Quincy, known as Illinois' "Gem City," is a river city along the Mississippi River and the county seat of Adams County, Illinois, United States. As of the 2010 census the city held a population of 40,633. It is the principal city of the Quincy micropolitan area, which contains portions of northeastern Missouri and has a population of 77,314 people. It is also the economic and regional hub of a 14 county area in West-central Illinois called Forgottonia. Altogether, Forgottonia has a population of 324,389 people. During the 19th Century, Quincy was a thriving transportation center as riverboats and rail service linked the city to many destinations west and along the river. It was once Illinois' second-largest city, surpassing Peoria in 1870. The city holds several historic districts, including the East Side Historic District and the South Side German Historic District showcasing the architecture of Quincy's many German immigrants from the late-19th century.
Today, Quincy remains a prominent river city. It has been twice recognized as an All-American City and is a participant in the Tree City USA program. In the fall of 2010, Forbes Magazine listed Quincy as the eighth "Best small city to raise a family."
Quincy’s European-American founder, John Wood, came west from Moravia, New York in 1818 and settled in the Illinois Military Tract. Wood purchased from a veteran for $60. The next year he became the first settler in what was originally called "Bluffs", and by 1825 would be known as Quincy. Wood was elected Lieutenant Governor of Illinois in 1856. He became Governor in 1860 upon the death of elected Governor William Henry Bissell.
In 1825 Quincy became the Adams County seat, both named in honor of the newly-elected U.S. President, John Quincy Adams. The town square was originally named John Square (to complete the name John Quincy Adams) on April 30, 1825, but was eventually renamed Washington Square.
Quincy’s earliest 19th century settlers were primarily from New England, Yankees who moved west in a continuing search for good land. They brought a culture of progressive values, such as support for public education. In the 1840s they were joined by a wave of German immigrants, who left Europe after the Revolutions in German provinces. The new residents brought with them much needed skills for the expanding community.
The Mormon Exile & the Civil War
During the winter of 1838-1839, five thousand members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Mormons, on their way west, were driven from their homes in Missouri and arrived in Quincy. Though vastly outnumbered by the new arrivals, the residents of Quincy provided them food and shelter. Joseph Smith then led his followers up river to Nauvoo, Illinois. The kindness extended by the people of Quincy continues to be remembered by Mormons. In 2002, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir gave a benefit concert in Quincy, with the proceeds donated to the city as an expression of gratitude
Quincy grew rapidly during the 1850s. Steamboat arrivals and departures made Quincy’s riverfront a center of activity. In 1858, Quincy was the site for the sixth Senatorial debate by U.S. Senator Stephen A. Douglas and his challenger, Abraham Lincoln. Quincy was the largest city in which Lincoln and Douglas appeared, as the debates in Freeport, Quincy, and Alton drew the largest crowds due to the size of the cities (at the time) as well as the fact that Quincy and Alton border Missouri, bringing the importance of slavery into greater spotlight in those cities with Missouri being a bitterly divided slave state and Illinois a non-slave state.
Lincoln and Douglas again competed during the 1860 Presidential campaign. Although there was substantial support for Douglas in the County, Quincy had a local chapter of the Wide Awakes, the para-military organization that supported Lincoln and the other Republican candidates. The Quincy Wide Awakes were involved in a violent confrontation in a monster political rally on August 25, 1860, in Payson.
The matter of slavery was a major religious and social issue in Quincy’s early years. The Illinois city’s location, separated only by the Mississippi River from the slave state of Missouri, which was a hotbed of political controversy on the issue, made Quincy itself a hotbed of political controversy on slavery. Dr. Eells House, at 415 Jersey, was considered station number one on the Underground Railroad from Quincy to Chicago.
The Civil War brought increasing prosperity to Quincy. It also brought another connection to Mormons, as most Mormon migrants to Utah in the 1860s came by rail to Quincy; they then boarded steam boats to cross the Mississippi River and continue their journey.
By 1870, Quincy passed Peoria to become the second largest city in Illinois. A massive railroad bridge across the Mississippi River had been completed, and Quincy was linked by rail to Omaha, Kansas City and other points west. These connections greatly increased its trade and shipping.
Contemporary history (1980 to present)
Over the past several decades, the city has worked to redevelop Quincy while holding onto its German roots. It has identified several historic districts within the city, and created an extensive park system. Quincy is known for having a large population of dogwoods and has been a member of Tree City USA since 1986. Quincy is the home to many performing arts organizations including the Quincy Symphony Orchestra and Quincy Community Theatre, and also the Muddy River Opera Company. The Quincy Park Band is very prominent as well, playing weekly in Madison Park and Clat Adams Park on the river-front periodically.
During the Mississippi River flood of 1993, riverside businesses and industries suffered extensive damage when the river crested at a record 32.2 feet (9.81 m), above flood stage. For a time, the Bayview Bridge, one of Quincy's two bridges, was the only bridge open across the Mississippi River between Alton, Illinois and Burlington, Iowa. The Memorial Bridge was closed since the end of June, due to water over its western approach. On July 16, 1993, the Bayview Bridge closed for 40 days when the river submerged the land on the west side of the Mississippi River at West Quincy, Missouri.
During the 1990s, Quincy was known to be a skydiving hub; it hosted the World FreeFall Convention (WWFC) from 1990 to 2001. The event was moved to Rantoul, Illinois after problems with drinking, deaths, and nudity prompted the city council to ban the event. As of 2007, the WFFC was put on hiatus
A flood in June 2008 submerged much of Quincy's riverfront and low-lying regions not protected by the bluffs. Record Mississippi River levels occurred on 22 June 2008. The Red Cross accepted donations for Quincy and other communities in Adams County, as natural disaster funds were recently depleted.