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“Day FIVE of my Eight-Day Mark Twain Riverboat Trip Along the Upper Mississippi”
“Get your facts first, and then you can distort ‘em
as much as you please.” – Mark Twain
Day Five of the cruise brought us to an area known as the Quad Cities which actually consists of five cities: Bettendorf and Davenport on the western, Iowa side of the Mississippi River and Rock Island, Moline and East Moline on the eastern, Illinois side of the river. The region has a combined population of 400,000.
North of Davenport and Bettendorf, the Upper Mississippi River was once a world-renowned freshwater fishery and a full 25 percent (260 species) of all fish species in North America have been reported in the basin. The upper river is joined by the Rock River here.
Bettendorf is the 15th largest city in Iowa and the third-largest of the Quad Cities. It lies in the original Wisconsin Territory, which the United States bought from the Sac and Fox Indians after defeating them in the Black Hawk War of 1832. (Abraham Lincoln participated in this conflict.) The territory was ceded in the Black Hawk Purchase of the same year.
A town was created and named Gilbert. Residents were predominantly German immigrants who worked as farmers, skilled laborers, and small business owners. John Deere settled here in the 1840’s and his company still employs many in the area today.
Circa 1900, the Town of Gilbert gave William and Joseph Bettendorf 70 acres of riverfront land on the condition that they move their iron wagon business from Davenport to Gilbert. In 1903, the town of 440 citizens petitioned to change the town’s name to Bettendorf in honor of the brothers whose factory was a major economic influence in the early development of the city.
In the late 1940s, Aluminum Company of America (A.L.C.O.A.) chose an enclave of Bettendorf for construction of the world’s largest aluminum mill, creating thousands of jobs into the present day.
The first modern-day riverboat casinos in the United States were launched in Bettendorf in April of 1991.
Not built on bluffs, the City of Bettendorf goes through a great deal of river flooding and deals annually with storm water run-off. 169 inlets have been insufficient for handling rainfall in the Crow, Pigeon, and Spencer Creeks, which flood personal property.
On this morning of the 5th day of the cruise, I saw the most beautiful sunrise of the trip. In this area, the Mississippi makes a turn and runs east-west for a while. This meant that the sun, rising in the east, came up directly over the middle of the river, reflecting brilliant raspberry, pastel pinks and purples and mauves in the water. I had gotten in the practice of walking out on the 4th-level Observation Deck about 6:30 a.m. every morning, and this was the best display I’d seen.
There is a white vertical pole at the front of the boat with white metal stepping rungs on one side. It is the highest point on the boat and is used as a guide when the boat passes under bridges. When needed, a member of the crew can scale the pole to the top and evaluate how close the boat is to the underside of the bridge. The crew member radios this information to the captain. Supposedly the closest the boat has passed under a bridge has been within a half an inch. On this morning, a crescent moon appeared just above the pole.
As I turned from the sunrise to walk down to the dining hall, behind me I saw the Quad City bridge lit up before dawn. Locals told me the bridge is lit every night until the sun rises, and the colors of the lights change. This is a new bridge, built in 2017 and opened in 2020. The old, green bridge south of it will be removed soon. This I-74 bridge connects Bettendorf and Moline. Freshwater mussels in the river became endangered after 60 years of over-harvesting for the pearl button industry from 1890 to 1950. 200,000 of the mussels were relocated from the construction area of the bridge.
Later in the day, when we were again under way, the black smokestacks were lowered before our boat passed under the two bridges. The top of the boat came very close to the underside of both.
The Rock Island Centennial Bridge connects Rock Island to Davenport. The five arches of the bridge are often used as a symbol to represent the Quad Cities.
In “Life on the Mississippi,” Mark Twain talks about catching a glimpse of Davenport as he traveled upriver on his return visit to the area. In the 1860’s, its population approached 30,000 and, Twain says, already had “the usual Upper-River quota” of factories, newspapers, telephones, a paid fire department, and churches.
He speaks of “the flourishing town of Rock Island” across the river and of the railroad bridge connecting the two towns in those days, one of thirteen bridges that existed at the time between St. Louis and St. Paul. There was a legal dispute when a barge hit the railroad bridge. The case was handled and won by Abraham Lincoln, his very first case.
Mark Twain says Rock Island is three miles long and a half a mile wide and was later made into a national armory and arsenal. Our Riverlorian said there were five prison camps there during the Civil War.
My first hop off of the tour bus in Davenport was to visit the German American Heritage Center. I have a pure German ancestry and was interested to learn when various waves of Germans immigrated to this country. (My Great-grandfather Kitzenberger brought his family over in 1876 to keep his sons from fighting in the German wars.) A huge German population settled along the Mississippi River. The information in the museum was interesting and very in-depth. One section explained Blaudruck, a process of resist-dying fabric using indigo (blue) dye. The indigo dye plant became popular in the second half of the 1600’s through the 1800’s. Wooden blocks were used to stamp white patterns onto the fabric before it was dyed.
My next stop was the Quad City Botanical Center on Rock Island on the Illinois side of the river. Part of the center is enclosed so one can enjoy the tropical flowers year-round. It has an orchid that smells like chocolate and a ponytail palm.
I made a third stop at the Lagomarcinos chocolate shop. They received a special award from James Beard and are renowned in the area. I got some pecans covered with bourbon chocolate that were out of this world.
We pulled away from the Quad Cities area in the late afternoon and passed through a lock about 5 p.m. I was able to get a few shots before running down to the dining room. An 8 p.m. dinner seating would have been far too late for me, but the 5:15 p.m. dinner seating was conflicting with my evening photo plans. We sat in the dining room as the paddle wheeler passed through the lock. We could see the sides of the lock wall through the dining room windows as the lowering water level eased the riverboat down.
I had seen no dam reaching across the river from shore to shore. It looked as though the boat was being lowered only to pass under a railroad bridge rather than navigate to a lower water level of the river.
Dinner began with an appetizer called Petite Hot Brown (crostini and sliced turkey), roasted brussels sprouts, crawfish bisque, a harvest salad, followed by pan-seared sea scallops, and peach cobbler for dessert.
Day Five: another wonderful day.
“Let us endeavor so to live that when we come to die,
even the undertaker will be sorry.” – Mark Twain
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Davenport’s German American Heritage Center; American Queen Voyages Hop-on Hop-off Tour Map of Bettendorf; American Queen Voyages “Daily Voyage” newsletter, 10/21/2022 (Bettendorf Issue 489); American Queen Riverlorian presentations; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bettendorf,_Iowa; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rock_Island_Centennial_Bridge; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Hawk_War; https://gahc.org/; https://www.qcgardens.com/#/.