What did you do on Thanksgiving? Attend family feasts? Watch football? Nap? Well, in 1894 on Thanksgiving Day, about 50 business men involved with the Davenport Business Man’s Association boarded a special passenger train at the C.R.I. & P. depot at 7:40 am. sharp, made a transfer connection in Rock Island where twenty-five Moline and Rock Island business men joined them and arrived in Milan, Illinois at 8:05 am. From there, the Tri-cities group walked two miles to a guard lock to see the first five-mile section of the Hennepin Canal fill with water. Newspaper reports stated “The water came through with a roar almost drowning the cheers of the excited crowd, and H. L. Froening of Milan celebrated the occasion by seeing that everyone present was provided with Havanas.” The newspaper also helpfully pointed out that folks would have the opportunity to see the canal’s opening and still make it home around 11:15 – in plenty of time for their Thanksgiving dinner!
Why such anticipation? It was hoped that the canal, an inland waterway system built to connect the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers, would mark the beginning of increased trade in the area as it reduced the water distance from Rock Island to Chicago by 419 miles. For a variety of reasons (well worthy of another blog entry) that didn’t happen.
The Hennepin, also known as the Illinois-Mississippi Canal, saw limited commercial use between November 1907 when the steamboat S.S. Marion successfully travelled the entire seventy-five miles of the completed canal and when the Corps of Engineers closed it in 1951. Today the canal is listed on the National Historic Register and is called the Hennepin Canal Parkway State Park, affording today‘s visitor scenic vistas and wide recreational opportunities.
1894 – The year the canal starts to become reality and the year my maternal great-grandfather, Carl C. Hansen, may have smoked a Havanna of his own when my grandmother was born.
1907 – The year the steamboat S.S. Marion passed mile 26 under Bridge 16 of the Hennepin Canal for the first time in November and created “a general jollification” causing the aforementioned grandmother to mark the occasion with a photograph. You see, she lived on the canal now – as the daughter of the overseer at Bridge 16, Carl C. Hansen.
(Submitted by Karen)