Upper Davenport

By now we are familiar with the fact that the 1857 Map of the City of Davenport and its Suburbs, Scott County, Iowa by James T. Hogane and Henry Lambach contains many features that were aspirational for the city’s developers. Curious about the area on the map labeled “Upper Davenport” to the east of both East Davenport and the Thomas Allen land that would become Camp McClellan/McClellan Heights, we wondered if this lovely light-green patch was ever actually platted and sold.

A search of “Upper Davenport” in the local newspapers yielded a few clues, as did the attempt to find details about the three individuals named: Swords, Watkins, and Hildreth.

However, it was a group of title abstracts for this land (legally described as the West 1/2 of Section 29 of Township 78 North, Range 4 East of the 5th Meridian) in our collection that provided the clearest information.

This image from the 1875 Andreas Atlas, with modern streets overlaid using the Iowa Geographic Map Server, shows the area in question:

The tract was indeed platted shortly before the publication of the Hogane & Lambach map, in October 1855 (Town Lot Deeds Book A, page 174), when it was owned by William and Cordelia Wray. The 280.73 acres had been deeded to them by George L. Davenport the previous autumn, save 10 acres in the southwest corner by the river.

The plat map shows the 9 blocks of lots, with Washington and Jackson Avenues running north to south, and Front, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th Streets running east to west. Presumably, the surveyor was Henry Lambach; he drew the subdivision of lots 1 & 2 registered the following month (Town Lot Deeds, Book A, page 290).

Copy of the certified plat of Upper Davenport as found in title abstract No. 212, Acc.#1992 -06.

As early as September 1855, before the plat was certified, newly-arrived real estate agent George L. Nickolls was offering lots in Upper Davenport for sale in the Davenport Daily Gazette. According to his advertisement, these were “…beautiful sites for private residences having fine views of Davenport, Rock Island, and Moline, also of the river for several miles East and West.” Some were “…well adapted for many kinds of manufacturing business” and some even had “fine stone quarries…”

The following spring, W.H. Hildreth & Co. offered the “Upper Davenport and LeClaire House OMNIBUS” to take prospective buyers, those “doing business in the city,” to these “suburbs” where “pure air, cheap lots and elegant sites” awaited the “wealthy and those of moderate means to gratify their tastes and promote their interests by establishing homes where the rise of property will add to their wealth, and at the same time, exemption from high rents and taxes diminish their expenses.” (Daily Iowa State Democrat, April 7, 1856, p. 2.)

Hildreth’s company included Charles S. Watkins and George H. Swords. The Wrays had sold the land to the three in March of 1856. The success of the enterprise, however, was limited, and the dream of Upper Davenport quickly began to fade. There is a note of desperation in W.H. Hildreth & Co.’s early 1857 Gazette advertisments offering lots “…embracing summit, hillside and plain, with the most pictureseque views…destined to be a portion of the Metropolis of Iowa, its Eastern gate…” They promised a ferry to Moline, soon to become a “highway for immigration” and a “direct route to the coal region,” as well as “proximity to fuel” and “inexhaustible limestone quarries.” The area, they said, would grow to be “the entrepot for the commerce and supplies for the city and the choicest quarter for palatial residences,” at which present-day Davenporters would marvel in ten years time.

Like many others, this speculation venture did not survive the Crash of ’57; the firm dissolved in March of that year. There were no omnibus rides that spring.

George Swords suffered forclosure on his portion of the property in 1859; it was then obtained by Charles Watkins. The September 4th, 1861 issue of the Gazette reported that Watkins requested of the Scott County Board of Supervisors’ committee on bridges and highways the “vacation of streets and alleys in Upper Davenport.” Hildreth passed away in 1867; his obituary in the October 26th, 1867 issue of the Daily Davenport Democrat refers to the area as the “Watkins Farm.” County surveyor Thomas Murray re-platted a portion of the Watkins property in late 1872; the map of Scott County in the 1875 Andreas Atlas shows Watkins as the principal landowner in the west half of Section 29:

Huebinger’s 1882 Map of Scott County gives the names of property owners other than Watkins by the next decade:

And the whole of the West 1/2 of T78NR4E was replatted by Thomas Murray in early 1883:

Copy of the certified plat as found in title abstract No. 212, Acc.#1992 -06.

Huebinger’s Scott County atlases for 1894, 1905, and 1919 show the ownership of what was Upper Davenport through the turn of the century and the World War. The Watkins name was associated with the area even after his death in 1911. Identified as a “capitalist” in the 1856 census, he was active in Davenport ventures, including the Davenport Water Power Company and the Scott County Savings Bank. In the mid-1890s he traveled west for yet more opportunities, along with several other adventurous Davenporters, to Denver, Colorado.


We searched in vain to find evidence of residents of Upper Davenport in the short time it was so named, save a single article from the June 2, 1858 Gazette exclaiming over a Brahma hen that laid three eggs in fifteen hours. It belonged to a Miss Clara Holmes of Upper Davenport.

(posted by Katie)

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