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John Wood

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Old Illinois Houses

John Drury

reprinted by
The University of Chicago Press
Chicago and London, 1977

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Joseph Duncan
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

[image ALT: A photograph of a blocky two‑story brick house, with a flat roof interrupted by a shallow pediment on each side. The front of the house has a door flanked by two windows on each side, all stone-trimmed and in a severely rectangular style; the side has four more similar windows, and the upper story is identical except of course for another window over the door. It is the Browning House in Quincy, Illinois.]

Browning House, Quincy, Built 1870's.

 p69  A Cabinet Member Lived Here

Long familiar to residents of Quincy as the St. Joseph Home for Girls, the big red-brick mansion at Eighth and Spruce streets is of historical interest as the onetime home of Orville Hickman Browning, dean of the bar in western Illinois for almost half a century, friend and supporter of Abraham Lincoln, United States Senator from Illinois, and Secretary of the Interior in the cabinet of President Andrew Johnson.

The exterior of the house is little changed since Browning's time. It stands on a block-square plot of ground bounded by Seventh and Eighth and Spruce and Sycamore streets. No longer a girls' home, it is now St. Joseph's Hospital, an institution for the chronically ill.

Like so many successful men of his time, Orville Hickman Browning, during his life, lived in three types of dwellings. First he lived in a log cabin. Then, as his fortunes rose, he built a second and more pretentious abode. Finally, when he was at the height of his career and the possessor of wealth, he built a third house; an impressive mansion that was something of a show place in its time. This is the house which is now occupied by St. Joseph's Hospital.

It was in the second home, which stood near Seventh and Hampshire Streets, and which was destroyed by fire in 1904 when it was occupied by Conservatory of Music, that Browning entertained his friend, Lincoln. Here, too, many other notable Illinois men of the period came as guests. Some time in the 1870's, however, Browning gave up this dwelling and built for himself a more imposing house, one in which he lived until his death in 1881 at the age of seventy-five. It is said that the grounds and house cost approximately $50,000.

When Browning occupied his third home, he was one of the leading citizens of Quincy. But when he first came to the city in 1831, he was an unknown young lawyer.

Browning was born in Harrison County, Kentucky, on February 10, 1806. There he studied law and, after being admitted to the bar, came up to Illinois and settled in Quincy. At that time the city was a pioneer settlement of log houses that was destined to become a steamboat capital of the upper Mississippi.

If Orville Hickman Browning was unknown when he first came to Quincy, he did not long remain so. In 1836 he was elected state senator on the Whig ticket. That same year he was married to Eliza Caldwell. His career was now started and from then he was constantly in the public eye.

 p70  "Mr. Browning," says a biography of him in the centennial edition of the Quincy Herald-Whig, published in 1935, was "a member of the Illinois Assembly for two years, state senator for four years, ran for Congress against Stephen A. Douglas in 1843 and against William A. Richardson in 1852. He was appointed United States Senator in 1861, on the death of Douglas, and was succeeded by William A. Richardson. In 1866, Mr. Browning was appointed Secretary of the Interior by President Andrew Johnson, which position he filled until the inauguration of President Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Grant."

After Browning's death, the big red-brick mansion he occupied was bought by Henry F. J. Ricker. It was the heirs of Ricker who gave the old Browning mansion to charity. Subsequently, a large wing of modern construction was added to the house on its south side. Here the St. Joseph Home for Girls was established.

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Page updated: 27 Nov 10