Visitors Guide to
Adams County

The Mississippi reaches its western most point in the vicinity of the county line between Adams and Hancock Counties. The river that defines Illinois’ western border has carved out a river valley that extends from five to fifteen miles wide bordered by hills or bluffs that are harder to erode than what once occupied the river valley. Along the Mississippi River in Adams County there is a belt of bottomlands ranging from one to five miles in width except for an approximately two length in the vicinity of Quincy where the bluffs overlook the river. Inland of the river and its valley Adams County rises to heights two to three hundred feet above the river at low water and the land consists of what once was prairie with timber growing along stream banks and is now primarily the fertile agricultural fields for what Illinois is known for.

Humans arrived in Illinois about 14,000 years ago and were hunter-gatherers. As humans learned and developed agricultural techniques they became more sedentary and populations began to expand. During the Woodland Period (1000 B.C. – 1000 A.D.)  a culture arose along the Mississippi and Ohio River valleys that buried their dead in mounds of earth. At one time more than 10,000 were scattered across Illinois. Today, few remain, and most have been damaged by illicit excavation. Indian Mounds Park in Quincy is one of the few public places in the state where visitors can see these sacred Native American burial sites. By the time European settlers arrived the area was inhabited by the Sauk and Fox tribes. A controversial treaty was signed in 1804 where the Sauk and Fox ceded their lands east of the Mississippi River. Many Native Americans didn’t feel that the treaty was valid and had to be forced across the river. In 1813 General Benjamin Howard, with two regiments of mounted rangers from Illinois and Missouri, led an expedition through western Illinois. Legend has it that the inhabitants of a village at a Sauk village near the future site of Quincy, on hearing of the approach of General Howard and his troops, fled their homes and Howard's rangers burned the village and passed on. In 1832 Quincy sent a regiment of soldiers to fight in the Black Hawk War, which ended any remaining Native American resistance in Illinois. The Quincy Parks Department has installed a series of exhibits along a walking path in Indian Mounds Park that tells the history of Native Americans in Adams County and visitors to the Quincy Museum can see artifacts and exhibits on the lives of these earliest Americans.

Justus Perigo is credited with being the first European settler in Adams County but it was the arrival of John Wood and his partner Willard Keyes who first developed the area in the modern sense. Wood came to the area in 1821 to find land for a War of 1812 veteran named Flynn who held a bounty claim of 60 acres due to his military service. Wood was impressed with the location’s timber, fertile soil, abundance of game, by the fact that it was the only site within 100 miles where the bluff reached the Mississippi River, and by the fact that the site had a natural harbor. Finding the location of present day Quincy a desirable place to live Wood purchased Flynn’s claim and a small settlement grew around Wood’s claim called Bluffs. In September of 1824, John Wood published a petition notice in the Edwardsville Spectator to form a new county and after being published the required 12 times the matter was taken up by the state legislature. In January of 1825 and act was passed by the legislature creating Adams County in honor of President John Quincy Adams from land that was part of Pike County. The same act appointed a committee to select a permanent seat of justice for the new county and chose the site of Bluffs renaming it Quincy, also after the president. The town square was named John Square to complete the name John Quincy Adams. The county had at this time an estimated population of about seventy.

Adam County’s earliest settlers were primarily from New England in origin. Many of the new arrivals decided to stay in Quincy and by 1838 it had become an economic boom town. Those immigrants that decided on farming would find that the climate and soil of Adams County is ideal for agriculture and farms yielded excellent crops of grain which allowed flour mills to flourish in Quincy. The native forests provided saw mills with abundant quantities of oak, hickory and walnut timber. Manufacturing and meat packing plants were established. Riverboat trade flourished and because of these conditions Quincy acquired the nickname “The Gem City.” The early settlers of Quincy were soon joined by a large number of immigrants who were escaping the political turmoil in Germany began arriving in the region in the late 1840s. Like the first settlers many would stay in Quincy bringing to the community a number of skilled craftsmen but others would move on to budding communities of fellow countrymen like Golden. The heritage of the German immigrants is kept alive today at the Golden Windmill, a restored 19th century wind-powered grist mill that operates a museum and hosts several annual events on the site.

Quincy was an energetic city that doubled in size from 1838 to 1840 and would grow to a city of 30,000 by the end of the 1840s. Because of its strong German and New England population base, was developing a reputation as a center for equality and humanitarian care and relief. In 1839 and 1840 Quincy was home to thousands of Mormons seeking refuge from persecution in Missouri. The question of slavery became an issue as most Quincy inhabitants were abolitionists and the city became an important part of the Underground Railway system. In 1842 Dr. Richard Eells was caught helping slave named Charley in his attempt to escape from his owner in Missouri. Eels was tried and found guilty by Judge Stephen A. Douglas. The case was appealed and made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court where the justices upheld Eells conviction in 1853 even though he had died by that time. The Dr. Richard Eells House is recognized by the National Parks Service, as one of 42 most important Underground Railroad sites deserving national recognition and is operated a museum to explain both the Underground Railroad, the lifestyles of the era, and the architectural techniques of the period. The sixth of the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates was held in Quincy on October 13, 1858 before an estimated crowd of over 15,000 people. It was here that Lincoln got Douglas to admit that he favored permitting the states to settle the question of slavery within their borders. This statement helped Douglas win the election for the Senate seat, but was used against him two years later when he lost the presidential election to Lincoln.

Quincy, which was once one of the largest cities in Illinois, had its rapid growth stunted when business activities swung away from the river after the Civil War and the rest of Adams County retains the rural roots. Quincy’s stable population, it has grown from 30,000 people in the 1890s to just over 40,000 today, has allowed it to retain a 19th century atmosphere. There are four major historic districts with more than 2,000 structures listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Gardner Museum of Architecture and Design conducts a series of tours of these historic neighborhoods paying special attention to social and cultural history. Quincy has an extensive park system with much of the riverfront area being dedicated to green space. Siloam Springs State Park, once a resort area in the late 19th century, is located in the northeastern portion of the county. Visitors can stop at the Villa Kathrine, a wonderfully unique example of Mediterranean architecture that is home to Quincy’s Tourist Information Center located on a bluff with a breath taking view of the Mississippi River, and see what has been attracting people to Adams County thousands of years.
Explore these Great River Road Communities
in Pike County, Illinois
Golden Quincy Camp Point & Clayton
The official site if the Quincy Area Convention & Visitors Bureau which promotes Adams, Hancock, and Pike Counties as destinations for overnight visitors.

Chief Keokuk Statue
Keokuk, Iowa
Villa Kathrine
Quincy, Illinois
Battle of Athens
State Historic Site
Quincy Museum
Quincy, Illinois

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