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Like St. Louis, Quincy Has A Rich History As A Gateway City

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Provided by SeeQuincy
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SeeQuincy's new self-guided driving tour reflects Quincy’s first three formative decades in history.

While St. Louis is known as the Gateway to the West, in many cases Quincy, Illinois, has also proven itself to be a gateway city.

The Gem City served as a key spot for the Underground Railroad, a passage point for Native Americans trekking to Kansas after they were violently attacked in Indiana, a place of refuge for Mormons exiled from Missouri and more.

SeeQuincy’s latest self-guided driving tour highlights 20 spots in the city, showcasing its history as a place of refuge from 1835 to 1865.

On Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air, Rob Mellon joined host Sarah Fenske to guide us through some of it. He is the executive director of the Historical Society of Quincy and Adams County as well as the producer of the “History Ago Go” podcast.

He recommends visitors outside of Quincy interested in visiting the Gem City set aside a weekend to enjoy the tour in its entirety.

Mellon expanded on how the Quincyans were involved in the abolition movement, which included the city’s founder, John Wood.

“Many of the early prominent Quincyans, especially the ones that come from the east, they were part of these anti-slavery sentiments. Some of them had more political-type views, like John Wood — he was more of a politician. And then you had real tried-and-true abolitionists who had religious objections to it, like David Nelson [a minister who preached against slavery],” Mellon said.

Spots in the guide to learn more about Quincy’s role in the abolition movement:

  • Dr. Richard Eells House, the first Underground Railroad stop east of Missouri.
  • Mission Institute, an Underground Railroad location and home of Nelson.
  • Madison Park, a commemorative site as an Underground Railroad Station.

It wasn’t only enslaved people and abolitionists seeking refuge in Quincy. Mormons also arrived there after Missouri Gov. Lilburn W. Boggs expelled them from the state in 1838.

“Joseph Smith, who was the founder of the Mormons, was in jail there. So the rest of the Mormons had made their way to the border to Illinois … they basically sheltered the entire Mormon church at that time in Quincy,” Mellon explained. “Shortly after that, Joseph Smith, he came to Quincy as well. And for a period of time the size of Quincy was doubled, because that's how many Mormons actually were being harbored in Quincy.”

Spots in the guide to learn more about Mormom migration to Quincy:

  • The History Museum On The Square, which houses a Mormon City of Refuge exhibition.
  • Washington Park, where 5,000 Latter-day Saints were received in 1838.
  • Madison Park, a burial place for some Mormons who died while seeking asylum.

The year 1838 also marked a bleak time for the Potawatomi Native American community in Indiana. A militia invaded and destroyed their community, which sparked a 61-day journey from Twin Lakes, Indiana, to Osawatomie, Kansas. It is referred to as the Trail of Death, which is still commemorated to this day, Mellon said. The Potawatomi passed through Quincy and stayed there for a few days at several sites.

“St. Boniface Church actually had mass for them here while they were here. And then (they) eventually make their way across. So this is just another situation that we're proud of … where we were a city of refuge, at least at that time,” he added.

Spots in the guide to learn more about the Potawatomi’s time in Quincy:

  • St. Boniface Church, where a bronze plate commemorates the site of mass celebrated by the Potawatomi.
  • Quinsippi Island, an encampment site of Potawatomi Indians in October 1838.
  • Indian Mounds Park, sacred grounds dating to 200 B.C.

The guide also touches on the influence of German migration to the region and Quincy’s role during the Civil War era. Find this full guide and others here.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. Paola Rodriguez is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Lara is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.

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