July 1, 2010

History of the John Wood Mansion

John Wood was born in Moravia, New York on December 20, 1798. His father, Daniel was a surgeon during the Revolutionary War. At the age of 20, John decided he wanted to go west into the frontier. He settled at Atlas, IL about 40 miles south of Quincy, and started to farm.

The land between the Illinois and Mississippi River was Bounty Land. As part of the Illinois Military Tract, this was land given to veterans who fought in the War of 1812. There was 1,400,000 acres of land in the Military Tract and the government was anxious for people to settle there. In 1822, a Mr. Flinn who had been a soldier had received 160 acres of Bounty Land. As Mr. Flinn was traveling northward to locate his land, he met John Wood. Wood decided to go with Flinn to see his land. Flinn did not want to live so far from St. Louis and agreed to sell the land to Wood for $60.00. This was about 38 cents an acre. John Wood built his first house, a log cabin at the foot of Delaware Street near the river. His cabin was 18 feet by 20 feet and only one room.As more settlers came into the area, he met Ann Streeter. They were married in 1826 and John built his second log cabin at 12th & State (west side). It was two stories and much larger than the first. John was acquiring land that soldiers from the East did not want and was selling it to farmers coming from Kentucky and Tennessee and making a profit.By 1835, John started building a Mansion at 12th & State next to the log cabin. It took three years to build it, from 1835-1838. He had gone to St. Louis and New Orleans and gotten German immigrants that were craftsmen (carpenters, bricklayers, stone masons, plasterers, etc.) to construct this Greek Revival style house.John Wood was a very well liked man and was elected mayor of Quincy three different times. In 1856, he was elected Lt. Governor of the State of Illinois.

While he was Lt. Governor, John started building an even larger house in the middle of the block on State Street between 11th & 12th. This was an Octagonal building (eight sided) and would take six years to build.Unfortunately, during this time, Governor Bissell died and John became the Governor. The year was 1860. John petitioned the Illinois Legislature asking if he could stay in Quincy to oversee the construction of his new home. They agreed, and his Greek Revival style house became the Governor’s Mansion for the State of Illinois. That is its historical significance. John Wood was Governor for only ten months (until the term ran out). He did not seek re-election because of commitments in Quincy.In 1861, the Civil War broke out and Wood was named Quartermaster General of the State of Illinois. A quartermaster is a person who secures goods for the army such as blankets, food, ammunition, horses, and other items. Wood is 63 years old at this time.In 1863, Ann, his wife of 37 years died. They had had eight children, but only four of them lived to adulthood – a daughter and three sons.

When John’s Octagonal house was completed in 1864, he gave the Greek Revival style house to his oldest son, Daniel. John wanted it moved to the east side of 12th Street. What had been an apple orchard was now changed to a yard. The house was cut in half and the chimneys were taken down so the house could be moved across the street. John also had an Osage Orange hedge along the street that he did not want to cut down. He had the movers to make a 12 foot high ramp over the hedge. It took 20 teams of horses to move each half of the house across the street. Logs were used to roll the house along. Originally the house faced the south (as was the norm for Greek Revival style houses – they could take advantage of the summer breezes better). When the house was moved, the foundation was cut so the house now faces the west.

John lived in his Octagonal house on one side of 12th Street and his son Daniel lived on the other. His Octagonal house had cost over $200,000 to build. It was the most expensive house in Illinois at the time. In 1873, the country had an economic downturn and many people lost a lot of money. John had not paid off all the debts for the construction of his new house and his creditors wanted their money. It became necessary for Wood to sell his new home for $40,000. John and his second wife, Mary Ann Holmes (married in 1863) moved into the Greek Revival style house with his son Daniel in 1875. John spent the last five years of his life in this house. John died in the Mansion on June 4, 1880. After John’s death, Daniel sold the Mansion and moved to Galena, Kansas. The house became a boarding house with many different families living in its various rooms. In 1906, some businesses on the corner of 12th & State wanted to tear the building down so they could have an alley put in through the block. This would have been through the middle of the meeting room.

The Historical Society purchased the house to save it from destruction. At first they used it as a museum with many people going through it. Unfortunately, they did not have the money to maintain it very well and by the early 1970’s the house was in disrepair. At that time, the Historical Society decided to restore the house to its original look.To date over $500,000 has been spent on restoring the house.

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