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The Quincy Public Library to Celebrate 125th Anniversary, Part I

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The Quincy Public Library is celebrating its 125th anniversary on Tuesday, June 24, 2014. Quincy, Illinois lies on the eastern banks of the Mississippi River, and is due west of the state capital, Springfield.

The Historical Society of Quincy and Adams County has operated the Governor John Wood Mansion for over 100 years. The founder of Quincy, John Wood (1798-1890) was a native of Moravia, New York who initially settled in Atlas, Illinois, about forty miles south of Quincy.

He purchased 160 acres of bounty land for $60 from a Mr. Flinn whom he had befriended and accompanied to the site in the Illinois Military Tract that Flinn had been given in 1822 as a reward for his service during the War of 1812. The U.S. Government had set aside the Illinois Military Tract – 1,400,000 acres of land between the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers – out of which to carve parcels of land as rewards for veterans of the War of 1812.

These parcels were called military bounty lands. This seemed a good way to encourage settlement along the Northwest (later the Old Northwest and still later the Midwest) frontier by patriotic men.

Flinn did not wish to live so far from St. Louis, which is why he sold the land to Wood. The latter made a fortune purchasing bounty land from veterans back east who did not want to move to the frontier, and then sold parcels to farmers from down south in Kentucky and Tennessee.

Wood’s first residence was a one-room log cabin. He built a second, two-story log cabin at the behest of Miss Ann Streeter, a fellow settler whom he married in 1826. They would have eight children, only half of whom would reach adulthood.

His third residence was the Greek Revival-style mansion we know today. He recruited German immigrant craftsmen – bricklayers, stonemasons, carpenters, plasterers, etc. in St. Louis and New Orleans to build it at the corner of 12th Street and State Street, between 1835 and 1838.

Quincy residents elected Wood mayor three times. In 1856, he was elected lieutenant governor.

While in office, Lt. Governor Wood began construction of his fourth residence, yet a larger mansion known as the Octagonal House, which would take six years to build. It stood in the middle of the block on state Street between 11th and 12th Streets
He unexpectedly became Governor Wood when Governor William Henry Bissell (1811-1860) died at the Illinois Executive Mansion in Springfield. Gov. Wood would serve in office for a period of ten months and did not seek re-election.

He successfully petitioned the state legislature to temporarily designate his mansion at 12th Street and State Street the Executive Mansion so he could remain in Quincy while he oversaw construction of his second mansion. When the Civil War broke out, Wood became Quartermaster General of the State of Illinois.

The builders finished the Octagonal House in 1864 and John Wood gave his first mansion to his eldest son, Daniel. Gov. Wood moved the first mansion to the east side of 12th Street.

This involved turning an apple orchard into a yard, cutting the house in half and removing the chimneys, and building a ramp to save a line of twelve-foot-high Osage Orange trees. To roll each half of the mansion across the street on logs required twenty teams of horses.

In its original position, the first mansion faced southward, which is typical of Greek Revival-style houses. However, it now faces westward.

Built at a cost of more than $200,000, the Octagonal House was the most expensive in the state. The economic depression caused by the Panic of 1873 (the First Great Depression) hit Gov. Wood hard as he had not paid off all the debts he had incurred in the construction of the Octagonal House, which he was forced to sell, at a loss, for $40,000 to satisfy his creditors.

He and his second wife, Mary Ann Holmes, whom he had married in 1875, were forced to move in with his son Daniel in 1875. Gov. Wood spent the last five years of his life there. He died on June 4, 1880.

Daniel Wood sold the Greek Revival-style mansion and moved to Galena, Kansas. The mansion became a boarding house. In 1906, businessmen with interests in the area wanted to demolish John Wood’s first mansion so they could have an alley down the middle of the block.

The Historical Society purchased the residence and converted it into a museum. Unfortunately, it had fallen into disrepair by the 1970s. To restore the building to its original purpose, the Historical Society of Quincy and Adams County has spent more than half a million dollars.

The Historical Society of Quincy and Adams County also operates the Museum of Local History, also known as The Parsonage. Built in 1885, it served, from 1917 to 1951, as the home of the pastor of the English Lutheran Church (which became the Luther Memorial Church).

The county seat of Adams County, Quincy was a transportation hub for Northwestern Illinois and points farther west. Riverboats on the Mississippi River connected it to towns to the north and south, and after the railroad was completed it was connected to the big city of Chicago and Galesburg to the northeast, as well as towns to the west.

Quincy provides the Q in CB&Q as in the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad. This historical railroad, which served much of the Midwest and Great Plains, merged with three other railroads to form Burlington Northern in 1970.[1] It is represented today by the Pioneer Zephyr (originally known as the Burlington Zephyr) in the Museum of Science & Industry and by a number of suburban towns having streets named Burlington to signify they run past railroad stations.

The CB&Q began as the Aurora Branch railroad, charted by the State of Illinois in 1849. It connected the Chicago & Galena Railroad with Aurora, a small city in the Fox River Valley that has become Chicago’s largest suburb as well as the second-largest city in the state. This line came into service in 1950.

It changed its name to the Chicago and Aurora Railroad in 1852 when the Illinois General Assembly amended the railroad’s charter to build a line northward to Mendota. Two years later, the General Assembly amended the charter again to allow the Chicago and Aurora Railroad to build a line eastward to Chicago via Naperville.

The Chicago and Aurora Railroad also had permission to change its name to the Chicago and Southwestern Railroad, but never took this step. Instead, in 1855, it changed its name to the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad. By the time the line to Chicago became operational in 1864, the CB&Q had acquired a line that went from Chicago to Galesburg and then split in two, one line going to Burlington and the other to Quincy.

[1] In 1996, the Burlington Northern Railroad merged with the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway to form Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway (BNSF Railway), a name familiar to many Chicagoans who commute between the big city and western suburbs on Metra trains on the BNSF line. In 2009, Warren Buffett’s holding company Berkshire Hathaway purchased the BNSF Railway.

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