Recording preserves memories of family life in Monmouth College’s Quinby House
MONMOUTH, Ill. — One of my greatest pleasures working at Monmouth College is developing friendships with alumni and getting to hear their fascinating stories. I particularly enjoy conversations with older alumni, whose words to me are precious gems, waiting to be grasped and treasured. Over the decades, I have heard priceless tales from former students who have long since passed and regret that those stories were not recorded for prosperity.
That is why I was excited recently to receive a digital recording from Anne Quinby Dyni, the great-granddaughter of Judge Ivory Quinby, who built Monmouth College’s current presidential residence, Quinby House, in 1867 — exactly 150 years ago. A member of the Class of 1956, Mrs. Dyni grew up in the grand home along with her late sister, Jane Quinby Lowell, Class of 1948. In the recording, which was made in 1994, the sisters reminisce about their childhood in the house, from the 1920s through the 1950s.
Link to recording:
Quinby House is one of Monmouth’s architectural treasures. Built in the Italianate and Greek Revival styles on the highest point in the city, it was Monmouth’s first house to be designed by a professional architect — John C. Cochrane of Chicago. Cochrane’s firm rose to prominence in the months following the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, designing many of that city’s brick replacement buildings, and was particularly notable for having designed both the Illinois and Iowa State Capitol buildings.
Quinby House’s architectural significance led to its being named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980, following an extensive research project by the late Eileen Loya, assistant to Monmouth College president DeBow Freed. Ivory Quinby’s role in helping to build the C.B.&Q. Railroad line from Monmouth to East Burlington led to the house receiving a major historic restoration grant from the Illinois Department of Transportation in 1994. When that extensive project was completed in 1997, both Jane and Anne were on hand to celebrate the achievement.
The house had been presented to Monmouth College by the sisters’ parents, Elizabeth and Ivory Quinby III, in 1965. Having remained in the family for nearly a century, it was a remarkable time capsule, containing not only unaltered architectural features but also many family treasures, from furniture to toys. An ornate chandelier in the dining room was still connected to a working gas line, and an original wall-to-wall Brussels carpet — though well worn — still graced the front parlor. On the grounds were the original barn and wash house, and working shutters still hung on the arched windows.
Special features befitting the home of a prominent Victorian family included a speaking-tube system, a built-in icebox that could be loaded from the outside, an 8-foot-long kitchen sink, tall radiators mounted on walls and a dumbwaiter. Family artifacts that had been preserved included portraits of Ivory Quinby and his wife and photographs of the house and its residents from many eras. A meticulous record keeper, Judge Quinby saved virtually every receipt and journal from his busy life, and many of those documents — including the original architectural plans for the house — are now in the possession of Monmouth College.
But back to the recording. The Quinby sisters begin their reminiscence by remarking about the awkwardness of growing up in a house which they considered warm and comfortable, but which was viewed by many outsiders as an imposing mansion. As a result, young men often felt uncomfortable asking them out on dates. College sororities, on the other hand, courted the girls, with an eye on gaining access to the house for their formal functions. In fact, their mother, who was an Alpha Delta Pi in college, was adopted as a patroness by Pi Beta Phi, which held several spring dances there. Jane recalled watching those affairs from the stair landing until she was chased back up to bed.
Many of the memories centered on the challenges of living in an ancient house — having to eat meals on the porch in warm weather and by candlelight in the winter, as there was no electricity in the dining room. The radiators were always noisy and having to retrieve canned goods from the root cellar in the basement was scary.
Anne had fond memories of keeping a horse in the barn. In those days, the property line extended to Monmouth Cemetery on the north and down Brewery Hill to the east, providing ample room for Anne to gallop her horse. The north pasture sometimes contained cattle that would periodically escape and wander through town. A two-story hog and chicken house stood east of the barn. Just before it was torn down, their father invited neighbor boys to shoot out the windows with a BB gun. A three-hole outhouse also graced the grounds until it was moved to a farm near Fairview Center church.
The upstairs contained a three-room apartment for the girls’ aged grandmother, a strict Methodist who frowned on their father’s smoking. College boys would be hired to care for the grounds (their father refused to touch a mower) and a high school boy from the country roomed in the attic during his senior year so he could attend Monmouth High School. During the Depression, hoboes would often stop by and their mother would feed them on the back porch.
The recording is a valuable record of days gone by, but it was particularly valuable to have Anne, who lives in Colorado, visit Quinby House last week and reminisce in person about growing up there. She was the guest of Monmouth College First Lady Lobie Stone, who recently completed an interior redecoration of the house. As Anne walked through the house, pointing out details, it brought stories from the recording into clearer focus.
As Quinby House enters its fourth half-century, it is heartening to know that this audio record of early family life in the gracious residence will be preserved in the college archives.
Jeff Rankin is an editor and historian at Monmouth College. He has been researching, writing and speaking about western Illinois history for more than 35 years.
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CUTLINE #1: Quinby House as it appeared in the 1960s, shortly after it was deeded to Monmouth College by the parents of Anne Quinby Dyni.
CUTLINE #2: Anne Dyni visits with First Lady Lobie Stone and Monmouth College President Clarence R. Wyatt in the parlor of Quinby House. On the right is a portrait of Judge Ivory Quinby, who built the home in 1867.