Mike Michaelson is a travel writer based in Chicago and the author of the
guidebook "Chicago's Best-Kept Secrets." :
Architecture buffs and foodies beat a path to Quincy, Ill.
Posted Friday, February 25, 2005
Numerically, the Maid-Rite fast-food franchise poses no threat to
McDonald's, but it has demonstrated staying power as the second-oldest
franchise in America (after A&W). Launched almost 80 years ago in Iowa, it
has its corporate headquar-ters in Des Moines, Iowa, but you'll find a pair
of Maid-Rite outlets east of the Mississippi River in Quincy, Ill.
This charming river town of about 40,000 attracts foodies to its
companionable watering holes and down-home eateries - and, perhaps, to the
local Maid-Rites for their specialty sandwiches. It also draws a flock of
architectural buffs who go to admire buildings that fill five distinct
Quincy is the seat of Adams County. Both take their names from the sixth
president, John Quincy Adams, son of the second U.S. president (the only
such father-son combination until the election of George W. Bush). From
1850 to 1930, Quincy was the most prominent river town in Illinois, and at
one time the state's second-largest city, bigger than Chicago.
You'll find the four corners of the intersection of 16th and Maine streets
of particular interest. Described by National Geographic as the "most
significant architectural corner in the United States," it showcases Greek
gothic, Victorian and Queen Anne styles.
Quincy serves as a virtual text-book of architecture. Every style popular
within the United States during the Civil War through the turn of the last
century can be found there.
The picturesque river town also preserves a remarkable number of pre-Civil
War buildings. Many federal and Greek revival-style buildings date from the
1830s. During the first half of the 20th century, Quincy kept pace with
other design movements. Find many examples of prairie school homes
pioneered by Frank Lloyd Wright and a large number of craftsman bungalows.
Associated with the arts and crafts movement of the early 1900s, craftsman
bun-galows, characterized by a low-pitched roof and single-story or
one-and-a-half-story construction, preceded the modern ranch home.
The Gardener Museum of Archi-tecture and Design, which occupies a limestone
Romanesque-revival-style building dating from 1888, focuses on local and
national trends. It chronicles architecture's 100-year march from Greek
revival to art deco and beyond - especially as it relates to the Upper
Mississippi River Valley.
Its main exhibit, "A Kaleidoscope of American Architecture," uses Quincy as
a backdrop as it ranges from 1885 to the "Birth of Modernism." The latter
explores, through photographs and architec-tural ornaments, the "Classical
Revival," the rise of the prairie school, art deco and art moderne and the
craftsman bungalow craze.
German immigrants made significant contributions to Quincy's architectural
heritage, with sturdy homes built close to the brick side-walks in European
style. "Calf-town," a German enclave, had a cow or calf in virtually every
family's back yard. Over a period of about 40 years, from 1829 to 1870,
more than 10,500 German immigrants settled in Quincy. On the southwest
side, the German population rose as high as 78 percent.
Today, many German-founded businesses remain, including the Knapheide Wagon
Co. and Underbrink's Bakery, opened in 1929 by Claude Underbrink, using $20
in savings and a $250 loan. Today's owners, Leroy and Janet Rossmiller,
follow original recipes to bake custard rolls, nut cups, frosted angel-food
cupcakes, Boston brown bread and assorted pies and cookies. Original
display cases, vintage baking tools and photographs of Underbrink at work
also keep the heritage alive.
Visit Quincy in spring when dogwoods bloom and the waxed beauty of azaleas
comes in many pastel shades. In early May, the annual Dogwood Festival
draws 20,000. By summer, the grand old oaks, elms and maples that line both
sides of Maine Street create a canopy of shade. Spring also brings hoops
to the streets of Uptown Quincy, with the Gus Macker 3-on-3 Basketball
Tournament (May 28 and 29). One of the largest 3-on-3 basketball
tournaments in Illinois, it attracts upward of 8,000.
The sixth of seven famous senatorial debates of 1858 between U.S. Senator
Stephen A. Douglas and his challenger, Abraham Lincoln, took place in
Quincy. The incumbent Douglas had a law office in the Quincy House,
considered the finest hotel west of Pittsburgh, but destroyed by fire in
1883. Find a monument to the occasion in Washington Park.
In the early 1900s, Quincy had a reputation as one of the nation's largest
brewery towns. Dick Brothers Brewery was larger than Anheuser Busch in St.
Louis. Around the turn of the last century close to 150 saloons operated in
Quincy. In 1919, Prohibition shuttered most of them (although a few
remained open as "soft drink parlors"). After Prohibition was repealed,
locals began using the term "tavern" rather than "saloon." One of Quincy's
most companionable taverns, a quintessential neighborhood joint called Mr.
Bill's, is locally popular for frosty beer and thick burgers. Its long main
room has a wooden floor, tin ceiling and walls yellowed with age. Mr. Bill
(aka William Grotten) often holds court from his stool at the end of the
bar, distributing wooden tokens redeemable for brews.
On Quincy's riverfront, the Pier Restaurant offers an eagle's-eye view of
the Mississippi, glorious sunsets and steaks, chops, pasta and seafood.
Built on high pilings, patrons reach the second-floor dining room via a
long plank bridge during high water. Signature entrées include roast pork
chop with mustard sauce, pecan-crusted salmon and horseradish-crusted
Back to Maid-Rite. For the uninitiated, its signature loose-meat sandwich
resembles a sloppy Joe without the sloppiness. It is made of low-fat 100
percent ground beef steamed and served on a warm bun. It arrives with a
spoon to scoop up the loose meat. The Maid-Rite franchise dates back to
1926, when Fred Angell, a butcher in Muscatine, Iowa, combined into a
sandwich a special cut and grind of meat with a select set of spices. As
legend goes, Angell asked a delivery man at his restaurant to sample his
newest sandwich creation. After a few bites, the taster commented, "You
know, Fred, this sandwich is just made right." And thereby hangs a tale.
Currently, 67 Maid-Rite outlets operate in seven states.