IVORY QUINBY, THE BURLINGTON RAILROAD, AND MONMOUTH COLLEGE
Monmouth has been a transportation center for almost a century and a half. That this would be so was not obvious to the early settlers, who saw it as little more than a post office and center of records and court proceedings. Its 1850 population was a sparse 750. However, its location along the direct route between Chicago and Kansas City was to make it a logical route for rail (on which more below), interurban rail (1906-1951), road (the first bus service was the Cannon Ball Motor Transportation Company, organized in 1924; more recently the intersection of highways 34 and 67 has attracted one of the fastest growing shipping companies in the state--Munson Transportation--to make its central base here), and air (Monmouth airport, the oldest continuous operating airport in the state, had a light beacon for the mail planes in 1922 and a radio beacon in 1925; consequently, the airport was landed upon by many of the prominent figures of early aviation. Among the airport managers for the Midwest Airways Corporation was Jonathan Livingston, the inspiration for the best-selling book, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, whose exploits are celebrated in the decoration of the Barnstormer Restaurant on the edge of town). Much of this was due to the foresight and energy of one of the town's early settlers, Ivory Quinby, and his associates, Abner C. Harding, and Chancy Hardin.
Ivory Quinby (1817-1869) came to Illinois in 1837, a little more than a year after graduating with honors from Waterville College in Maine (now Colby College). With $125 in capital he opened a law office in Monmouth in 1839 and married. Shortly thereafter the Quinbys moved to Berwick, a few miles south and east of Monmouth, to enter the mercantile business. Although his finances thrived, his family did not--he lost all three children and, in 1847, his wife. His second marriage, in 1848, was more fortunate, in that four of the eight children reached adulthood.
In 1849 he returned to Monmouth as Judge of the County Court. Since court was not in continuous session, he continued the practice of law and to buy and sell Warren County real estate. Eventually, this was to make Judge Quinby wealthy. In February of 1851, he was prominent among the far-sighted local men who came together to build a significant stretch of what became the Burlington line.
The story of this railroad has been described in detail by Richard Cleghorn Overton in Burlington West, a colonization history of the Burlington Railroad--a book so highly regarded that it was updated and reissued a quarter century after its initial appearance. However, as must be the case in condensing such an extensive history as the Burlington's, many stories were reduced to their bare essentials and the accomplishments of many prominent and interesting men and women were passed over. What Monmouth College hopes to do is to resurrect these stories and--by retelling them in the context of Quinby House--to remind the public of the close and essential connection between business, transportation and education in furthering the economic and moral development of a community.
In early 1851, a group of prominent Monmouth citizens (Col. J. W. Davidson, A. C. Harding, Wyatt B. Stapp, and James G. Madden) called a public meeting for February 27 to discuss means of bringing the Peoria and Oquawka Railroad through the city. The response was sufficiently positive that these men petitioned the County Court to authorize a special election to provide a 10% subscription of the $500,000 project to build a railroad between Peoria and the Mississippi River which would pass through Monmouth. This was the customary procedure, described by William Ripley in Railroads, Finance & Organization, in 1920, after railroads had become too large to be overseen by local stockholders. The plan had several advantages, however, for small operations: the stockholders could easily determine whether or not the business was being operated effectively and could remove the officers quickly if they were dissatisfied; moreover, the officers could take on additional mortgage debt once a part of the line was in operation. The disadvantages were that stock, more so than bonds, was a speculative venture which in the end had to rely upon eastern investors; the uniform dispersement of profits made it impossible to raise capital later at a lower interest rate, which would have benefited the original investors; and the promoters, who did the work and took most of the risks, received relatively little return for their efforts. They, like everyone else, had to wait until the stock price rose above its issue price, which it could not do immediately and which in relatively unsettled areas it would not be expected to do until the local economy expanded. The temptation for the promoters, therefore, was to organize a construction company and to make their fortune by means of inflated costs and creative bookkeeping.
After the Monmouth voters approved the purchase of stock, the County Court authorized Ivory Quinby to take possession of this sum as soon as $450,000 had been raised. Needless to say, this must have been somewhat awkward, the court appointing its own judge to handle a large sum of public money. However, since nobody objected, we can assume that everyone agreed that Judge Quinby was the man to trust. This investment was a tremendous undertaking for such a small community. And there was opposition. One critic noted that a stage passed through Monmouth from Peoria three times and week, and that it was never full. Where would the passengers come from? And, as for the hogs and cattle, they could be driven to Oquawka, then put aboard steamboats.
Nevertheless, Judge Quinby threw himself into the enterprise with the energy and enthusiasm that marked all his activities. For each investor, he wrote out receipts for the funds given him--copies of many of these are to be found today in the Monmouthiana Collection in the college's Hewes Library. Col. Davidson, together with John Denny of Knoxville, obtained the state legislature's modification of the route to include Monmouth and Knoxville.
Later in the year, Ivory Quinby, Abner C. Harding, and Chancy Hardin formed a construction company (C. Hardin & Co.) to lay tracks from Burlington to Knoxville. Abner Harding (1807-1874), a native of New York who had been trained at the bar in Pennsylvania, had come to Monmouth in 1834. A Whig politician, he believed strongly that the government should play a significant role in encouraging business, industry, and transportation. Moreover, he had the railroad experience, partly from having served in the Illinois legislature between 1848 and 1850, and partly from involvement in the first stages of organizing the Peoria and Oquawka Railroad (which had received a state charter in 1849, but which had run into difficulties with financing). The stock company originally planned to sell subscriptions in each of the communities which would be major stops on the route, but the Peoria backers did not provide sufficient funds to start on their end of the track, and the Oquawka citizens refused to contribute anything--Oquawka did not see the railroad as significant competition for the river traffic and apparently believed that the railroad would have to come to them no matter what they did, so they kept their money tightly in their pants' pockets. The Peoria and Oquawka company changed the route to Burlington, where a beginning had been made by the bankrupt Peoria and Warsaw Railroad, but only raised enough money to grade a few miles east. No track was even laid before the enterprise was out of cash and credit. It was bankrupt. The builders did not see how to obtain the means to lay a line the remaining miles. Harding was an extraordinary individual who was equal to this challenge. Lawyer, politician, businessman, he had rare vision, courage, and determination (characteristics he demonstrated during the Civil War when as colonel of the 83rd Illinois, he defeated a superior Confederate force led by Nathan Bedford Forest). [Harding's sword is among the College treasures--one company was made up of student volunteers--and is borrowed periodically by the Harding family to cut the family wedding cakes.] It was undoubtedly Harding who supplied the inspiration for the subscription in Monmouth while other communities almost equally large and wealthy did nothing. It was Harding who had the foresight to obtain the P&O charter when the company went bankrupt, but he knew that he, alone, could not raise money by subscription. Though he was a skilled politician, his eyesight was failing so badly that he could not continue to practice law.
Quinby was the man the public trusted to handle its money honestly and profitably--the public was already wary of railroad men who owned a separate construction company which could milk the shareholders of all their investment. Quinby also supplied the real estate knowledge to purchase the right of way at reasonable prices. In addition, it may have been Quinby who suggested that the coal resources of the region be used to guarantee that no train ran half-loaded. As the chief engineer, Col. Richard P. Morgan of Peoria, wrote in his 1852 Report to the President and Directors of the Peoria and Oquawka Railroad Company. Hauling coal would allow the company to anticipate an annual profit of $187,000 (a return of 15% on the estimated final investment). The initial contract was to prepare the roadbed, bridges, and lay track and sidetracks for $13,500 a mile. The remarkably low price was due to Quinby's ability to determine townsites. Thus, they could anticipate future profits from real estate and not have to rely on immediate returns from inflated construction costs. Quinby's fundraising went swiftly enough that construction could begin in the fall of 1851.
Chauncy Hardin (1815-1892) had come to Monmouth in 1840 from Richfield, New York. He invested in land, ultimately owning 1000 acres which he sold in 1850 in order to start a new career dealing in real estate and lending money. He was a cousin of Abner Harding, but their fathers could not agree on the spelling of the name; similarly, local citizens were so puzzled by the spelling of his first name that they used several variations. Chauncy Hardin was to organize the construction firm. He hired subcontractors so that grading could proceed on several sections at once, with the laying of track beginning at the Mississippi. The first stage was to prepare the roadway and build bridges, then lay the iron. The rails and equipment came up the river to a site opposite Burlington, and the work went well at first, despite the heavy expense ($18,400 a mile) of elevating the grade above the flood plain. Plans were made for a bridge which would give trains easy access to Iowa produce which would be brought down the Plank Road to the river. Hardin also supplied his experience in local real estate and in raising money.
The progress of the construction can be followed through the Quinby materials in the Monmouthiana Collection in the college library. Irish names appear commonly among the crew bosses. Meanwhile, ever more subscriptions appear among Quinby's letters and receipts.
Nevertheless, the company soon found that its resources were running short. The strategy of making money at the end, in the sale of land, had the disadvantage of underfinancing the operation at the beginning. By the beginning of 1852, the line had reached from Burlington to Kirkwood, but the Peoria end of the track had yet to be started. In addition, the communities along the middle of the route were quarreling--should the line come to Knoxville or Galesburg--and when the P&O chose Knoxville, Galesburg investors quickly organized a competing line, the Military Tract Railroad, to run south to Quincy. This not only drained away potential investors, but once the Military Tract management joined with the Chicago and Aurora Railroad, they had created a "Northern Cross" line which threatened to kill the P&O's hopes for becoming the main line west. Even worse, the Northern Cross railroad men, sensing the chance for a big kill, moved in to take over the P&O cheaply once the subscription campaign faltered. This story is well-told by a Knox College graduate and advertising man, Earnest Elmo Calkins, in the Illinois State Historical Society, transactions for the year 1935 (vol. 42, pp. 39-72). Unfortunately, the author was highly prejudiced toward the ambitions of Galesburg and against those of the county seat, Knoxville, so that the result was a verdict of God: Galesburg beat out its rival, first for the railroad, then for the courthouse. Overton's somewhat partisan account of this episode suggested in addition that Harding was "stubborn" in holding out for his price for the company. When the Galesburg MT group could not take over the Monmouth P&O cheaply, it waited for Quinby, Harding, and Hardin to go broke.
The Military Tract RR, however, had its financial problems, too; and its inability to guarantee the investors that it had a rail line to the Mississippi was threatening its future. A compromise was arranged whereby the MT bought $50,000 of P&O bonds, in return for which the P&O track would swerve north to Galesburg and join the MT trails, thus linking Chicago with Burlington. As a result, Peoria and Knoxville alike were eliminated from the line.
The Monmouth company was not out of difficulty yet. The P&O ran out of funds after completing nineteen miles of track. Once again there was an impasse with the Galesburg investors, who wanted to buy the P&O cheaply. Although the construction company held the first lien on the P&O, Quinby and associates could not wait forever for the Military Tract company to agree to a suitable purchase price.
Harding did not wait around. Unable to obtain more money locally, he took the train east to speak to financiers in Philadelphia and New York. In letters to Quinby, July 4 and 13, 1854, Harding described his success in purchasing locomotives for $15,000, borrowing some funds for a month, another $5000 at 8%, and entreating Quinby to write him every three days with a report on the progress of the construction. Undoubtedly, Quinby was up and down the line during this period, obtaining rights of way from farmers and urging speed on their contractors.
Quinby and Hardin were successful. When the Burlington line reached Monmouth March 5, 1855, and regular service began April 1, they were pleasantly surprised to discover that there was more produce ready to be shipped than anyone had imagined. Farmers could save the weight that droving took from the animals and reach the higher prices of the Chicago market; and some animals could be slaughtered right on the spot and shipped out in barrels made by local coopers (Wyatt Earp's father was a cooper before he moved to Iowa to try farming). The local tobacco industry grew rapidly, so that Monmouth became well-known for its cigars. In short, Monmouth experienced an immediate economic boom. Judge Quinby and James Mackoy opened the town's first true bank, which in 1863 would be merged into the First National Bank. The newly incorporated city swelled in numbers so greatly that the founders of the Academy (the private high school founded in 1853 on land donated by A. C. Harding) decided to continue the education of the students by asking the state legislature for a charter permitting them to create a private college--The Monmouth College, founded 1856). Harding, Hardin, and Quinby were all members of the Board of Trustees.
The railroad enriched the community immeasurably--as it did the small towns founded every few miles along the line to provide water, fuel, and to load the cattle, pigs, and grain of the local farmers. The time for travel between Monmouth and Chicago was cut to a mere ten and one-half hours. One result of this was that Monmouth changed its orientation from the long haul to Oquawka to the east. This was to be important even in politics, since Oquawka and the Mississippi meant southern influence, while Chicago meant the Middle West and New England. In the Civil War, despite the numbers of immigrants from Kentucky and a strong Democratic party, Warren County supplied over two thousand volunteers; and Monmouth College was to rank among the top ten colleges in the Union in the number of students and faculty who served their country.
Construction continued into 1856, since the last stage of work had been too hasty to be thorough. Under the direction of J. M. Gilson the work went ahead. Meanwhile, Harding and Quinby operated the railroad between Burlington and Knoxville for six months, then sold the enterprise to the Military Tract RR (which in 1864 became the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad). The stretch constructed by Quinby, Harding, and Hardin became part of the Burlington's main line to the West. This was the last time that these three men were railroad operators. In the next decade, while each was involved in supporting the Union in the struggle over slavery, they went their separate ways. Harding first went to Congress (1865-1869), where he arranged to secure for himself, personally, the right to build the railroad bridge at Burlington. This was later sold to the CB&Q at a tidy profit which he invested in real estate development in Chicago. Judge Quinby helped organize the First National Bank and built himself a fine house on the first hill north of Monmouth College--reportedly the highest point in Monmouth. Chancy Hardin founded the Second National Bank. However, that was not the end of Monmouth's--and Monmouth College's--involvement with local railroads.
At a special election on September 23, 1869, Monmouth citizens approved a subscription of $200,000 toward constructing the Alton Rock Island line toward St. Louis. The branch was completed in August of 1870, followed by the northern branch reaching the city in November. Due to financial reverses, however, this line was first leased to the CB&Q, then acquired by it. It subsequently became very profitable as the MS&L, with Monmouth providing the central division point, repair facilities, and roundhouse.
In 1879, William Hanna (1827-1900) and Delos Phelps (1832-?) became directors of the financially strapped Burlington, Monmouth, and Illinois River Road Railroad. Securing the right of way from the bankrupt Peoria and Farmington RR, they completed the eastern leg of the line in October of 1881, then extended the route to Keithsburg. The financial situation still being desperate, they sold the company to the Iowa Central Railroad, with Phelps becoming a director of the IC and Hanna becoming a director and assistant superintendent. The Iowa Central built the long bridge across the Mississippi, thereby linking Monmouth directly with Iowa.
On November 5, 1899, the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe RR arrived in Monmouth. This established Monmouth as an important regional transportation center, a fact that subsequent generations have forgotten. The fact that the histories of the Burlington were written from the records of the MT have given Galesburg a prominence which is somewhat more lonely than was actually the case, but which reinforced by the tremendous growth of the Galesburg yards in the twentieth century appears plausible. The truth is that at mid-century Monmouth citizens--men like Ivory Quinby--were important leaders in organizing the main rail link between Chicago and the West, and later between the Quad Cities and St. Louis, and between Peoria and Iowa.
In each case, these community leaders saw the need for new rail lines which would make transportation available to a new country. They, like the farmers they dealt with, knew well that horse-drawn shipping became impractical farther than five miles; therefore, rail lines and branches had to reach into every corner of every county in the nation. And each of these enterprises was organized by men connected with Monmouth College: Phelps was a graduate of the class of 1862, more than half-blind but a brilliant lawyer and businessman. Hanna, founder of the Monmouth Mining and Manufacturing Company, was distributing coal, bricks, and pipes around the region. His son, Ross, was a Monmouth College graduate in 1875. Like Harding, whose generous gifts to the College made possible the completion of Old Main and the establishment of a chair in English, these men and their descendants wrote shining chapters in the College history.
Ivory Quinby was a member of the board of trustees of Monmouth College from its earliest days and briefly served as treasurer. Among his associates in this venture was none other than Abner C. Harding, who delivered the memorial address upon Quinby's death in 1869 to the Warren County Bar Association: "I knew him in the confidential relation of a partner in the practice of law for more than 15 years, and for more than eight years in the construction of railways. I never knew him to violate the rule, `Do unto others as ye would they should do unto you.' In all distributions of gains and losses he was liberal and just." The College Board of Trustees paid Ivory Quinby the following tribute: "In every emergency, we sought his aid and counsel, and it was always, when possible, given in a quiet, unassuming way."
Somewhat after 1886 the Trustees authorized two large bronze plaques which today greet every visitor entering the main entrance to Wallace Hall. The plaque to Ivory Quinby says: ONE WHOSE LOYALTY AND BENEVOLENCE HELPED MAKE MONMOUTH COLLEGE; that to Chancy Hardin: A HELPER IN CRISIS TIMES.
Quinby House was donated to the college in 1965 by the Quinby family in memory of the family's long connection with Monmouth College. This magnificent home is a fitting memorial to Ivory Quinby's contributions to the community, its transportation system and the nation. Its graceful, elegant interior, and its impressive exterior, reflects accurately the taste of the generation which believed that there was a proper, close connection between finance, transportation, industrial development, and education. Quinby House, with its rooms named for Harding, Hardin, and Hanna, is an appropriate place to make this connection obvious to present and future generations.
Ivory Quinby would be proud to know that the railroad he played such a major role in building is today a section of the Burlington Northern Railroad's East-West main line. The right-of-way that Ivory Quinby purchased 140 years ago now carries everything from heavy coal trains to Amtrak's California Zephyr. His house still stands, too, as it should--a symbol of a great era's hopes and achievements.
Quinby House was designed by architect J. C. Cochrane, 33 Lombard Block, Chicago, Illinois (Mr. Cochrane's original, handwritten specifications are in the possession of the College). The homesite (on the northeast corner of 6th Street and Euclid Avenue in Monmouth) was surveyed in 1862, and it is assumed that the home was constructed shortly thereafter. Records indicate that indoor plumbing was installed in 1901.
On November 20, 1980, the Ivory Quinby House was entered in the National Register of Historic Places.
With Quinby House in dire need of restoration, the College faces a Hobson's choice--divert large sums of money from scholarship aid, salaries, and other college expenses to save the building, or raze the structure. In fact, the Quit-Claim Deed dated May 27, 1965, specifies that Quinby House is "to be occupied as a residence by the then President or the then Academic Dean of The Monmouth College, and, upon discontinuance of such occupancy by such enumerated persons, the residence and other buildings on the premises herein conveyed shall be razed."
Professor of History
January 15, 1993Return to History homepage