What is more fascinating than history? Then what is more important than preserving that history? Thankfully the Quad City Bank & Trust optioned to refurbish the Velie Plantation former home of Willard and Annie Velie when they were looking to build.
Willard Lamb Velie
Willard Lamb Velie the grandson of John Deere was a force to be reckoned with in the Moline area. He is one of five Velie children. His father Stephen Velie married John Deere’s daughter Emma Charlotte Deere. The Velie’s alongside Deere & Co. became the top industries in the Quad Cities at the turn of the century.
From 1902 to 1928, the Velie’s built everything from saddles to carriages. Buggies and carriages are what Willard Velie was known for. He and his son, Will Jr. eventually developed advanced engines for automobiles and airplanes. Willard also built a Velie tractor, the Biltwel 12-25. An upcoming article in Green Magazine will outline much more detail of the Velie family history and the Velie mansion.
A Trip to Moline!
Annie Jansen of Jansen Brother’s garage (who fixes cars, but also does AMAZING tractor restoration) came with me to Moline. We headed north to tour the former mansion that is now owned by the Quad City Bank & Trust. When I called Annie, she was in the middle of tax season, but she said, “I’ll go!” and just like that we were off!
Sighting of a Velie Car!
Before heading to the former mansion though, we stopped by the https://www.richs.cc/e Rock Island County Historical Society. Jessica Waytenick of Visit Quad Cities had alerted me to the fact that there is a Velie car at the Society. The volunteers there were kind enough to allow Annie and I to take a look.
The Velie car was quite lovely. We were also able to see a Velie surrey as well. We were sad that we had such a small amount of time to view the treasures at the Rock Island County Historical Society and vowed to return when we have more time on our hands.
I had forgotten the beauty of the Charles Deere Wiman and the Butterworth homes Annie took a look at those and said, “What are those houses?” Needless to say, we need to make a trip back to Moline to tour these amazing historic mansions as well!
The Velie Plantation Story
From the Rock Island County Historical Society we traveled to the Steel Plow and had an awesome meal, then headed to the Quad City Bank & Trust.
Willard Velie became quite wealthy from his buggies, carriages and autos and trucks. He married Annie Flowerree, daughter of a millionaire cattle rancher and sister to his college roommate William Flowerree. Together they had two children, Willard Lamb Velie Jr. and Marjorie Velie Heard.
They decided to build a grand home to entertain in. Annie had seen Italian villas during her travels and wanted to incorporate that theme into their new home. They built on their 500 acre farm building a 46 room mansion. Once the home was completed, they celebrated with a huge party on December 5, 1913 with 500 guests!
Besides the beautiful three story home with 14 bedrooms and 12 baths, it was also a farm. There was a vineyard with over 20 varieties of grape, land for livestock and more. Later the home became known as the Velie Plantation because of the greenhouse that produced bananas and tropical fresh fruits for consumption. For years the Velies lived in this home with their two children and threw huge parties. They were the socialites of the time.
Changes in fortune
In the mid-20’s, the Velie fortune changed and autos were not selling. The Velie’s decided to downsize and moved out of the mansion.
William Lamb Velie died not long after of an embolism on Oct. 24, 1928 at the age of 62 and just four months later, Willard Velie Jr. died of a heart attack on March 20, 1929. Annie Flowerree lived until 1964 dying at the age of 94.
What happened to Villa Velie?
Villa Velie sat empty for years until 1935, the mansion was purchased by Julius Gottlieb as Club 77. This didn’t last long and the building was sold again in 1941 to Stanley Wiedner who invested half a million and remodeled it to become the Plantation Restaurant.
The Glory Years of the Velie Plantation
Many in the Moline area remember the Velie Plantation. It was open from 1945 – 1983 and was the social setting for those in the Quad Cities and beyond.
Bank President & CEO Doug Hultquist remembers going to the Velie Plantation to celebrate his wife’s 16th birthday.
Doug and his wife both attended Augustana College and over the years went to a variety of events at the Plantation. “The Plantation had the finest reputation for a restaurant between Chicago and Omaha. It was special to come here,” Doug Hultquist added.
The days of the Plantation ended when the Manager, Nick Chirekos was murdered by a disgruntled employee.
In 1981, the building was sold and reopened as W.L. Velie’s along with a club called the Back Door Club that was quite popular. As time went on, it was hard to compete with river boat gambling.
The restaurant and club closed and an antique mall was there briefly before closing leaving the Velie mansion empty. That is until Quad City Bank and Trust chose the location for their bank.
Doug Hultquist said when QCR Holdings, their parent company decided to open the Quad City Bank & Trust in Moline the pre-requisites for the location was, “Close to John Deere Road and the border of Moline and Rock Island.”
The Old Plantation just happened to fit the bill. With the building offering a solid foundation, the bank was able to save a bit of history and thus the Velie Planation took on new life!
When Doug asked him where that was, he said, “The old Plantation Restaurant.”
Susan Shaffer, Loss Prevention Officer and Jackie L. Celske, AVP, Marketing and PR Manager took Annie and I on a whirlwind tour of the beautiful building.
When we first entered the lobby, the first thing we noticed was the amazing fireplace.
The entry way has two amazing murals and behind the staff member that greets you is a door that once graced this beautiful building.
The bank is filled with advertisements that remind employees of the history of the Velie family and the wonderful things they made. They kept the bones of the building and incorporated what they needed to run a successful business.
Saved from the wrecking ball, Doug Hultquist, who is scheduled to retire in May can be proud of many things, but this vision should be one. The Velie Plantation is a Moline, Midwest, and really worldwide icon. Thank you for saving it!
For a tour of the lovely Velie Plantation, call ahead. Contact Jackie Celske at 563-468-4433.