Quad Cities Museum Week 2016

Celebrate Quad Cities Museum Week (June 18-26th) with us by taking a look at the history of the associations between two of Davenport’s well-loved cultural and educational institutions: the Putnam Museum and Science Center and the Figge Art Museum.

The Davenport Academy of Sciences, predecessor to the Putnam, began December 14, 1867, when four amateur scientists and collectors of area natural history specimens met to discuss how they might advance knowledge in the scientific communities both locally and worldwide. The public’s first view of the Academy’s collections came in 1874, when member Mary Louisa Duncan Putnam arranged for their display in rented rooms in the Odd Fellows building on Brady Street. In honor of her dying son Joseph Duncan’s benefit from (and dedication to) the Academy, Mary worked tirelessly to raise funds for a museum building. (1)

This image from the RSSC Center’s  J. B. Hostetler collection shows the location of the Davenport Academy of Sciences at 700-704 Brady Street:

dplvm89-000603 Acad of Sci

When the museum opened in 1878, the visitors were invited to view not only the Putnams’ and other members’ specimen collections, but the first exhibition by the Art Association of Davenport.  Said the Association of the Academy: “[It] has given expression to a spirit of genuine philanthropy by providing, free of rent, in its new building, a commodious Art Gallery, expressly for and well suited to the purposes and needs of the Association.” (2) The Association also offered art classes in the Academy building through the 1880’s.

Another connection between the two museums was in the person of Charles August Ficke, the attorney whose donation of paintings to the City of Davenport formed the nucleus of what is today the Figge Art Museum’s collection. He was elected president of the Davenport Academy of Sciences in 1906, and contributed significantly its collections with anthropological and art objects he brought back from his many travels.



Ficke’s collection of paintings was not displayed at the Academy building, however.  The City agreed to renovate Battery B Armory building at 120 West 5th Street as exhibition space for his generous donation, making the Davenport Municipal Art Gallery one of the first municipal art galleries in the country, and the very first in Iowa. It opened in October of 1924.


When civic-minded individuals, the City of Davenport, and leaders of both the Academy of Sciences (now called the Davenport Public Museum) and the Art Gallery began to recognize that better facilities were needed to preserve and interpret their collections, plans were laid for a “community cultural campus” on the grounds of the former Koenig estate at 12th and Division Streets. The W. C. Putnam estate provided major support for the project.

This Municipal Art Gallery catalog from our ephemera collection shows the newly-minted campus in 1964. The Davenport Public Museum is to the left, the Gallery to the right:


The campus is certainly recognizable as today’s Putnam Museum and (renamed as such in 1974), the Art Gallery (or Davenport Museum of Art) having moved to the David Chipperfield-designed building at 225 West 2nd Street  in 2005 and renamed as the Figge.

Although the Putnam and the Figge now operate separately, special events such as Quad Cities Museum Week preserve the spirit of cooperation among museums and other centers of learning that began in Davenport in the latter part of the nineteenth century. And here at the Davenport Public Library, you can discover their past as well as their present: passes to the Putnam and the Figge are available for checkout any week of the year!

(posted by Katie)


(1) McDonald, Julie. The Odyssey of A Museum: A Short History of the Putnam Museum of History and Natural Science 1867-1992. Davenport: Putnam Museum of History and Natural Science, 1992.

(2) Art Association of Davenport. Catalogue of a Loan Collection of Pictures Forming the First Exhibition by the Art Association of Davenport… Davenport: Egbert, Fidlar, & Chambers, 1878.

Posted in Local History | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Davenporters of Note: Thomas J. Walsh

In the course of researching the people appearing in the portrait photographs in our J. B. Hostetler collection, we often discover interesting ways in which Quad-City notables are connected to the wider world.  A case in point is Thomas Joseph Walsh:

Thomas Joseph Walsh was born February 28, 1886 in Davenport, Iowa. His parents were Patrick T. and Catherine Beecher Walsh. He attended St. Mary’s School and graduated from St. Mary’s College in Kansas in 1906.

Thomas J. Walsh [ca. 1910's] Photographed by J. B. Hostetler

Thomas J. Walsh [ca. 1910’s] Photographed by J. B. Hostetler

He signed with the Chicago Cubs in 1906, shortly after graduating from St. Mary’s College and was a reserve catcher. Walsh played 3 innings over 2 games (August 15th and September 26th) and had just 1 time up at bat in his Major League Baseball career. He left at the end of the 1906 season to help with his family’s business, Walsh Construction Co. in Davenport.

By George Lawrence Company - Heritage Auctions, Public Domain

By George Lawrence Company – Heritage Auctions, Public Domain

Tom became president of Walsh Construction Co. after the death of his father in 1916. Under his direction, the company worked on  a variety of projects: railroads, bridges, industrial and office buildings, hard rock and soft ground tunnels, earth and concrete dams, dry docks, shipyard construction, shipbuilding, airfields, military construction, water supply and sewer systems and sewage disposal plants. Some of the most notable projects include: the Queens Midtown Tunnel in New York City (1940); New York Central Railroad terminal in Buffalo, NY (1929); The Grand Coulee Dam (1937); and the United Nations Building in New York City (1952). Local projects include ALCOA Davenport Works (1954), The Kahl Building (1920) and the Davenport Bank & Trust Building (1927).

Mrs. Tom (Gabrielle Bilderbach) Walsh with couple's 4 oldest children: Kathleen, Thomas Jr., Gabrielle and Rosemary. [ca. 1916] Photographed by J.B. Hostetler.

Mrs. Tom (Gabrielle Bilderbach) Walsh with couple’s 4 oldest children: Kathleen, Thomas Jr., Gabrielle and Rosemary. [ca. 1916] Photographed by J.B. Hostetler.

Thomas Walsh married Gabrielle Bilderback on August 16, 1911 in Chicago. They had 6 children, Kathleen (Mrs. A. Linton Lundy, Jr.) was born July 11, 1912; Thomas, Jr. was born October 23, 1913; Gabrielle was born June 12, 1915; Rosemary (Mrs. Dan W. Quail) was born October 23, 1916; Eleanor (Mrs. John Meyer) was born March 6, 1923; and Sheila (Mrs. Brian S. Murdock) was born January 17, 1928. The family lived at 833 College Avenue in Davenport.

T.J. Walsh died in Naples, Florida on March 16, 1963.

(posted by Cristina)


Baseball-Reference.com. n.d. http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/w/walshto01.shtml (accessed June 16, 2016).

Sunday Times-Democrat. “T.J. Walsh Dies; Long A Builder.” March 17, 1963: 1.

Posted in Local History | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Splash into DPL’s Summer Reading Program!

The Davenport Public Library’s Summer Reading Program “On Your Mark, Get Set, Read!” begins this Saturday, June 4th. The theme this year is sports and fitness activities of all kinds. Visit the Richardson-Sloane Special Collections Center at the Main Street Library to view images and other resources on the history of recreation in Davenport!

These photographs from our collection show Davenporters enjoying summertime swimming at various locations and points in the past:

dplVM89-000301 Credit Island

Swimming Beach at Credit Island, 1920’s


dpl2003-09.75.770.64 Municipal Natatorium

Municipal Natatorium, 1930’s? 106 South Main Street. Check out our blog post on the controversial start to the Municipal Natatorium in 1921.


dplVM89-000637 Bathing Beauties

“Bathing Beauties,” 1930’s?


dplvm89-000289 Fejervary Park Pool

Fejervary Park Swimming Pool, July 2, 1957

We invite you to immerse yourself in reading — about local history or any other subject –this summer! Kids, teens, and adults can sign up for “On Your Mark, Get Set, Read!” at any of the library’s three locations. Sports-themed prizes are on offer! Make a splash and race to the finish line!

(posted by Katie)


Posted in Local History | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Musical Memories: Quad City Symphony Orchestra celebrates 100 Years

The Quad City Symphony Orchestra, or the QCSO, is celebrating its 100th anniversary! This makes the group one of only twenty longest-established, continuously operating orchestral associations in the United States. That’s a big deal! Many orchestras may claim a longer history, but to run continuously is no easy feat — especially when you consider that they were still fairly young (only 14) when the Great Depression hit.

The group is currently made up of an average of 80 musicians and has had only 11 directors in its history. Music education is a priority for the QCSO, and many of the musicians are also faculty at the following institutions: University of Minnesota (Minneapolis), University of Iowa (Iowa City), St. Ambrose University (Davenport), Augustana College (Rock Island), and Western Illinois University (Macomb). On top of that, for over 50 years, music education outreach groups have performed for Iowa and Illinois students. They even founded a youth version of the orchestra in 1958, and have since added four more opportunities for area youth to participate!

If you want to hear more about its history, hop on over to their 100 years 100 stories page. You can listen to recordings of memories, musical performances, and other important events in the QCSO’s long history. Don’t forget to check out the schedule for upcoming performances; there’s sure to be some history-making moments in store for their 100th anniversary celebrations.

Tri-City Symphony Orchestra radio broadcast live from the Masonic Temple in Davenport, January 31, 1948

Tri-City Symphony Orchestra radio broadcast live from the Masonic Temple in Davenport, January 31, 1948

Want to learn more about our Quad City Symphony Orchestra here at the Richarsdon-Sloane Special Collections Center?  Visit us and check out these resources:

  • 2009-08 Esther Mae Plumb Collection – photographs from a scrapbook kept by a renowned local vocalist who performed with the QCSO
  • A collection of Tri-City Symphony Orchestra programs, 1916-present
  • Several recipe books sold as fundraisers for the Symphony
  • McDonald, Donald. A History of the Quad City Symphony Orchestra Celebrating the Art of Sound for Seventy-Five Years. Bawden Printing, Inc., 1989.   SC MCD 784.2
  • Johnson, James Melvin. The history of the Tri-city Symphony Orchestra of Davenport, Iowa, Rock Island and Moline, Illinois, 1976.  SC 785 Joh
  • Tri-City Symphony Orchestra (Davenport, Iowa). Notes and records of the first years of the Tri-City Symphony, 1916-1929. [Davenport, Iowa : Tri-City Symphony Orchestra], 1929.  SC 785 Tri
  • Music CD: Quad City Symphony Orchestra.  SC CD 784.2 QUA
  • Videorecording: KWQC-TV6 news 02/05/05 6pm news story : QC symphony performance.  SC VC 070.43 KWQ

(posted by Jessica)

Posted in Local History | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Friends Forever: Buchanan School Graduates 1916

The month of May is passing quickly this year and – as usual – the end of school is suddenly upon us. For many, this will include the excitement of high school graduation.

We wanted to take a moment to remember when the excitement of graduation for many in Davenport was graduating from 8th grade. For many students in the early 1900s, 8th grade graduation marked the end of their school experience.

While some students would continue on to Davenport High School, others would start work, join the family farm, apprentice for a career, or become helpers at home.

One can only imagine the future ahead for the 8th grade graduating class of Buchanan School one hundred years ago.


Ramona Cheney Tulloch (middle row, far left), daughter of Burton Henry Cheney and Anna Susan Moore


Accession #2015-04 Donated by Diane Sears Brigode

First Row L to R:
Erwin Mangels
Edward Britt
Anna Storck
Frieda Moeller
Lester Grapengeter
Hugo Johannsen

Middle Row:
Romala Cheney
Leona Welzenbach
Wesley Peterson
Anna Mittlebusher
John Reimer
Olga Lundvall
Lulu Schroeder

Alta Wunder
Walter Beuse
John Sparbel
Hazel Cissell

Friends Forever of Buchanan
Jan 1916
No. 14 Buchanan School
6th & Oak St.
Davenport, Iowa

Posted in Local History | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Fort Armstrong Bicentennial

Two hundred years ago this week, on May 10, 1816, the construction of Fort Armstrong began on the west side of what is now Arsenal Island.

The Special Collection Center’s archival materials collection includes an early depiction of the fort: an engraving from Charles A. Dana’s The United States Illustrated (New York: Hermann J. Meyer, [1853?]).

Fort Armstrong engraving jpg

And our photograph collection includes an image of the blockhouse built in 1916 for the centennial of the fort’s construction:

dplVM89-000885 Fort Armstrong

Posted in Local History | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Floods of 1916: Another watery crest rising in Fishertown

Just three months after the February flood of 1916 the Mississippi River and its tributaries once again began to climb upward as late melting ice in the north and recent local rains caused the Mississippi to once again creep out of its banks. The first official warning was sent out on April 28, 1916 as the weather bureau issued a flood warning reaching from LeClaire to Muscatine. Anyone in low-lying areas was to head to higher ground once again.(1)

By May 1, 1916 the Davenport Democrat and Leader was predicating the flood stage would be at its highest since the flood of 1892 when the river reached 19.4 feet. As of the morning of May 1st, the river was at 14.3 feet and nearing the flood stage of 15 feet.

Flood stage was reached by the early morning hours of May 3, 1916 when the river measured in at 15.1 feet and rising. That passed the flood stage of February 1916 which crested at 15 feet. Early flood preparation began as bricks and rocks were piled near the train tracks to try to keep water from reaching them near Brady and Main Streets. Crushed rock was also placed in River Front Park, later renamed LeClaire Park, to protect the new grass and flowers that were beginning to grow.(2)

By the evening of May 3rd the water was still rising and the D. R. I & N. W. train tracks along the river were nearly impossible for trains to pass through. Factories along the Mississippi were also beginning to experience the effects of flood waters as trains were no longer able to reach the factory buildings and water began to creep into basements and first floors.

Fishertown, also known as Shantytown, in west Davenport, hit hard by the first flood of 1916 was once again partially underwater. Some residents moved their belongings up to higher ground while others chose to move their possessions onto the roofs of their homes in hopes the flood would not reach that high.(3)

By early morning of May 5th the trains were no longer able to run. A one-mile stretch was under 10 inches of water near west Davenport. Companies like City Fuel, the Western Flour Mills, and the Davenport Slaughtering and Rendering Company were covered with water and forced to close. River Front Park was covered with water; the crushed rock not holding the water back. The water had reached 15.4 feet when checked that morning.(4)

The crest finally came late in the evening of May 5th, when the Mississippi River reached 15.9 feet. A crest slightly below the 16 feet predicted by the local weather service. Rains delayed the river from dropping quickly, but it did slowly recede back into its banks over the next week or two.

The May flood of 1916 did not cause a great deal of damage to local businesses. The hardest hit downtown area was the new River Front Park. Once again, it was the west side of Davenport near Fishertown that was burdened with the greatest loss to homes and possessions.

As of May 5, 2016, the May 5th crest of 1916 is listed as number 38 in the top 52 historic crests of the Mississippi River at Rock Island by the National Weather Service.

(1) The Daily Times, April 28, 1916. Pg. 7.

(2) The Daily Times, May 2, 1916. Pg. 12.

(3) The Davenport Democrat and Leader, May 3, 1916. Pg. 1.

(4) The Davenport Democrat and Leader, May 4, 1916. Pg. 1.

(posted by Amy D.)

Posted in Local History | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Partying in Pretzel Alley

This week’s blog celebrates National Pretzel Day (Tuesday, April 26th) by spotlighting a turn-of-the-20th-century Davenport institution: Pretzel Alley.

The alley was and is just across from the Davenport Public Library’s Main Street location, running from Main to Harrison Street in the block between 3rd and 4th Streets. But Pretzel Alley was much more than just a place. It was a lively social club, starting out as a break-time and after-hours gathering of men who worked at the H. Korn Baking Company on Harrison Street — hence the “pretzel” moniker — and other businesses nearby.

The five Korn brothers (Billy, Charlie, Otto, Harry, and John) and Alex Anderson were among the founders of the group. Merrymaking was the main order of business, fueled by liquid refreshments. Regular singing, dancing, and practical joking enticed more and more local fellows to join the happy fraternity, eventually including influential businessmen and other community leaders. The Pretzel Alley gang formed a band and a choir, and so many members played on the Davenport baseball team that it was popularly renamed “The Pretzels.”

The official organ of the organization was the Pretzel Alley Wurst-Blatt, published by Alex Anderson, Davenport Democrat employee and the”first, last and only mayor” of the “free and Independent Commonwealth of Pretzel Alley, State of Scott County, U.S.A.” (1) The organization’s annual elections were grand occasions that attracted much attention in the local press. Despite the efforts of many “challengers,” Anderson was elected mayor of Pretzel Alley several years in a row with his famous slogan “Can’t Lose.” Even when he moved across the Mississippi to work as a Rock Island hotelier, Anderson’s leadership continued.AAndersonobit2

William H. “Billy” Korn, treasurer of the H. Korn Baking Company took Pretzel Alley’s party philosophy to the state and national levels when he announced the formation of the “Salty Order of Pretzels” at the Master Bakers’ of Iowa convention. Declaring himself the leader, or “Big Twist,” he hoped to add a bit of fun to these meetings. (2)KornIn 1910, when the City Council changed the alley’s name to “Library Lane” to legally accommodate the Hotel Davenport’s saloon, and the “moisture exchanges” on the alley closed, “Pretzel Alley turned up its toes, leavin’ nothin’ behind but memories of the good old days.” (3)

(posted by Katie)


(1) Purcell, W. L. “Pretzel Alley.” Them Was the Good Old Days. [Davenport, Iowa]: Purcell Printing Company, 1922. 211-216.

(2) “Down in pretzel alley: Davenport’s salty thoroughfare was nationally famous in early 1900’s.” Davenport Democrat January 11, 1955: 5.

(3) Image from A Portfolio of Cartoons as Published by the Davenport Times, 1912-13. [Davenport, Iowa]: Davenport Times, 1913?

Posted in Local History | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Genealogy Night this Sunday! Reserve your place by 12:00pm Friday!

This Sunday, April 24, 3:00 – 8:00 p.m. the Richardson-Sloane Special Collections Center will be hosting Genealogy Night.


Come take advantage of our closed library to research genealogy. Our staff will be available for guidance or to help you locate materials in the library or on the computers. Other genealogists will be available to bounce ideas off of and share the journey. And as always, there will be yummy food to help sustain you through your research!

This event is $10/person. RSSCC is located at the Davenport Public Library – Main Street branch at 321 Main Street, Davenport.

Parking is located on the streets around the library or in the lot on the corner of 4th and Brady Streets. Please use the 4th Street door to enter as the main library building is closed. Staff will be there to greet you!

Now all you need to do is gather your family genealogy notes, sharpen some pencils, and get a flash drive ready to go. The fun, food, and family history is waiting for you in RSSCC.

Posted in Local History | Leave a comment

The Life of a Librarian…Imagine the Possibilities!

In honor of National Library Week, we searched the archives of the Davenport Public Library to find this image of the library booth at Davenport High School’s Career Day on May 6, 1949. Librarian Myrtle Dunlap discusses career opportunities at public, school, and special libraries with these three students:

Library booth at Davenport High School's Career Day [06 May 1949] Myrtle Dunlap, Davenport High School Librarian

Library booth at Davenport High School’s Career Day [06 May 1949] Myrtle Dunlap, Davenport High School Librarian

Myrtle Nellie Dunlap was born October 1st, 1903 in Cornland, Illinois. She worked as a librarian at Davenport Public Library in the 1930’s, then as a school librarian at Sudlow, Monroe, and Davenport High School from the late 1930’s through the mid 1950’s. During World War II, she was a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy and worked at the Bureau of Supplies and Accounts in Washington, DC. Ms. Dunlap died on January 22nd, 1982 and is buried at Camp Butler National Cemetery in Springfield, Illinois.

(posted by Cristina)


Polk’s Davenport (Iowa) City Directories, 1931-1957.

National Cemetery Administration. U.S. Veterans Gravesites, ca. 1775-2006 [database on-line]. Prove, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2006. Original Data: National Cemetery Administration. Nationwide Gravesite Locator.

Ancestry.com. Iowa, World War II Bonus Case Files, 1947-1954 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014. Original data: WWII Bonus Case Files. State Historical Society of Iowa, Des Moines, Iowa.

Posted in Library, Local History | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment