By AMY KAISER
One of the more obvious lessons history teaches us is that just because something "is" there does not mean it will always "be" there.
The citizens of Quincy came very close to learning that lesson the hard way in 1906. The Governor John Wood Mansion, a seemingly permanent fixture at the corner of 12th and State in Quincy, was in imminent danger of demolition. The stately Greek Revival mansion built by John Wood, the founder of Quincy and former governor of Illinois, was slated to be torn down for an alley. The owners of a group of businesses located on the same corner of State Street as the mansion wanted to buy the property, tear the building down, and construct an access alley to their businesses. In the fall of 1906, with their plans approved by the Quincy City Council, it appeared the John Wood Mansion's days were numbered.
Yet, there was still a chance to save the mansion. The recently formed Quincy Historical Society decided to try. It offered to buy the mansion from its current owners, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Lambrecht. The Wood family had not occupied the mansion since 1880, and it had gone through several owners by 1906. The suggestion to purchase and preserve the John Wood Mansion was made at the Society's Oct. 16 board of directors meeting by the board's secretary, Louise Maertz. Louise was instrumental in saving the John Wood Mansion from demolition. Of course, Louise's efforts were not surprising to those that knew her. She had devoted her life to community and charitable causes. Louise was born in Quincy in 1838 to Charles Augustus and Ottilia Obert Maertz, prosperous immigrants from Germany. For most of her early years, Louise was in poor health. Her parents sent her to Europe when she was 18 for treatments at various mineral springs in Germany. She spent two years in Europe where she took the opportunity to travel to Italy and Switzerland and learn as much as she could about the culture and history of Europe.
Upon her return to Quincy in 1858, a rejuvenated Louise devoted herself to helping her family. Like so many others of her era, she eventually was pulled into the Civil War. She volunteered to help the Union and became a nurse. She began her nursing career by volunteering at the military hospitals in Quincy. In 1862, she was sent by Dorthea Dix to Helena Ark. By the end of the war, Louise had worked at many military and field hospitals including those in New Orleans and Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis. Dr. L.P. Brockett, an army doctor who worked with Louise, described her as having "real devotion to the welfare of the soldiers of the Union" and that in "serving the causes of patriotism and humanity, she had few equals."
When the war ended in 1865, Louise's efforts to help others did not. After the war she was involved in helping refugees and the widows of soldiers who had died during the war. She found time in 1879 to publish a book entitled "A New Method for the Study of English Literature." She envisioned this book as a guide for the study of some of the greatest works written in the English language. She also wrote a well-received and detailed biography of her father, Charles Augustus. In it, she describes her father as "benevolent and generous," as well as "exacting in his own rights, and carefully recognizing those of others." Much of the same could be said about Louise.
If that was not enough, Louise, through her numerous donations to charitable causes, corresponded with such notable figures of the late nineteenth century as Jane Addams, the founder of Hull House in Chicago, and Dr. Thomas John Barnardo, the founder of Dr. Barnardo's Homes for Destitute Children in London, England. Louise's generosity knew no territorial bounds.
Given Louise's background, determination, and energy, it's fair to say that the businessmen on the northeast corner of 12th and State did not stand a chance of getting that alley. She was very well-known in the Quincy community by 1906. When she brought something to the attention of the citizens of Quincy, people listened.
Numerous discussions and negotiations took place between October of 1906 and February of 1907 when the Historical Society finally acquired the mansion. There was even a discussion by Louise and other board members about the possibility of moving it a few feet to build the alley. It was finally agreed that the mansion would be sold by the Lambrechts for $1,700, with $200 down and a further payment of $650 by Jan. 1, 1907. The remaining balance was to be paid within three years. The sale was finalized on Feb. 27, 1907, with the mansion remaining where it was.
Louise did not act alone to save the John Wood Mansion, one of the first and finest examples of historical preservation in Illinois. It was through the efforts of many Historical Society members including Daniel Wood, the late governor's son, and the generous financial donations of the citizens of Quincy that the John Wood Mansion was ultimately saved. At the time, the Historical Society tried to purchase the mansion, the Society's treasury had only $150 on hand. It was the citizens of Quincy who helped make up that difference.
Louise died at her home at 327 Elm on Feb. 4, 1918. She lived a full and rich life and serves as an example to this day of the difference one person can make in the lives of others.
Amy Kaiser is an active member and former vice-president and secretary of the Historical Society. She is a lawyer and has taught history in the Quincy Public Schools.
Brockett, L.P. "Louisa Maertz." Woman's Work in the Civil War: A Record of Heroism, Patriotism, and Patience. Boston, MA: Zeigler, McCurdy and Co., 1868.
Historical Society of Quincy and Adams County. "John Wood Mansion." n.d.
Landrum, Carl. "Charles E. Maertz, Builder." Landrum's Quincy Volume 2. Quincy, IL: Justice Publications, 1996.
Maertz, Louise. A New Method for the Study of English Literature. Chicago, IL: Silver, Burdett, and Company, 1879.
Maertz, Louise. Charles Augustus Maertz:: A Short Story of Our Dear Fathers Life. Quincy, IL: self-published, n.d.
"Sketch of Louise Maertz." Chicago Women's News. April,1894: 1.
"To Save the Home of Quincy's Founder." Quincy Daily Journal. 20 Oct. 1906: 5.
Warning, Helen. "Pioneer Women of Quincy." Quincy Herald Whig. n.d., in File MS 920 MAE, Historical Society of Quincy and Adams County, Quincy, Illinois.