The Latest Craze: The Locomobile is here!

May 2, 1900 found many citizens of Davenport waiting with great anticipation. Would it happen? Could it happen? All eyes were fixed on Mason’s Carriage Works at 122-124 East 4th Street. Their patience was soon rewarded.

The day before, the crates had arrived. Inside were parts to a Stanhope Locomobile made by the Locomobile Company of America in Watertown, Massachusetts.

The first automobile in the Tri-Cities had arrived.

One of two Stanhope models available in 1900. The Hartford Courant, September 17, 1900. Pg. 7

The proud owner of the Stanhope was Baron Otto Von Schaezler of Davenport. An actual member of the German nobility, Baron Schaezler had immigrated to the United States in 1882. By 1900, he was an independently wealthy (from his family fortune) man living in Davenport with his wife Mabel. Schaezler worked as a bookkeeper and had several side businesses as well.

The Stanhope was a two-seater with a boiler and engine behind the seats. The gasoline tank was fitted underneath the passengers’ feet. The less expensive models came without the carriage canopy that could be folded up or down depending on the weather. The vehicle was also fitted with 28-inch wheels with pneumatic tires. The locomobile could move forward, but it could not be put in reverse! It did have the ability to go uphill, which must have been a plus considering the landscape in and around Davenport.

At that time, an automobile would be shipped in pieces and the local carriage works would assemble it. The employees at Mason’s were able to put the locomobile together quickly enough that a test drive took place that very evening.

The Baron started the vehicle, waited for the water to start steaming, and then set off. Sadly, the first drive ended quickly because not enough steam could be generated; the Baron and his assistant were forced to push the Stanhope back to Mason’s.

The next day, a boiler repair expert was brought in to work on the vehicle. After a few more failed drives, the automobile was finally off and running, or at least limping, along.

One of two Stanhope models available in 1900. The Hartford Courant, September 17, 1900. Pg. 7

Three days later, the pieces of Mr. Claus Bischoff’s automobile arrived in town and the Tri-City Carriage Works put it together. It seems a new craze was taking hold in Davenport.

The first automobile race in the city took place that summer. The Baron and Mr. J. B. Richardson were set to compete at the Mile Track, where horses usually raced, on July 19th. Expectations were high, and the excitement mounted as Richardson’s vehicle failed to appear until two days before the race!

Alas, Richardson’s auto stopped working the night before the race; it could not be repaired. But all was not lost! Mr. Charles Moore stepped up and challenged Baron Von Schaezler’s locomobile to a race against his super-fast…bicycle.

So that’s how it happened: the first automobile race in Davenport was actually between a steam-propelled “horseless carriage” and a bicycle. The crowd was surprised and delighted when the Stanhope, driven by the Baron’s brother-in-law Will H. Canniff (with the Baroness Mabel Von Schaezler by his side), rolled up to the starting line next to Moore and his bicycle.

The 2-minute-3-second-long mile race was considered a dead heat, but there were those convinced that Moore would have won if he could have maneuvered his bicycle around the locomobile.

After the race, Baron Von Schaezler was approached by wealthy coal businessman W. J. Haskell of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Haskell wanted to purchase the Stanhope from the Baron on the spot, and he did, for $1,000. He then started for home with Canniff beside him in the passenger seat so he might have help learning how to drive the locomobile. It took them 6 1/2 hours to cover 75 miles of county roads from Davenport to Cedar Rapids.

Haskell owned the locomobile for several years before donating it to the State Historical Society of Iowa in 1927 (Accession #1559 B). Judging by the pictures in the museum’s catalogue, we guess it was either a Stanhope Model #3 (with canopy, $900) or #2 (without canopy, $750).

There is no record of Baron Von Schaezler’s next automobile purchase — perhaps he preferred the more reliable horse and carriage in the end. But the automobile craze had taken over nonetheless. Business at Mason’s Carriage Works and similar establishments turned brisk as owners of both traditional and newfangled conveyances required service.

The Davenport Democrat, August 27, 1900. Pg. 4

If only we knew what became of Moore’s bicycle!

(posted by Amy D.)


  • The Davenport Democrat, May 1, 1900. Pg. 4
  • The Davenport Democrat, May 3, 1900. Pg. 7
  • The Daily Times, May 5, 1900. Pg. 5
  • The Davenport Democrat, May 10, 1900. Pg. 7
  • The Daily Times, May 18, 1900. Pg. 5
  • The Daily Times, July 14, 1900. Pg. 6
  • The Davenport Morning Star, July 18, 1900. Pg. 6
  • The Davenport Morning Star, July 20, 1900. Pg. 7
  • The Daily Times, July 20, 1900. Pg. 6
  • The Davenport Democrat, July 20, 1900. Pg. 4
  • The Davenport Democrat, July 23, 1900. Pg. 5
  • The Daily Times, July 25, 1900. Pg. 6
  • Davenport Weekly Republican, July 25, 1900. Pg. 3
  • The Hartford Currant, September 17, 1900. Pg. 7
  • The Daily Times, July 21, 1930. Pg. 3
  • The Daily Times, July 11, 1936. Pg. 78
  • The State Museum of Iowa.
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The May Dawn Bird Concert

For the better part of the last century, Quad-City area birders looked forward to this day, the first Saturday in May, to enjoy the May Dawn Bird Concert. This unique springtime event was started by J.H. Paarman of the Davenport Academy of Sciences in 1924, who “insisted that some of the finest bird music was to be heard in their waking song at dawn before they started on the routine of hunting food for breakfast.” (“May Bird Dawn Concert to Be Given,” Daily Times (Davenport, Iowa), April 25, 1931, p. 9).

Participants would hike in small groups along the shores or through the woods of Davenport’s Credit Island (flood conditions permitting) to hear and see spring migrating birds in the earliest hours of the day. Humans could make reservations ahead of time for their breakfasts.

The RSSC Center is fortunate to have among its archival collections the papers of Dr. Herbert James “Jim” Hodges (Acc#2014-03), one of the founders of the Tri-City Bird Club. Because his group jointly sponsored the May Dawn Bird Concert with the Davenport Public Museum (earlier the Academy of Sciences, later the Putnam) beginning in 1950, the collection includes plenty of information about the event specifics over the years. Below is a report on the species sighted at the 1956 Concert, a sheet handed out to participants in 1957, and an announcement of the event in the 1960 Tri-City Bird Club Bulletin.

Club programs like these from the 1950s listed the events for the year, including the May Dawn Bird Concert.

A brief history and purpose of the May Dawn Bird Concert is given in this 1962-1963 “Year Book.”

The annual Bird Concert continued after the Tri-City Bird Club became the Quad City Audubon Society in 1976, and the event was held on into the 1990s.

Serving often as a leader of the May Dawn Bird Concert hikes was just one of many ways Jim Hodges expressed his passion for birds and birding. He kept extensive field notes, including these he jotted down in 1944 at the age of 15:

He also published over 50 articles on birding in scientific journals and was an avid bird photographer. The slides in the Hodges collection merit another blog post altogether!

In addition to his papers, we have on our shelves these titles on birds authored by Hodges: The Bird Life of the Quad-City Area , 1950 (SC 598.2 Hod) and The Breeding Birds of the Upper Mississippi Valley: A Summary and Checklist, 2005 (SC 598.0977 Hod).

The RSSC Center also has other publications on Scott County and QCA bird life by local authors, including those by Hodges’ fellow Tri-City Bird Club member and Davenport Public Museum curator Peter C. Petersen, Jr., and by J. H. Paarman, the founder of the May Dawn Bird Concerts.

Get outside early one of these May mornings and hear this year’s concert for yourself, visit us at the Davenport Public Library, and check out the Putnam Museum’s exhibit Birds and You!

(posted by Katie)

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He “Spoke for the Trees” of Davenport

What better way to celebrate Earth Day 2021 and the flowering of spring than to feature this charming addition to our collection, the “Therapeutic Chart for Street Trees,” by Philip Hunter Tunnicliff.

According to the author’s foreword, the chart was created in September 1941 for “the Davenport Park Board in its civic ministry of street trees” but especially for “the pure joy of doing.” It is a guide to the diseases and pests commonly suffered by trees in the city and environs, along with descriptions of the recommended treatments for each. An index, organized by genus, then the scientific name of the affliction, provides the reader with the disease’s common name and directs them to a square in one of four (and a half) pages of hand-colored illustrations.

Tunnicliff concludes his work with this amusing drawing, featuring his guiding philosophy in the care of trees: “An ounce of anticipation is worth a pound of realization” (a paraphrase of Benjamin Franklin’s saying, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”).

The 25-year-old dedicated his work to his superior, W. H. Romine, the Davenport Park Board Commission Superintendent. A 1935 graduate of Moline High School, Tunnicliff studied landscape design at Cornell College and Iowa State College before beginning work as a landscape designer for the City.

This list of trees looks to be about the same vintage — and is presented with the same sense of humor. Tunnicliff described the trees as if people, with Christian names and nicknames, and noted: “After barely surviving the rigors of winter, one can scarcely blame them for leaving in the spring, and after facing the scalding sun all summer, it is no wonder that in the fall they begin to turn.” These “citizens” also had occupations: “one was a holder of banks, another stored waters, and still others manufactured medicines, dyes, and paper, or reclaimed land.”

Tunnicliff was employed by the City of Davenport for just under two years; in the spring of 1942, he was drafted into the U.S. Army. He served for four years, designing and planting “headquarters, stables and military prison areas,” and achieving the rank of lieutenant. (“Philip H. Tunnicliff, Landscape Designer, Begins Practice Here.” Daily Times, Davenport, Iowa, 11 Mar 1947)

After the war, Tunnicliff returned to Davenport and in March 1947 started a landscape design practice. These advertisements are from the 18 Jul 1948 Democrat and Leader and the 14 Jun 1949 Daily Times:

These are drawings for some of Tunnicliff’s earliest jobs, as reproduced in his Tunnicliff Tales: A History of the Tunnicliff Family and its Midwest Environs (Davenport, Iowa: P. Tunnicliff, 1981), Call No. SC 929.2 Tun:

Tunnicliff Tales also includes drawings he made during his service as a Captain in the Korean War. From the early 1950s until his death in 1984, Philip H. Tunnicliff was the owner and president of Tunnicliff Surveyors & Engineers, with offices in the Putnam Building. In our collection of historical City of Davenport materials, we also have blueprints for the work the firm did for the Levee Commission in the 1960s. Yet we cannot claim to have any work of Tunnicliff’s more delightful than the “Therapeutic Chart for Street Trees!”

(posted by Katie)

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Happy Anniversary Davenport City Hall!

Last week we posted a selection of close-up images of a local building that is celebrating the 125th anniversary of its dedication this week. That building is Davenport City Hall.

From the opening of the eleven construction bids on December 27, 1894, Davenporters eagerly awaited their new City Hall. Some were disappointed when the Mayor and City Council elected to have the building built of Bermea (Ohio) sandstone instead of red stone. The Romanesque style building designed by local architect John W. Ross would soon win them over and many citizens stopped by the construction site to watch the new building take shape.

The Morrison Contracting and Manufacturing Company of Pueblo, Colorado won the bid to build the structure. By mid-march 1895, the company was fencing off the construction area as huge pieces of sandstone were shipped to the area. The bid required all pieces of stone to be cut and prepared on site; that meant the construction area had to be large enough to accommodate both the storing and cutting of the stone as well as the structure itself.

New Public Works truck outside City Hall c. 1950s.

By April 1895, foundation work had begun and the building began to take shape.

The contract deadline was for the Morrison Company to have the structure completed by December 1896. With good weather and no supply problems, the building was actually completed in April 1896.

The public dedication was held on April 14, 1896, with all citizens invited to attend the speeches and tour the new building. Quarter-sawn White Oak filled every inch of the building except the new prison cells. Furniture of the same wood had been custom-made locally by the W. H. Voss Manufacturing Company and the Ohmer Company of Dayton, Ohio.

Davenport Police Department Radio Room inside City Hall. Photo courtesy of the Davenport Police Historic Association.

Nearly every office area had large windows to let in sunlight. The latest gas and electric lighting fixtures were installed to illuminate building spaces on dark days and evenings. A modern toilet and bath room was located near the police department. Even an electric elevator was planned to help people reach the third floor City Council chamber (this was not added until 1950).

Third Floor Council Chamber c. 1940s. The electrical lights shown were once electric and gas when the building opened in 1896. The Council Chamber was moved to the first floor during the 1979 – 1980 renovations.

City Hall was built at a cost of $79,997.50. By the time of the dedication, $50,000 of the cost had already been paid in full.

Public Works employees c. 1946. The immense size of the windows is noted in this picture. Natural sunlight and fresh air were considered two benefits for employees when the building was originally built.

Davenport City Hall has adapted over the years to fit the needs of a growing city. In 1963, an addition was built on the north side of the building to add office space. A $2.6 million dollar renovation was done in 1979-1980 that completely changed and modernized the inside of the building.

Davenport Police officers standing outside the 4th Street Police Station entrance once located in Davenport City Hall. Photo c. 1920s courtesy of the Davenport Police Historic Association.

The police department is now located across Harrison Street from City Hall, while Public Works has moved farther north, off Brady Street.

C. 1920. Davenport City Hall being cleaned from the soot that had collected on the stone since it was built in 1895 – 1896.

It seems that after 125 years, Davenport City Hall is still going strong. Happy Anniversary City Hall!

(posted by Amy D.)


  • Daily Leader, December 27, 1894. Pg. 4
  • The Morning Democrat, January 18, 1895. Pg. 4
  • The Morning Democrat, April 15, 1896. Pg. 2
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Happy Anniversary to ??

April 14th marks the 125th anniversary of this Davenport building’s dedication.

Look carefully at these selections from interior and exterior views of the building. Can you identify it and tell us where it is located? Let us know!

Hint: Not all the features pictured here still exist in the building today.

Come back next week for the answer — with the complete photographs and the full story of the building’s dedication!

(posted by Amy D.)

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Happy Trails to Shelley, Chris, and Pat!

Today is retirement day for 3 of our long-time staff members who are taking advantage of the City of Davenport’s early retirement incentives. We are sad to see them go but grateful that they get to leave on their own terms so they can fully enjoy the next chapter in their lives. They have seen the library change and grow over the years as they have. We would love to share a little bit about these coworkers who-will-be-missed!

Shelley Sterbenz, Senior Clerk, Customer Service Department

Shelley (Wheeler) Sterbenz worked as a page at the Annie Wittenmyer branch while she was a student at Davenport North High School. She left us to attend the University of Northern Iowa after graduating High School in 1991. Shelley came back in June 2006 to work in the Customer Service Department at the newly opened Fairmount Street branch. She has worked at all of our branches and has represented the Library in many outreach opportunities in the community. She is one of the Library’s greatest cheerleaders. Shelley is leaving us to continue being World’s Greatest Mom to 3 very athletic kiddos and spend more time rooting for her favorite teams. We don’t think this is the last we’ll see of Shelley!

Chris Holifield, Acquisitions Clerk, Technical Services

Christine (Brown) Holifield worked as a page at the Library with her best friend, Rita, while they were students at Davenport West High School in the late 1960s. She attended Marycrest College and Southeast Missouri State University. Chris came back in September 1984 and worked as Principal Clerk in the Circulation Department. She was promoted to Acquisitions Clerk in the Technical Services Department in June 1995. She had countless meetings with book vendors, opened a gazillion boxes, and beat our ILS acquisitions module into submission. Chris is leaving us to continue being World’s Greatest Grandma to her adorable grandkids, doting on her husband, watching her favorite shows with her cats, and hopefully start traveling again soon.

Pat Richardson, Principal Clerk, Special Collections

Patricia (Luckett) Richardson started working at the newly built Main Street library just a couple of weeks after it opened, in November 1968. In 1974 she was tasked to work with the Federal Library Depository Program. She’s been stamping Government Documents ever since, while also helping patrons with genealogy and local history research. She is one of our best primary sources for local history. There have been many times when we’ve asked her if she knew of a person we are researching and they usually end up having been married to one of her relatives. Pat is reluctantly leaving us to continue traveling the world hopefully very soon. We have no idea how we’re going to survive without her.

Best wishes to Shelley, Chris & Pat!

(posted by Cristina)

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In Memoriam: Andrea (Pingel) Godke

We are heartbroken by the loss of our dear friend and co-worker Andrea Godke, who died this past Saturday, March 20, 2021, after a long and courageous battle with cancer.

Andrea Lea Pingel was born at 8:33 am on Tuesday, October 18, 1960, at St. Luke’s Hospital in Davenport, Iowa to Merle and Erma (Schlapkohl) Pingel of New Liberty, Scott County, Iowa. She attended North Scott High School in Eldridge and received an accounting degree from the American Institute of Commerce in Davenport in 1990.

Andrea began working in the Circulation Department at the Davenport Public Library on March 28, 1994. When the Fairmount Street Branch opened in 2005 she became part of the core group of staff that worked at that location. She put her accounting skills to use keeping track of overdue books. Andrea was an expert at her job and watching her work was like taking a master’s class in circulation procedures.

She was a longtime member of The Library’s Staff Association, helping to plan staff anniversary and retirement parties, hosting staff cookouts at her home, taking our empty pop cans back to the store for the deposit money, and collecting donations on our fundraising jeans days.

Andrea loved being outdoors and being active in many sports. She participated in various sand volleyball leagues with other current and former library staff. She was full of life and inspired everyone to get moving!

We will miss her impeccable work ethic, playful personality, and that beautiful smile that lit up the entire library.

(posted by Cristina)

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St. Joseph’s Day

March 19th marks the principal feast day for St. Joseph, the husband of Mary and earthly father of Jesus. According to some sources, the feast day has been observed since either the 10th or the 14th century. The life of Joseph is recognized across the globe and celebrated by many peoples. Local celebrations have occurred in Cedar Rapids in the Czech community there with parades and traditional dishes. This feast day happens during Lent, so it is sometimes a more solemn day of remembrance.

Since 1870, St. Joseph was declared as the patron of the universal church in Roman Catholicism by Pope Pius IX. Many places, churches, and schools bear his name. In appreciation of the Feast of St. Joseph, we would like to remember the history of a Davenport Catholic church that was dedicated to him in 1883.

The history begins in 1854 with Judge G.C.R. Mitchell and his wife, Rose A. generously gifted two lots of land located at Sixth and Marquette Streets for the building of a second Catholic church in Davenport. The church would be dedicated to St. Kunigunde (Kunigunda) who was born in Koerick, Luxemburg, and she was the wife of “Henry II of Germany and Holy Roman Emperor” (Duncan, 11). She was canonized in 1200 following her husband’s sainthood path.

The spring of 1855 brought the laying of rough-cut stone for the church proper with dimensions of 35 by 68 feet and 25 feet high and the three-room frame annex for the pastor’s living quarters. This was the same material used in the construction of the second St. Anthony’s in 1853. The original brick church was being used as a school.

According to The Daily Gazette published on May 27, 1856, St. Kunigunde was dedicated as the new German Catholic Church on May 25 in the lower part of the city. Reverend M. Donelan, the parish priest of Rock Island, blessed this church and its new parish.

St. Kunigunde’s first pastor was Father Michael J. Flammang. Father Flammang was born on December 6, 1825, in Koerick, Luxemburg. He emigrated to the United States in 1853. Soon after his studies were completed at Key West (Old Mt. St. Bernard’s Seminary in Dubuque) he was ordained into the priesthood by Bishop Mathias Loras. His first parish assignment was the German Catholics of Davenport and St. Kunigunde’s. After his three-year service to St. Kunigunde’s, he went to serve St. Donatus, Iowa where he died on December 6, 1883, at the age of 58.

The next priest to take Father Flammang’s place was Father J. B. Baumgartner. He served as pastor from May 23, 1857, to October 10, 1858. Unfortunately due to a lack of priests, the church was left without a pastor for a period of six months where services were temporarily suspended.

Image of Father Niermann taken in 1909 by the J.B. Hostetler Studio. Based on information in the 1910 census, a history of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, and an article in the Davenport Democrat and Leader, it seems definite that this is Father Anton Niermann at the time of his golden jubilee, March 1909, celebrating fifty years of his ordination to the priesthood. Father Niermann would be 77 years old at the time this photograph was taken.

The church’s search for a new pastor ended with the arrival of Father Anton Niermann. He was born to farmers in Munster, Westphalia on August 9, 1831. From an early age, his parents sought an education for him at which he excelled. Father Niermann learned of a community that needed his pastoral skills in Iowa through a local priest, Father William Emmonds who was visiting Germany at the time. Arriving in Dubuque on January 20, 1858, he was not yet ordained so he was sent to Carondolet Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri. Bishop Smythe, the successor to Bishop Loras who passed away the night the young priest arrived in Dubuque, ordained to enthusiastic and energetic Father Niermann on March 27, 1859. Father Niermann took on his new role as pastor of St. Kunigunde’s on April 2, 1859. Father Niermann became Monsignor Niermann by papal bull conferred on February 27, 1909. This coincided with his Golden Jubilee which was celebrated that same year. He retired in 1913 and died on December 10, 1914.

During this time, St. Kunigunde grew and flourished for fifty years. A new rectory, a 2 room schoolhouse, and a convent for the Sisters of Charity were built alongside the church. The addition of social organization grew the mission and activities of the church, such as in 1876, the church created a death and sick relief society. More changes were to come to this German Catholic church.

The advent of the Diocese of Davenport in 1881 brought with it Bishop McMullen as the first Bishop and planning for a new church building underway.

The Daily Democrat published an article on December 21, 1880, stating a new German Catholic Church was being built on the corner of Sixth and Marquette streets. It would replace the present St. Kunigunda’s as the congregation outgrew the old church. In another article published on November 27, 1882, in The Daily Gazette titled, “The Bishop’s Blessing”, the church was well on its way in the construction process. It was ready for its bells to be blessed and installed. The article also states that it was a brick structure with sandstone trimmings in the Gothic architectural style. It boasted 16 high stained glass windows, a 150-foot spire, and that “‘a large rose window ornaments the front center of the tower above the arch of the door-way'” (Duncan, 22). The architect of the church was Victor Huot. He mirrored it after the earlier Romanesque St. Mary’s (1867-69).

The bells of St. Joseph as another resplendent feature of the church cannot be forgotten as they were made by a firm in St. Louis and vary in size. The ringing of the bells was heard from several blocks away and sounded very melodious. A beautiful ceremony was conducted by the Right Reverend John McMullen, Bishop of Davenport, assisted by the Very Reverend H. Cosgrove, Deacon; Reverend D. Flannery, Sub-Deacon, and Reverend A. J. Schuete, Master of Ceremonies; Reverend Father A. Trevis, A. Niermann, and M. Flavin, of Davenport; F. Greve of Moline, and A. Liermann of Rock Island. The blessing was spoken in Latin and was “very impressive, particularly the forms used to symbolize the blessing of the bells” (“The Bishop’s Blessing”, 3).

On September 16, 1883, the new church was to be dedicated to St. Joseph. The old St. Kunigunda church building was to become a school. The church had a long history of offering educational services to its parishioners.

St. Kunigunde’s first school opened in 1861 with classes taught by Sister Mary Barbara Ess and 5 other Sisters from the Immaculate Conception Academy. The Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary ran the school for 35 years.

The School Sisters of St. Francis took over in 1897. In 1911, a new school was erected by architect Arthur Ebling with 8 large classrooms. At its peak in 1925, there were about 200 students. During Father Schoeningh’s time (1913-1926) a provision was made for students in need to continue their education. Girls were able to attend the Immaculate Conception Academy and boys went on to St. Ambrose Academy. In 1968 St. Joseph’s school merged with St. Mary’s and renamed Holy Trinity. The school and parish closed in 1999.

Image of St. Joseph Catholic School 8th Grade Graduates from 1927. The photograph was taken by J.M. Lenz. The image shows 17 students, 1 priest, 1 nun. The individuals pose with diplomas and flower baskets. Accession 2012-36.

We end this retrospective look on St. Kunigunda and St. Joseph’s Catholic Churches with an image of the centenary book published and edited by staff at the then St. Ambrose Academy in honor of the 100-year history of this parish. We hope that the next time you drive past St. Joseph that you take the time to ponder its rich history.

St. Joseph Parish, 1855-1956 edited by Francis W. J. Duncan with cover design and artwork by E. M. Catich. This history was published at St. Ambrose Academy in Davenport, Iowa.
SC 282 St


Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia. “St. Joseph.” Encyclopedia Britannica, Invalid Date.

Catholic Online. “St. Joseph – Saints & Angels.” Catholic Online,

Ducan, Francis W.J. St. Joseph Parish: 1855-1956. Davenport, Iowa: St. Ambrose Academy, 1956.

Dupuy, Michelle. “What Is St. Joseph’s Day? (And How You Can Celebrate in the Neighborhood!).” National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library, 16 Mar. 2016,

Hinrichs, John G., St. Joseph’s Parish. Unknown: Unknown, 1949.

Wehner, Nowysz, Pottschull, and Pfiffner. “St. Joseph’s Catholic Church.” Architectural/Historical Survey. 1983. Accessed on March 18, 2021.

(posted by Kathryn and Cristina)

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Ashes to Ashes: Iowa’s First Cremation

The Davenport Crematorium, or the Fairmount Crematorium as it is more commonly known, was the first crematorium in the state of Iowa. Located at 3902 Rockingham Road on the grounds of Fairmount Cemetery, this historic crematory still stands. According to the Davenport Crematorium entry in the National Register of Historic Places, it was the thirteenth established in the United States and it ranks as “the ninth oldest establishment of its type still in existence.”

The Northwestern Crematory Society (later changed its name to the Davenport Cremation Society) formed in 1885 to discuss the planning of the construction of and locating a proper site for a crematorium in the city. In 1889, the society commissioned F.G. Claussen, a member of the society and a local architect, to design the crematory. It is a 1 1/2 story Romanesque structure with an edifice of red brick walls resting on rubble-squared stone blocks. Some distinguishing features include stained glass, a transom window, a leaded glass door, and decorative brick corbelling along the roofline. In the National Register of Historic Places, there are details shared about the initial appearance of the crematory and its later changes.

In The Davenport Democrat and Leader on August 26, 1890, the article states that a proposition was received from the officers of the West Davenport Cemetery indicating there were grounds available to build there. The article clearly announces that it was under consideration, but “is by no means decided.”

The Crematory Society did select the West Davenport Cemetery as the future location of the crematory. Over the period when they began discussing building a crematory to the actual construction, the crematorium and the history of this practice of cremating the dead was featured in several newspaper articles. There was also a controversy about the location selected because there were burials that had to be moved. Both sides of the argument and ideas were presented, but the newspapers did promote the idea of cremation as a positive overall. The changes in how Western cultures were caring for their deceased was one consideration. Another was that the Society needed the support of the community members to build the crematory.

On October 23, 1890, The Davenport Democrat and Leader states that the brickwork of the crematory was complete and the other materials arrived and were only awaiting experts from Pennsylvania. On November 26, 1890, The Davenport Morning Star published an article entitled, “The Crematory: How the Process of Incineration is to be carried on” explaining in detail the construction and future methods of use of the crematorium.

“New Crematory.” The Davenport Democrat and Leader. October 23, 1890.

In November of 1890, the crematorium was ready for testing. The way they did this was cremating a sheep. The test and subsequent check of the equipment were successful.

On March 15, 1891, Otto Kocher became the first person to be cremated in the Davenport Crematorium. Over 200 people attended the second cremation west of the Mississippi River. According to the article “Dust to Dust” in The Daily Times, Kocher came to Davenport 18 years prior from Westphalia, Germany. Claussen spoke kind words about Otto in German. He expressly wished to be cremated. The first cremation was conducted without any incident and achieved the expected results.

The following year news was shared about the Cremation Society that six cremations occurred since March 1891 including Otto’s.

“The Cremation Society.” The Davenport Democrat and Leader. February 2, 1892.

In 1976, The Quad-City Times published an article revisiting the history of the Davenport Crematorium. The images in the article show the well-thought-out design and the attractive stained glass windows.

“An Acceptable Way of Death.” The Quad-City Times. November 21, 1976.

The image below features the cremation book receipts from the Fairmount Crematorium.


“Davenport Crematorium.” National Register of Historic Places Inventory. Accessed on March 10, 2021.

(posted by Kathryn and Cristina)

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In Memoriam: 1918 Influenza Pandemic

Davenport photographer J.B. Hostetler photographed 22-year-old Amanda Ploehn and 18-year-old Wilma Barnes in the summer of 1918. Sadly, both young women died just a few months later during the Influenza pandemic.

Davenport Democrat and Leader. Tuesday, December 31, 1918

270 residents of Davenport died as a result of complications from Influenza from October through December of 1918. It was a record year for Davenport with 1,453 deaths total. There were 143 more deaths than births reported for the year. The worst month was December with an average of 7 deaths per day for a total of 252.

Amanda Ploehn

The 1918 Davenport City Directory says Miss Ploehn worked as a maid for the Davenport Hospital at 326 East 29th Street. She was living with her grandparents, Gustave & Sophie Larsen at 1741 West 16th Street. Her obituary, published in the Davenport Democrat and Leader on December 13, 1918, states that her parents Claus & Dora Ploehn and siblings Albert, Herbert, Alma, and Hulda all lived on a farm in Willow Vale, North Dakota.

Amanda Ploehn died November 28, 1918, sadly, at the hospital where she had once worked. Her Iowa Death Record indicates she was employed at the Rock Island Arsenal at the time of her death.

Wilma Barnes

Like many young men and women of the time, Miss Barnes visited the Hostetler Studio to have her Senior portraits taken that Summer. She had just graduated from Davenport High School and was going to start teaching at the Oak Hill school in the Fall. Her charming personality made her immediately popular with her students, reported the Davenport Democrat and Leader on September 19, 1918, when she led an “excellent” musical program during a War Savings Stamps fundraiser at Oak Hill school No. 5 in Buffalo township.

Wilma Eleanor Barnes died December 12, 1918, at her home in Blue Grass, where she lived with her parents, William & Minerva Barnes, and brothers Chester and Rolland. One of the portraits that Hostetler took during that Senior portrait session was used for her obituary, published in the Davenport Democrat and Leader on December 13, 1918.

(posted by Cristina)

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