A Visit To The Church Of The Presidents
Boston is a city rich in American history. From the Boston Harbor to the U.S.S. Constitution and The Freedom Trail, there is no absence of unusual and exciting sights to see, especially if you are a history buff like Charlie. Many people don’t realize that just next door to Boston, there is even more American history; in fact, the history of two American Presidents and their families.
When we traveled to Boston, we knew that there were some sites that we had to see. You see, Charlie’s family lineage includes 2 American presidents, John Adams and John Quincy Adams, so visiting their family homes was an absolute must.
We had planned all along to take the tour of the Adams homes. It wasn’t until we were purchasing our tickets that we found out about the Church of the Presidents. Both of the former presidents attended services at the church, but it is also their final resting place, along with their wives.
Since we knew we had plenty of time before our tour, we decided to tour the church. The church is a short two-block walk from the National Park Service building, where we were waiting for the Adams’ home tour.
The United First Parish Church is also known as the Church of the Presidents and is located in Quincy. First gathered in 1636 as a branch of First Church in Boston, the congregation was established in 1639. It began as a Puritan congregationalist church, but since the mid-18th century, it has been Unitarian.
The church was constructed in 1828 and designated a National Historic Landmark on December 30, 1970, for its association with the Adams family, who funded its construction.
President John Adams financed the church’s construction through a land donation, and the bulk of the granite used came from the Adams family quarry. However, Greek Revival-style pillars came out of another local source since the Adams quarry was not deep enough to produce one solid 25-foot tall piece.
The church bell, originally cast by none other than Paul Revere, ended up being melted down and recast. It was believed that it was not loud enough to be used as a fire alarm for the town.
When walking through the church, the sense of reverence and history is overwhelming. Looking at the original mahogany altar, it’s humbling to think that two American presidents sat in the pews and worshiped with their families. What is even more amazing is to sit in the actual pew that the Adams family members sat in week after week.
According to history, families could purchase their pews in the church and pass them down through the generations. The most prominent families were permitted to add on footstools for comfort, and the original stool purchased by the Adams remains there today on the floor of their pew.
As we listened to our tour guide speak about the church’s history and the Adams family’s influence on the church, we learned that John Adams fancied himself a poet. He wrote the first hymn for the dedication of the New Stone Congregational Church in 1828, which is the current church building.
Because he did not want to take away from the importance of the day for the congregation, he chose to keep his name off of the publication. He was a very modest man and never one to draw attention to himself. The church itself is rich in history and is a magnificent and well-maintained building thanks to donations received from tours. It’s remarkable to see all of the original structural elements from hundreds of years ago and to ponder what it must have taken to construct such a magnificent building.
After we toured the church’s main floor, we went down a very steep, narrow staircase to the basement level below the church. Here, there were cases filled with historical documents from the origination of the church and Adams’ family history.
One document in particular that I noticed right off was the baptismal record of John Adams. That in itself may not be too interesting until you consider who performed the baptism, John Hancock. That’s right; none other than one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Hancock was the church’s reverend in 1735, so he was tasked with baptizing our nation’s second president.
I wasn’t sure what was next until our guide opened the doors to the “vault” containing four crypts with all this incredible history. Inside each one are the remains of the presidents and their wives. When John Adams died, his son, John Quincy, wanted both of his parents to be buried on the church grounds. For this to be achieved, the space below the building was excavated, and the first burial chamber was created for John and Abigale Adams. The area for the crypts was exactly 14×14 feet square per the direction given by John Quincy.
Upon the death of John Quincy, a second burial chamber space was excavated so that both Presidents could be buried in the same chamber at the request of John Adams’s son. The flags that are on the crypts today are representative of the period when each President died. Looking closer at the flags, you can see that the number of stars is different, representing the number of states in the Union at the time of their death.
It was indeed an unforgettable experience to walk the halls of the old church, touch the pews and altar where past presidents worshiped, and stand in reverence at their burial place. American history has never been one of my favorite subjects, but even I marveled at the history and significance of where I was at that moment.
I know that for Charlie, it meant so much to visit a place where his ancestors had not only walked but also to see their final resting places and learn about their lives.