Breaking the Cornerstone: Demolition of the Carnegie Library

Once the largest Carnegie Library west (or north) of the Mississippi River, in the 1960s the Davenport Public Library faced an unsettled future due to developing structural problems. In the early 1960s, the Library Board requested funds to build a new library to meet the growing needs of the community, such as the increasing interest in children’s services. Due to the design and layout of the building, the services of the library were stymied, thus calling for a solution. The request for funding the construction of the new library building was not accepted, but the library board and city council negotiated other plans to assist the library. The first attempt to ameliorate these issues was the construction of the Children’s Library Wing as discussed in our first blog in this series, Main Street Library’s 50th Anniversary Series: The Children’s Library Wing.

Image of the Carnegie Library from DPL Archives.

Images of the Carnegie Library from DPL Archives.

Before, during, and after the construction of the Children’s Wing, the Library sustained several cracks in the walls and along the ceiling joints. Fissures in the walls weren’t the only problems the library had to contend with. Collapsing skylights and severe leaks also plagued this 60-year-old building. This spurred the library board to submit another proposal for a new building. The proposal was accepted, thus plans for a new library were underway.

Phil Hutchison, “Close Part of Library For Repair,” Times-Democrat (Davenport, IA), Jan. 14, 1966.

Over the course of the next two years, the Davenport Public Library vacated its premises to move to its temporary location at the former Hill’s Department Store, underwent a major demolition, and built a new library facility to meet future needs. 

Sharon Proctor, “The Glory That Used To Be…,” Times-Democrat (Davenport, IA), Sept. 19, 1966.

Sharon Proctor, “The Glory That Used To Be…,” Times-Democrat (Davenport, IA), Sept. 19, 1966.

Sharon Proctor, “The Glory That Used To Be…,” Times-Democrat (Davenport, IA), Sept. 19, 1966.

In November of 1966, the demolition of the Carnegie Library began. Removing the library was expected to take about three weeks. Debris from the demolition was used to partly fill the Lindsay Park lagoon in the Village of East Davenport. 

Image of the demolition of old Carnegie Library from the Davenport Chamber of Commerce Photograph Collection at the Richardson-Sloane Special Collections Center, Davenport Public Library.

In between trying to salvage the library to admitting the building needed to be replaced, a copper box filled with treasures of library history, Davenport city council documents, a 1908 Vogue magazine, and more was found during the demolition process. Some of the items recovered from the copper box are now part of our Library Archives. 

1. Jim Arphy, “Open Library’s Cornerstone: Big Bundle of Booty in a Little Box,” Times-Democrat (Davenport, IA), Nov. 21, 1966.

Similar to other cornerstones, this cornerstone was placed in a cavity in a foundational corner stone of the building. In most cases, cornerstones were not meant to be discovered for many years, but they function as a time capsules capturing the time when the building was under construction.  




Arpy, Jim. “Open Library’s Cornerstone: Big Bundle of Booty in a Little Box.” Times-Democrat (Davenport, IA), Nov. 21, 1966.

“Cornerstones.” The Edges of Time: Cornerstones & Time Capsules. Victoria’s Victoria. Accessed October 15, 2018.

Hutchison, Phil. “Close Part of Library For Repair.” Times-Democrat (Davenport, IA), Jan. 14, 1966.

Proctor, Sharon.  “The Glory That Used To Be….” Times-Democrat (Davenport, IA), Sept. 19, 1966.

“Once Upon a Time, A House was There” Times-Democrat (Davenport, IA), Nov. 11, 1966.



Posted by Kathryn.

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Main Street Library’s 50th Anniversary Series: The Children’s Library Wing

As we approach the 50th anniversary of the Davenport Public Library’s Main Street branch, we will be posting here about the events that led up to the demolition of the Carnegie building and the decision to construct Edward Durell Stone’s design in its place. Be sure to celebrate with us at Main’s 50th Birthday Party on October 13th!

The first major change to the library was the addition of the Children’s Wing to the east side of the Carnegie building.

In February 1960, the Library Board announced the results of a two-year study of the Carnegie building’s condition. Due to the building’s age, insufficient space to meet current and future needs, and the standards required when it was built, Board members began to consider long-range plans for constructing a new building. However, they decided that to make alterations to the existing structure would be a more feasible short-term solution.

In May 1960, the Library Board requested $205,000 from the City’s $1 million bond issue for capital improvements. $45,000 went to purchase the Midas Muffler shop owned by Warren Langwith at 117-119 W. 4th Street, directly east of the Carnegie library building. The remaining $160,000 was meant to go towards repairs of the existing library building, but the Library Board asked to use the money for new construction instead. Members were opposed to investing money in a building “not suitable to present-day library operations.”

The one-story, air-conditioned, fire-resistant wing was the first stage in a two-phase, long-range construction plan. Once the children’s books were moved to the new wing, the second floor of the Carnegie building would then be closed to the public for safety reasons.

Sunday Times-Democrat, May 14, 1961, p. 3.

Construction began in November, 1961. The excavation caused more cracks to appear on the east wall of the “stacks” or book storage section of the Carnegie building in March, 1962. This part of the library had been built in 1922 and had been slowly settling, but the excavation work caused it to settle an additional 1/8 of an inch. Contractor Leonard H. Ewoldt said that the bedrock was 15 to 17 feet below street level, and there was about 10 feet of water tht would have to be pumped. 

Work on the Children’s Addition had to stop for the safety of the construction workers until the foundation was strengthened and the damaged section razed.  The Davenport City Council approved demolition of the library wall and the building of a temporary wall in September of 1962.

Work crept along that winter as the building no longer showed signs of cracking and settling. Through the spring and summer of 1963, the construction of the new Children’s Wing neared completion.

Times-Democrat, Sept. 8, 1963, p. 2A.

Daily Times (Davenport, Iowa), Sept. 9, 1963, p. 14.

After a long two years of construction, the Children’s Library Wing finally opened to the public on September 8, 1963. More than 800 people visited the library that day!

These exterior and interior shots of the newly-constructed Children’s Wing are among the many photographs in the Richardson-Sloane Special Collections Center’s collection of materials tracing the history of the Davenport Public Library.

Stay tuned for the next post in the Main Street Library’s 50th Anniversary Series!

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Davenport Doughboys in the St. Mihiel Offensive, September 12, 1918

September 12, 2018 marks the centennial of  the Battle of St. Mihiel, the first American-led offensive of the Great War in France. General John J. Pershing commanded the newly-organized First Army in a successful campaign to push back the bulge in the German lines and capture positions held by the enemy since 1914. Our “doughboys” from Davenport were there.

The experiences of several local infantrymen of the 90th Division who fought at St. Mihiel were later reported in the Davenport newspapers. In honor of their service, we gather their stories here today.

Two Davenporters of the 358th infantry regiment both suffered hand wounds in the fighting at St. Mihiel. Private George W. of  Moore of Company G, like so many other American soliders in the early morning of the 12th, moved out of the trenches and “over the top.” In a letter published in the Daily Times, he said, “we went so fast that day that we passed a Hun machine gun. After we had passed he opened up on us, and when a machine gun starts barking it is time to move. I got hit in the hand, and in making a run for a trench to get under cover, my foot got caught in some wire, so I went in head first and broke two ribs.” [1] 

Upon the safe return of Frank Krotz, also of Company G, the Democrat and Leader reported that in the “[e]arly morning of Sept. 12,”  he “went over the top, and shortly after was wounded, reaching the first line trenches, one of his ‘buddies’ bandaged the wounded hand, and Krotz was ordered to the rear for first aid treatment.” Along the road, “a Frenchman in charge of artillery made a sling from a piece of towel, and the Davenport boy then made his way, three miles, to the first aid station.” He had been “hit by a flying piece of shrapnel.” [2]

Harry Kasparian of  Company M, the “sole survivor of an Armenian family massacred by Turks” and “resident of this city for four years before his enlistment” captured eight German prisoners in the St. Mihiel offensive. He was modest about the achievement, saying “some boys captured more.” He told an audience at the Red Cross rooms that the Germans forced women to “man” their machine guns. [3] [4]

The experiences of Davenporters in the 357th infantry of the 90th Division were also reported in the local press. Frank C. Paustian of Company A,  “on guard and patrol duty at the front…went over the top for the first time on Sept. 12, and was severy wounded when gun shot pierced his left chest.” [5]  The “bullets seemed to sing too unpleasantly near for comfort” for Ray Murtha, also of Co. A, who emerged “unscathed, ungassed, …and still at the top notch of enthusiasm.” [6]  Private Henry Otten of Company C went missing for ten hours on September 12, having been “sent to look for a part of the company” while the remainder moved forward [7]

Henry Otten

Dr. Emil O. Ficke of the 90th’s medical corps, who “worked the front line trenches…under almost constant shell fire,” may have aided some of his fellow Davenporters in the same division at St. Mihiel. [8]

The blue lines on the map below from the Library of Congress shows the advance of the American lines, including the 90th Division, from September 12-15, 1918.

The St. Mihiel offensive. [France?: Creator not identified, ?, 1918] Map.

While we do not have accounts of their individual experiences, artillery and infantrymen from Davenport (in the 101st and 102nd regiments) fought in the Battle of St. Mihiel as part of the famous “Yankee,” or 26th Division.

Lines of the 26th Division, in the Battle of St. Mihiel.

The Davenport Democrat and Leader for April 24, 1919 featured thsee returning men of the 101st: Charles Murphy, Eugene Mack, John Nagel, John Mulligan, Otis Widdrington, Fred Kiefer, Herbert Mohr, John Morrison, Myron Roeske, and Edward J. Gadient, as well as Chris Ehmson, Wendell Tornquist, Clifford Dawson, Joe Costello, Elmer Bowling, and Arthur Vetter.

More research on the fate of these men after their return to Iowa has yet to be done; please contact us here at the Richardson-Sloane Special Collections Center if you have information about any of the brave soldiers from Davenport who served in the First World War.

Please also join us on November 14, 2018 at 6pm at the Davenport Public Library’s Eastern Avenue location for “Armistice, the Russian Expedition & Occupation of Germany,” the final installment of the World War I Lecture Series with Kevin Braafladt of the Army Sustainment Command at the Rock Island Arsenal.

(posted by Katie)



[1] Daily Times (Davenport, Iowa), Feb. 3, 1919, p. 7.

[2] Davenport Democrat and Leader, Apr. 6, 1919, p. 14.

[3] Davenport Democrat and Leader, Jan. 15, 1919, p. 9.

[4] Daily Times (Davenport, Iowa), Jan. 14, 1919, p.8.

[5] Davenport Democrat and Leader, Feb. 25, 1919 p. 13.

[6] Davenport Democrat and Leader, June 19, 1919, p. 11.

[7] Daily Times (Davenport, Iowa), Jan. 15. 1919, p. 7.

[8] Davenport Democrat and Leader Feb. 20, 1919, p. 15.

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In Memoriam: Thomas Francis Chouteau


The Oaks. Vol. 49. Davenport, IA: Saint Ambrose College, 1983.

Thomas Francis Chouteau was born on February 6, 1923, in Independence, Montgomery Co., Kansas. His parents were Frederick L. and Katherine E. (Dalsing) Chouteau. His paternal grandparents, Frederick L. and Adele (Cornatzer) Chouteau, were members of the Shawnee Tribe, Cherokee Nation.

The National Archives at Ft Worth; Ft Worth, Texas, USA; Enrollment Cards for the Five Civilized Tribes, 1898-1914; NAI Number: 251747; Record Group Title: Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs; Record Group Number: 75

Thomas graduated from Field Kindley Memorial high school in Coffeyville, Kansas in 1940. He served 3 years in the Navy during WWII as an air navigator with the rank of ensign. 

WWII Draft Registration Cards for Kansas, 10/16/1940 – 03/31/1947. Records of the Selective Service System, 1926–1975, Record Group 147. National Archives and Records Administration, St Louis, Missouri.

He did undergraduate work at Harvard University College of Art in the summer of 1949 and received his BA from St. Ambrose college in 1951, where he studied under Fr. Edward Catich. He later earned a Masters degree in printmaking from the University of Iowa. 

Chouteau worked for Boeing Airplane Co. in Wichita, Kansas in the 1940s, then worked as an artist-illustrator for the Rock Island Arsenal and was art director of Photo Art Engraving Co. in Moline before joining the art department faculty at St. Ambrose in 1959. He retired in 1988.

Mr. Chouteau was an award winning artist, having received the S.G. Rose Purchase prize and the Cal Dunn Transparent Watercolor prize for his painting titled “Bayou” in 1953, and the Sweepstakes Award for an oil painting entitled “The Trojans” in 1958, during the Quad-City Artists Exhibitions at the Davenport Municipal Art Gallery. He was awarded the MidCoast/Riverssance Harley Award in 2004.

2004-70, Davenport Museum of Art, Scrapbook 24, 1958.

He was active in the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s through his work as a member of the Catholic Interracial Council. He illustrated the booklet “Citizen Second Class,” a survey on the treatment of African-Americans in Davenport, published in November 1951 by the League for Social Justice. 

Thomas Chouteau married Mary Ann Springer on September 22, 1951 at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Davenport. The couple had eight children, including his son Tom, who was the Davenport Public Library’s graphic artist for many years. 

Thomas Francis Chouteau died Friday, August 25, 2018 in Davenport at the age of 95.

(posted by Cristina)



“Davenporters Win Top Honors at Opening of Quad-City Artists Annual Exhibition at Gallery,” Davenport Democrat and Leader, Nov. 6, 1950, p. 8.

“Autumn Wedding Is Planned,” Davenport Democrat and Leader, June 14, 1951, p. 13.

“Mary Anne Springer Becomes Bride of Thomas F. Chouteau at Morning Rite,” Davenport Democrat and Leader, Sept. 23, 1951, p. 32.

“Chouteau Is Awarded Art Prize,” The Daily Times, Nov. 25, 1953.

Brennan, Mildred. “Hundreds Acclaim Quad-City Artists’ Display,” The Daily Times, Oct. 20, 1958.

“College Adds Davenporters To Art Staff,” The Daily Times, July 30, 1959.

“Thomas F. Choteau,” Quad-City Times, Aug. 26, 2018, p. B5.

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Keeping Your Cool in Days Past

Despite a few cooler days this week, the current local weather forecast reminds us that we are still in the heat of August. We will soon be retreating again to our air-conditioned spaces!

This got us thinking about how Davenporters beat the heat in days past. What were the  earliest modern cooling devices and when did they become available here?

We thought we’d share these notices and advertisements from the local newspapers that give some history of the search for summertime comfort. We hope they help keep you feeling cool!

A newly-installed fan at the Scott County Savings Bank made front-page news on June 1, 1892:

The Davenport Democrat, June 1, 1892, p. 1

The St. James Hotel soon followed suit by adding electric fans to the dining room. No mention of fans for hotel rooms, though!

The Daily Times, July 6, 1892, p. 4

By 1893, Clausen Electric Company at 420 Brady Street was advertising ceiling fans for the home. What luxury!

In 1894, the Davenport Power and Light company was making small fans for those with electricity:

The Davenport Democrat, May 16, 1894, p. 1.

These advertisements for W. H. Grandsen suggest that an electric fan was still considered a luxury by 1900:

The Daily Times, May 2, 1900, p. 6.

The Daily Times, May 2, 1900, p. 5.

Advertisements for air-conditioning began to appear in the 1920s. The Capitol Theatre was one of the newest and most up-to-date cinemas when it opened on December, 1920. By 1923, it was boasting of its “freezing plant” which kept the theater cool in the midst of summer heat.

The Davenport Democrat and Leader, July 27, 1923, p. 6.

By the 1930s, many local businesses were proclaiming that the cool air inside their establishments made them wonderful places to visit.  Perhaps you remember some of these?

The Daily Times, June 29, 1934, p. 11.

The Davenport Democrat and Leader, July 15, 1934, p. 6.

The Daily Times, August 2, 1934, p. 6.

The Davenport Democrat and Leader, August 5, 1934, p. 9.













And Tri-City Electric led the way by offering air conditioning for private residences:

Davenport Democrat and Leader, June 14, 1934.

Our favorite advertisement is this one from the Capitol Theatre in 1924.  We love the snow-and-ice-covered logo and the phrase “Cool as the mountain breezes. Our gigantic freezing plant does it.”

The Daily Times, July 12, 1924, p. 8.

We hope you stay cool here in Davenport in the remaining days of Summer 2018!

(posted by Amy D.)

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Indigenous American Voices

This past Wednesday evening at the Eastern Avenue branch of the Davenport Public Library, a direct descendant of the Lakota leader Crazy Horse spoke about recording his family’s oral history. 

Floyd Clown, grandson to Crazy Horse, was on his 146th public presentation to deliver this message: the story of his family and his famous ancestor has long been misrepresented by others; now it must come directly from members of the family itself.  This, he said, was the reason he and two of Crazy Horse’s other grandsons — Doug War Eagle and Don Red Thunder — agreed to tell the truth about their family to author William Matson and take the book Crazy Horse: The Lakota Warrior’s Life and Legacy on a worldwide tour.

The family’s collective first-person voice rings clearly from the book’s beginning pages:

“We do not like the fact that our history has been painted incorrectly by other cultures…This is one of the reasons that we need to tell our own history…We hope that by putting our oral history in print, we will help our children, grand-children, and unborn to know it, and at the same time, help other cultures to see us for who we are.” (p. 10)

A similar desire to speak for one’s own self and people was expressed nearly two centuries ago by a Native American familiar to us here in the Quad Cities: Black Hawk, or Ma-ka-tai-me-she-kia-kiak, leader of the Sacs. In his 1833 autobiography, Black Hawk included these words in his dedication to Brigadier General H. Atkinson:

“…I have determined to give my motives and reasons for my former hostilities to the whites, and to vindicate my character from misrepresentation.” (p. 7)

J.B. Patterson, editor of the autobiography, included a phonetic transcription of the dedication as spoken by Black Hawk in his own language:

Patterson also supported Black Hawk’s wish to tell his own story in his introduction (the “Advertisement”):

“Several accounts of the late war having been published, in which he thinks justice is not done to himself or nation, he determined to make known to the world the injuries his people have received from the whites, the causes which brought on the war on the part of his nation…” (p. 9)

Black Hawk’s interpreter Antoine LeClaire, himself of Pottawottomie descent, was likewise eager to convey how much the Sac leader wanted his voice to be heard:

“…on his return to his people in August last…[Black Hawk] expressed a great desire to have a History of his Life written and published, in order (as he said) ‘that the people of the United States…might know the causes that had impelled him to act as he had done, and the principles by which he was governed.'” (p. 3)

LeClaire also vouched for the authenticity of Black Hawk’s account:

“I was particularly cautious to understand distinctly the narrative of Black Hawk throughout–and have examined the work carefully since its completion, and have no hesitation in pronouncing it strictly corrrect, in all its particulars.” (p. 3)

Just as Matson did for the Crazy Horse family:

[The family members]…supervised and had the final approval on this manuscript and would only allow it to be published if it remained unchanged.” (p. 9)

The Richardson-Sloane Special Collections Center holds two copies each of the 1882 and 1912 editions of Black Hawk’s autobiography, as well as Crazy Horse: The Lakota Warrior’s Life and Legacy. The latter may also be checked out from all three branches.

Explore more personal narratives and family histories at the Davenport Public Library!

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The Early Days of the Davenport Civil Rights Commission

The current controversy over the proposed restructuring of the Davenport Civil Rights Commission harkens back to the difficulties it experienced during the earliest days of its existence.  In fact, much argument over the Davenport Human Relations Commission’s purpose and powers preceded its establishment under Mayor Ray O’Brien in July 1962. The first reading of the proposed ordinance in May of that year brought “emotion-packed” protest from several clergymen and other members of the community who felt that the city should model the Commission on the one in Des Moines, which had the ability impose penalties upon employers who discriminated on the basis of race, color, or creed. [1] 

Two years later, in May of 1964, four members of the Human Relations Commission resigned in succession. These were Charles Toney, president of the Catholic Interracial Council, Harry S. Roberts, Henry Vargas, president of the Davenport chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens, and Lawrence Satin,”considered the only remaining member of a minority group on the commission” as a Jewish man. [2]  Toney and Vargas cited the City Council’s failure to strengthen the Commission and accept a fair housing ordinance proposal as reasons for their departure. Vargas said, “…if the council is not going to make use of the commission, I see little reason for its existence.” Harry S. Roberts was “…dissatisfied because the existing commission is virtually powerless, with little more than persuasion at its command.” [3]

The feeling that the city was not supportive of its citizens’ efforts to promote civil rights persisted through a change in administration. In September of 1966, HRC chairman Rev. Jack Wolter delivered a list of eight recommendations to Mayor John Jebens and aldermen for improving race relations in Davenport. One of these was to “hire a full-time professional person” because “…as the commission is organized it has neither the power nor time to act on problems it knows exist.” In response to Jebens’ statement that this would mean “creating a job to give someone a free ride at taxpayers expense,” the members of the HRC said “…the director would take various forms of constructive action, such as education, to better race relations and should not be limited to checking complaints.” [4]

In an interview with the Sunday Times-Democrat on December 24, 1967 commissioner Paul Ives expressed hope for progress if the city could provide more funding and if the HRC “…had a paid executive director who could organize and lead commission programs,” particularly in the area of community education. [5]  A binder of HRC materials from 1966-68 held by the Richardson-Sloane Special Collections Center include a “position analysis,” or job description, for an Executive Director. 

Ives reported another departure from the Commission over the question of a local fair housing ordinance, that of the Rabbi Milton Rosenfeld. In a document included in the RSSCC’s collection, Rosenfeld also expressed frustration that “no action has been taken by the Mayor” to fill the eight vacancies on the Commission, and that the idea of hiring a full-time Director to work with a full Commission “received no encouragement from the Administration…” [6]

A more detailed account of the activities and struggles of the Davenport Human Relations Commission between 1966-68 may be assembled from the ordinance drafts, program proposals, correspondence, agendas, meeting minutes, reports, press releases, newspaper clippings, and other documents included in the Davenport Civil Rights Commission collection, along with reporting in the local newspapers from that period.  Both sources are available to researchers here at the Richardson-Sloane Special Collections Center of the Davenport Public Library.

(posted by Katie)


[1] Daily Times, May 3, 1969, p. 9.

[2]  Morning Democrat, May 29, 1964, p. 3.

[3] Daily Times, May 13, 1964.

[4] Times-Democrat, Sept. 7, 1966, p. 37.

[5] Sunday Times-Democrat, Dec. 24, 1967, p. 3A.

[6] “Reasons for the resignation of Rabbi Milton D. Rosenfeld from the Davenport Human Relations Commission,” “Committee Reports,”1966-1968 binder, Davenport Civil Rights Commission Historical Materials, RSSCC Acc# 2005-13.

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Bix in Context: Jazz Music on the Mississippi

We are getting “jazzed” for this weekend’s 47th annual Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Jazz Festival, or “Bix Fest,” by taking a closer look the local music scene that nurtured Davenport’s world-renowned cornetist.  In the summertime months, the place to be was a floating one: a steamboat on the Mississippi River.

The Streckfus Steamboat Company led the way in the area of excursion boat entertainment in the teens and twenties. Indeed, Captain Joe Streckfus is said to have been rather particular about the musicians he hired to perform.  Cornetist and fellow Rock Islander Tony Catalano passed scrutiny, playing as early as 1913 on the St. Paul:

Davenport Daily Times, May 13, 1913

Catalano’s employment with the Streckfus line steadily continued.  In the 1923 season, his band “Tony’s Famous Iowans” performed aboard the Capitol.

Davenport Daily Times, July 14, 1923

African-American jazz bands from elsewhere along the Mississippi also hired to perform on the Streckfus boats, most famously the ones led by Fate Marable of Paducah, Kentucky.

Davenport Democrat and Leader, May 19, 1922

Davenport Democrat and Leader, September 17, 1925

When the riverboats wintered, the white “Tri-Cities” musicians working for dance-band leaders Catalano, Carlisle Evans, and Doc Wixon found work in many local dry-land venues, including the Coliseum, the Danceland Ballroom, and the Turner halls:

Davenport Daily Times, October 9, 1920

Davenport Democrat and Leader, January 18, 1920

Davenport Democrat and Leader, December 23, 1923

Davenport Democrat and Leader, March 14, 1928

Imagine yourself in this rich musical environment, aboard a Mississippi steamer or twirling in a Tri-Cities dance hall, by browsing our collection of newspapers for advertisements and articles about the artists who shaped the jazz age. And other sources on Bix in context are available here at the Richardson-Sloane Special Collections Center for you to explore!



Johnson, Rich J. Bix: the Davenport Album. Barnegat, NJ: Razor Edge Press, 2009.

Davenport newspapers, as noted.

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A German-American Contribution to Davenport’s History: Turnverein, the Turner Movement

Be sure to check out “Sound Mind Sound Body: Turnverein Traditions,” the latest exhibit presented by our fellow downtown Davenport history and cultural institution, the German American Heritage Center. In support, we offer this brief history of the Turner Movement written by Anna Teggatz, the Richardson-Sloane Special Collections Center’s 2017 intern from Western Illinois University:

Gymnastics and the Turner Movement

Upon hearing the word “gymnastics,” you may immediately think of balance beams, rings, the splits, and the Olympics. Although gymnastics is now considered a competitive sport, it was once part of a broader cultural movement that encouraged the exercise of the mind and body in concert, with a focus on civic engagement. German immigrants brought the ideas of the Turnverein (an association of gymnastics clubs) to U.S. cities like Davenport in the mid-19th century.

The first gymnastics club was created in 1811 by Friedrich Ludwig Jahn in Berlin, Germany. Known as the “father of gymnastics,” Jahn invented many pieces of equipment used in gymnastics today, such as parallel bars, rings, balance beams, and horizontal bars. While Jahn strongly stressed the importance of physical exercise in gymnastics, he also emphasized the significance of exercising one’s mental health by fulfilling civic duties and recognizing his/her identity within society.

The first Turner societies established by German immigrants to the United States were in the cities of Louisville and Cincinnati in 1848. Within three years, 22 societies were founded, an official national organization called the “Die Vereinigten Turnvereine Amerikas (the United Turnvereine of America) was established, a national newspaper, the Turnzeitung was created, and several national conventions and competitions were held across the country. The American Turners’ stated purpose was to

”…promote physical education and disseminate rational ideas, in order to advance health, happiness, prosperity, and the progress of mankind. The Turner principles, briefly summarized, are as follows: Liberty, against all oppression; Tolerance, against all fanaticism; Reason, against all superstition; Justice against all exploitation! Free speech, free press, free assembly for the discussion of all questions, so that men and women may think unfettered and order their lives by the dictates of conscience – such is our ideal, which we strive to attain through “a sound mind in a sound body.” [1]

The Davenport Turn-Gemeinde, founded in November 1852, was among the earliest societies to form in the United States. Songs like this, sung from the society’s songbook, would have helped the members spread the Turners’ message as well as cement it in their own minds:

“American Turner Song” (Stanza 1)

We are building for to-morrow,/For a strong and active life,/Not for fame, or gold to borrow,/Not to wage a war of strife./For our home and land we’ll labor,/We will give our best each day;/With this watchword on our banner/“Forward” for America.” [2]

As the movement took root, the Turners soon became involved in America’s politics, primarily those revolving around slavery and immigration during the Civil War. Turners certainly exercised both their physical and mental strengths as Union Army soldiers in the conflict. Following the war, the Turners continued to advocate gymnastics and their principles throughout the nation and, by the end of the century, there were more than 300 societies and 40,000 members across the country.

The Central Turners in Davenport were one of these societies.  Established in 1880, this society was located at the southwest corner of 3rd and Scott Streets. The Turners also continued to play political roles following the war, as they opposed both Prohibition and Sabbath-Day laws due to the threats these laws posed to German customs.

Despite their positive influence throughout the United States in the years during and after the Civil War, the Turners were to experience the anti-German sentiment enmity that arose as the Americans entered the First World War. Some Turner societies were forced to dissolve while others changed their German names to English ones in an attempt to decrease the hostility they were experiencing and to ensure others of their allegiance to the U.S. In the face of these obstacles, however, the Turners continued to expand their movement and added an even greater number of communal activities for those in the German community to engage in. In addition to supporting gymnastic programs, the Turners also serviced libraries, theatrical groups, singing societies, German schools for children, and lecture series. The Turners had even introduced the idea of physical education in schools at a convention in 1880. Throughout the times in which the Turners thrived, there were five Turner halls in Scott County; three of these halls were in Davenport. The only two still standing today are both located in the city.

While neither of the Turner halls standing in Davenport today are still home to Turner societies, the legacy of the Turners themselves lives on both in history and in its influence on descendants. A tangible piece of this legacy includes a memorial stone dedicated at the Schuetzen Park Historic Site in Davenport on Sunday, September 26, 2004. Upon the dedication of this memorial, a former member of the Davenport Northwest Turners recalled memories of his time being a Turner, saying he was “really proud to be a Turner.”

Visit the Davenport Public Library for even more information on the Turners’ history and legacy in the Quad Cities!


[1] American Turners. A century of health, 1848-1948, p.3.  SC 369 AME

[2] Davenport Turn-Gemeinde “150 Jahre,” 1852-2002.  SC 781.62 DAV

Other Sources:

Centennial souvenir book : 100th anniversary, 1871-1971, Northwest Turners, Davenport, Iowa.  SC 796.06 Cen

One hundredth anniversary, 1852-1952: 44th national convention of Central Turners, Davenport, Iowa.  SC 796.06 One

Pumroy, Eric L. and Kalja Rampalmaun. “A Sound Mind in a Sound Body.” Humanities, vol. 15, no. 2, Mar/Apr94, pp. 34-38.

Two Turner Halls Remain in Scott County,” Quad-City Times, Jan. 18. 2013.

Willard, John, “Schuetzen Park to dedicate Turners memorial – Stone serves as a reminder of legacy in the Quad Cities,” Quad-City Times, Sept. 21, 2004.

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History and Legacy of the Bix 7 Road Race

What does a jazz cornetist have to do with running? Find out this Monday, July 23rd at 6:30 pm at the Davenport Public Library | Main. Representatives from the Bix 7 will be on hand to talk about the history and legacy of the 43-year-old race.

Here are some quick facts about the inaugural race, published in the Quad-City Times on Sunday, July 27, 1975: 

The first Bix 7-Mile Run took place on Saturday, July 26th, 1975 at 10 am. The starting/finish line was located at 2nd and Main streets. 84 runners paid the $2 entry fee and over 500 spectators cheered them on along the race course. The runners were greeted at the finish line with ragtime music performed by musicians from the Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Jazz Festival. The first Bix 7 winner was Lucian Rosa, a 31 year old student of the University of Wisconsin at Parkside and Olympic runner from Sri-Lanka. His time was 34 minutes, 33.8 seconds, an average of 4:56 per mile. The race was sponsored and organized by the Quad Cities’ Cornbelt Running Club and the Downtown Davenport Association

Learn more about how the race has changed over the years from the experts and through archival items in our collection. 

Quad-City Times, Tuesday, July 22, 1975 p. 5


(posted by Cristina)

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