Adams National Historical Park | OLD HOUSE AT PEACEFIELD

The Old House at Peacefield

The Old House at Peacefield

Note: The National Park Service refers to the Adams’s estate as Peace field. However, in the letters of John and Abigail, the way the name is written flip-flops between Peace Field, Peacefield, and Peace field.


Peacefield, as John and Abigail Adams called it, or the Old House as it was called by later generations of the Adams Family, was the home they moved into when John returned from his diplomatic post in London in 1788. The owners were Loyalists who returned to England during the war, and John purchased the house sight unseen when he was in Europe. The sale also included the 18.5 acres that surrounded the house and 70 other acres in the area. John subsequently purchased more land, eventually expanding the estate to 600 acres. Being fond of farming, he used much of this for agricultural purposes.

John and Abigail didn’t initially live at Peacefield for long. The following year he became the first vice president of the United States, serving under George Washington for eight years from April 1789 to March 1797. During this time he lived in New York City (the first capital of the new nation) until July 1790, then Philadelphia, the interim capital while Washington, D. C., was being developed. Abigail joined him in New York starting in June 1789 and stayed with him until October 1792, then traveled back to Peacefield. While she never returned to Philadelphia to be with her husband again while he was vice president, John did come back to visit each spring and stayed through October—the VP must not have been too important. (The trip between Boston and Philadelphia took a minimum of two weeks by carriage, and allowing for expected bad weather and stops to see friends along the way, up to a month.)

When John served as the second president of the United States from March 1797 to March 1801, Abigail didn’t travel to Philadelphia to be with him until May—she missed the inauguration—and only stayed until November 1798. John, believe it or not, returned to Quincy for seven months from March through September 1799 (I guess the president wasn’t all that important either). When he returned to office, he actually went to Trenton, New Jersey, for a month due to a Yellow Fever epidemic in Philadelphia. Abigail followed shortly thereafter and arrived in November, though this time she only stayed the winter, returning to Quincy in May 1800.

In June 1800, Philadelphia ceased to be the capital, and everyone started the move to Washington. This prompted John to return once again to Quincy. He remained at Peacefield until October, then left for Washington where he moved into the new President’s House—as the White House was originally called—on November 1, 1800. Abigail made her last trip to be with her husband later that same month, arriving in late November. John lost his reelection bid, so she did not stay until his final day as president, but instead left in early February 1801 to make the month-long trip back to Quincy. The two lived out their retirement years at Peacefield.

The Peacefield house was built in 1731, and it was only a third the size that it is today when the Adamses purchased it. Abigail, who had grown accustomed to the Paris and London mansions they had been living in, was very disappointed. The house wasn’t that much bigger than the one they had been living in at their Penn’s Hill farm, the John Quincy Birth Home on today’s Franklin Street.

While John and Abigail did enlarge the house between 1797 and 1800, it was Charles Francis Adams (John’s grandson) and his wife, Abigail Brooks, who were responsible for most of the major additions, including a servants wing in 1869, the Stone Library in 1870, and a stone stable and carriage house in 1873. John and his son John Quincy were never wealthy men, but Abigail Brooks had inherited $400,000, which is how she and Charles Francis managed to make the additions.

Backside of the Old House

Backside of the Old House

Being the oldest son, John Quincy Adams inherited the Peacefield estate after his father died in 1826 (Abigail died in 1818). His brother Charles was an alcoholic who passed away in 1800 at age 30 from cirrhosis of the liver, and his other brother Thomas, who was also an alcoholic, died in 1832. John Quincy and his wife, Louisa Johnson, used the house as a summer residence, if at all, for they had another residence of 600 acres in north Quincy called Mount Wollaston, not to mention that he was living in the White House as the president of the United States (1825 to 1829) when his father died. Furthermore, though not reelected in 1830, he remained a member of the U. S. House of Representatives until his death in 1848, so most of the time he and Louisa lived in Washington.

John Quincy and Louisa had four children: George (1801-1829), John II (1803-1834), Charles Francis (1807-1886), and Louisa, who died a year after her birth in 1811. George committed suicide, and John II became an alcoholic after his brother’s death and also died at an early age. Thus, by the time John Quincy passed away, Charles Francis was the only child left to inherit all of his father’s property—he had also been managing the house and farm in his father’s absence. His mother, Louisa, lived until 1852, but she preferred to stay in Washington after her husband’s death.

While John Quincy didn’t care for farming as did his father, he thoroughly enjoyed horticulture, and he continued to use the land at Peacefield for agricultural purposes. His interest was in trees, and he planted many orchards and tree nurseries on the property. Charles Francis shared his father’s love of trees, and he continued to change the surrounding land from a working farm into a gentleman’s county estate complete with shade trees and ornamental gardens.

Charles Francis died in 1886 and was survived by his wife and six children. Upon his death, his heirs formed the Adams Real Estate Trust to manage his properties. Abigail continued to live in the house, and when her health began to fail in 1889, her son Brooks and his wife, Evelyn Davis, moved in to take care of her; they continued to live at Peacefield after her death that same year.

Henry, another of Charles Francis’s sons, was the only other sibling who stayed at Peacefield for extended visits. He was a writer known for his ten-volume History of the U. S. of America and his autobiography, The Education of Henry Adams, for which he won a Pulitzer Price. Peacefield is featured in this book.

Brooks was the last Adams to live in the house, and during his tenure nearly all of the farmland was sold off to real estate developers. At the time of his death in 1927, only four acres surrounding the house remained. He and his wife had no children, and his only living sibling was a married sister (and she died the following year), so the surviving descendants of the Adams Family formed the Adams Memorial Society to manage the property as a museum house that would be open to the public. Unfortunately, with the Great Depression and then the coming of World War II, the group was not able to bear the cost of maintenance and had to close the house in 1946. The National Park Service was approached about taking the house, and the transfer was made two years later. This resulted in the creation of Adams Mansion National Historic Site. In contrast, the John Adams and John Quincy Adams Birth Homes didn’t come into the hands of the National Park Service until 1976.

As mentioned earlier, there are two other buildings still standing at Peacefield. The Stone Library was built by Charles Francis per a request in the will of his father. Today the library holds roughly 12,000 books, some of which belonged to John Adams, though he donated most of his books to the City of Quincy. The bulk of the collection is the books of John Quincy, Charles Francis, and his sons Brooks and Henry. Charles Francis spent a lot of time in the library, for this is where he edited ten volumes of John Adams’s diaries, twelve volumes of his father’s memoirs, and a volume of the letters of Abigail Adams. The library was also the office of Henry when he was writing many of his books.

Stone Library

Stone Library

The other building on the property is a carriage house and stable built by Charles Francis. It now serves as an information center for visitors to Peacefield.

Carriage house and stable is now a visitor center

Carriage house and stable is now a visitor center

The public is allowed inside the Old House by guided tour only. Tours are held seasonally, and there is a fee. Purchase tickets at the Visitor Center on Hancock Street. See the Guided Tours web page here on National Park Planner for more details.

The tour covers the house and the library, and afterwards you are welcome to walk around the gardens on your own. You do not have to return on the tour bus with your group, so when done with your visit to Peacefield you can either wait for the next bus, which comes every half hour, or walk a half mile back to the Visitor Center.

Gardens at Peacefield

Gardens at Peacefield

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Last updated on June 1, 2020
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