The old courthouse in the foreground with the new courthouse behind it.


"Old" Suffolk County Court House Is Now John Adams Courthouse
by John Pedini, Social Law Library

Imagine a single event that honors a native Massachusetts son and second President of the United States, redresses a long-standing oversight, all the while reducing the overwhelming confusion over the proper designation of the downtown Boston courthouses. Such a phenomenon occurred recently at the Social Law Library as Governor Jane Swift signed legislation that officially changed the name of the "Old" Suffolk County Court House to the John Adams Courthouse.

The June 12, 2002 ceremony, attended by a host of dignitaries and special guests, among them historical figures representing John and Abigail Adams, featured remarks from the Governor, House Speaker Thomas Finneran, Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Robert Creedon, and Secretary for Administration and Finance Kevin Sullivan. Maura Doyle, the Clerk of the Supreme Judicial Court for Suffolk County, acted as the mistress of ceremonies. Representing the future tenants of the courthouse, Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Margaret Marshall, Appeals Court Chief Justice Christopher Armstrong, and Social Law Library Executive Director Robert Brink also gave testimony to this momentous occasion.

Long the dream of many legislators, jurists, politicians and historians in Massachusetts and across the country, it is fitting the elevation of John Adams has begun with this ceremony. The John Adams Courthouse, scheduled to open in the Fall of 2003, will not only be the home of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, Appeals Court and the Social Law Library, but it may also be considered the first official commemoration of the former lawyer, statesman and president in the nation (unless you want to consider a bust of Adams in the Vice Presidents Collection of the United States Senate chamber gallery a public tribute). It is also a suitable veneration to a man who was appointed chief justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, only to be unable to sit because of his efforts with the Constitutional Congress at the outbreak of the Revolutionary War.

Much has been made of Adams' legacy in scholarly circles, but only recently has he and his famous relationship with his wife become fodder for discussion amongst the common folk through David McCullough's biography, John Adams. Lately the attention has come from more exalted company, as the courthouse naming legislation can attest. In her remarks, long-standing Adams devotee and Chief Justice Margaret Marshall expressed regret that the courthouse could not bear the name of the former first lady as well, and after an impromptu verbal offer from Speaker Finneran to bring it to a vote, the chief justice commented, "that may happen before the granite is chiseled."

Finally, the renaming indirectly helps out in a downtown Boston dilemma. Anyone coming into town to do business in the Suffolk Superior Court remembers references made between the "old" Suffolk County Court House (now John Adams) and the "new" Suffolk County Court House in the tower immediately adjacent. Recent construction of the Brooke courthouse and then the new federal courthouse and the relocation of Suffolk Superior Court to the old federal courthouse rendered such determinants as "old'" and "new" relatively obsolete to say the least and downright confusing and aggravating for all parties interested. The John Adams Courthouse begins a new era where a definitive landmark will not only be a long-overdue tribute to a great American but a lasting designation in an ever-changing landscape.

For more information, photos and video clips of the ceremony visit:


Massachusetts Governor, Jane Swift, names the new courthouse.

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