My Home Town:
Davenport, Iowa, and the Quad Cities

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What's in a Name?
Geography

Population

Economy

Culture

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What's in a Name?

The Quad Cities have been described as a community connected by the Mississippi River. The community consists of Davenport (IA), Bettendorf (IA), Rock Island (IL), Moline (IL), & East Moline (IL). I thought "quad" meant four! Evidently, not here.

In 1840, the City of Davenport consisted of only a small section on the riverfront and a few flanking neighborhoods. What is now known as the West End was in unincorporated Scott County, and the southwest sections along River Drive and South Concord were the City of Rockingham. Several other towns existed within Scott County; however, many of them have been annexed and no longer exist today. One such town was Winfield. Winfield was proposed as a site for the county seat as an alternative to Davenport and Rockingham, who were in hot contention for that distinction. As we know now, Davenport won. But, what is not generally known is that the town of Winfield is now a marsh at the mouth of Duck Creek on the east end of Bettendorf. Survival of the fittest works for municipalities as well as species.

There has been a history of "number" names for this community. The Tri Cities was becoming a popular term for the community in the 1890's. The Tri Cities were Davenport (IA), Rock Island (IL), and Moline (IL). Incidentally, the Tri City Jewish Cemetery is located on Fairmont Hill in the West End of Davenport on top of Fairmont Hill.

As the communities on both sides of the river grew, the area became known as the Quad Cities. Most people think that Bettendorf was one of the Quad Cities. No, it wasn't. The original Quad Cities were Davenport in Iowa and Rock Island, Moline, and East Moline in Illinois.

After Bettendorf was incorporated and through the 1980's, there was an attempt to change the regional name to Quint Cities to reflect the reality of the situation; however, the new name never took hold. So, we live in a community of five cities that is known as the Quad Cities. Oh, well.

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Geography

Life, economic viability, and the physical landscape in the Quad Cities are dominated by the prominent geographic feature of the region: the Mississippi River. Because of the river, Sauk and Fox Indians originally populated the region. Eventually, European settlers followed. The Quad Cities are situated in a ecological transition zone between the Eastern Deciduous Forest and the Tall Grass Prairie and is, of course, dominated by the riparian system.

A major factor in the economic success of the region is soil quality. As the glaciers of the last ice ages retreated, they deposited massive amounts of soil in Iowa and Illinois. The Canadian Shield was nearly scraped clean of soil, and Iowa was being dumped on by a carpet of 18 to 36 inches of rich black loess, our gift from the glaciers. And because of a combination of this rich soil, a moderate Continental (Long Summer) Climate, and one of the largest aquifers in the world, Iowa is one of the greatest agricultural producers anywhere.

Perhaps, the most interesting fact about Davenport is that the city is situated at the only place where the Mississippi River runs west instead of south. And, just to prove it, here is a topographic map of the Quad Cities:

And of course, the Mississippi River runs east instead of south at New Orleans, Louisiana. You'll have to find your own map for New Orleans. I recommend MapQuest.com.

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Population

As settlers moved west, they found wondrous, relatively flat, fertile plains. Many of the original settlers arrived by boat on the Mississippi River. The Irish were the first distinct ethnic group to populate Iowa, starting in the 1830's. Many came up the river from the port of New Orleans. St. Anthony's Catholic Church, the second Catholic church in Iowa, was established in 1837. The church's original edifice served as the community's meeting hall and school. And, my wife's family, the Reagans and Cunninghams, newly arrived from Ireland, worked on the new stone edifice, which was erected in 1853. Soon after the influx of the Irish, the Belgians followed and settled in Moline, Illinois. The Forty-Eighters, refugees from Germany, settled in Scott County. In the 1870s, Germans or Danes, depending on the year they left Schleswig-Holstein, populated Eastern Iowa. They were followed by Italian immigrants who settled in Rock Island, Illinois.  

Of note, the population of Iowa has been fairly static since the German/Dane wave of immigration. The general population of Iowa is graying, and areas of western Iowa are in danger of being depopulated. Consequently, there are initiatives to encourage another wave of immigration to the state. It is ironic that xenophobes are screaming about excessive immigration and over-population; and here in Iowa, there is the specter of "ghost towns" on the prairie. Currently, there are approximately 350,000 people of all races and ethnic groups in the Quad Cities area.

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Economy

The economy of the Quad Cities is dominated by agriculture. East Moline is the home of John Deere International. Additionally, Caterpillar and Case-I.H. (International Harvester)/New Holland have or have had major manufacturing plants in the area.

Pork is a staple of the local diet. The Quad Cities hosts one of the largest pork festivals in the country during Rib Fest each Summer. And If you have a lot of pigs, you have to have a lot of corn. Iowa leads the nation in corn production. However, 80% of Iowa's corn is grown for feed consumption; although, many farmers plant a small section of their acreage in "sweet corn" for popular consumption.

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Culture

Boy, do we have a lot of culture? You bet. As the river dominates the geography, it has been the most significant factor in our culture. Someone once said that river towns are different. New Orleans, Memphis, and Davenport are different from most of the nation but similar to each other.

Davenport is the home of, perhaps, the largest Blues festival in the nation. The Mississippi Valley Blues Society hosts the Blues Fest during the 4th of July weekend in LeClaire Park on the river. If you haven't been to the festival, you've missed a great party. Information can be obtained on upcoming events by contacting Mississippi Valley Blues Society Online.

If Blues isn't your thing, then perhaps Jazz is. Davenport also hosts the Bix Beiderbeck Jazz Festival. Spend a weekend in LeClaire Park listening to great Dixieland and explore the city's clubs as they host world class Jazz bands. For those of us who are too cheap to pay an entrance fee, the City of Davenport hosts a free Blues and Jazz festival on Second Street during the Bix Fest. And of course, 25,000 people running up Brady Street Hill are difficult to hide during the Bix 7 Race. For further information contact Bix the Man and the Race.

Also, there are probably 10 other festivals somewhere on the river in the Quad Cities during the summer. I recommend trying QC Times Answer Book for listings of all the parties.

If you're not having fun while in the Quad Cities, it's your own fault. Enjoy!

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