwards. However, the left side, on the south side of Main Street, has completely changed. The old buildings here were all demolished by around the 1970s, and they were subsequently replaced by several different one-story commercial buildings and a seven-story hotel, which stands further in the distance at the corner of American Legion Drive.