July 2, 2010

Villa Kathrine

Visitors to Quincy will notice a unique and interesting site on the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River. Travelers coming across the Memorial Bridge from Missouri can look to the south and see a castle. This wonderful example of Mediterranean architecture was built by world traveler George Metz over a century ago. Recently restored, the Villa Kathrine is now houses Quincy's Tourist Information Center, and is home to many events including weddings, banquets, car shows, and family gatherings.

The Villa Kathrine was built by George Metz on the bluff overlooking the river on Second Street between State and Ohio in 1900. Metz was born on May 20, 1849. His father, William Metz, at first was associated with the F.W. Jansen furniture factory on Fifth between Maine and Hampshire, then with the Flach drug company on the southeast corner of Fifth and Maine; later he had his own drug store on Maine, and finally became a partner of Aldo Sommer.

George Metz traveled all over the world and there were few countries he had not visited in his trips. Despite his long absences he still considered Quincy his home. His parents had lived in the Hotel Newcomb and he had an apartment there until he built the Moorish castle in which he lived for a number of years.

After he sold his castle and grounds to the railroad for a proposed railroad switch yard he returned to the hotel and then to St. Vincent home. He died June 12, 1937.

The castle, the only one of it's kind on the Mississippi, was built after his return from Morocco in 1900 and the design followed old Moorish castles; it was named Catherine for his mother.

A beautiful carved hand clutching a dove was on the outside door, said to be a Moorish custom of welcome, and by others to be a likeness of the hand of a girl he had loved and lost. The castle was modeled in the style of the Villa ben Ahben on the Nile. Like it's counterpart in Morocco, the villa had a lavishly furnished harem room, but not a harem occupied by women, for Metz was not married and lived alone with his huge dog, Bingo. The dog, a constant companion, was purchased in Denmark, and when it died it was buried in the rose garden.

A replica of the famous Mosque of Thais surmounted the main tower with flaming red waving stripes decorating the mosque, covered with a green dome; it was in the original mosque that the priests of Mohammed stood to call the faithful to prayer.

The pillars were arched and arranged as in the Court of the Dolls of the Alcazar; the capitals mounting the twisted pillars were the same as those in the Alhambra. Many of the Oriental house furnishings were over a thousand years old.

The wooden door was studded with brass nails, supposed to indicate that the owner was a believer in the religion of the Orient; as the door opened a welcome harp played a beautiful slow melody. The floor within the pillars of the court was sunken several inches; the whole floor was dimly lighted with oddly colored olive oil lamps.

Metz collected art objects in his travels, including a number of beautiful paintings, and several of those were donated to the public library and other institutions in Quincy. During the stay of George Metz, the grounds were always kept up, with rose beds and other flowers blooming in quantity, and trees and shrubs always trimmed and a welcome sight to the visitor. Probably the main thing about the old castle that has been handed down through the years is the air of mystery that surrounded it from the beginning at the turn of the century. Many have been travelers that saw it from a Mississippi river steamboat and wondered at its origin and why it was there on the bluff.

Transcribed from Historical Sketches of Quincy Illinois, by Carl Landrum.

Read more about the Villa Kathrine at Weird and Haunted Illinois.

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