The Gaines Street African-American Settlement

Herington Park in Davenport is a two-acre city-owned park with an address of 935 Brown Street. The park includes the area surrounded by Brown, Gaines, W. 9th, and W. 11th Streets. Neighborhoods with historic homes and families are nearby and downtown Davenport is just down the hill. This park offers open space to exercise, a playground for children, a basketball court, and a covered shelter shaded by nearby trees for a family outing or event.

This spot has been a park for a little over fifty years. Its history going back just about one hundred years ago will be the focus of this article. That is when this area became the site of a planned African-American settlement in the early 1900s.

On August 19, 1901, African-American businessmen organized the Negro Business League which was part of the National Negro Business League (NNBL) founded by Booker T. Washington in 1900. The purpose of the organization was for the support of the African-American community in association with the national organization.

The Davenport Morning Star, August 20, 1901. Pg. 8

On that August day, Albert B. Woods was elected chairman, Alexander D. Corbin was elected secretary, and W. B. Anderson was elected Treasurer. Alexander D. Corbin was also elected to represent the city of Davenport in Chicago at the gathering of the Colored Men’s National Business League on August 21st – 23rd.

By the end of October 1901, the Negro Business League purchased property near 8th and Harrison Streets for a cost of $4,000. The organization planned to build a three-story building on the lot with two store rooms on the first floor, four suites of rooms on the second floor, and two halls for meetings and entertainment on the third floor. The African-American community, fraternal organizations, and businesses would be welcome to use the space. The committee members compared their structure and its purpose to that of the Turner Society buildings in the German-American community.

Alexander Corbin was one of the biggest motivators during the fundraising for this project. Originally from Ohio and later Omaha, Nebraska, and Des Moines, Iowa; Corbin had resided in Davenport since about 1896. His business of plastering and wallpapering had become very successful in the few years he lived here. Corbin was actively involved with the founding of the local Negro Business League and newspapers spoke highly of his real estate ventures, philanthropy, and oratory skills.

By November 11, 1901, the Davenport Democrat and Leader reported that Corbin was already meeting with local ministers and men of prominence from the Tri-Cities and was securing their pledges for the new building with the project set to start when the weather warmed up in the spring of 1902. With $4,000 already pledged, the goal was set at $8,000 more. In the midst of the fundraising, the League was disappointed to learn that an adjoining frontage property that was part of their future development plan was sold to the Economy Rug Company for a new business.

The Davenport Democrat, November 11, 1901. Pg. 5

Fundraising continued into 1902 and early 1903 along with the usual League business and their benevolence initiatives. One of the big events during this time was Alexander Corbin being invited to speak on the subject of real estate at the national convention of the National Negro Business League in August 1902 in Richmond, Virginia.

In August of 1903, Alexander Corbin purchased lots 3, 4, and 5 in block 10 of the Forrest & Dillon’s addition. He also purchased a house on Gaines Street between 9th and 10th streets in January 1904. The last purchase adjoined the previous purchase from 1903. Other members of the Negro Business League were also purchasing property that adjoined Corbin’s during the same time period. Over time, the organization purchased six acres of land in the area surrounded by Brown, Gaines, W. 9th, and W. 10th Streets.

The Daily Times, August 19, 1903. Pg. 10

It wasn’t until June 1904 that the Negro Business League announced new building plans. Alexander Corbin applied for a permit to build a two-story frame building* on Gaines Street between Ninth and Tenth Streets. The League had decided instead of building a business/entertainment building it was more important for the African-American community to have respectable housing at a reasonable price. The apartment house was to be the first of several structures managed by the Negro Business League on those six acres.

The apartment building at 936 Gaines Street contained nineteen rooms. There would be apartments for five families and include a large kitchen, large hall, and smaller meeting rooms to be used by the African-American community and fraternal organizations. The building contained modern conveniences such as running water, bathrooms, toilets, and a coal furnace. Rent was to be made affordable with no rent during winter months for families who lived in the building the previous summer. The goal was to sell shares in the Negro Business League association to the public to help fund the building of other homes and cover expenses.

On Friday, August 26, 1904, the dedication of the first building in the new African-American settlement was held. Over 2,000 people from local cities came to celebrate the event. Speakers and singers addressed and entertained the audience. After the dedication, a barbeque was held with food being served in the new large dining room. The building would become known as Corbin Flats.

Davenport Morning Star, August 13, 1904. Pg. 6

Soon, a few small houses were built on neighboring lots as the community grew. Once again, modern amenities along with affordable rent were a priority in building the homes. Alexander Corbin, and his wife Rosa, resided in the neighborhood that they were helping to build. Members of the Negro Business League continued to solicit donations and sell shares to help support their endeavor.

It appears things began to slow down in building new homes around 1906. In October of that year, Rosa Corbin filed for divorce from Alexander. Soon after the divorce, Alexander began to spend more time in his former hometown of Omaha. He opened a new business there as a contractor, paper hanger, and painter. He later expanded his business into Des Moines, Iowa before moving to Chicago, Illinois where he died on November 4, 1926. Corbin had been a motivating force behind fundraising, real estate, and building new homes.

Problems arose as the properties had been purchased in various League members’ names. Some sold their properties while others found themselves sued by builders or businesses if the League did not have the money to cover the building or materials costs. By 1914, it appears the organization had refocused in a different direction away from the settlement plan.

The Davenport Democrat and Republican, March 24, 1905. Pg. 10

The houses and the apartment building were sold numerous times over the years. Starting in the 1930s, several of the smaller structures were torn down due to age and condition. Some lots remained empty while others had new homes built on them. In February 1963, the apartment building built by Alexander Corbin was demolished after being condemned by the City of Davenport. The property sat empty.

With the flood of 1965, Davenport’s riverfront garbage dumps were unusable. The City created emergency garbage dumps that April in local neighborhoods on properties the City-owned. One dump was located on a City property at 11th and Gaines Street adjoining the former settlement lots. Residents protested and in May 1965 the dumping ended. In June 1965, Resolution 28,249 proposed by Alderman Larry Herington was passed resolving that no further dumping would be allowed at the 11th and Gaines Streets site, and the property would be given to the Park District.

Times-Democrat, May 11, 1965. Pg. 9

During this time, a decision was made to replace the City playground named Goose Hollow which was located right across Gaines Street from the Settlement lots. Goose Hollow was a small playground surrounded by athletic fields owned by the Davenport School District. The Parks Department rented the fields to be used for their recreation programs. A new location would allow for a larger playground and space owned and managed by the City of Davenport.

Times-Democrat, March 8, 1967. Pg. 43

The City of Davenport spent several years from the late 1960s into the 1970s purchasing the former Settlement lots that adjoined the old garbage dump (which had been reclaimed as a playground) to create the park that exists today.

Unfortunately, we have not been able to locate any pictures from the African-American Settlement. We would love to see anything that may exist from this important part of Davenport’s history.

*Other descriptions of the building say three-story. We wonder if the structure had a raised basement that might be confused in appearance with three stories.

(posted by Amy D.)

Sources:

  • Ancestry.com
  • Minutes of the Board of Park Commissioners of the City of Davenport, June 4, 1952.
  • Davenport Morning Star, August 31, 1901. Pg. 9
  • The Daily Times, September 12, 1901. Pg. 5
  • The Daily Times, September 30, 1901. Pg. 8
  • The Daily Times, October 30, 1901. Pg. 5
  • The Democrat Democrat, November 11, 1901. Pg. 5
  • Davenport Morning Star, December 17, 1901. Pg. 7
  • The Democrat Democrat, December 17, 1901. Pg. 4
  • The Daily Times, January 15, 1902. Pg. 6
  • The Daily Times, April 22, 1902. Pg. 2
  • The Democrat Democrat, April 22, 1902. Pg. 7
  • The Daily Times, August 20, 1902. Pg. 4
  • The Daily Times, August 19, 1902. Pg. 10
  • The Democrat Democrat, January 3, 1904. Pg. 14
  • The Democrat Democrat, April 22, 1904. Pg. 7
  • The Democrat Democrat, June 19, 1904. Pg. 6
  • Davenport Morning Star, August 13, 1904. Pg. 6
  • The Democrat Democrat, August 26, 1904. Pg. 4
  • Davenport Morning Star, August 28, 1904. Pg. 7
  • The Daily Times, January 13, 1905. Pg. 3
  • The Davenport Democrat and Leader, March 24, 1905. Pg. 10
  • The Davenport Democrat and Leader, May 25, 1905. Pg. 9
  • The Bystander (Des Moines, Iowa), September 4, 1914. Pg. 1
  • The Daily Times, July 25, 1916. Pg. 7
  • The Daily Times, July 22, 1920. Pg. 8
  • The Daily Times, March 24, 1931. Pg. 15
  • The Daily Times, June 14, 1939. Pg. 10
  • The Daily Times, April 11, 1952. Pg. 17
  • The Times-Democrat, April 13, 1965. Pg. 13
  • The Times-Democrat, May 20, 1965. Pg. 18
  • The Times-Democrat, June 19, 1965. Pg. 13
  • The Times-Democrat, March 8, 1967. Pg. 43
  • The Times-Democrat, March 5, 1969. Pg. 27
  • The Times-Democrat, June 5, 1969. Pg. 29

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2 Responses to The Gaines Street African-American Settlement

  1. I found this fascinating. I grew up not far from these properties and was unaware of this history. Thanks.

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