Once Upon a Time

Historical Society saves county founder's mansion

The John Wood Mansion looked like this in 1906 when the Historical Society bought it. | Photo courtesy of the Historical Society of Quincy and Adams County
By ARLIS DITTMER
Posted: Mar. 22, 2020 12:10 am Updated: Mar. 22, 2020 12:34 am

The headline in the Oct. 20, 1906, issue of The Quincy Daily Journal read: "To Save the Home of Quincy's Founder." The Historical Society was barely 10 years old when it decided to purchase the homestead of John Wood. Louise Maertz, as society secretary, brought it to the attention of the board, and a committee was formed to investigate. Daniel Wood, Capt. Horace S. Brown and Maertz met with the landowner. He wanted $1,700 (about $43,540 in today's money) for the property.

The negotiations were not easy, and the owner wanted the money for the property by Nov. 15. He also wanted the home moved to make way for an alley, which would provide easier access to his business on State Street.

Within 10 days the finance committee raised $1,000 in cash and pledges. The society thought it needed at least $3,000 to buy, move and restore the house in those days known as the Homestead. The project caught on with "public spirited citizens," according to the Nov. 10, 1906, Quincy Daily Herald, which reported that the society had raised $2,000. The group thought it was important to save the home of the founder of the city, which it could use as a meeting place and a repository for "relics."

Everyone who gave $100 ($2,667 in today's money) had their name put on a roll of honor and listed in the newspaper. The need was immediate, as the option to purchase the property would expire Nov. 22. That very day, the attorneys met, and the papers were drawn up. They were formally signed on Nov. 24, and the Historical Society owned the property, provided it paid all of the money by Jan. 1, 1907.

Unfortunately, what the society bought was a small part of the property and the house. After studying the issue for a month or so, the society decided it was impractical and a hazard to the integrity of the house to move it, even though the plan was to move it only 30 feet. As the House and Grounds committee said in its report to the membership, "The committee felt much disheartened at the thought of disturbing the dignified and substantial repose of the fine old structure in its present location, ..." not to mention the trees that would have to be cut down. Therefore the society had to again negotiate with the reluctant landowner, Charles Lambrecht, to purchase the remaining land. To its surprise, he agreed to sell the three lots for $5,000.

The membership voted unanimously to purchase the land and to secure a loan, as the treasury had only $1,400 and had just finished raising funds to buy the house.

There were other expenses to come such as repairs, heating, lighting, plumbing and painting to make the home usable for the society. By April, the repairs had begun, and the house had a new roof, gutters and porch floor. According to the April 11, 1907, Quincy Daily Herald, "the society feels it has undertaken an arduous task in preserving … the homestead of the first settler. …" Realizing that the original gutters were walnut, a member proposed using the wood to make objects to sell as relics.

Mrs. E.J. Parker, treasurer of the House and Grounds committee, was tasked with supervising the purchase and repairs. She and the committee envisioned building a new brick wing veneered with wood on the north side of the house for the growing collection of relics. This was in line with the suggestion of the Rev. Dr. Emery in 1896 that the society needed a fireproof building.

The John Wood Home opened on Thursday evening Nov. 21, 1907, with a dinner, music and speeches. The Nov. 22, 1907, Quincy Daily Herald said 250 attended the opening. The article pointed out the attractive rooms and particularly the crystal chandeliers given by the Diamond Jo Packet Co. The furnishings were mahogany "and are in a good state of preservation of massive design and solidly constructed to withstand the wear and tear not only of years but of ages."

After the dinner, four musical groups performed, and 15 people spoke to the crowd, each limited to three minutes each. The Daily Herald called it, "the feast of the soul and reminiscent talks." One of the talks was given by Henry Bornmann, editor of Germania, a weekly newspaper published in Quincy. He recalled that John Wood's mother was German and suggested "that the sturdy character of Governor Wood was inherited from his Teutonic forbears."

The president of the society, Judge Cicero F. Perry, gave the main address. According to The Daily Herald, he praised the city's founder John Wood and then talked about the origins of the Historical Society and its accomplishments. He congratulated the House and Grounds committee and Ernest M. Wood for their judgment and good taste in restoring the building, saying, "This priceless heritage shall be preserved for the people."

The Nov. 22, 1907, Quincy Daily Journal also wrote about the opening, saying, "This unusual occasion brought out over 250 members of the best families of Quincy, many of them being directly connected with the pioneer families of this fair city."

The article mentioned the event "was a little crowded but all understood they were within the walls of a historic building, so didn't mind."

The public was invited to tour the Wood home on Sunday, Nov. 24, 1907. Large crowds were guided by members of the Historical Society and provided light refreshments. By December, the society had decided to be open New Year's Day for all new society members. From then on and for many years, the John Wood Home was open to the public from 1 to 5 on Sunday with an admission fee of 15 cents.

The John Wood Mansion is still owned by the Historical Society 113 years later and is open for tours five days a week at just a bit more than 15 cents per tour.

 

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.

 

Sources:

"A Historic Dedication." Quincy Daily Journal, Nov. 22, 1907, p. 5.

 

"Improving the Wood Property." Quincy Daily Herald, April 11, 1907, p. 3.

 

"John Wood's Homestead." Quincy Daily Herald, Nov. 22, 1906, p. 8.

 

"One Thousand Was In Sight." Quincy Daily Herald, Oct. 30, 1906, p. 10.

 

"Open House New Years." Quincy Daily Herald, Dec. 10, 1907, p. 6.

 

"Opening of Wood Home." Quincy Daily Herald, Nov. 22, 1907, p. 3.

 

"The Society to Buy Land." Quincy Daily Herald, Feb. 28, 1907, p. 6.

 

"To Save The Home of Quincy's Founder." Quincy Daily Journal, Oct. 20, 1906, p. 5.

 

"To Those Interested in Preserving the Historic Land-Marks of Quincy." [pamphlet reprint] Quincy, Ill: Historical Society of Quincy and Adams County, 1907.

 

"Two-Thirds is Now in Sight." Quincy Daily Herald, Nov. 10, 1906, p. 10.

 

"Wood Homestead Open to the Public." Quincy Daily Whig, Nov. 24, 1907, p. 8.

 

"Wood Mansion to Remain on Old Site." Quincy Daily Whig, Feb. 28, 1907, p. 5.