The map’s focus on the streets and subdivisions of early Davenport, Iowa masks its early rivalry with two nearby cities on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River, Rock Island and Moline. Eventually, combined with East Moline, Illinois, and Bettendorf, Iowa, they became popularly known as “Quad Cities.” The emergence of a thriving urban region near the confluence of the Rock and Mississippi Rivers was encouraged by favorable geological and geographical factors. Erosion-resistant dolomite limestone crosses the river’s path for some miles above Davenport creating rapids and a complex chain of islands through which it was difficult for river boats to navigate. Davenport developed on a convenient landing place for northbound riverboats just before they encountered the rapids. Settlements sprang up to provide services at this natural transshipment point. At the same time the islands in the middle of the river made Davenport and its neighbors good places for river crossings—by ferry and, after 1856, via the first railroad bridge built across the Mississippi, between Rock Island and Davenport. The publication of this map surely was inspired in part by that event, which was expected to hasten Davenport’s rise to prominence. Rock Island (now known as Arsenal Island) was an unusually defensible and strategic place. Fort Armstrong, appearing at the extreme western tip of the island, was constructed in 1836 as part of a string of forts built by the United States to strengthen its hold on the Mississippi River frontier. Finally, the rapids were an important early source of water power, providing a foundation for industrial growth, while the Mississippi and Rock rivers brought easy access to markets and raw materials, such as Wisconsin lumber.
Ironically, the growth of Chicago, 180 miles to the east, came partly at the expense of cities like Davenport that depended on the Mississippi for their access to markets. Without question the railroad bridge and its successors ensured that Davenport remained an important place, but over time the railroad shifted the focus of commerce away from the rivers and from river cities to railroad hubs like Chicago. Railroads constructed fourteen bridges across the Mississippi by the late 1870s, all of them between St. Louis and Minneapolis. These bridges provided direct rail links to cities east of the Mississippi to the growing markets west of the river, shifting the main flow of goods and people from the natural paths of Mississippi and Ohio rivers to the iron pathways radiating from cities like Chicago. None of these cities of the old Northwest capitalized more spectacularly on the growth of railroad transportation in the West than Chicago, whose position on the southwestern-most reach of the Great Lakes made it a natural exchange point for Great Lakes traffic and rail routes to the east, west, and south. Symbolizing and facilitating the rise of Chicago, the railroads linked by the Rock Island-Davenport bridge, the Chicago and Rock Island Railroad and the Mississippi and Missouri Railroad, merged in 1866 to form a route with transcontinental ambitions expressed by its name, the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad.
A color view of the city originally mounted at the bottom center of the map shows that the original town was nestled below a bluff on a portion of the river’s floodplain about a half mile wide. The advantages of the site as a landing place downstream from the rapids are plain enough. The bluff enclosing the original city site is not so high or continuous to prevent access to the Iowa hinterland behind it. Roads radiate in every direction from the town core connecting it to places off the map as well as to the suburbs of East, West, and Upper Davenport.
Fort Armstrong, no longer an active outpost, was well suited to command traffic in and across the river. Rock Island briefly served as a prison for Confederate soldiers during the Civil War, before becoming one of the primary arsenals for the U.S. Army. The residence of the town’s namesake, Col. George Davenport, on the island just to the west of the railroad bridge, was built in 1833, and served as the headquarters of the prison camp. As a young man Davenport served in the U.S. Army at Ft. Armstrong, and played a major role in the early development of the settlement of Rock Island, Illinois, as well as Davenport. The principal founder of Davenport itself was, however, Antoine Le Claire, son of a French Canadian trader and Pottawatomie Indian, who first arrived in the area as an interpreter for Col. Davenport and owned much of the land in and around the original town site. His bluffside mansion may be seen just north of the Iowa side of the railroad. The Le Claire residence is also illustrated at the lower right corner of the map, one of fifteen such vignettes along the margins of the map depicting the homes of prominent citizens, commercial properties, the city’s two colleges, and the great railroad bridge.
One of the functions of the map surely was to promote Davenport real estate development in the wake of the bridge’s construction. Maps of this sort were commonly published in this era by parties who stood to benefit from real estate sales or who had ready access to real estate information—in this case the surveyor James T. Hogane and civil engineer H. Lambach. The pictures of prominent buildings around the margins of the map served to reinforce the impression of Davenport as vibrant, modern, and growing city. Mr. Hogane’s octagonal residence, a design that enjoyed brief popularity in the mid-nineteenth century, may be found at the upper right. Most of the new growth of the city was focused north of the original town on the relatively flat land above and beyond the bluff that could be more easily subdivided and developed into residential lots. It may be readily appreciated from the map that much of this land was actively being carved out from larger rural plots at the time the map was published. For example, the western half of 160-acre quarter section belonging to the Sturtevants to the northwest of the main town is newly laid out for residential streets and lots, while the eastern half remains undeveloped as the Sturtevant “estate.” Other large holdings at the margins of the city have been, according to the map, reserved, for semi-rural businesses created to serve the needs of a growing urban population, such as “nurseries,” greenhouses, and cemeteries.
Renkes, Jim. The Quad-Cities and The People. Helena, MT: American & World Geographic Publishing, 1994.
Roba, William. The River and the Prairie: A History of the Quad-Cities, 1812-1960. Davenport, Iowa: The Hesperian Press, 1986.
Roba, William and Frederick I. Anderson, eds. Joined by a River: Quad Cities. Davenport: Lee Enterprises, 1982.
Svendsen, Marls A. and Martha Bowers. Davenport—Where the Mississippi Runs West: A Survey of Davenport History & Architecture. Davenport, Iowa: City of Davenport, 1982.
Wilkie, Franc B. Davenport, Past and Present. Davenport, IA: Luse, Lane & Co., 1858.
Hogane, James T., Lambach, H., and Edward Mendel. “Map of the city of Davenport and its suburbs, Scott County, Iowa [map].” (1857). 103 x 139 cm. “Boston Public Library’s Norman B. Leventhal Map Center Collection.” http://ark.digitalcommonwealth.org/ark:/50959/4m90f963p
James T. Hogane and Henry Lambach, Map of the City of Davenport and Its Suburbs (Chicago: Edward Mendel, 1857). The Newberry Library, map6F G4154.D4 1857 H6