Christmas in Quincy 100 years ago

Many Quincy businesses sent Christmas cards like this one to remember and thank customers for their patronage throughout the year. (Photo courtesy of Historical Society of Quincy and Adams County)
Posted: Dec. 6, 2012 3:13 pm Updated: Dec. 30, 2012 4:15 pm


1912. What a year. New Mexico and Arizona were admitted as states. The Girl Scouts was founded. The "unsinkable" R.M.S. Titanic sank in the North Atlantic. Baseball fans welcomed the opening of Tiger Stadium and Fenway Park. Dissident Republicans formed the Progressive Party only to see their candidate, Theodore Roosevelt, shot by a Milwaukee saloon keeper. The speech in Roosevelt's breast pocket may have saved his life, but the "Bull Moose" lost the November 5 election to Democratic challenger, Woodrow Wilson. Roosevelt had to console himself that he finished ahead of the incumbent, President William Howard Taft.

As November rolled into December 100 years ago, Quincyans were less concerned with the European conflict between Greece and Turkey than with purchasing Christmas ham or turkey that would adorn their dinner tables. Local stores were filled with merchandise and seemingly every merchant attempted to lure shoppers with the largest sale of the year. Residents withdrew funds from their accounts at the Quincy National Bank and the Ricker National Bank, sacrificing the 3 percent compound interest their savings had been earning. Likely, many were enticed by A. Doerr's Department Store at Sixth and Maine, which encouraged customers to "buy where holiday stocks are complete; holiday gift buying easiest; holiday goods handiest to see; where the Christmas spirit of good cheer and helpfulness abounds from basement to roof."

Red Cross Christmas seals were placed on sale Dec. 2 in about 25 Quincy stores, while nurses from Blessing Hospital worked in relays selling seals at a special stand in the post office from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. In the first three days, the nurses raised $12.45 for the fight against tuberculosis in the Quincy area.

With winter fast approaching, the steamer "Keokuk" made its final round trip to Canton on Saturday, Dec. 7, and then was moored for the winter in Quincy Bay.

Quincyans received both good and bad news in early December 1912. The local economy was prospering, and, while inflation was seen as a threat, retail sales were high and unemployment low. Optimists forecast a 50 percent increase in downtown property values as the current prices were less than half of what similar property brought in Rockford, East St. Louis, Springfield and Peoria. Less welcome was the report that railroads would not be offering special holiday excursion rates during the 1912 Christmas season. The Quincy Daily Journal blamed the "heartless corporations" for ending the special two cent fares which had permitted families to travel far and wide during previous Christmas seasons.

The Quincy YMCA opened its new building at Fourth and Jersey for public inspection the first weekend of the month, and, as thousands toured the building, a campaign to raise $15,000 to furnish the building was announced.

Some began their holiday celebrations a bit early. A German immigrant appeared in police court on a charge of intoxication. He was found guilty and fined $4.25 by Judge P.W. Reardon. The prisoner wailed. "It's too much. In Pittsburgh, it is only $2.00." "You'd better get drunk in Pittsburgh next time," advised the judge.

The annual poultry show of the local Poultry and Pet Stock Association opened in Turner Hall on Hampshire Street. 1,200 birds were on display, and visitors marveled at an alligator egg incubator. The pigeon section was a highlight of the show. 40 loving cups were offered to the owners of the prized birds, and cash prizes ranging from 50 cents to $7 were awarded.

The first ice was seen on the river the morning of Monday, Dec. 9. It was the coldest morning of the winter at 13 degrees. South Side Coal Company was selling coal for the furnaces of Quincy homes for $3.50 per ton.

After occupying a structure on the north side of Maine Street since 1850, members of Quincy's Unitarian Church voted to build a new edifice at 16th and Hampshire. It was to be modeled after a Kansas City, Missouri church.

One Quincy landmark was torn down, while others received facelifts. The 70-year-old former home of Henry Clay Work on High Street, just east of 24th, was demolished. As a small child, Work moved to Quincy with his father, Alanson Work, a faculty member of Quincy's Mission Institute, an abolitionist institution. The elder Work was ordered to serve 12 years in the Missouri State Penitentiary for assisting fugitive slaves. Henry Clay Work penned nearly 100 songs, including "March Through Georgia," and was a successful inventor, having patented a knitting machine, walking doll and rotary engine. As the High Street house was coming down, workmen were busy redecorating the interior of the CB & Q depot at Second and Oak. Remodeling of the women's waiting room was well under way. St. John's Catholic Church on North 10th was completing a seven-month, $7,000 interior decorating project. A special service was planned to explain the paintings adorning the walls.

A Hannibal, Mo., man staying at the Franklin House Hotel, 221 N. Fifth, walked out the second story window while asleep and was found wandering about in an adjacent alley. When he awoke an hour later, he was taken to his room suffering from scrapes and bruises, caused by contact with the frozen ground.

Well-known Quincy businessman, Clat Adams, offered to rent a three-room brick house on North 14th Street for $6 a month.

As the temperature dropped, the Quincy Fire Department responded to many house fires, sadly without the services of Pawnee Bill, one of its fire horses. The big black stallion had been a fixture at the Number 6 station for three years, but died of pneumonia contracted on a night run.

The Boy's Debating Club at Quincy High School on the southeast corner of 12th and Maine debated the question: "Resolved, that the United States Government should own and operate the railroads." The decision was in favor of the negative, 13 to 9.

Many Quincyans patronized the city's vaudeville theaters: The Bijou at 642-644 Hampshire and the Empire at 111-117 N. Eighth. In the days before Christmas, the "Old Soldier Fiddlers" (who were playing at The Bijou) packed Lippincott Hall at the Illinois Soldiers and Sailors Home as the quintet of two Confederate and three Union Army veterans played and sang war tunes from the conflict half a century earlier. The audience showed its appreciation by loud and long applause.

As the days grew shorter and Christmas grew closer, Quincyans young and old looked forward to the arrival of Saint Nicholas and the celebration of Christ's birth.


"Christmas in Quincy 100 Years Ago" will continue with Part II in next Sunday's column.


Phil Germann is retired executive director of the Historical Society, having served 19 years. He is a former history teacher, a local historian and speaker, a member of several history-related organizations and a civic volunteer.



Quincy Daily Journal. December 1, 1912, through January 3, 1913.

Quincy Daily Whig. December 1, 1912, through January 3, 1913.



The public is invited to enjoy another Quincy Christmas tradition tonight.

The John Wood Mansion will be open from 6 to 8 p.m. this evening for the first of four free Christmas Candlelight Tours this month. Sponsored by the Quincy Herald-Whig, the tours are open to the public free of charge.

The Historical Society of Quincy and Adams will have refreshments available at the society's nearby Visitors Center throughout the evening.

Music will fill the mansion with area children's choirs furnishing carols from during part of the tours of the 177-year-old Greek Revival mansion at 12th and State Streets. Other tour dates are Dec. 19, 26 and 27.