St. Katharine’s\St. Mark’s — A *Davenport* Tradition

Tomorrow is the anniversary of Rivermont Collegiate, that fine private school that, although it has spent the last few decades in Bettendorf, owes far more of its 124 years of history to Davenport.

It all began with Griswold College, which was established by the Episcopalian Diocese of Iowa in 1860 in the former buildings of Iowa College*on northern Main Street in Davenport. Kemper Hall, a boys’ prep school, was set up in the mid-1880s, presumably to provide appropriate students for Griswold.

In 1883, the Diocese received a legacy from Sarah Burr to establish a similar girls’ school.** The Diocese purchased gorgeous Cambria Place, the former residence of John L. Davies, and the surrounding five acres of land. On September 23, 1884, St. Katharine’s School opened.

St. Katharine’s was an immediate success.*** The next year, an annex was built, and in 1902, a chapel and a gymnasium were constructed under the supervision of the Episcopal Sisters of St. Mary. Five years later, the School acquired the Renwick Mansion, dubbing it St. Margaret’s House. The school continued to grow, as did its standing in the community.

One addition to the school had a more somber purpose. When America declared war on Germany in 1917, popular French teacher Marion Crandell resigned her position at the School and went overseas with the United States Christian Commission of the Y.M.C.A., believing that her language skills would be useful in aiding the troops. She served in France for only a short time before German artillery fire destroyed the building in which she’d taken shelter. Miss Crandell was the first American woman in active service killed in World War I. In 1923, the School bought the McCandless property as a memorial, opening the house as a faculty residence.

The Sisters of St. Mary ran the School until economic difficulties forced them to leave St. Katharine’s, and the school began moving towards becoming the more traditional type of private school. Fewer people were sending their daughters away to school, and in 1968, St. Katharine’s ended its boarding program. With this potential barrier to co-education out of the way, the School was free to merge with St. Mark’s, a boys’ school.

The newly christened St. Katharine’s/St. Mark’s School searched for new quarters, and found them in the palatial former home of Joseph Bettendorf. The School moved in 1973. Seven years later, the School became self-supporting when the mutual decision was made to part company with the Episcopal Diocese.

In 2001, to reflect the changes in the mission and culture of the School, St. Katharine’s/St. Mark’s changed its name to Rivermont Collegiate.

So, if one has a chance to visit the beautiful Bettendorf campus of Rivermont and see the educational standards that have been a tradition for almost a century and a quarter, just remember—

We started it!


*Which had moved to Grinnell, Iowa, some years earlier and was renamed, oddly enough, Grinnell College.

**Although they weren’t prepped for Griswold, which didn’t accept female students at the time.

*** Unlike Kemper Hall, which closed in ten years. Griswold College itself didn’t last too much longer, and in 1900, Davenporters—including women, for the first time–voted to purchase the site for a new city high school (present day Central High School). A new building was constructed on the land but Kemper Hall still stands today.

(posted by Sarah)

This entry was posted in Local History and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to St. Katharine’s\St. Mark’s — A *Davenport* Tradition

  1. drew boster says:

    Good morning,

    We are planning a 125th anniversary celebration, September 25,2009. The event will take place on campus, 1821 Sunset Dr, Bettendorf, Iowa. All alumni and friends of St. Katherine-St. Mark, Rivermont are welcome.

    Thank you
    Drew Boster—563-359-1366, ext. 306
    Director of Development

  2. Kate Schofer-Johnston says:

    I wish I had found this earlier…I wish i had known about it. Sorry to have missed this. By only 3 days!

  3. I’ve JUST found this article….a “bit” late unfortunately. How delightful… Karin Ficke, SKS Class of 1966.

  4. Gay Foster says:

    Very nicely done! Thank you.

  5. Rich Tamme says:

    I wish I would have found this site sooner. I was in the graduating class of 1970, one of the first 2 boys to graduate from St. Marks.

    • Gaynell Foster says:

      It’s been so long I hardly know what to say. Look me up on Facebook as Gaynell Foster. We have a group of alums from our years that gather there. Then search for St. Katharine’s School (on fb), and you’ll find pictures and people.

  6. Katharine Congdon says:

    My mom graduated from SKS c. 1958. She named me after the school. Nice to see this article.

  7. Just a side…… it’s spelled St. Katharine’s, not St. Katherine’s!! My grandmother graduated from here in 1900 and I graduated in 1966. I now live in the old library and our alums try to keep our memories and legend alive for the alums and their families.

  8. Gaynell Foster says:

    Hi! Just a note….several inaccuracies in the history, which I would be glad to correct…..if anyone cares!

    Thank you for the great article pointing out the “old”, Davenport school. So much history there. It was the site of Camp Huron, a Civil War Camp, the site of one of the first Christian masses spoken this side of the Mississippi in this region. Mass Mound commemorated the event from 1836. Much later, a cement alter was constructed. (This now sits at the Rivermont campus). I could ramble on! But thanks again!!

    • SCblogger says:

      Thank you so much for responding (and reading our blog too)! We always strive to use accurate primary resources, but know there may be other resources we have not seen. We greatly appreciate our readers helping us find new primary resources! If you would please email us any information or thoughts you have to we would love to hear from you. Your time is greatly appreciated!

  9. marcella j edzards says:

    My husband found this site for me. He thought it would be a bit of nostalgia and it certainly was. I was a boarding junior at St. Katharines [this spelling was drilled into our heads] from 60 to 61. One of the schools rituals was a May Day celebration. The senior with no demerits was chosen to be May Queen. When my class became seniors in 1962 there was no one without demerits. I had not remembered the chapel (three times a week plus church on Sundays] and the gym as being that old. We were not allowed off the property until Saturday when we could go downtown with other girls. Ahh the memories. Thank you Marcella {Marci] Jane Pence.

  10. St. Katharine’s/St. Mark’s School is now St. Katherine’s Senior Living. As I mentioned earlier, I live on campus in what was the library. The property was renovated into several incarnations, but for the past 16 years or so, it has been low income senior housing. Gone are the stained glass windows in the chapel and a big screen tv sits on the altar area. It’s a very different scenario than one would remember. We have 21 independent living apartments in the main house and the rest under the gym and in the carriage house, which was added to be assisted living (I think) at one time. So there is an update!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *