By STEVE EIGHINGER
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
Friday night's devastating five-alarm fire that engulfed the Newcomb Hotel in downtown Quincy forced the evacuation of the nearby Lincoln-Douglas Apartments.
John Simon, director of the Adams County Emergency Management Agency, said shortly after 10 p.m. that officials did not fear the fire spreading across the Fourth and Maine intersection, but with the billowing clouds of smoke and bursts of flames filling the air, the decision was made to err on the side of caution.
"Residents at Lincoln-Douglas were bused to the Senior Center (Quincy Family and Senior Resource Center at 639 York) for safety reasons," Simon said.
The Lincoln-Douglas Apartments are at 101 N. Fourth, northwest across the Fourth and Maine intersection from the Newcomb Hotel at 400 Maine.
The 77,500-square-foot, 120-room hotel had sat vacant for more than 30 years. Several developers had tried -- and failed -- to renovate the structure, which in April was listed as one of the Ten Most Endangered Historic Places in Illinois.
The hotel was also the site of a major fire in March 1904. Two young women died in that blaze.
Friday night's fire broke out shortly before 9 at the hotel, whose foundation and walls date to the mid-1830s, when it was known as the Quincy House. A fire destroyed the Quincy House in the early 1880s.
Travis Brown, the executive director of the Historic Quincy Business District, arrived on the scene before some of the firetrucks. He said he knew early that the hotel building would be a total loss and was hoping the collateral damage in the neighborhood would be minimal.
"We'll start working first thing Monday morning with nearby businesses to (help them out)," Brown said. "As far as the (hotel building) is concerned, it is gone. We'll have to wait for the legal processes to play out to see how long it will take for such things as demolition and removal are concerned."
Maj. Andy Miller of the Salvation Army arrived with volunteers shortly after the fire started.
"We're always there to assist the first responders, and we will stay for the duration," Miller said.
The Salvation Army provided Gatorade, water and energy bars for firefighters, police and other first responders. If more substantial food were needed, depending how long emergency crews are at the scene, it would be brought in by Salvation Army personnel, officials said.
Nick Loos of Quincy was one of hundreds who arrived from all over Quincy to watch the fire.
"I came down right after I heard about it," Loos said.
Onlookers filled the streets and alleys to the south and north of the hotel. Several of those at the site said they could see the flames from as far away as Eighth Street on their way to the scene.
When the Quincy House opened to the public on Nov. 10, 1838, many accounts referred to the structure as "the most beautiful west of Pittsburgh."
The Quincy House changed hands many times early on and was even involved in a bankruptcy during the Panic of 1837. Abraham Lincoln stayed overnight in the Quincy House on the nights of Oct. 31 and Nov. 1, 1854, when he came to the city to campaign for his friend, Archibald Williams, a candidate for the U.S. Senate.
The Quincy House was destroyed by fire in January 1883. In spring 1887, the Quincy Hotel Co. bought the land, and I.S. Taylor, an architect from St. Louis, was hired to design the building eventually known as the Newcomb Hotel, which opened in March 1889.
Some people called the hotel the Park Hotel, but most referred to it as the Newcomb Hotel after Richard Newcomb, the president of the Quincy Hotel Co. Newcomb also was a founder of the Quincy Paper Co. in 1880.