Riverboats We Have Known: The W.J. Quinlan

After something of a delay, it’s finally looking like spring in the Quad-Cities: the weather is warmer, the boats are on the Mississippi . . . and the orange construction barrels are in full bloom.

The promise of bridge delays for the foreseeable future is having an adverse effect on the good humor of drivers used to zipping from the farthest of the Iowa Quad-Cities over the Mississippi to the furthest of the Illinois Quad-Cities (or vice versa) in little more than 20 minutes, even while keeping to the posted speed limits.

It is obvious, at least to commuters, that Something Must be Done. Unfortunately, looking to the future doesn’t help: flying cars and jet packs won’t be ready for the general public for at least a couple of years—and even if they were, such high-powered gadgetry probably wouldn’t alleviate road-rage or fuel consumption problems.

But some people are looking to the past for a way to combine more speed with less haste and more people with less energy: ferryboats.

And when one thinks of past Davenport ferryboats,*the one that usually comes to mind is the W. J. Quinlan.


This beautiful steam-powered stern wheeler, built in 1904 by the Kahlke boat works in Rock Island, Illinois, was originally named the Davenport. In 1925, William J. Quinlan bought the boat, refurbished her, and renamed her after himself.

The Quinlan carried businessmen, shoppers, sightseers, and children between Rock Island and Davenport during the day, and offered night tours of the river—plus the use of its dance floor and casino— to couples and gamblers.

After decades of active service, never venturing more than two miles from where she was built, the Quinlan developed structural problems in her hull, and retired to the Kahlke yard in 1946.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if some enterprising soul could bring her out of retirement, fix her up, and set her to providing peaceful transportation across the river? Unfortunately, that would be impossible—the Quinlan was lost in a dry dock fire in April of 1967.

Which, say those of us who cross the river in our twice-daily commute, doesn’t mean we couldn’t establish another ferry in her honor, at least until Orange Barrel season is well over.

Just call it the WJQ2.

*Okay, when we think of past Davenport ferryboats.

(posted by Sarah)

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

15 Responses to Riverboats We Have Known: The W.J. Quinlan

  1. Adrian says:

    Let’s hear it for riverboats! Sign me up for making WJQ2 part of my daily commute to the island! :)

  2. Loren Wascher says:

    I last rode her in the summer about 1946 and she had a slight list at that time. So it must have been shortly there after that she was put away. We, as kids, would ride back and forth from Rock Island to Davenport with our grandmother while our mothers went shopping. When the shopping was done, they would come down to the levy, Rock Island side, and we would get off. The fare at that time was, as I recall, only 5 cents. Somewhere I have a slide picture that my dad took of her out in mid stream.
    Thanks for the memories,

  3. Captain John W. Vize says:

    I am very interested in anything steamboat and the W.J. Quinlan in particular.. I have a large collection on the Quinlan / Davenport. Stock certificates, Insurance Policy, Photo of Fred Kahlke in front of the Quinlan just before she burned, life jackets, boiler blueprints, tickets, etc, etc.
    I am always looking to share information or to add to my collection. Thanks!

  4. C says:

    Does anyone have access to full color photo of the Quinlan, c. early to mid- 1940s? My Parents used to take a 25 cent ride between IA and IL on the Quinlan.

    What were sights/reasons to

    • Paul Nelson says:

      I have one by Ralph Law, but I don’t believe it could be from that era. It is a beautiful piece of artwork, though.

  5. Waldo Rodler says:

    Around 1935 I remember my mother playing Bingo afternoons on the upper deck. I spent the afternoon riding back and forth.

  6. Bill McCabe says:

    Does anyone have pictures of the musicians playing on the Quinlan?

    My sister and I used to ride from Rock Island over to swim at the Natatorium, quite a treat for a 5 year old. My big sister (7) was the chaperone in 1940.

    • Captain John Vize Retired says:

      I do have several photos of the musicians and the dance floor of the Quinlan in my river collection. Take a look at River Towns and River Boats on Facebook.

  7. Jim Reed says:

    Looking for a Black and White Photograph of the W. J. Quinlan Dry Docked in Rock Island IL. Appreciate all the help I can get. Thanks Jim

  8. Richard Longenecker says:

    The last and final time that I would see a current or recent image of the W.J. Quinlan was on an NBC documentary news story called “Our Man on the Mississippi” hosted by David Brinkley. I do not recall the year, but I believe it was about 1964. The last photo I recalled seeing was a 1965 flood shot on the front page of the then Times-Democrat where the water had reached the old girl’s hull and as the caption read: Feels Like Old Times Again. Unfortunately, the next photo I would see would be the ashes of the Quinlan after the fire. I never rode on her, but I do feel sad that she’s not here with us anymore.

Leave a Reply

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