John Wood purchased the land where the John Wood Mansion stands from the United States Government on August 17, 1825. He bought all the land from Front Street (at the River) east to 24th Street; and from Maine on the north to Harrison on the south. John Wood first lived in a log cabin near Front Street and Delaware. He later built a second log cabin located between 11th and 12th Streets on the south side and State. By 1835, Wood had sold the land where much of downtown Quincy is today, but he still owned the land from 8th to 24th Streets.
In the late 1820’s and early 1830’s, groups of skilled European laborers, many from Germany, migrated to the United States and came up-river from New Orleans. In the early 30’s, John Wood went to St. Louis and talked a great number of the immigrants into moving to Quincy to help build his home. Thus, the building of the John Wood Mansion played an important role in the settling of Quincy. Many of the Irish who immigrated to Quincy left by 1829 to work for the railroads.
In early 1835, when John Wood was about to begin construction of his Mansion, the population of Quincy was 700. By 1837, the population had increased to 1,653. Many of those moving to Quincy were of German descent and were extremely talented carpenters, stone masons, and craftsmen. Wood used the German craftsmen to build his Mansion and paid for their labor by giving or selling at reasonable rates plots of land in this immediate area. As a result, the south half of Quincy became largely of German descent.
There was a very strong relationship between John Wood and the German people. He allowed all of the neighboring families to use the huge pasture across the street from his home for the grazing of their cows. At that time, almost every family had a cow, and as a result, the area was named “cow town” or “calftown”. Wood hired John Cleveland, a master mechanic who was born in Sandy Bay, Massachusetts and came to Quincy in September of 1834. In 1837, the Greek Revival style (white plantation style) was completed and was one of the first of this period to be built in the Midwest.
Wood took great interest in the construction of his house and actually selected the trees from which the staunch timbers were then hewn. Having found suitable coffee nut trees, he made lathes and turned the columns of solid wood, which graced the lovely façade of the house as it originally stood on the West side of 12th street facing the South.
By the time the Wood family was ready to move into the fourteen room Mansion in late 1838, they already had five children; Ann, Eliza, Daniel, John Jr., Emily, and Adah Jane. However, the same year construction began on the Mansion, Emily died at age 2. While living in the Mansion, Wood and his wife had three more children; Joshua, Henry, and James. Also while living in the Mansion, three other children died; Henry age 3, James age 8, and Adah Jane at age 9.
In 1840, John Wood was elected alderman, and in 1844, he was elected mayor of Quincy. In 1848, John Wood led a group of man to California and the Pacific Coast for the Gold Rush. Approximately one year later, he returned to Quincy, and in 1850 he was elected to the state Senate. At this time, a United States census reported reference to John Wood as a farmer. From 1852 to 1854, Wood again served as mayor of Quincy. In 1855, he was elected lieutenant governor of the state of Illinois. He served in this capacity until 1860 when he became governor, after Governor William Biswell died on March 18, 1860.
In an interview with William F. Kersick, we were able to learn many interesting things about Governor Wood. Kersick’s father was the coachman for John Wood and died when Billy was only 13 years old. Wood was very fond of Billy and made him his stable boy. He slept in the coachman’s room in the house and ate his all of his meals there except for dinner, which he always had with Governor and Mrs. Wood.
In 1861, Governor Wood turned down the nomination for the governor of the state of Illinois and was then appointed quarter master general–the highest ranking officer for the state of Illinois– during the Civil War. In this year, he was also appointed to the Civil War Peace Treaty Committee by President Abraham Lincoln. In 1864, he was colonel of the 137th Illinois Regiment and led his men into battle at Memphis, Tennessee.
Sadly enough, in 1875, John Wood moved back into the large white home with his son Daniel and his family. Many people thought Wood’s financial problems were a result of the tremendous cost of the building of the octagon house. This had been proven to be untrue as Wood’s financial problems resulted from some poor investments and a poor economy. Because creditors were pressing Wood for unpaid bills incurred during construction of the stone Mansion, Wood sold the octagon structure to Chaddock College for $40,000.
On June 4, 1880, Wood died in the white frame building that he always considered his home. Governor John Wood was buried in Woodland Cemetery on the land he originally owned. It was also in the fall of this year that the Daniel Wood family vacated the Greek Revival Mansion. From 1880 until late 1906, the Mansion was owned by various people, and at several periods of time, the Mansion was used as a boarding house.
In late 1906, the people who owned the business properties on the corner of 12th and State wanted to put an access alley in the back of their properties. The alley was to come in from 12th street and turn and continue through the middle of the block. The turning point of the proposed alley was located on the exact spot of the Mansion. The businessmen appealed to the City Council to construct the alley and the City Council approved, thus bringing about the impending demise of the Governor’s Mansion. It was at this time that members of the Historical Society (established October 6, 1896) began a movement to save the Mansion. They appealed to the City Council and raised money from the community to purchase the property.
On October 16, 1906, Daniel Wood, son of Governor John Wood, was appointed to the committee to secure an option to buy the property and to make an appeal to the citizens of Quincy to contribute to the cause. Three days later, Daniel Wood reported the price of $1,700 was agreed upon by the owner, Mr. Lambrecht, with $200 put down and $650.00 to be paid January 1, 1907. The remainder was to be paid in three annual payments with the note drawing 5% interest.
On November 14, 1906, the Finance Committee of the Historical Society reported a total of $2,350.50 had been contributed. It was moved the Mansion be purchased and a committee appointed to complete the sale. In the meeting of February 27, 1907, the purchase of the John Wood Mansion was completed and the Historical Society of Quincy became proud owners. It was also noted in the minutes that a wall known architect, Ernest Wood, became a member of the Society and was appointed to the House and Grounds Committee.
An interesting footnote comes from the April 21, 1914 minutes in which the Society permitted the Friends in Council Literary Society to move their building, a historic meeting place for years, to the property of the Historical Society. It should also be noted that the Friends in Council Literary Society is still meeting in the little house next to the Mansion and is the oldest continuous women’s literary society in the United States.
At various periods in time, the house has gone under restoration. In 1907, major restoration was done on the Mansion at a cost of $10,640. In the late 1960’s and early 70’s, the condition of the Mansion deteriorated rapidly, and in 1973, the building was closed because of severe settling and unsafe conditions.
By 1978, the Historical Society began receiving community support to restore the Mansion and a complete restoration program was adopted at a cost of $400,000.