ONCE UPON A TIME: Christmas in Quincy 100 Years Ago, Part II

Children enjoyed Christmas in 1912 with toys like these from the early 1900s and now part of the Historical Society’s collection. (Photo courtesy of Historical Society of Quincy and Adams County)
Posted: Dec. 14, 2012 2:17 pm Updated: Jan. 30, 2015 5:09 pm


The week before Christmas a century ago was generally sunny and mild. Stores urged shoppers not to wait until the last minute lest shelves be bare and store clerks be required to work Christmas Eve. As visions of sugar plums danced in the heads of Quincy children, the city's adults were carrying out their regular activities while making preparations for Christmas.

Dick Brothers Brewing Company offered to deliver a case of its pilsner beer to the homes of local residents. Davis Market, 219 N. Sixth, advertised pork chops and sirloin steak at 11 cents a pound. Model Clothing, 122 N. Fifth, offered men's suits and overcoats for $8.50-$30. The Home Loan Co. in the Mercantile Building, 507 Maine, offered to be of assistance to those short of money for Christmas shopping.

The Vermillion Club, composed of South Side bachelors, held its annual election of officers at the club rooms at Eighth Street and Pretzel Alley. Dances were held in the days leading up to Christmas. The Pressmen's Hayseed Hop filled the Labor Temple, and the Socialist Party held its second dance of the season, also at the Labor Temple. Numerous private parties were held, including a Dec. 20 dance in the new warehouse of the Irwin Paper Company on the southeast corner of 3rd and Maine. All company employees were invited to attend.

There were few festivities for members of the Quincy City Council, which was busy updating the city code. The council voted to make it a misdemeanor to harbor a howling or barking dog. The number of saloons was limited to 152 until the city's population reached 50,500, at which time one saloon could be added for each 500 additional residents. Pool halls were required to close by midnight. The council defeated a motion to prohibit the erection of hitching posts in the downtown district.

Accidents between buggies and motorcars were a frequent occurrence. Drivers of the motorized vehicles were criticized for traveling over 20 miles per hour on the city's streets. Mayor J.F. Garner and Police Chief P.B. Lott met to form a traffic squad to help prevent accidents. Officers were to concentrate where traffic was the heaviest--5th and Hampshire, 5th and Maine, and Hampshire between Seventh and Eighth.

The Quincy Street Railway Co. laid tracks on Maine Street from 30th to 36th to bring the total number of miles of track to 25, quite a significant number for a city of 36,587 people.

On Friday, Dec. 20, Christmas programs were held in all of Quincy's public schools. QHS juniors held a sandwich sale during the noon hour to raise money for their class. They realized a substantial sum as they locked the doors of the building to insure maximum participation.

While December 1912 was a season of joy for many, a dark cloud hung over the Quincy community. Workers at Quincy's showcase companies went on strike for better wages and shorter hours. Some factories closed while others employed non-striking workers. Several days before Christmas, police stood guard at Knittel Showcase Works, 3rd and Vermont, in anticipation of trouble by striking woodworkers who had maintained a picket line for several days. Apparently, the spirit of Christmas prevailed as no trouble was reported.

Hours for Christmas Day were well publicized. Grocery stores and meat markets were open until noon. Drug stores were open all day, as were cigar stores and newsstands. The general delivery window at the Post Office was to be open until 11 a.m., and postage stamps would be available. Department stores, clothing and haberdashery stores would not be open at all on Christmas.

The 27th annual Stove-mounters' and Drillers' Ball was held Christmas Eve with 700 people filling Turner Hall to capacity.

Like most days that Dec. 25 was fair and mild. Not so wonderful for children, anxious to try out their new sleds or ice skates, but perfect for adults visiting friends or relatives in the country. The Salvation Army had been successful in its pre-Christmas efforts and supplied dinners to large crowds that assembled at its headquarters at 213 N. Fourth. The 5:30 and 7:30 p.m. Christmas dinners at the Hotel Newcomb were well received. Guests had the opportunity to view the Newcomb's newly remodeled lobby with updated lighting, refinished woodwork, and central couches upholstered in red leather.

In the days after Christmas, local merchants reported that practical gifts outsold less practical ones by a ratio of 2˝ to 1. Merchants were taken off-guard by this circumstance and found themselves stuck with toys and other holiday articles.

The announcement of the closing of Bloomer and Michael Packing Company, 705 S. Front, was widely lamented. The company's presence was credited with keeping meat prices at a reasonable level in Quincy's markets. Not sold to Bloomer and Michael was an 815-pound hog raised by an Ursa Township farmer who received $57.85 for the largest hog ever raised in Adams County.

As 1912 drew to a close, the Quincy City Council considered lighting street lights only until midnight on moonlit nights and all night long when the moon didn't illuminate the night skies. It was hoped that several thousand dollars could be saved for the city whose goal was to pay off the city's debt by 1916.

No one was happier in the days after Christmas than the squirrels in Washington Park. John Musolino donated two barrels of pecans to Gotlieb Stoermer, the park's caretaker, to be fed to the little critters. Additional smaller gifts of a similar nature insured a sufficient supply was laid in to keep the squirrels well fed during the winter months.

New Year's Eve day was busy as many businesses were closed or closed early on Jan. 1, 1913. Of course, the drug and cigar stores remained open all day.

The city's annual report for 1912 showed 1,051 arrests, mostly for intoxication and gambling. There were 49 divorces during 1912, and nearly 700 marriage licenses were issued. December was the driest month of the year with but six tenths of an inch precipitation.

December 1912 ended on a most surprising note with an event which carried over into the New Year. Capt. S.W. James of the Salvation Army was serving sandwiches at the unit's headquarters when the New Year's bells rang and a few unimpressive whistles were blown. The din was weak and lacked volume and harmony. The captain announced to those present that a parade was to start immediately. Blowing a coronet, the captain marched at the head of his army. A husky soldier with a large drumstick followed the captain, walloping a large bass drum with every step. Onto Maine Street the band marched, past the Newcomb Hotel. Windows flew open to "offer New Year's greetings" to the marching army from those whose sleep had been disturbed. At Seventh and Maine the army turned and proceeded towards Hampshire Street intending to bring the tidings of the New Year to the Hotel Quincy. At Hampshire Street, however, they were met by police officers Hendricks and Rice who requested silence. The police were ignored. Officer Hendricks snatched the large drumstick from the drummer. A discussion ensued, but the parade was not allowed to continue. "Take your party to the station, Captain," one of the officers said.

Raising his coronet to his lips, the captain sounded a retreat and led the way to the police station on the northeast corner of Third and Hampshire, playing as he marched.

Quincy's 1912 Christmas season had come to its conclusion.

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.


Chaddock's School Choir will provide music for the annual Christmas Candlelight Tour of the Gov. John Wood Mansion at 12th and State Street from 6 to 8 p.m. tonight.

Directed by Koretta Sykes, Chaddock's young people will perform Christmas carols old and new. The Quincy Herald-Whig sponsors their appearance and tours of the 177-year-old governor's mansion. The newspaper's gift makes tours this evening and on Dec. 26 and 27, also from 6 to 8 p.m., free and open to the public.

Volunteer interpreters, some dressed in period costume, will provide information about the mansion's rooms downstairs and the furnishings the Wood family owned while living there. The Association of Independent Architects in 2007 named the Gov. John Wood Mansion, the first Greek Revival building west of Philadelphia, one of the most important architectural treasures in Illinois.