Extraordinary Ordinances

Often overlooked on the library shelves, City Ordinances offer a unique exploration of a community’s history. The Richardson-Sloane Special Collections Center has a fine selection of published Revised Davenport City Ordinances on its shelves. Inside we learn how ward boundaries were adjusted over the years and when streets were paved. These ordinances are as common today as they were over one hundred years ago. Sometimes, though, we find ordinances that do not seem to stand the test of time as well. Listed below are a few examples of those ordinances from The Revised Ordinances of the City of Davenport, 1857. For space, some ordinances have been condensed to only one or two sections. Original spelling was also maintained. Enjoy!

Chapter VI: An Ordinance to prevent bathing in front of Davenport. Sect. 1 of 2. No person shall be allowed to go into the river to bathe, in front of the City of Davenport, after one half hour before sun-rise, and until half an hour after sun-set. Sect. 2 of 2. Any person violating the provision of this Ordinance shall, upon conviction thereof, pay a fine of five dollars for each offense. Passed and approved, June 24, 1843. While modesty may have played a part in this ordinance, the city had a bustling levee during this time with boats loading and unloading both passengers and cargo. It certainly would not have been safe to have people bathing in the water with all that activity.

Chapter XVI: An Ordinance to provide for the appointment by the City Council of… Sexton. Sec. 5 of 5. It shall be the duty of the Sexton to attend the City Cemetery at all hours when called upon, and shall dig and prepare graves in the usual way, the same five feet deep, and of sufficient length and breadth to admit the coffin (or rough box to contain it, if one should be used.). He shall keep a register… [where] they are buried. He shall see that all graves are properly filled up and rounded, and make a full report…to the City Council. He shall receive compensation therefore, for a person of ten years, or upwards, the sum of two dollars, and for children under ten years, the sum of one dollar and fifty cents, and if required to attend to the duties in the night time, he shall be paid one dollar additional for each grave dug. Passed and approved May 10, 1849. I thought this ordinance gave an interesting description of the duties involved with being the Sexton. This position has been phased out, but the City Cemetery still exists near downtown Davenport.

Chapter XIX: An Ordinance to prevent the increase of, and to prohibit dogs from running at large in the City of Davenport. Sec. 1 of 4. It shall not be lawful for any animal of the dog kind to run at large in the City of Davenport, from the first day of June until the first day of September of each year, unless the same be securely muzzled, so that no injury can possible result from the bite of such animal. While this may have been associated with an increase in rabies during warmer months, it makes one wonder about the rest of the year.

Chapter XXX: An Ordinance to prohibit Horses from running at large in the City of Davenport. Sect. 1 of 4. No horse, mare or mule above the age of six months, shall be permitted to run at large in the City of Davenport. Passed and approved December 4, 1851. I’m fairly certain that the city no longer allows any horse, mare or mule of any age to run at large.

Chapter XLI: An Ordinance providing for the abatement and removal of nuisances…and to regulate the use of sidewalks. Sect. 22 of 24. All dance-house, beer-houses, beer halls, houses of ill-fame, grog-shops, drinking saloons, where beer, ale, porter, cider, or alcoholic drinks, whether the same be alcohol in part, or mixed liquors by any other name, where people shall resort on the first day of the week (commonly called Sunday) for the purpose of drinking, dancing, card playing, games of amusement, wrestling, shooting, or where persons do assemble, whether with the intention or otherwise, on said day of the week, and shall dance, waltz, play cards, games of amusement, or conduct themselves in a boisterous manner, by making loud and unusual noises, or playing of musical instruments, are hereby declared unlawful, and such places, tenements, houses, and premises, are declared nuisances, and shall be abated as is herein provided by this ordinance, and if necessary, the Marshal…may command and use the police force …in preventing such nuisances on said first day of the week (commonly called Sunday). Passed and approved November 30, 1848, and May 15, 1855. This may be the only ordinance I have found so far that involves wrestling and waltzing – at least in the same section.

Chapter L: An Ordinance licensing Shows, Exhibitions, Performances, Concerts, Etc. Sect. 1 of 4. No person shall give any of the Shows…named in the next section, for pay, and to which license fees are affixed, unless they have a license therefor, signed by the City Clerk. Sec. 2 of 4. There shall be paid for Shows…the following fees to wit: 1st. For every Show of any wild beast, or beasts, fowls, or birds, or monsters, or freaks of nature, the sum of twenty dollars. 3d. For each performance, or attempt at performance of any feats of jugglery, slight of hand, or necromancy, the sum of ten dollars. Passed and approved August 27, 1847. While licensing is still important in city ordinances to the present, I’m not sure when the last performances of necromancy or monsters were licensed.

We hope you enjoyed a little peak into issues and concerns of the past!
(posted by Amy D.)

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