Happy 175th Birthday, Davenport!

The year 2011 marks the 175th anniversary of the founding of Sofa City – that’s right! In February of 1836 the official “Articles of Agreement” were drawn up, land was purchased from Antoine LeClaire, and a town was platted in May which was named DAVENPORT.

By the close of that year, 1836, seven cabins had been erected; crude structures but able to withstand the coming winter. The population was less than one hundred. Pioneer settlers named Hambaugh, Hibbert, Colton, Mitchell, Gordon, Eldridge, McIntosh, Bowling, Cook, Noel, LeClaire and Davenport stuck out the cruel cold to welcome spring. They celebrated with the first marriage ceremony in the little town and a new brick yard!

At the end of 1837, Davenport had fifteen or so houses and the population had spiked to about 160. This winter was kinder; spring was mild and beautiful, but the crop of immigrants to the tiny town was relatively small. There was little money and no produce with which to bring supplies to the struggling town. However things picked up in the spring of 1838 when some of the churches were able to organize, a school opened, the first printing press arrived and issued the “Davenport Iowa Sun” newspaper, and Mr. LeClaire laid out his “First Addition to the Town of Davenport” upon his “reserve”. This added two tiers of blocks to the town forming Harrison and Brady streets with a northern border of Seventh Street. The community was invigorated.

In 1839, Davenport was granted a town charter by the new Territory of Iowa. April brought the election of the first Mayor, Rudolphus Bennett. During the summer a brick home was erected by D. C. Eldridge on the northeast corner of Third and Main Streets. Roads now led in all directions from town, all the way to the Wapsipinicon River. A saw mill was in operation at the mouth of Duck Creek. Not bad for the first three years!

It is easy to forget these early pioneers and the hardships they endured; easy to take our liberties and luxuries for granted. People recognized this and rallied to celebrate Davenport’s centennial year of 1936 in high style with contests for slogans, poems, musical marches, longest whiskers and pageant queens. Even a centennial logo contest was held, the winner being William F. Skiles of 3004 Davenport Avenue.  The city directory lists Skiles as a draftsman who worked at the Rock Island Arsenal and the census notes he is 35 years with a wife, Arleen, and three small children.

Davenport Centennial Logo by William F. Skiles

Perhaps as he designed and drew this winning poster he imagined trying to raise three small children in one of the small, crude cabins, waiting for a warm spring, proudly taking his wife to church for the first time since they left the comforts of the east and embraced the wilderness that became their new home.  Skiles’ design may seem simplistic, but seventy-five more years have passed! Different pioneers have brought us to 2011 Davenport – great city, great life! Mr. Skiles’ image of pioneers silhouetted against the tall buildings of a modern city might not be simplistic at all. It might be the very essence of what we need to remember after 175 years.

That is part of our mission in the Richardson-Sloane Special Collections Center – keeping little pieces of history. Perhaps one day Mr. Skiles’ children might come to see the winning poster; to enjoy the part their father played in Davenport’s centennial.

Find a little piece of history at the library. We’ll be happy to help you as Davenport turns 175!

(posted by Karen)

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