Four-city foraging uncovers treasures


Dennis McCann

Four-city foraging uncovers treasures

By DENNIS MCCANN of the Journal Sentinel staff

Sunday, June 23, 2002

The trick in writing about the Quad Cities is deciding from which dateline to hang my tale. For example:

Moline, Ill. — A village just 5 years old when inventor John Deere came up with his revolutionary steel plow, Moline became so associated with agricultural equipment that when early trains arrived with more immigrants for its factories, conductors simply called out “Johnny Deere” instead of the city’s name.

Or do you like:

Davenport, Iowa — Where better than a Mississippi River town to find all that jazz?

Or maybe:

Rock Island, Ill. — It might be viewed as a left-handed compliment to recommend a city for one of its most “dead” attractions, but this one — a Confederate cemetery from the Civil War — was part of America’s saddest story.

Then again:

Bettendorf, Iowa — The little settlement known as Lillienthal, then later Gaylord, grew up to become Bettendorf due to an early form of a modern scourge. At the turn of the century, the village wanted to land William and Joseph Bettendorf’s iron wagon business, and part of the cost of securing it was naming rights.

See the problem?

And don’t even get me started on the often overlooked East Davenport or East Moline, which maybe prove six really can go into quad but will send me screaming to the Twin Cities and relative simplicity before I can fit them in here. Far better to think of the Quad Cities as four parts of one big place that sprawls across two states, linked by a river that is the heart and soul of all of them.

Ah, the river. When I arrived earlier this month, the Mississippi was high, wide and wet, so swollen by heavy rains it poured over its banks and spread at will as a river is wont. But in communities where photographs of the worst floods hang on restaurant and tavern walls, river life goes on, high water be damned.

At the Isle of Capri riverboat casino in Bettendorf, I was taking a picture of a “road closed” sign that stood in what appeared to be a shallow lake when a car drove through axle-high water anyway in order to reach the casino door. The postal service has no sense of duty next to a gambler.

Curiously, for a place located just 200 miles, or less than four hours, from Milwaukee and southern Wisconsin, the Quad Cities — the largest metropolitan area on the upper Mississippi between Minneapolis and St. Louis — do not arise often in discussion of getaway destinations. But for those who enjoy history, bicycle trails, scenic drives and Mississippi River atmosphere, much is offered.

A bit of a gamble

I already have hinted at gambling, so let’s get that out of the way. In 1991, the first riverboat casinos in the United States went into operation at Davenport and Bettendorf, and today there are three such gambleboats luring visitors, including another that opened later in Rock Island.

(Moline has no boat but does have an off-track betting parlor on dry land, of all places.)

For non-gamblers, an alternative ride can be had on the Celebration Belle, the upper Mississippi’s largest excursion vessel offering a variety of cruises from February through October.

But after you have lost your allowance, there is much to fill the rest of the day.

In Moline, it is hard to escape John Deere’s continued influence. What began as a small blacksmith shop in nearby Grand Detour, Ill., grew to become one of the world’s largest agricultural equipment producers. Deere moved his operation to Moline in 1848, the same year Wisconsin became a state, and to this day the shade of paint known as “John Deere green” is everywhere in Moline.

The company’s story is on display at the John Deere Pavilion on the nicely restored riverfront area that is known as John Deere Commons, where you also will find the John Deere Store (where there is a different style of cap to fit the head of every family farmer left in the U.S.) and the newly opened John Deere Collectors Center, a re-creation of a 1950s-era JD dealership.

Golfers also might enjoy seeing or playing the Tournament Players Club at Deere Run, the much-touted home of the PGA Tour’s John Deere Classic (July 22 to 28). Be forewarned, though, that its rates are as challenging as a 600-yard par four. I wanted to play a very early 18 holes one morning but blanched at the $116 green fee. (I only acknowledge this because I skipped golf and worked instead.)

Rock Island, Moline’s neighbor on the Illinois side of the river, offers military history from the Black Hawk War at Hauberg Indian Museum (described in greater detail in my Cue column last Wednesday) and from later wars at Rock Island Arsenal. Still an active manufacturing arsenal, it also is home to a historic military museum, fort and other buildings, including an officers quarters that is the second-largest home owned by the U.S. government. (You can probably guess the largest.)

Also at the arsenal are two cemeteries, including Confederate Cemetery where the remains of 2,000 Southern prisoners were buried after they died of small pox or other diseases while imprisoned here during the Civil War. The second is National Cemetery, established for soldiers in 1865.

Rock Island’s downtown area includes a popular nightclub and restaurant area in its arts and entertainment district, which was gearing up for a Cajun street festival the week of my visit. There is a wide plaza with outdoor dining, bookstores, coffeehouses and the welcoming Blue Cat Brew Pub where I tended to find myself headed at mealtime.

Across the river in Davenport, Milwaukeeans of a certain ancestry might enjoy looking for their roots at the German American Heritage Center (open 1 to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays), dedicated to preserving German heritage, immigrant history and ancestry research.

I learned one chapter of Davenport’s own history while desperately seeking latte one morning. At the corner of E. 2nd and Brady, I came across a historical marker on the spot where Daniel David Palmer performed America’s first chiropractic adjustment. On Sept. 18, 1895, while then practicing as a magnetic healer, Palmer was said to have repositioned vertebrae in the spine of one Harvey Lillard and, as Palmer said he had expected, Lillard’s hearing was restored. In 1897 Palmer opened a school of chiropractic medicine on the site, and it still is operating in Davenport today.

Davenport’s most famous son is no doubt the jazz legend Bix Beiderbecke, who has been dead since 1931, but never mind that because the shouted slogan of his legion of fans is “Bix lives!” More accurately, Davenport jumps during the annual Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Jazz Festival each July, which along with the Quad Cities Times Bix 7 (a 7-mile running race) is considered one of Iowa’s biggest attractions. The Mississippi Valley Blues Festival, which runs this year from July 5 to 7 at Davenport’s LeClaire Park, also is a popular event.

Children welcomed

Bettendorf successfully landed the Bettendorf brothers’ business, but later it was Aluminum Company of America’s decision to build the world’s largest rolling mill there that brought new jobs and development. Today, Bettendorf is home of the Family Museum of Arts and Science, a hands-on and child-friendly place. The Isle of Capri casino also includes a new hotel development along the waterfront park.

One way you might consider seeing the entire area is in September when the annual Quad Cities Marathon is run on a course that includes two states, three bridges over the Mississippi and — you guessed it – – five cities.

Call Dennis McCann at (414) 224-2528 or e-mail

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