Unusual Collections: The Davenport Police Department “Lodgers” Books

The Richardson-Sloane Special Collections Department has shelves filled with the amazing history of Davenport and Scott County, Iowa. One small collection is from the Davenport Police Department (1990-04) and includes ledgers for police blotters, roll call, and Matron’s Records. A set of three books in that collection contain the names of those who used the services of the Lodgers Room inside the police department.

The Davenport Police Collection, 1990-04.

Sometimes referred to as the “Tramp” room in local newspapers, this facility was housed in the basement of the police department. It was initially one large room with basic wooden bunks built in. The lodgers at the police station were men while women and children would be housed with the Matron at the police barn on the corner of Main and 5th Streets (today the address is 130 W. 5th Street).

With the opening of the new City Hall in Davenport in 1896, the Davenport Police Station was on the first floor while the tramp room was located in the basement. In previous Davenport police station buildings, the tramp room was similarly located in the basements.

The Davenport Police Collection, 1990-04.

If you found yourself in Davenport with no place to stay, you could go to the police station and ask to be housed in the tramp room. You provided your name and gave over your possessions which were recorded and returned to you the next morning. No meals were served, but for many travelers, it was a safer alternative to sleeping outside; especially when faced with Iowa weather.

Initially, no blankets were provided, but later newspapers mention warm blankets on the bunks being a comfort during Iowa winters. Those who used the room may have been traveling through on their way to other places. Some were people in-between lodgings. Others may have been allowed to sleep in the tramp room if they were not sober as an alternative to jail.

The “Lodgers” volumes run from 1 Aug 1910 – 31 Aug 1922; 1 Sept 1922 – 19 May 1931; and 20 May 1931 – 20 May 1940. With less use and the need for more room for offices in City Hall, it is believed the tramp room was phased out by the 1950s.

These books are simply lists of names and dates but are interesting to study as one is able to see how needs changed with the seasons and the years. Summer numbers may have been lower than those in the winter and different years saw different numbers of lodgers. The Great Depression saw an increase in the number of lodgers after several years of decline in the 1920s.

The Davenport Democrat, March 22, 1931.

Nothing remains of the tramp room at City Hall or the old Police Ambulance/Police Matron’s building. We know there is much more we will be able to learn on the subject with the help of this collection.

(posted by Amy D.)

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