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Quincy, Massachusetts: the city fighting to be named America’s ‘most patriotic’

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The city produced two presidents, not to mention John Hancock, and on the Fourth of July, a state lawmaker is making the case for an official designation

The large granite tombs are silent, but their presence, side by side, speaks volumes. The small, chilly crypt holds two presidents and two first ladies. This Fourth of July, it is at the centre of an audacious bid.

The city in which the crypt stands wants to be named, officially and by Congress, the most patriotic city in America.

It is not Boston, where the Tea Party took place. It is not one of the first seats of US power: Philadelphia, New York or Washington. It is not even Plymouth, with its famous rock on which the Mayflower Pilgrims supposedly first set foot.

It is Quincy, Massachusetts, and recently, on a sunny summer afternoon before Independence Day, there was barely a tourist in sight.

This is Ground Zero for America, the state representative Bruce Ayers said, gently patting the slab atop the tomb of John Adams, the second US president.

John
John Hancock puts his signature to the Declaration of Independence, watched by fellow patriots Robert Morris, Samuel Adams, Benjamin Rush, Richard Henry Lee, Charles Carroll, John Witherspoon, John Adams and Edward Rutledge. Photograph: MPI/Getty Images

Next to Adams lies his wife, Abigail, and their son, Americas sixth president, John Quincy Adams, with his wife, Louisa. All lie in the bowels of a church in downtown Quincy which is known as the Church of the Presidents.

Quincy is the only city in America that has produced two presidents. John Hancock, he of the most flamboyant signature on the Declaration of Independence, was also born there.

Ayers, the districts representative in the Massachusetts legislature, the General Court, has filed a bill calling on the state to declare Quincy the most patriotic city in America. If it passes, a resulting resolution will ask Congress to follow suit.

Maybe its a long shot, but Ayers says the effort has brought sleepy Quincy alive.

The American idea started here, said Ayers, a Democrat. The intellectual foundation of the American revolution is right here, in this tomb.

Before Adams was George Washingtons vice-president and successor, he wrote the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the oldest written constitution in continuous effect in the world and a blueprint for the US national model.

Adams also wrote the Declaration of Independence with Thomas Jefferson and was its prime advocate in the fledgling Congress.

Not far from the Church of the Presidents stand two wooden saltbox-style houses where were born the Harvard-educated John and John Quincy Adams for nearly 200 years the only father-son presidents, until the advent of the Bushes. Also nearby is the elegant mansion that served as their summer White House, where John Adams died on 4 July 1826. Over the 2016 holiday weekend, it is hosting a newly written opera about John and Abigail Adams.

Next door to that is another gem the first presidential library. Most of its contents belonged to John Quincy Adams, who was adept in more than 10 languages, a master diplomat who resolved the War of 1812.

Sean Costello, Ayerss legislative aide, said word of Quincys ambitions had blown up the office phones with calls of support and grousing.

Surprisingly, there has been no detectable opposition from Boston, just 15 minutes away via mass transit, with its legendary harbor and meeting houses where the likes of John Adamss cousin Sam Adams (of the eponymous beer) stirred revolt.

The
John Adams birthplace. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

Costello said people in other Massachusetts history hotspots, such as Plymouth and Concord, where the revolutionary war began with the shot heard around the world, have protested. Shrewdly, only Quincy has drafted legislation.

The loudest dissent has come from Philadelphia, Costello said, where citizens called a recent radio phone-in to complain that with the signing of the Declaration of Independence and its stint as national capital among many highlights, it better deserves the most patriotic title.

Its a fun debate, Costello said. So far.

Quincy also has a devastating secret weapon. It is the birthplace of Dunkin Donuts. The first outlet opened there in 1950 and is still thriving, with a retro counter and lettering.

The secret is out, said Mayor Tom Koch, suggesting that like its one-term presidents, Quincy is under-appreciated and has taken its glories for granted, despite having 109 spots on the National Register of Historic Places.

The
The first Dunkin Donuts. Photograph: Joanna Walters for the Guardian

America should be grateful to Quincy, Koch said especially, or perhaps despite, the fact that it also produced Howard Johnson and his budget hotel chain.

The city was also home to giant granite quarries, but they fell quiet in 1963. Shipbuilding, mighty since the 1600s, died in 1985. A once vibrant shopping scene then lost out to suburban malls, in a familiar tale of urban decline.

Now, city officials say, investment is flowing and new condos and restaurants are emerging amid the more humdrum downtown buildings. The city is replacing one side of a busy rotary which cut between the Church of the Presidents and, City Hall and an historic cemetery. In its place will rise a $30m park called Adams Hancock Green, which will include new statues of those founding fathers.

Walking past some busy construction, Patrick Carey, 63, a retired auto mechanic, said: Most patriotic? I dont know.

Theres definitely a whole lot of history and the city is being modernized. I moved my family here from [nearby] Dorchester for a better life because you look at someone the wrong way there and theyll pop a cap in your butt. Here its safe, very nice and accessible. [It] would be good to see more visitors.

This Independence Day, Quincys attractive oceanfront, with its clam shacks and sailboats, will erupt in parties and fireworks. John Adams spurred such celebrations when he called for pomp and parade … guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations … forever, after the Founding Fathers voted for independence.

English incomers settled the Quincy area in 1625 and it was part of Boston and then Braintree until its own miniature independence in 1792. The town was named after Abigail Adamss grandfather, Col John Quincy, who was descended from Saer de Quincy, the first Earl of Winchester and one of the noblemen who forced King John to sign the Magna Carta in 1215.

Kerry Byrne, a Quincy native newly appointed as its brand ambassador, argued that such a deep legacy in the fight against tyranny was powerful.

Its really a unique contribution to freedom and democracy and the advancement of mankind, he said. Uniquely patriotic.

Philadelphia remains unmoved.

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