Quincy & Its History

graphicThe city of Quincy stands on the picturesque east bluff overlooking the Mississippi, where the river swings farthest to the west. The roots of this charming, colorful city run deep through American history. In July 1673, Father Marquette and French explorer Louie Joliet traveled down the Mississippi River in their canoe and stopped at an Indian Village which is now Quincy, and soon after, the French fur traders arrived. In 1821, John Wood, a native of New York, came to this vicinity to investigate the claim of a friend who had been granted a land bounty in the Military Tract, a large tract of land in Western Illinois set aside by act of Congress for bounties for soldiers from the War of 1812. John Wood was so impressed with the natural resources of the locality that he returned in 1822 to become Quincy's first white settler. Other adventurers came from the East either to settle on their land grants or to engage in trade, and the little settlement grew and became known as Bluffs because of its location.

Early in 1825, the Illinois Legislature created a new county here and named it Adams for John Quincy Adams, who became president at that time. A commission named the existing village as county seat, calling it Quincy, also for the president. To complete the use of his name, legend says that the public square was called "John's Square."

In 1830 the first brick house was built, all others having been constructed of logs. The little community continued to grow, and in 1834, was incorporated as a town. Flour and saw mills flourished, for the fertile soil yielded excellent crops of grain; game was abundant; oak, hickory, and walnut timber came in quantity from the forests which were cut down to make way for the expanding community; and trade flourished. From these conditions came the nickname, The Gem City.

In 1840, under special charter, Quincy was incorporated as a city. Large numbers of German immigrants who had come by boat to New Orleans continued their journey up the river and settled in Quincy, bringing to the community skilled craftsmen and high caliber citizens. Manufacturers increased to include stoves, plows, household furniture, organs, carriages, and farm wagons. Several breweries and a distillery also prospered.

During these years of development, the question of slavery had become a growing issue in Quincy, as well as other parts of the country. Most Quincyans were abolitionists, and those who were most strongly opposed to slave holding formed an abolition society. Quincy became an important part of the system known as the Underground Railway. Slaves were assisted in escaping from their owners to make their way to freedom in Canada. Slaves were transported by boat from the banks of Missouri, a slave state, across the river to Illinois, a free state. Sympathizers concealed the fleeing slaves in their homes or at designated "stations" until they could be sent on to the next place and eventually to freedom in the north. This practice caused bitter feelings between the residents of the two states, and on more than one occasion, abolitionists were captured, tried and imprisoned in Missouri.graphic

Quincy also played an important part in the brief but tragic Illinois history of the Mormons. Driven out of Missouri in the winter of 1838-1839, there was much suffering and destitution among them. They found refuge in Quincy where they were kindly treated and sheltered before they proceeded to Nauvoo, fifty miles to the north.

As a river town, Quincy was important as a stop for travelers and as a business and political center. In 1860, John Wood became the 12th Governor of Illinois. Also from this district, Stephen Douglas was elected to the Congress and later to the Senate. Here in John's Square (now known as Washington Park), on October 13, 1858, the sixth of the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates was held. More than 15,000 people are said to have crowded the square to hear Lincoln draw from Douglas the admission that he favored permitting the states to settle the question of slavery within their borders, a statement which won election to the Senate for Douglas, but two years later went far toward electing Lincoln to the presidency.

W ith the advent of railroads in Illinois, the center of activity swung away from the river, but while other cities have surpassed it in size, Quincy remains the largest city in an area of 100 miles in all directions, and retains its sturdy independence. In addition to the Burlington, the Wabash Railroad also serves Quincy, and ten miles east of the city is Baldwin Field, Quincy's Class 4, municipal airport, named for Tom Baldwin, a native Quincyan and pioneer balloonist and parachutist, through whose efforts the parachute was developed.graphic

The Quincy of today, which was named an All American City in 1962-63 and again in 1984-85, is a modern and progressive industrial city in the heart of a large and fertile agricultural area. Always looking toward the future, Quincy is careful to respect and care for its past, through an on-going preservation of its three major historical districts: the Downtown Historic District showcases a wide array of architectural styles and depicts the affluence of the period from 1850-1930 when Quincy was the most prominent river town in Illinois; Quincy's East End Historic District contains every formal architectural style found in the Midwest from 1830-1930, with a collection of Italianate, Greek Revival, Romanesque, Queen Anne, and Prairie designs; and Quincy's German Village. This area, in the southwest section of the city and commonly referred to as "Calftown", was the home of Quincy's German population. The sturdy homes, some ornate and others very simple, stand as reminders of Quincy's German heritage. Today, the area from York Street to Jackson Street, 5th Street to 13th Street features the best examples of these homes built by German immigrants between 1840 and 1855.

The Moorish Castle "Villa Katherine," which overlooks the Mississippi at 532 So. 3rd Street, is the sole example of Mediterranean architecture along the river. It was built early in the century, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. After many changes, the Castle, as it is known, now serves as Quincy's Tourist & Information Center.


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