By LYNN M. SNYDER
In 1886 Lorenz Woelfel was operating a saloon at 190 S. Sixth, one of more than 70 saloons in the city of Quincy.
However, in December 1885 the decision had been made to locate the Illinois Soldiers' and Sailors' Home on the Dudley estate, just north of the city limits. The lure of a new and potentially underserved clientele of Civil War veterans with pension dollars to spend now drew Woelfel's attention to the north side of town.
In August of 1886 Suzanne Woelfel purchased the title to lot 7, block 2 of Cox & Bushnell's subdivision from Anton Binkert at a cost of $400. This piece of ground was located on the southwest corner of the as yet unpaved Eighth and Locust streets, directly across from the Dudley property. Over the next two years the Woelfels would construct a two story building on the corner with a tavern on the first floor and living space above. Thus set up a contest that would continue for years to come among saloon owners such as the Woelfels, the management of the Soldiers' and Sailors' Home, and the Quincy City Council.
Beginning as early as 1800 in the eastern U.S., various church and sectarian groups had been advocating temperance in alcohol consumption, if not an outright ban on its production and distribution. Prominent among these groups were the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), which boasted a membership of over 100,000 by the 1870s, and the Anti-Saloon League. In response, distillers and brewers formed their own organizations such as the local Quincy Saloon Keepers Association founded in 1886.
Before nationwide prohibition in 1919 a number of tactics were employed to limit or prohibit the sale of alcoholic beverages in Quincy. Local preachers spoke of the evils of alcoholic spirits, and by June of 1884 the city council was considering "blue laws" that would close all businesses selling alcoholic beverages on Sundays. Another temperance-minded tactic was an ordinance requiring all saloon keepers to purchase a liquor license at a cost of $150 per year, which, it was thought, would limit their numbers. However, by 1898 there would be more than 140 saloons operating within the city limits.
Lorenz and Suzanne Woelfel began operation of their saloon almost simultaneously with the opening of the Soldiers' and Sailors' Home in 1886/87 and within months were running afoul of the administration of the Home and city officials. True to the Woelfels' expectations, a certain number of the residents of the Home, having time to pass and modest pension dollars to spend, had found their way to the saloon, sometimes drinking to excess and causing such disturbances as elderly gentlemen might be able to perpetrate.
The Woelfels were not alone in their ambitions to serve the clientele of the northwest side. By 1891 there were three saloons operating just outside the gates of the Home. Leo J. Goerres opened a saloon at the southwest corner of 12th and Locust, just inside the city limits. Less than 75 feet south of Woelfuls on Eighth Street Herbst and Buckheit opened a third.
In response to the potential threats to the residents' health and well-being, the administration of the Home petitioned the Quincy City Council to ban the sale of liquor within one-quarter mile of the Soldiers' Home property. While the council reacted positively and passed Ordinance No. 55, this soon became a contested issue. As early as June 25, 1887, less than six months after the first residents had been admitted to the Home, Lorenz Woelfel was issued a summons for "selling intoxicants within three blocks of the Soldiers' and Sailors' Home." According to Quincy Daily Journal, he was "notified a few days ago to shut up shop, which order, it seems, he has disobeyed." Hiring an attorney and asking for a change of venue, Lorenz was able to successfully fight the original summons, and the saloon remained open.
In September 1887 a potentially serious fracas occurred at the Woelfels, when two residents of the home got into an argument and shots were fired. According to the Quincy Whig, "The place is said to be the worst of its kind in the city, and shooting affrays and fights have occurred there of late. The veterans addicted to strong drink visit the place, and after getting drunk, make it lively for the neighborhood. The last shooting affray occurred there on Saturday last, but luckily all who took part were unable to hit any one." One gentleman, however, stubbed his toe while chasing or being chased and broke his foot.
In May 1888, after Lorenz's death, Suzanne Woelfel was again brought before the courts, and the Whig opined editorially, "The woman who keeps the hell hole at the corner of Eighth and Locust got soldiers to swear that she sold nothing but soda-water. Could not the attorney against her find anyone to prove that assertion false? The beer wagon drives up there every morning and unloads beer kegs, and intoxicated men come out of the place every day. The principle witness for her on her last suit got so drunk there Monday that she had to put him out and lock the door to keep him out." According to the Whig, it was not only residents of the nearby Home that got into trouble at Woelfuls, but "the worst sort of local toughs" and downtown citizens taking advantage of the lax enforcement of Sunday closing laws at this establishment on the wilder edges of the city.
A second, more serious incident was reported in December 1889 when two residents of the home got into a fight early in the day in which one "attacked the memory of Abraham Lincoln and wound up cursing the same." That afternoon at the Woelfel saloon, by then run by Suzanne and her new husband Julius Linneman, one of the combatants without saying a further word (according to the bartender) "whipped out a knife and slashed (his opponent)three times in quick succession." In a jury trial the knife wielder was eventually found guilty of "assault to do bodily injury" but due to his age (69 years) was not given a jail sentence.
A number of owners operated the Woelfel place over the next few years, including Suzanne's son Otto and her daughter Margaret. In 1892 the saloon, now called the "Bouleivard," as well as the nearby Bucheit and Herbst establishment were still open, and each received a summons for "operating an open grog shop on Sunday."
In the 1920s, after prohibition had closed all such establishments throughout the nation, Ed Murray opened Murray's Groceries in the former Woelfel building. When Murray's closed in 1939 the building became a rooming house which slowly fell into disrepair. In 1983 Philip and Hedwig Elligsen purchased and restored the property and opened Hedy's German Bakery. Eventually they were able to purchase the Herbst and Buckheit building as well, and today their extended family has restored the buildings and made them their homes.
Lynn M. Snyder is a native of Adams County, a semi-retired archaeologist and museum researcher with a doctorate in anthropology, and a Historical Society member and volunteer. She is finishing a Society exhibit, opening this spring, on the 125-plus-year-old Illinois Veterans Home at Quincy.
Code of the City of Quincy, Illinois, 1858. Published by the authority of the Mayor and City Council of the City of Quincy, Illinois in book form.
Okrent, Daniel. Last Call: the Rise and Fall of Prohibition. New York: Scribner, 2010.
Quincy Daily Herald, November 5, 1872 and February 9, 1890.
Quincy Daily Journal, December 2, 1885; June 25, 1887; December 5, 1889; August 31, 1892; March 9, 1891; March 14, 1891; November 4, 1891; and October 13, 1894.
Quincy Daily Whig, June 3, 1884; August 15, 1886; September 15, 1887; and May 10, 1888.
Resident Action Group. A Promise Kept: the Story of the Illinois Veterans Home at Quincy. Quincy: Illinois Veterans Home, 1996.
The Revised Statutes of the State of Illinois, 1911: Containing All the General Statutes of the State in Force January 1, 1912. Comprising the "Revised Statutes of 1874," and All Amended of 1875-1905: to which are Added All the General Acts of 1906-1911.