Once Upon a Time

Group created historical society to keep city 'treasures'

The Rev. Dr. Samuel Emery suggested the seal design for the Historical Society of Quincy and Adams County in a March 21, 1898, letter to Timothy Rogers, society secretary. Emery wrote at the bottom of the design, "The wise men and women of the society must put their heads together and contrive something representing the early history of Quincy to go inside the above seal." | Photo courtesy of the Historical Society of Quincy and Adams County
Posted: Feb. 9, 2020 12:01 am

"Mr. S.H. Emery, Sr., is interesting himself in the organization of a historical society for Quincy," The Quincy Daily Whig reported on June 11, 1896.

So begins the newspaper accounts of the origins of the Historical Society of Quincy and Adams County. The article goes on to say, "The movement will certainly receive the most hearty approval of the public generally and will be accorded enthusiastic cooperation."

The goal was to collect and be a safe place for documents, pictures, books and the ephemera related to normal life.

The Rev. Dr. Samuel Hopkins Emery had lived in Quincy from 1855 to 1896, where he had known many of the early pioneers of Quincy. He had been the Congregational Church pastor and a chaplain for the Union Army. His idea to form a society came from his later years spent in Taunton, Mass., where he lived and helped organize a historical society there. His other inspiration was a gift from Thomas Pope of a large document called "The Early Ecclesiastical History of Quincy." At the organizational meeting, it was suggested that Pope read the document at the second meeting of the Historical Society in July 1896.

The first meeting was June 12 at the Young Men's Business Association, a group that later became the Chamber of Commerce. Sixty Quincy citizens signed the call for the meeting with 95 attending the first meeting. Lorenzo Bull was chairman, and Timothy M. Rogers wa secretary.

A constitution was presented at the first meeting, which contained the name and object of the organization, the membership, officers, meetings, quorum and amendments. The constitution was read twice and adopted. The officers were elected with Lorenzo Bull as president. He and the other eight officers, two vice presidents, two secretaries, a treasurer, an auditor, librarian and historiographer constituted the board of directors. They were to meet monthly while quarterly membership meetings would be held. The 60 people calling for the meeting were charter members. Membership dues were $1 annually or $10 for life membership. People living outside of the city limits became corresponding members. They also elected the Rev. Dr. Emery and Captain Henry Asbury, a Quincy pioneer who had recently moved, as honorary members.

The Quincy Library offered its balcony room for the society's collection, which Dr. Emery commented upon in a letter to The Quincy Daily Whig on Oct. 15, 1896. While appreciating the gift, he felt the collection would soon outgrow such a small place. Emery preferred a fireproof building that could be found or built with community donations "where treasures can be stored for the benefit of coming generations." He then mentioned Pope's July talk on Quincy church history, which began with Jabez Porter, whom he called "the pioneer preacher of Quincy." Porter did not live long. His Bible eventually found its way to Dr. Emery, who gave it to the society. Thus began what Emery felt would be a long line of "treasures placed in your custody as a historical society."

Only five months after the society was organized, it received a letter from the Rev. S. D. Peat, publisher of the Antiquarian, who encouraged the organization to get involved with saving the mounds south of Woodland Cemetery.

According to the Nov. 22, 1896, Quincy Daily Whig, his letter said, "Quincy is called the ‘Gem City,' but those mounds are the gems which crown the bluff. …" Using flattering language about the city, he talked about the series of mounds in the county that could be seen if the community could save the "ancient" mounds and build a tower on them. The society made him an honorary member. Later, after a petition drive, the city purchased 10 acres of the mounds.

The society encouraged the reading of scholarly papers at quarterly meetings. At the first annual meeting in January 1897, Col. William H. Collins presented a paper on Gen. James G. Morgan, his life and war experiences.

Newspaper accounts of the membership meetings mentioned the speakers, the importance of preserving a community's history and the early items given to the Society. Some of those early gifts included the Jabez Porter Bible mentioned before, the 1834 church bell that belonged to the "Lord's Barn," a compass used by John Wood when he arrived in Illinois in 1821, the first brick made in Quincy in 1829 and the first seal used in the office of the clerk of the courts from 1833 to 1835.

In March 1897, the American Historical Association, which had formed in 1884, held a three-day meeting in Quincy. The March 31, 1897, Quincy Daily Whig said the association meeting was held in Quincy, "for the reason that this society has done much to foster and encourage the study of American history. …"

The spring quarterly meeting read the aforementioned letter of the Rev. Dr. Peat about the mounds in Quincy and passed a resolution urging the city of Quincy and the Park and Boulevard Association to preserve the mounds.

Unfortunately, the July quarterly meeting was postponed due to the heat, and the society met again in the fall, where Lorenzo Bull read a paper about the early abolition movement in Illinois. After the paper, members recounted their personal reminiscences of the anti-slavery movement. One memory was of a meeting in the Congregational Church on Fourth Street known as the Lord's Barn. A pro-slavery mob attacked the church during the meeting. According to the Oct. 6, 1897, Quincy Daily Whig, "Arms were provided within convenient reach and the whole platform under the pulpit was filled with clubs made from hickory hoop poles. …" Those attending the meeting rushed out to defend themselves, including E.B. Kimball, whose wife remembered being in the church and recounted the event to Bull. When the church was torn down, the clubs were still there, under the platform.


Arlis Dittmer is a retired medical librarian. During her years with Blessing Health System, she became interested in medical and nursing history -- both topics frequently overlooked in history.



"From Dr. Emery." Quincy Daily Whig, Oct. 15, 1986, p. 3.


"Gathering of Historians." Quincy Daily Whig, March 31, 1897, p. 3.


"Gen. James D. Morgan." Quincy Daily Whig, Jan. 6, 1897, p. 1.


"Historical Society: Movement For Such an Organization in Quincy." Quincy Daily Whig, June 11, 1896, p. 3.


"Historical Society: An Enthusiastic Organization Starts in Good Shape." Quincy Daily Whig, June 13, 1896, p. 1.


"Library Board's Annual Meeting." Quincy Daily Journal, Aug. 12, 1896, p. 7.


"Local and General News." Quincy Daily Journal, July 9, 1897, p. 7.


"The Murder of E.P. Lovejoy." Quincy Daily Whig, Oct. 6, 1897, p. 8.


"Quincy Historical Society." Quincy Daily Whig, July 12, 1896, p. 3.


"Save The Monuments." Quincy Daily Whig, Nov. 22, 1896, p. 3.


"Talked of Indian Mounds." Quincy Daily Whig, April 7, 1897, p. 1.


February exhibit

Many of the "treasures" given to the Society are again on display in the same building that held them nearly 125 years ago, the Free Public Library and Reading room, which is now the History Museum on the Square. The February exhibit features stories of fighters for liberty and the Underground Railroad.