Villa Kathrine | Quincy, Illinois
A two-story Moroccan-style castle overlooking the Mississippi River is one of the most unexpected sites in Quincy. Villa Kathrine, located south of the city area, was built in 1900 by a wealthy local eccentric called George Metz. Metz received his riches and never worked a day in his life. His father, William, was a well-known pharmacist in the community. Metz began on a two-year journey of the Mediterranean and Africa after his mother died in 1897 (his father had died four years before).
When he returned, he began designing a private mansion in the style and architecture of the Mediterranean/Northern African structures he had loved throughout his travels. He was particularly interested in recreating the appearance of Morocco's Villa Ben Aben.
Metz bought a site on a bluff south of State Street (now known as 532 Gardner Expressway) in 1900 and began working with a local architect, George Behrensmeyer, to design the plans for his dream house, which was said to be named after his mother (even though her name was spelled, Katherine). He showed Behrensmeyer sketches, notes, and drawings he'd created on his travels, and he integrated many ideas into the final plans. The construction was built a year later at a total cost of $7,000. Despite its exotic appearance, the home was built with local resources, including limestone from the area for the foundation.
Villa Kathrine appears to have nothing in common with the other turn-of-the-century Victorian and Queen Anne residences in Quincy, which has a large number of them. A massive dome crowns a tall, rectangular tower on the north end. In contrast, another similar-sized tower on the other end is covered with diamond latticework and finished with a little minaret ornamented with red and white stripes and is supposed to resemble the Mosque of Thais in Tunisia.
The residence was furnished and decorated with Mediterranean-Arabic furniture, antiquities, and antiques that Metz had acquired on his travels. Although being a very private person who never married, Metz was far from a recluse. The Ladies of the Round Table, a Quincy women's social organization, were given a tour of the residence by Metz, who "told them everything about the riches in it that he had purchased in Algiers," according to a 1908 Quincy Daily Journal story. Metz's constant friend was Bingo, a 212-pound bullmastiff for many years. According to sources, Metz purchased the dog, which is the world's largest mastiff, in Denmark around 1900.
Bingo was supposed to have been buried in Metz's rose garden, wearing a diamond-studded collar, after he died in 1906. After the property was abandoned in subsequent years, fortune hunters dug up the grounds in the hopes of finding the collar. On the other hand, historians believe the story of the golden collar is spurious since no record of Metz ever purchasing one.
Archibald Behrens, a Quincy grocer, and his wife persuaded Metz to sell his house to them in 1912. Metz was 63 years old at the time, and his family was concerned that he was living alone in the two-story mansion. Behrens and his wife expressed their admiration for the home and all of its contents, promising to be good stewards. On the other hand, the Behrens was only fronting for a local railroad that planned to demolish the home and turn the land into a train yard. The railroad offered the Behrens the home's contents in exchange for their assistance in the acquisition.
However, when Metz left the house, vandals stole many antiques and furniture. The Behrens is supposed to have ended up with only one rug. When Metz returned to the mansion in 1913 with a reporter from St. Louis, he discovered it in a sad state, missing most of its lovely furniture. He resolved never to return, but over two decades later, he did, only to be disappointed by the status of his fantasy palace.
After selling the house and then the Lincoln Douglas Hotel, Metz moved into the Hotel Newcomb in downtown Quincy. In 1937, he died of pneumonia. Surprisingly, the railroad never completed its railyard, and the home stood empty for decades. It was largely restored in 1939 and moved through various owners over the next decade. The Quincy Park District purchased the home and adjacent property in 1955, and it was turned into a community park.
Local preservationists began restoring the castle to its former glory in the 1970s. The house was recently added to the National Register of Historic Places. Hundreds of thousands of dollars were contributed to repair it, which now houses the Quincy Tourist Information Center, which offers daily self-guided tours of the villa.