Woman involved with Abigail Adams House discovers family connection

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When members of the public tour the restored birthplace of Abigail Adams on Sunday, they’ll hear legendary stories about Adams and her importance as the wife of one president, mother of another and an outspoken pioneer for women’s rights. They’ll also have a chance to meet a Weymouth resident with ties to the man who built the 328-year-old house.

It seems fitting that Cathy Torrey is the person who discovered the extent of the house’s disrepair two years ago when she tried to open a window and it fell apart in her hands. Her husband, Douglas Torrey, is a descendant of William Torrey, whose son Samuel constructed the house in 1685. Both Samuel Torrey and Abigail’s father, the Rev. William Smith, were ministers of the First Church in Weymouth.

As a former docent, past president and current board member of the Abigail Adams Historical Society, Cathy Torrey has been dedicated to preserving the significance of the birthplace for nearly 20 years. Torrey became involved with the birthplace before she knew anything about her family connection to it.

“I call it karma, because I don’t think it was an accident,” she said.

In 1995, her daughter’s first-grade teacher asked Torrey if she would help as a docent at the birthplace. She knew then that her husband’s relatives came from Weymouth, but only discovered the ties to Samuel Torrey and the birthplace a few years later. By then, she was already hooked.

“This was the place that shaped Abigail’s ideals and values,” Torrey said. “It is a national treasure. Abigail herself was a national treasure. It is significant she was born and bred in Weymouth and that tells you a lot about your hometown.”

The nonprofit group owns and manages the birthplace, which is at 180 Norton St.

The two-story, six-room colonial saltbox will reopen to the public from 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday. It has been closed for nearly two years for structural renovations, which included repairing extensive termite damage in two main posts. The clapboard siding was also replaced.

On Saturday, there will be an invitation-only reopening and ribbon-cutting ceremony for invited guests, sponsored by the historical society.

Torrey said the house is special because Abigail Smith Adams wasn’t just born there, in 1744; she lived there for nearly two decades before her marriage in the parlor in 1764 to future President John Adams.

The house has survived two relocations: to Bridge Street in 1838, and in 1947, when the structure was sawed in half and moved to its present site at North and Norton streets. It first opened to the public in 1954. The original location was about 500 yards away on North Street.

After the structural damage was discovered in 2011, Weymouth approved $150,000 in Community Preservation Act money for the restoration. The community preservation committee worked with the Menders, Torrey and Spencer Inc. architectural firm in Boston on the renovation project. The contractor was Essex Restoration in Wilmington. Many groups donated their labor.

“That bit of original timber in the two posts is still there; they filled it with epoxy,” Torrey said.

Now that a heating system and air-conditioning have been added, the society plans to hold educational programs year-round. Those programs will deal with the life and times of Abigail Adams, her contributions to the nation and her role in local history.

The North Weymouth Cemetery is behind the house; Adams’ parents, William and Elizabeth Smith, and Torrey family members are buried there.

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