Try walking out of Underbrink's Bakery in Quincy without a box full of mouth-watering cookies, scrumptious pastries, freshly baked bread and iced angel food cupcakes – I dare you! If you can resist those goodies, you have more willpower than most.
Underbrink's, just named the top bakery in Illinois by Taste of Home, has opened its doors to a steady stream of customers since 1929. Owner Amy Stevens says people come from all over for the baked goods, made fresh daily.
The melt-in-your-mouth iced angel food cupcakes are a popular draw. "That's what we are famous for," says Stevens. She says the bakery is a must-stop for Quincy natives who have moved away and return to visit.
You should make it a must-stop on any tour of Quincy, too. After loading up with treats and taking a gander at the third-oldest Hobart commercial mixer in the United States, you will be ready to explore the rest of the Gem City's gems.
Those include an elaborate Catholic church, a unique Mediterranean villa on a hill overlooking the Mississippi and a historic district brimming with well-kept mansions.
The block next to Underbrink's hosts the 1884-era St. Francis Solanus church, where you can view an intricately carved white altar and colorful stations of the cross. Another block away is Quincy University if you want to stroll through campus.
You can find a more modern church, St. Boniface, in downtown Quincy. Designed by architect John Benya in 1962, the church is on the site of the first mass led by Father Augustus Tolton, who was ordained in 1886 as the first African-American priest in America. In June, Pope Francis deemed the former slave venerable and supporters hope for eventual sainthood.
Another architectural wonder awaits closer to the river. Perched on a high bluff is Villa Kathrine, modeled after a Moroccan villa and on the National Register of Historic Places. Quincy native and world traveler George Metz had it built for $7,000 in 1900.
Quincy tourism director Holly Cain says Metz, a bachelor, entertained his guests with belly dancers and river views. The villa features a tiled reflecting pool in an indoor courtyard, and Cain says the pool and open windows above it created a cool breeze in the days before air conditioning.
Metz had a separate "harem room," but Cain says she isn't sure how he used it. He also owned a 212-pound Mastiff, which he claimed was the world's largest dog. Some guests swear the dog's ghost roams the grounds.
Riddell Noble, owner of a mansion in Quincy's East End Historic District, says some of his guests believe his house has spirits as well. His Queen Anne-style home built in 1880 is one of 18 in or near the district available for private tours. The city hosts public architecture-related events several times a year.
Noble's house features walnut and butternut woodwork, 19th-century furnishings, notable pottery and china collections and enough artwork to fill a gallery. Two semis transported his belongings when he bought the house and moved from Baltimore in 2003.
A noteworthy item is the early 1900s' Louis Vuitton travel trunk he bought for $25 at Goodwill. The company has offered him $45,000 but so far Noble is keeping it in his third floor, which is filled with other collectibles.
The house's wrap-around porch, added in 1900, is the perfect spot to watch traffic slow to take in all of the architectural highlights of his neighborhood.
One of those is the Quincy Museum in a restored 1890s mansion with period furnishings, gallery and rotating exhibits. You also can learn about Quincy in the city's History Museum, housed in the old library downtown and overlooking a Lincoln-Douglas debate site. Displays on early Mormons in the area, river voyagers and Native Americans share space with stained glass collected from former area churches.
Military buffs will enjoy the All Wars Museum on the grounds of the Illinois Veterans Home during the spring, summer and fall. Other Quincy gems include the John Wood Mansion and a brewery district with underground springs and caverns.
As for the nickname Gem City, the tourism bureau's Cain says Quincy got that name not from any link to precious stones, but rather when it boomed as a commercial hub from river traffic.
The Mississippi remains busy and can be a great place to spot bald eagles in the winter. Just remember to load up on those bakery delights to munch while you adjust your binoculars.
For information on Quincy attractions and to schedule private home tours, go to www.seequincy.com or call the Quincy Area Convention and Visitors Bureau at 800-978-4748. Quincy is 115 miles from Springfield via I-72 and I-172.
Mary Bohlen is a Springfield-based travel writer who enjoys exploring Illinois. She retired from the communication faculty at the University of Illinois Springfield after 30 years of teaching journalism.