- Associated Press - Sunday, June 5, 2016

QUINCY, Ill. (AP) - Margaret Brunier heads upstairs at the John Wood Mansion after issuing a warning.

“The stairs are narrow and steep, so hold on to the bannister,” said Brunier, better known this day as Maggie the Maid.

In the mid-1800s, members of the Wood family and their guests used the grander front staircase, and the backstairs were used by servants responsible for many of the household tasks.

“John is a businessman, a politician. He’s very busy. People are in and out of here all the time,” Brunier said. “I cannot take care of this house by myself. I need help.”

Girls and boys as young as 10 years old — about the same age as the fifth-graders on Brunier’s tour May 9 — worked in the house and helped tend its farm fields.

Adison Tangy, a fifth-grader from St. Peter School, said she wouldn’t mind living back in John Wood’s time or in the mansion, but at least one of the jobs didn’t appeal to her.

“You’d have to clean the chamber pots,” Adison said.

Even the mansion’s bathroom and “wash down closet,” installed by Wood’s son and the first in a Quincy home, didn’t do much to lessen the workload.

A water tank in the attic had to be filled every morning, and “there’s no sewer system in this house, so the water had to go into some type of bucket,” Brunier said. “The girls are making beds and cleaning. We do not have time to run downstairs and empty buckets in the basement, so guys, you get that job.”

Students tour the mansion’s first and second floors, hear from a Civil War re-enactor, and learn about chores as part of an educational program sponsored by the Historical Society of Quincy and Adams County.

“This is one of our favorite field trips,” said St. Peter teacher Cris Weckbach, adding that she learns something new every year. “It’s important so they learn the history of the town that most of them grew up in.”

The programs tie into the society’s mission to preserve and protect history.

“You learn by experience, by hands-on type things. The excitement with doing something different also adds to the experience,” said Chuck Radel, the society’s immediate past president and a former history teacher who admits he’s biased when it comes to the importance of introducing students to local history.

About 700 fifth-grade students in 36 classes from eight schools and about 450 eighth-grade students in 18 classes from Quincy Junior High will take part in this spring’s program. It’s designed to highlight the Civil War in Quincy and Adams County for the younger students, the Lincoln era and Quincy for the older ones. A separate fall program for third-graders emphasizes pioneer life in Quincy.

“It’s Quincy’s history. That’s what’s important to me,” Brunier said. “It’s in their own backyard, and a lot of people aren’t aware of their own history.”

Nor are people aware of the day-to-day work involved in the 19th century. Even doing laundry took 15 steps, from mending and sorting to ironing, volunteer Lynn Snyder said, and more work ahead of time to have soap to clean the clothes.

“Most people made their own soap. It only took three ingredients — water, ashes from a wood fire and pig fat. Chemicals in the ashes leach into the water and become lye water, kind of like a weak acid, and a chemical reaction between fat and lye water makes soap,” Snyder said. “You didn’t wash anything as often as we do now because it was very labor-intensive.”

Learning about the area’s history was interesting and fun, said Tommy Pagic, another St. Peter fifth-grade student.

“It was about the Civil War. I’m really interested in this,” he said.

And the idea of 19th-century life in Quincy still appealed to Tommy.

“It would be awesome,” he said.


Source: The Quincy Herald-Whig, https://bit.ly/1TbhIiv


Information from: The Quincy Herald-Whig, https://www.whig.com

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