A Brush with Greatness
Written By Randall Geller | Photography by Lisa Aimola and Randall Geller.
Exploring Quincy Center’s Historic Landmarks
Quincy is home to the third-largest number of National Historic Landmarks (seven) in the state of Massachusetts, trailing only Boston, Cambridge and Salem. In recent years, city leaders have worked hard to increase the visibility of these age-old and architecturally significant hidden gems. Five sites are conveniently located within walking distance of the recently dedicated Hancock-Adams Common, which makes it the perfect jumping-off point for locals and tourists interested in exploring the city’s often overlooked historical sites.
The new Hancock-Adams Common features wide walkways, gardens, soon-to-be reopened shooting water fountains and on opposite ends of the promenade, bronze statues of John Adams, the second President of the United States, and John Hancock, the first Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Both of these revolutionary leaders were native sons of Quincy. In fact, the town narrowly missed being named Hancock, when put to a vote in 1792. A crowd of several thousand spectators witnessed the unveiling of the statues made by Russian-born sculptor Sergey Eylanbokov during the dedication of the common on September 8, 2018. It was a day that Quincy Mayor Thomas Koch will never forget. “People are still coming up to me saying what a remarkable day it was for our city,” says Koch.
Creating the Hancock Adams Common was itself a remarkable feat. The project involved years of construction work, cost $35 million dollars and required roads to be completely re-routed. But the result was worth the effort. “The park is a gorgeous public space and a fitting gateway to the city of Quincy’s historic heritage and revitalized downtown,” says Bob Damon, director of history and visitor programs at the Church of the Presidents.
“We’re one of the best kept secrets in the state,” adds Mark Carey, media director for the City of Quincy.
The Church of Presidents
The centerpiece of the common is the United First Parish Church, also known as the Church of the Presidents—so named because it is the only location in the United States where two presidents are buried, namely John Adams and his son, John Quincy Adams, who served as the second and sixth presidents of the United States.
The church was constructed out of Quincy granite donated from quarries owned by John Adams and designed by Alexander Parris, who also designed the famed Quincy Market in Boston from 1824-1826 while working on Pilgrim Hall in Plymouth (as well as other projects). Funds for the church construction were provided by John Adams four years before his passing in 1826 and the foundation was laid in April 1827. Parris’ predominantly Greek Revival structure featured Doric columns and a New England-style bell tower and was completed in just 19 months. Tours of the church crypt offer visitors a look at the tombs of John Adams, John Quincy Adams and their wives.
(Old) Quincy City Hall
Directly across the street from the Church of the Presidents is the recently restored Quincy City Hall, built in 1844 and designed by architect Solomon Willard. Willard had been the first choice to construct the UFPC in 1826, but he was busy building the Bunker Hill Monument in Charlestown at the time (itself made of Quincy granite) and had to turn down the job. Ultimately, he supervised construction of what is now known as Old City Hall. Highly praised for its classical themes and punctuated by its Ionic columns, it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Right next to Quincy City Hall is one of the most historic burial places in the United States. Hancock Cemetery is home to the gravestones of Colonial residents as well as veterans of the Revolutionary War, War of 1812 and the Civil War. John Adams and his wife Abigail as well as John Quincy Adams were once buried here but were moved and reinterred in the crypt inside the Church of the Presidents. One can still see a large marker for “JQ Adams” on the family tomb, even though his remains were removed from this spot four years after his passing.
Thomas Crane Library
The Thomas Crane Library is a minute’s walk from the Church of the Presidents. The architecturally significant building was designed by Paris-trained Henry Hobson Richardson, who also designed Trinity Church in Boston in 1877. The library was completed in 1881 using the same stained glass specialist Richardson had employed at Trinity Church, John Lafarge. Both buildings are prime examples of Richardsonian Romanesque architecture.
Bethany Congregational Church
Behind the Thomas Crane Library is the gorgeous Bethany Neo-Gothic Congregational Church. Constructed in 1927, the building appears to be plucked directly out of medieval Europe – especially with its imposing gargoyles extending from the singular church tower. Like the Crane Library, the Bethany Congregational Church is on the National Register of Historic Places.