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 2000 census the city held a population of 40,366. 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 Downtown Quincy 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 location along the Mississippi River has attracted settlers for centuries. The first known inhabitants to the region were of the Illiniwek tribe. Years later, following numerous incursions, the Sauk, Fox and Kickapoo would also call the site home.
The French became the first European presence in the region, after Louis Jolliet, Jacques Marquette and the La Salle Expeditions explored the Upper Mississippi River Valley. Fur goods became a valuable commodity of the region and European explorers and merchants alike were attracted to the prospects of the growing fur trade of the North American frontier. The Mississippi River, acting as a superhighway for transporting goods downstream, became the area's most vital transportation asset.
Following the events of the Seven Years' War, Great Britain took control of New France including that of the Illinois Territory. Possession of the Illinois Territory would change hands again a few decades later during the American Revolutionary War.
After the British failed to regain their former colonies in the War of 1812, the American government granted military tracts to veterans as a means to help populate the west. Peter Flinn, having acquired the land from veteran Mark McGowan for his military service in 1819, ended up selling of land acquisitions to Moravia, New York native John Wood for $60. John Wood would later found Quincy, which at the time was coined Bluffs, Illinois.
In 1825, Bluffs renamed their community Quincy and became the seat of government for Adams County, both named after newly elected President John Quincy Adams. The city would incorporate as a city nearly two decades later, in 1840.
In 1838, following the signing of Missouri Executive Order 44, many members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints fled persecution in Missouri and found shelter in Quincy. Despite being vastly outnumbered by Mormon refugees, residents provided food and lodging for the displaced people. Joseph Smith then led his followers upstream to Nauvoo, Illinois in hopes of finding a permanent home. Also in 1838, Quincy sheltered the Pottawatomie tribe as they were forcibly relocated from Indiana to Kansas.
The 1850s and 1860s brought increased prosperity to Quincy, as steamboats and railroads linked Quincy to places west, often the destination of migrants. The founding of the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad in 1855 and construction of a rail bridge in Quincy was a major drive for creating a transportation hub in the region and furthered commerce. It is during this time that the population of the city grew enormously, from a little under 7,000 in 1850 to 24,000 by 1870, helping Quincy surpass Peoria in becoming the second-largest city in the state (at that time).
In 1860, Quincy founder and Lieutenant Governor John Wood inherited the governorship after William H. Bissell died while in office. At the time, he was overseeing business interests and the construction of his mansion. The Illinois legislature allowed him to stay in Quincy during his tenure, effectively making Quincy a "second" capitol for the state. His absence from the official Governor's office in Springfield provided Abraham Lincoln a space for planning his Presidential run.
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. Richard Eells, who was a staunch abolitionist, built his home in Quincy in 1835 and sheltered runaway slaves on their way to Chicago. His home became a major stop on the Underground Railroad. The divide over slavery climaxed in 1858 when Quincy hosted the sixth Senatorial debate by U.S. Senator Stephen A. Douglas and his challenger, Abraham Lincoln. With an estimated crowd of 12,000 in attendance, Quincy was the largest community at which Lincoln and Douglas debated.
Lincoln and Douglas would once again confront each other in the 1860 Presidential election and the resulting campaign again divided Quincy and the surrounding region. Lincoln enthusiasts and Quincy's chapter of the Republican Party's para-military organization Wide Awakes, while en route to a political rally in Plainville, marched upon nearby Payson, which was a community predominantly filled with Douglas supporters. Although a confrontation was avoided while en route to Plainville, Douglas supporters shot upon the Wide Awakes on their journey back to Quincy, resulting in a skirmish known as the Stone Prairie Riots.
The Civil War brought increasing prosperity to Quincy. Although the battles were held far from the city, Quincy was the site of the organization of several Illinois volunteer infantry regiments, including the 16th, 50th, 78th, 84th, 137th, 138th, and 151st. Following the Reconstruction Era, Quincy was selected as the location for Illinois' first Veteran's Home in 1886.
Immigration to Quincy
Early immigrants to Quincy came predominately from New England seeking better land, bringing with them progressive values, such as public education and abolitionism. Later, in the 1840s, migrants from Germany settle in Quincy to escape revolutions among the German provinces and conflicts between the European powers. German migrants mainly lived in close proximity to one another and settled predominantly in the southern parts of the city, influencing much of Quincy's historic architecture and birthing the South Side German Historic District. Collectively, the south side of Quincy became known as Calftown due to the fact that nearly every household possessed a cow.
In 1860, a group of Franciscan friars founded the St. Francis Solanus College, which would later develop into Quincy University.
20th and 21st Century
Throughout the 19th Century, Quincy had grown from a backwater hamlet along the Mississippi River to become one of the state's most important cities and ports. Activity from rail and steamboat continued to flourish and Quincy benefited from the increased traffic. It was during the early decades of the 20th Century that many of the city's historic buildings in the Downtown Quincy Historic District were constructed, including the city's first skyscraper, the Western Catholic Union Building, in 1925.
The automobile and its surging popularity among the American people pushed Quincy to consider alternatives to Mississippi River crossings. Prior to the automobile, the most popular means of crossing the near-mile wide river was by boat or ferry. The need for a bridge was apparent. In 1928, construction began on the Memorial Bridge which was a two-lane truss toll bridge. It was opened in May 1930. By 1945, the city had repaid its outstanding bonds and eliminated the toll.
On April 12, 1945, a tornado ripped through the business district of Quincy, Illinois and severely damaged the Courthouse. The wind was so severe that it blew the roof off of the structure, damaging it beyond repair. Because the incident occurred a few hours after news reached Quincy of President Roosevelt's death, several residents joked that "FDR and God were just fighting over the power up there."
In 1987, the suspended Bayview Bridge was constructed to help alleviate traffic on the aging Memorial Bridge. Today, both bridges compliment each other by carrying westbound (Bayview) and eastbound (Memorial) traffic.
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.
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.